airport space
Cathay Pacific Lounge at HKG

Make no mistake about it, some things in life are poorly named. Think: great white shark named friendly. Another one – frequent flyer miles. In case you didn’t know – you don’t need to fly to earn them, and actually how frequently you fly has very little to do with how many you earn either.

It’s time to put one of the most misleading terms in all of travel to bed, so that more people can benefit from points – which have nothing to do with high flying travellers and everything to do with things you can do for yourself, without even leaving your home. The easiest of all – spending money.

Why bother? Because rewards can add up fast, and when they do, you get to travel, even if you’re not a frequent flyer ; )

a glass of wine next to a windowIt’s 2020, which means there’s plenty of time to usher in a new era. Points are everywhere, and frequent flyer miles are gone. In recent years, airlines even stopped equating the number of “miles” you earn when you fly with a distance travelled, and instead, many now award “miles” purely based on how much you spent on the ticket. Some give perks the same way.

Someone could earn more frequent flyer miles from one overpriced journey between New York and Miami than someone who flies around the world twice. Seriously. Someone could also earn more points in a year without leaving home than someone who flies every day.

Let’s just call them points…

contactless credit cardWith points, we no longer need to distinguish between airline “miles”, hotel “points” and credit card points – we can just call them all points, and stick an airline, hotel, car rental or credit card company name in front. Most importantly: we can finally convince our sheepish neighbours, friends and loved ones that the “points game” is for everyone, and you really should play.

Points are…

  • lattes
  • nights out
  • Amazon shopping
  • buying clothes
  • home repairs
  • referring a friend
  • App store purchases
  • flying in planes
  • sleeping in hotels
  • that Sunday paper

Basically, every behaviour in your life involving a swipe, entering a 16 digit card number, mode of transportation or spending money should be earning points. Which ones you choose to collect, that’s up to you, but it’s too lucrative not to participate.

Start with a rewards credit card, since they typically allow you to earn all of the above – airline or hotel points – at the same time, and you just choose which one you’d like to convert yours into when the time comes.

Despite sounding scary, rewards credit cards are the easiest way to dive in, since they do half the work for you, by earning points on everything you buy. Learning to spend them wisely takes a bit more time, or goal planning, but you’ll get there in the meantime.

a deck with chairs and a view of the oceanWhenever I give a talk, there’s always a handful of people in the room who are flabbergasted to learn that with most airlines, there are at least 23 ways to earn miles, almost all of which don’t involve flying or even travel at all. One of the easiest: just switching to a new phone plan.

If this is new to you, start by jumping in and making sure you’re earning points on everything, even if you don’t have a rewards credit card. Don’t buy anything online without reading up about easy online shopping portals either. If this points stuff is not new to you, consider stepping back and seeing if you are missing anything in your points earning arsenal, the game changes regularly.

While it does change, one thing stays the same – opportunities are everywhere, and travel, let alone frequent travel, is simply not required to take part. Someone earning 5X points on office supplies, or 4X every time they go out to dinner is going to earn more points than most flyers going to the far reaches of the globe.

Whatever you do, just stop calling them frequent flyer miles.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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    1. Thanks for your useful contribution, which makes both the internet and world a better place. May more people take the time to share such insightful thoughts.

  1. “Points” in itself is too little as if you just refer to points in a conversation everyone will hear that differently. Loyalty Points …. Reward Points …..

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