Intimidated by points and miles? Here are 8 steps for beginners looking to earn travel rewards

first class flight

  • Points and miles can seem intimidating. There’s a lot
    to learn, and sometimes it seems like it’s impossible to ever use
    those hard-earned rewards.
  • If you’re willing to put in a bit of effort and can
    boost your earnings with a rewards
    credit card
    , points and miles can be extremely rewarding. Think
    international first and business class and five-star
    hotels.
  • Even if you just want to dip your toes in the water,
    you can easily earn enough points and miles to cover domestic
    travel.

You’ve probably seen articles about seemingly average
middle-class Americans using points and miles to go on trips that
seem impossible — flying international business class to
Australia, diving in the Maldives, or spending a week at a ski
resort in Aspen — and you may wonder how you could do the same.
Here are eight steps to get you started on your miles and points
journey.

1. Decide what your priorities are

How many times do you travel each year? Do you want to add more
travel, replace a trip that you usually take with something a bit
more extravagant, or simply save some money on trips that you’d be
taking anyway? Are you hoping to use points and miles to offset the
cost of flights, hotels, rental cars, activities, or something
else? (Flights and hotels tend to offer the best value, so that’s
what we’ll focus on here.) All of these are important
considerations to plan your strategy.

2. Do some research

Once you know where you want to go, find out what airlines fly
there, what hotels exist, and how much their respective loyalty
programs charge to redeem award flights or hotel stays. That will
help you figure out which credit
cards
are the best fit for your needs.

Also, check out travel blogs to find out whether there are any
specific issues you need to be aware of — for example, does the
airline you want to book on only make first-class seats available
seven days before departure? Does the hotel you’re eyeing require
that you stay at least four nights to be able to make a reservation
with points? These are good things to know before you start
accumulating points that may be more difficult to use than you’d
hoped.

3. Choose one or more credit cards that align with your
priorities, and apply

Amex Platinum card

If you know a specific airline is the best way to get where
you’re trying to go, that airline’s credit card might be a good
place to start to pick up a lot of miles with a signup bonus.
 

If you’re looking at a specific hotel, check out the hotel
chain’s credit cards — typically they’ll offer either free night
certificates or bonus rewards points for signing up, plus extra
benefits like elite status in the hotel’s loyalty program.

And if you’re not sure about your plans — or you’ve got
several options — many banks have their own rewards programs
whose points can be transferred to several partner loyalty
programs. For example, American
Express’
Membership Rewards points can be transferred to 17
different airlines and 3 hotel programs or can be used to book cash
tickets directly (so you don’t have to worry about availability
restrictions). You can earn Membership Rewards points with cards
like the
Platinum Card® from American Express
and the
American Express® Gold Card
, and these cards also offer other
benefits like annual statement credits for
airline incidental fees
.

4. Spend wisely

Having a rewards-earning credit card isn’t an excuse to
overspend — you won’t save any money that way! The rewards you
earn — even from a
credit card sign-up bonus
— aren’t worth enough to offset
spending beyond your means.

Rewards
credit cards
should be a way to enhance the benefit you’re
getting from your everyday spending, not a reason to justify extra
purchases or spending beyond your means.

5. Plan ahead

Airlines typically start making award seats available to book
10-11 months in advance, and most hotel programs also make rooms
available around the same time. The most popular routes and times
of year tend to get booked quickly, so if you start planning well
in advance, you’ll have a better chance of getting the flight or
room you’re looking for.

Even if you’re not vying for a super-popular date or route,
booking flights in advance will save you some money (or points)
—for example,
American Airlines
and United
Airlines
charge fees for award tickets booked less than 21 days
before departure, while Delta Air
Lines
is known to require extra points for bookings in that
time window.

6. Be flexible

This is the key to having a successful experience booking travel
with miles and points. Can you leave a day earlier or later than
you initially hoped? Are you willing to take an extra connection, a
long layover, or an undesirable redeye flight? Can you fly out of
an airport farther away from where you live, or into an airport
farther from your destination? The more flexibility you have with
your plans, the better chance you have of successfully booking your
trip.

7. Pay attention to details

Airlines, hotels, and banks are able to offer generous rewards
because they know a certain percentage of people won’t take
advantage of them or will allow them to expire. Take a look at the
little benefits booklet that came with your credit card — there
are probably a lot of things in there you didn’t know you were
eligible for! (And if the legalese gets a bit much for you, check
out summaries on travel blogs to get an overview — just remember
that little booklet is the ultimate authority.)
Free tools like AwardWallet
can help you remember to use your
rewards before they expire.

8. Remember that there’s no such thing as entirely free
travel

Even if you’re able to cover the cost of flights and hotels with
your rewards points, there are always going to be expenses you need
to pay for out of pocket like transportation, meals, activities,
and souvenirs.

Most rewards credit cards have annual fees, typically starting
around $90 and going as high as $550. And since your purchases
could just as easily go on a credit
card that earns cash back
— at least 2%, if not more — by
using a rewards credit card, you’re betting that you’ll be able to
make better use of the points than you could with that cash in your
pocket. So do the math, and make sure you’re striking the balance
you want between quality experiences and your budget.

Curious about which cards I use and why? Here are a few of my
favorites:


  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
    , because it offers
    great rewards on travel and built-in travel insurance for when
    things don’t go as planned. It also offers great rewards on dining
    (3x points).

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited
    , because it offers
    1.5% cash back (1.5x Ultimate Rewards points) on all purchases.
    It’s my top pick for purchases that don’t earn a bonus with another
    card.

  • Chase Freedom
    , thanks to its quarterly rotating
    categories that earn 5% cash back (5x points) on up to $1,500 in
    purchases each quarter you activate. A great way to rack up some
    serious points!

  • Platinum Card from American Express
    , because it gets
    me access to American Express’ wonderful Centurion Lounges and
    credit for Uber rides each month.

  • IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
    , mostly for the
    one free night at IHG hotels every year (that costs up to 40,000
    points) just for paying the annual fee.


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Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News
Intimidated by points and miles? Here are 8 steps for beginners looking to earn travel rewards