free travel is the best travel.
free travel is the best travel.
How do you get miles? We live in a time when points and miles are everywhere. There are a million ways to collect them and there are huge bonus opportunities to be had, many without leaving the house let alone traveling. The single quickest way to accumulate points is by by signing up for a credit card, turning every single purchase into miles. Other than cards there are many ways to earn miles without flying such as: dining out, paying bills, online shopping, tweeting, taking surveys, buying wine, staying in hotels and renting cars. When you think about it like that ... points and miles are for everyone.
Simple really. Signing up for a frequent flier program is free and you do not need to be a frequent traveler to reap the rewards. Sign up for all of them you can think of. Every program offers bonus miles for doing all sorts of easy things you can do just from home. There's at least ten ways to earn miles WITHOUT FLYING and at least FIVE Without LEAVING THE HOUSE!
Dining: Almost every airline has a "dining program". Simply signing up often nets a minimum of 1,000 miles. When you sign up you are able to see which restaurants around you are in the "dining network". When you register and eat at one of them (no reservation required) you receive between 1-10 points per dollar spent on the meal. This can really add up for foodies.
Renting a Car: Nearly every airline has a close relationship with car rental companies. There are always emails and offers for bonus miles to rent through a partner. Simply add your frequent flier number of choice to your reservation and watch the miles stack.
Paying Bills: Most reward credit cards offer a minimum of 1 point per dollar on all purchases. I pay my car insurance and many other things with a credit card and receive 3,000 miles a year for doing so.
Online Shopping: Every airline has a "shopping portal". This is an area on their website where merchants compete for traffic. By simply clicking to Nike or any other retailer listed from your airline's shopping portal you can get between 1-50 points per dollar spent. You get the same prices, you shop on your favorite sites, but just for clicking over from the airline first, you get rewarded, big time!
Pay in full and don't charge things you cannot afford. With that said, charge everything on them. Use it like a debit card. Use it instead of your debit card. If you have the money to pay it all at the end of the month the only difference in using a credit card and a debit card is a credit card will earn you between 1-5x points or more on everything you do. Car insurance for the year? Roughly $1,500-3,000? That would take care of a spending bonus to get big miles. Between utility bills, groceries, gas, clothing, food and drinks I would be surprised if most of you didn't have roughly $1,000 in expenses every month. Charge them, get rewarded and pay them in full so you pay no interest. Not a dime. Ever. Two cards can be enough for a Round Trip International Flight in business or first class!
In general the best place to start is to find two cards that can transfer to the same reward program. It is important to decide which two cards you wish to pursue and why before you get the first one. Some things to consider are: which airlines fly where you live? where do you want to go? how many miles will you need for a free trip?
By pooling points from two cards you can generally redeem for a high value flight or hotel award. "Co-branded" cards are cards offered by an airline or hotel and backed by a bank. These cards generally offer big introductory mileage bonuses. With any of these cards your points are locked to the airline or hotels individual point program. Some examples of these would be: Delta American Express, Hilton Citi Visa, American Airlines Citi Mastercard, United Airlines Chase Visa.
My best recommendation is to find a card whose points are transferrable.. A non co-branded card can be a good way to do this. American Express Premier Rewards Gold, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Thank you Preferred or any other card that is solely issued by the bank are perfect examples. You want to choose a card where the points you earn are transferrable to many airline and hotel partners giving you the most flexibility. For each of you, the answer of which card, and why will be different based on your travel wants.
If for the sake of example you got a Chase United Explorer Card that comes with 50,000 United miles you might perhaps want to follow it up with a Chase Sapphire Preferred card which comes with 45,000 points which you could transfer into United miles giving you a combined balance of 95,000 United Miles. These miles would be enough for a first class international ticket. This same theory applies to any airline which carries a co-branded card. I personally did this with Delta American Express and the American Express Platinum Card.
Lets start with good credit. You need it. Even if you dont have it currently you CAN still achieve it.
Credit is a function of time. If you have always paid your bills on time and kept small or zero balances and have done this for years, chances are your credit is extraordinary. You can probably get any credit card you want. If you made mistakes with your credit like not paying a bill or maxing a card out it is probably hurting right now. Its okay, in time if you right the ship and don't miss any payments while keep your balances low your scores and credit will bounce back to as good as new. It is all a function of time. The more time that has passed since you managed your credit well the better the chance of getting approved for each and every card I list here.
Applying for cards does not necessarily hurt your score. In general it improves it over time. If your pre existing accounts are over a year old adding a new one or two should not have a significant effect. After a month or two of good use and small balances your scores should be better than ever. If you were to go manic and try to add...say 10 cards in a month this would be perceived as desperation and subsequently your scores would drop. I try to limit my applications to less than 5 a year to stay on the safe side. Don't be afraid, many people successfully do up to 20. Many blogs advocate for new applications all the time but I try to avoid this to: minimize the money I need to spend to make bonuses and maximize my credit score.
Waiting truly was the hardest part.
Waiting truly was the hardest part.
My basic mantra on using points is: Let's go to the farthest place we want to go in the best cabin we can swing. Airlines and credit card companies value miles at .01 cents per mile. So. 100,000 miles is valued at $1,000 cash. DON'T think that way! 100,000 miles can get you a ticket worth many multiples of that sometimes even upwards of $9,000 dollars. I always recommend getting as much seat for your buck by searching for premium cabins and far destinations. Think of the places you would love to go to but are too expensive out of pocket. I will update the POINTS & MILES BLOG regularly with strategies on the most efficient uses of various points from different programs and where they can take you. I for example found that if I wanted to return to Rio De Janeiro this year that converting to British Airways points from Chase and American Express would be the most economical use (no longer the case). At the time I could get round trip Business Class for 100,000 British Airways Avios and only $62 in taxes.There is nothing wrong with using miles out of necessity for a short flight or emergency but it is not ideal and definitely not the best way to spend your hard earned miles.
The best thing to do is to figure out your destination first. Once you have your destination in mind its time to look at who flies there. Put together a list. It is also definitely worth looking into whether you have any pre existing miles or not. If you do it could be a great head start! If you do have points; see if there are any opportunities to earn significant points towards that program through credit card sign up bonuses. If not, don't sweat it you are still going to be able to get your great flight.
To spend your miles you will need to transfer them to a hotel or airline. Some credit cards have already done that for you. If you have say....an American Airlines Citi card your miles are stuck in American Airlines. If you have a card directly issued by Chase, American Express or Citi chances are you have options on which airline or hotel you would like to transfer to. Each of these banks has "transfer partners". Transfer partners are airlines or hotels in which you can convert your "chase" "amex" or "citi" points into. If you have 50,000 American Express Membership Rewards Points for example you could transfer them to Delta, British Airways and many others.
To fly on American Airlines: Maybe start with a Citi American Airlines Card and a Citi Thank You Preferred card. Citi is American Airlines preferred card partner. By getting these two you would get roughly 50,000 American Miles for signing up for the first card (Citi American Airlines Card) and roughly 35,000 miles for signing up for the second (Citi Thank You Preferred). You would then transfer your Thank you Preferred Citi Points into American Airlines giving you a combined American Airlines balances of 85,000 miles.
To fly on Delta Airlines: Maybe start with a Delta American Express Gold or Platinum card. This should carry a bonus of anywhere between 35-50,000 miles (occasionally more). Next grab a normal American Express card like the Green, Premier Rewards Gold, Platinum or Everyday. These cards will get you anywhere from 10-70,000 points depending on which one and the current offer. Your miles from your Delta American Express are already stuck in the Delta Skymiles Program. Next just transfer your American Express Points into Delta Skymiles for a combined balance of (hopefully) 100,000.
To fly on United Airlines: Maybe start with a Chase United Card. They often come with good bonuses around 35-50,000 like the other airline cards. Next add the Chase Sapphire Preferred and maybe additionally the Chase Freedom. These two or three cards should yield you roughly 100,000 United Points when you convert the Sapphire Preferred and or Freedom points into United Miles.
Now hopefully you get the idea. The same strategy could be applied to any Airline which offers a card and has partners who allow you to transfer their points to that Airlines program. There are more advanced techniques to maximize initial bonuses but they are generally time sensitive and as such are posted in the POINTS & MILES BLOG. Check there regularly to see if any extraordinary offers have come around, if not this is all you need to start.
Passport: I recommend making a photocopy of your passport and information page. Keep one in a safe at home and keep one with you in case your physical passport gets lost or stolen. This way you can either call home and have them fax your photocopy to the embassy or you can do so yourself.
Debit Card: Whenever I see people exchanging money at the airport I think of one word: Rookie. Every "no fee" exchange service is ripping you off for 10 cents on the dollar and charging you a consumer and not a banking exchange rate. There is an extremely probable chance that your Debit/ATM card works just fine in the country you are visiting. Double check. Bring it and make one or two cash withdrawals. This gets you the bank rate not the consumer rate on exchange. Most banks charge a flat $5.00 or waived fee to use your debit card abroad. The five dollars will save you substantially on the $40-100 you could be losing out on through a currency exchange.
Credit Card: Bring (if you have them) a mix of cards. Hopefully none of your cards charge foreign transaction fees. Assuming thats true try to bring a Mastercard, Visa and American Express. Does your card have a chip on it? That only helps. Some countries are more friendly to Mastercard, Visa or American Express so having all ensures that you will never be stuck at the register.
Paper Itineraries: This might sound like a very "mom" idea but its essential. Sometimes computers break down. Sometimes airlines or hotels have systemwide glitches. Don't want to get stuck? Don't forget your paper copies. These serve as a easy reminder to you and can bail you out big time when adversity strikes.
Check in: If you are using your miles cleverly and are sitting up front...kudos. If not it never hurts to ask what can be done to improve your seat. Airlines offer a variety of minor upgrade experiences from extra legroom, more recline and free drinks to a whole other cabin class. Be courteous, not entitled and see what is on offer.
Lounges: Hopefully you have been listening and if you travel much have invested in a card or program that grants you lounge access. Not lounges are created equal but almost all lounges offer free alcoholic beverages, snacks, food, complimentary wifi and quiet sitting areas. This makes an airport very tranquil or rowdy depending on how you want to play it. I love lounges that have private shower suites where you can change into comfy clothes before the flight. If you haven't found a card that offers lounge membership the primary cards for lounge access are: The American Express Platinum, Citi Prestige, Visa Black.
Taxis: Uber is amazing if you are in a major city. I have a free ride for you if you email me. Do not take taxis or transit vehicles that have not been previously arranged. This is the easiest and usually the worst pitfall for travellers. From something as mundane as being ripped off to something much worse like being robbed in a foreign country don't let this happen to you. Do your research in advance, look for public transit and then decide according to your budget and schedule.
Tip on Arrival: I get very frustrated with hotel and service tipping. Its a huge pain. For my workaround I recommend tipping well when you arrive at your destination. The way I see it you set a great first impression and show a respect to the employees with whom you will be spending your time. Tip each guy and then don't worry about it. You never know, sometimes it leads to a room upgrade or some free drinks.
Embrace Culture: No one likes the westerner who is complaining that there aren't pancakes for Breakfast in Thailand. Try new things, attempt to speak even the most basic foreign language phrases and let yourself experience something out of the norm. I laugh when people tell me they fly across the world to go to restaurant chains they could find anywhere. You could get all of that very easily without the 15 hour flight. Try some local food, see what people wear, have a local drink and immerse yourself.