The greater misconception with frequent flyer miles has always been the same – you need to be a frequent flyer. That couldn’t be far from the truth, and the truth is that those who earn them best do much of the earning without ever leaving the house.

From credit card welcome bonuses to bonus points on certain spending categories, miles are raining from the sky – the question is which ones to focus on, especially in times of uncertainty.

Airlines are in question, hotels are asking for bailouts, and that leaves a very clear cut strategy for earning, which leaves open great opportunities while providing a safety blanket, and even a few new opportunities…

Transferable Points

When you earn points or miles specific to an airline or hotel, you’re pretty much stuck with them for better and worse. There are few opportunities to convert one type of airline or hotel points into another, and even when they exist, they rarely make sense.

With transferable points, like those offered by major banks, it’s an entirely different proposition. Yep, Amex, Capital One, Chase and Citi all offer cards which allow you to convert their points into airline or hotel points, but with the safety net of leaving them “in the bank” until you actually plan to use them.

Given the unprecedented struggles airlines and hotels are facing, that sort of safety net could be all the difference. Chances are most airlines and hotels won’t go under, thanks to bailouts, but there is always that risk, and people stuck holding those currencies could face devaluation, if nothing else.

The safest strategy for earning points right now is to put the vast majority of spend on cards that earn these flexible currencies, rather than individual airline miles or hotel points.

That doesn’t mean you should pass up the amazing 100,000 point welcome bonuses from cards specific to certain airlines or hotels, but most daily purchases should be put on cards earning…

Spending in these currencies has always been a best practice, but there’s a lesser known benefit to that strategy for the coming year which makes the proposition even stronger. Actually, there are quite a few reasons.

Extra Transfer Bonuses

Banks are airlines best customers, and with planes grounded, that’s more true than ever. Selling points is one of the few ways airlines can survive, and whenever you transfer points from your credit card to an airline, you’re part of that.

American Express buys billions of points from Delta each and every year, and every other bank deals in similar figures with their various airline and hotel co-branded credit cards they offer, or their points transfer partners.

These bulk purchases give airlines much needed liquidity, and then allow the banks to use those great deals they got on their bulk points buys to create transfer bonuses. This year it wouldn’t be at all unreasonable to think that there will be more bonuses offered for anyone transferring points from the Amex, Capital One, Chase or Citi to an airline or hotel program.

There’s nothing more satisfying than turning 1 point with a bank program into 1.5 miles with an airline. 100,000 into 150,000 is a beautiful thing, and as airlines and hotels look to shore up short term cash needs, expect this to be a big concept.

amex gold cardsMaximizing Points Per Dollar

And then there’s the extra bonus points on things you can buy from your couch, where you’re hopefully reading this. American Express was the first to enter the game, partnering with Rakuten, formerly known as eBates.

Via the partnership, Rakuten members (it’s free) can choose between cash back or Membership Rewards, which sometimes means 10x or better on purchases, in addition to what Amex typically rewards you for the spending anyway.

For example, Amex Platinum offers 5x points on airfare, but if you first click to your airline from Rakuten, you might enjoy an extra 1X-3X, adding to that total. Emirates offers 1X on Rakuten right now, so you’d earn 6 Amex Points per dollar spent, which is fantastic. During limited time you can do even better, and hotels are more rewarding.

When you’re talking about large purchases, that really matters.

Partnerships between more banking programs and cash-back programs like Rakuten make total sense, and it’s hard not to feel smug with all the extra points. As these opportunities grow, this gives you greater opportunity to rake in the points, while maintaining a safety blanket, free from loyalty program devaluations.

If there’s anything consumers learned while business was “good” it’s that some loyalty programs just can’t be trusted. Now that business is “bad”, there will be real opportunity out there for those holding flexible points to cash in on some fantastic deals.

Earning Benefits From Travel Deals

Chase offers perhaps the best mechanism to earn serious travel benefits without spending actual cash, by allowing Chase Sapphire Reserve card members to spend points on travel purchases at a rate of 1.5 cents per point. Basically, 100,000 points would cover $1500 of airfare or hotels, and the same ratio applies for all other amounts.

What’s great about these transactions, is that to the airline or hotel, you paid cash. Only Chase knows you paid points, so as far as airlines go, the tickets are actually eligible to earn miles, points and elite status credits.

Hotels are typically tighter, and don’t allow either points, night credits or both, unless booked directly through their sales channels.

As airlines and hotels emerge from current times, incredible flash sales will be everywhere, and being able to turn credit card points into tickets or nights which will earn you fantastic benefits like upgrade vouchers and lounge access is superb.

You could literally earn top tier status with an airline without actually spending any money, and that’s not something you could do if you weren’t earning a flexible currency. Plus, this is the safest way to earn points, until there’s great clarity around travel. Not bad, eh?

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