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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Master Points, Miles, and Rewards From a Blogger With Opinions — and Spreadsheet Obsessions

Learn Points And Miles From A Blogger With Opinions
Mike Senecal

Written by: Mike Senecal

Mike Senecal
Mike Senecal

Mike Senecal draws on more than 20 years of editorial experience to update CardRates.com readers on industry trends, business news, and best practices in budgeting and credit use. Mike has worked for decades in academic and trade publishing, including roles as managing editor and technical editor at the University of Florida and as contributor to finance industry publications, including Surety Bond Quarterly and Independent Agent, among others. Mike holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Carolina, and he enjoys bringing his years of academic and industry expertise online to help consumers of diverse financial backgrounds.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro
Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience to the CardRates team. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Florida. Today, Lillian edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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Our experts and industry insiders blog the latest news, studies and current events from inside the credit card industry. Our articles follow strict editorial guidelines.

In a Nutshell: We packed a lot into our conversation with Ariana Arghandewal as she refreshed her Pointchaser travel blog after a break. A veteran points and miles chaser with a decade of upgrades and extended stays under her belt, Arghandewal wants Pointchaser to do the hard work of keeping up with rewards so readers don’t have to. She includes an essential beginner’s guide, but she also occasionally questions travel conventions and embraces unorthodox opinions. Arghandewal claims she’s a bit obsessive about points and miles. Given her payouts, it’s easy to see why.

Some people are destined to travel, and Ariana Arghandewal is one of them. Her work over a decade as a points and miles travel blogger gives her access to the experiences she craves.

When she sat down with us in summer 2024, she was busy refreshing her award-winning travel blog, Pointchaser, and preparing for more adventures.

In 2011, with college a few years behind her, Arghandewal took an around-the-world journey with her family before returning home to Northern California wanting more.

She went online to learn travel hacks and ran into what people usually run into when searching the web: more than she bargained for.

Along with sites chronicling the outlandish things people do to earn frequent-flier miles, she found seemingly endless content lacking cohesion and accessibility.

Pointchaser logo

She realized she had something to say as she learned about travel card points and miles and the promise of significant travel discounts. She also realized she had places to go.

Pointchaser is the result. Arghandewal’s detailed trip reports combine top-to-bottom travel reviews with the points-and-miles details that got her where she was going.

Guides, flight and accommodation reviews, travel news, and deals offer authoritative content based on extensive experience.

Reports and opinions on Arghandewal’s experiences as a travel blogger, creator, and global observer contain unique, surprising, and sometimes controversial inside information.

It’s all evidence that travel is not an end unto itself for Arghandewal. She engages with the world around her. Pointchaser’s only limit is her imagination.

“It’s been more than ten years since I’ve been traveling mostly on points and miles, leveraging credit card welcome bonuses, and ensuring I maximize every dollar I spend using shopping portals,” Arghandewal said. “If you’re new, check out my beginner’s guide, where I give readers a baseline understanding of credit cards, points, miles, and all the complicated rules that come with them.”

A Decade as a Self-Described Travel Obsessive

The beginner’s guide is essential in a sometimes stormy sea of travel content. Arghandewal’s step-by-step structure for points-and-miles education and earnings generation has us thinking about trying it ourselves. It has worked for her.

“I know how overwhelming it is to get into it without the basics to figure out a starting point,” Arghandewal said. “I focus my beginner’s guide on helping people.”

That’s good because chasing points and miles can quickly frustrate those unprepared for managing them. Card issuers, airlines, and hotel chains don’t mind if travelers do a little digging because that’s part of the challenge.

Therefore, Arghandewal favors simplicity wherever possible. At our conversation, she owned only seven credit cards, while many point-and-miles fans own 20 or more.

Ariana Arghandewal is travel blogger, creator, and global observer who created Pointchaser in 2012.

“I don’t think it hurts your credit because I know people who do it and have an 800 score,” Arghandewal said. “But I try to be a little more strategic about which cards serve me in the long term. They either have to be rewarding in terms of credit card spending or offer something like an annual free night award.”

Arghandewal said choosing and refining a list of rewarding credit cards is a matter of familiarity with issuers’ entry barriers, many of which are around signup bonuses.

She cautioned not to apply for cards without a strategy because one issuer’s rules can impact how you deal with the others.

The most famous example is Chase’s 5/24 rule, which blocks approval for most Chase cards when the applicant has opened five or more personal credit cards from any card issuer within 24 months.

Amex’s once-per-lifetime rule limits applicants to one welcome offer per lifetime on each of their card offerings. Choosing when to apply for a new Amex card is critical because of possible future disqualifications.

Cards aren’t the basis for another contrarian opinion of Arghandewal’s: Opt in to travel marketing emails.

“It’s super annoying, but when you sign up for marketing offers, you’re going to get the most incredible deals via regular mail,” Arghandewal said. “I just got an offer for 200,000 points for an Amex Business Platinum Card. You don’t see numbers like that online.”

An Original Take on the Travel Industry

Not paying out of pocket for over 10 years of travel experience is something a travel aficionado can be proud of. Especially when Arghandewal flies business class internationally, points and miles have paid off for her over the past decade.

A differentiator at Pointchaser is a lack of obsession with affiliate links. Arghandewal said although many travel sites do dealmaking well, the latest and greatest bonus deals inevitably feature prominently on sites where affiliate revenue is paramount.

“It impacts editorial content,” Arghandewal said. “When Chase Sapphire has a bonus out, that’s all you see on many homepages.”

Gardens of Babur
Arghandewal at the Gardens of Babur, a historic site in Chelsatun, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Arghandewal recently linked to the Chase Sapphire Preferred because she felt confident in the offer for people unimpeded by the 5/24 rule. Partnerships are on a case-by-case basis.

“I try not to let credit cards be the main topic of my writing because readers are more interested in how I use my points than how I stuff my wallet,” Arghandewal said. “I help my audience figure out how to save on travel without juggling 25 cards.”

Anyway, Arghandewal said, it’s the content that pays off over the long term. So she tells her story.

For example, Arghandewal’s recent quest to see Taylor Swift perform for a reasonable price led her to publish a guide advising U.S.-based Swifties to travel abroad to buy Eras Tour tickets this summer.

She follows her audience’s lead into new ventures and venues, pushing the envelope for travel points and miles. A recent foray into retail arbitrage saw Arghandewal pocketing 20,000 American Airlines miles and loyalty points, putting her halfway to Gold status.

“I got redeemable miles and the credit card spending and cash back from a portal,” Arghandewal said. “Whether it’s cash back or points, I love stacking things like that and having it pile up from every direction.”

Stay Organized and Disciplined to Save

If you do it right, it’s a full-time job. Pointchaser is more a travel hacking site than a finance blog. Arghandewal is happy to occasionally upset the apple cart.

“In this hobby, a lot of people just follow the herd on conventional facts and practices you’re supposed to follow,” Arghandewal said.

Pointchaser’s report and opinion sections are where she debunks established wisdom and sometimes just rants.

“I’ve been in the process of building that up because I have a lot of opinions, as do most people on the internet, and I thought I’d share them,” Arghandewal said. “I don’t know if a points blog is always the appropriate place, but if it relates to travel, I like to ‘go there’ a little bit.”

Cliffs of Moher
Views galore at the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland.

For all her cutting-edge credibility as someone who talks the talk so she can walk the walk, Arghandewal is decidedly old-school when it comes to managing her obsession.

To date, there hasn’t been an app that could replace her tried-and-true planning spreadsheet.

“I track my cards, balances, and due dates by hand, and then I have a section to note annual fee due dates and spending bonus goals,” Arghandewal said. “Because I actually enjoy this stuff. I’m a nerd about it. I actually want to track it and be obsessive.”

Arghandewal relies on the Award Wallet platform to track her points and miles and monitor expiration dates. She recommends staying organized and letting methods evolve with needs.

Another decidedly old-school (but entirely correct) attitude surfaces when it comes to carrying credit card balances, which Arghandewal regards as antithetical to playing the points game. She recommends straightening that out before jumping in.

“You lose the value of the rewards in the interest you’re paying,” Arghandewal said. “This is only valuable and worth pursuing if you pay your balance in full every month.”