The Beginner's Guide to Miles and Points Travel

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The Beginner's Guide to Miles and Points Travel


I'd like to take a moment to welcome readers that are new to the Miles & Points hobby! 

I remember when I first started out the Miles & Points game, it was quite overwhelming. I did not know where to start and I had no clue how/where to redeem the airline miles and hotel points for travel. If you are in the similar situation that I was in, don't worry! It appears to be overwhelming at first, but once you get the basic concepts of miles and points, you will be on your way to fly for free or stay for free at the hotel on your next vacation. Well, maybe it's not completely FREE, but you will save a lot of money on travel. When you become more familiar with this hobby, you will be flying in Business or First Class, stay in 5 stars hotels and resorts before you know it!

No more making excuses that "it's too expensive to travel!" Travel smarter with miles and points. This guide will walk you step-by-step on how to do that as a beginner.

Table of Contents  [show/hide]

    Sign Up For A Loyalty Program

    Every time you spend your hard earning money on flights, you can earn miles on those flights with the airline. Each time you stay at a hotel that has a rewards program, you can accrue points by the amount of money that you spend there. You cannot collect those points if you don't sign up for their loyalty program in the first place.

    If you fly with United Airlines then sign up for their frequent flyer loyalty program. It's completely free to join. Whenever you take United flight next time, you simply provide your frequent flyer number and the miles will be automatically credited into your United's account. Delta, Alaska, Jet Blue, etc. all have frequent flyer program that you can join free of charge. You don't have to do all that at once now, but next time you fly with a particular airline, make sure to sign up for their frequent flyer program and start earning miles.

    The same thing with hotel stays. MARRIOTT, HYATT, Holiday Inn, Best Western, Quality Inn, even Super 8.... all have their own rewards program. The trick is, you just need to know what hotel falls under which hotel program and then start signing up for that hotel's loyalty program. For example, Holiday Inn's rewards program is not Holiday Inn program, it is under InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) program. Quality Inn is not Quality Inn program, it is actually under Choice Hotels program. Super 8 falls under Wyndham Rewards program, so on and so forth. Believe me, it's a lot to learn at first but once you start doing this every time you book a hotel stay, you will become familiar with these rewards programs. Another trick is that you must book direct with the hotel chain in order to earn eligible points on your stays.

    I like to keep a list of those rewards numbers handy on my phone. It's a way for me to keep track of all those loyalty programs. However you choose to keep track of those loyalty program numbers, it's completely up to you.

    Book Direct

    With airlines, you can book with third party such as Orbitz, Expedia, travel agents, etc. and you can still earn miles. All you need to do is provide your frequent flyer number when making the reservation or afterwards. This, however, is not the case with hotel programs. As I mentioned above, you must book direct with the hotel in order to earn the hotel points. In other word, if you book hotel stays with Booking.com, Orbitz, Hotels.com and other third party travel agencies, you will not be able to earn hotel points. 

    I believe that the challenge here for beginners is trying to figure out what hotel belongs to which hotel's loyalty program. It'll get easier each time, trust me. When in doubt, just ask the hotel directly or google it. It's fine to book the room directly with hotel's front desk on the phone or in person, just make sure you give them your rewards number. You can even sign up for their rewards program at the hotel too, if needed.

    Sign Up For A Credit Card

    This is the most important piece of the puzzles for miles and points travel. It is the main step to make this all happens with miles and points travel. 

    I am not telling you to sign up for a credit card to pay for the trip nor I am telling you to sign up for a credit card and earn points per dollar spend slowly

    Speaking of earning points through credit card spends, most of my friends thinks that I spend a lot of money on the credit card each year in order to earn so many points to fly First Class. This is not true! First, if I rely on this method, I'll need to spend a lot of money to earn those points and that defeats the purpose of using points to travel with less money. Second, it'll take years and years to earn enough points for redemption if that's the case. 

    Then there's another group of friends think that I have those many points to redeem for travel is because I travel a lot. This is also not true! This method also would require me to spend several dollars to travel a lot and then accrue the miles and points slowly. In fact, most of my trips that I took I did not earn points back. The reason is because when you use points to redeem for a flight ticket or a hotel stay, you are not qualified to earn points.

    The secret is, I am telling you to sign up for a credit card that will give you bonus points just to sign up, get approved, and meet the minimum spending requirement to receive the bonus points. What you do after that with the credit card is your personal decision. Getting the bonus points through credit card's sign-ups is the fastest way to earn enough points for travel.

    Before proceeding with this step, you need to understand that credits play a very important role in our financial matters. I like to advice people that if you cannot handle credit cards, then this is not the hobby that you want to get in.
    • If you are late making credit card's payment, then this is not for you. 
    • If you have a tendency to spend more money than you can afford, then this is not for you. 
    • If you have collections or bankruptcy in your credit report, it's better to wait for awhile before applying for a new credit card. However, if you get approved you still need to be a responsible credit card holder moving forward. If you cannot be, then this is not for you. 
    • If you are considering purchasing a home through a mortgage or re-financing your home in a near future, then hold off on applying for the credit card. This hobby is small, but getting you home is much bigger than that. 

    Back to what I was saying, getting the bonus points through credit card's sign-ups is the fastest way to earn enough points for travel. American citizens are considered lucky than other nations because many banks out there offer huge welcome sign-up bonus points and miles to lure consumers to sign up for their credit cards. As far as whether getting a credit card does hurt your credit score or not, the answer is it does; however, I wouldn't be too concerned about it. The impact is pretty low, it's like a "ding" on your credit score. There are so many factors that involve a credit score such as payments, financial history like collections, bankruptcy, etc. that can hugely impact your credit score. With that being said, simply apply for a credit card will "ding" your credit score, but the score will go up again as long as you are making payments on time and keep your debt ratio low. I have like 30 credit cards and my credit score is still in 780-800 range. 

    As a beginner, I suggest that you start out slow. Get one credit card at a time for points and see how earning points all work. Give yourself some time to learn the ins and outs on earning points and redeeming points for travel. I know several people give up on this points and miles hobby because they don't know what to do with those points. That's why it is important to start out slow and make progress along the way. Learn it with me. Although I consider myself a more intermediate level now on miles and points, but I am still learning as well. 

    Which Credit Card To Get For A Beginner?

    Not all credit cards are created equal. There are so many credit cards issued by Chase, American Express, Citi, etc. that are tailored towards travels. 

    When it comes to deciding which credit card is good for you as a beginner, consider the following:
    • How big is the card's welcome sign-up bonus points? 
    • What can I do with those points?
    • Are the points flexible or I can only use those points for a specific airline/hotel? 
    • Is there an annual fee? Does it waive for the first year? 
    • If there's an annual fee, is it worth holding on to it? 
    To be honest with you, this is a complex subject to talk about. I cannot recommend a credit card that fits everyone's travel and life style. 

    For the purpose of points travel focused as a beginner, the following credit card is one my favorites for travel and it is currently offering a pretty high welcome sign-up bonus:

    For example, say you have 50,000 bonus Chase points, you can redeem those 50,000 points as credits back to the balances on the credit card known as cash back. It is equivalent to $500 dollars. So let's say you purchase a flight ticket for $500 on that credit card, you can then use those points to pay back that $500. In the end, you owe nothing. However, I do not recommend that as it yields very poor value in return. Consider the following options instead.

    The Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card gives 25% more in travel redemption. What this means is that, when you purchase the flight through Chase Ultimate Rewards website, for the exact same $500 flight ticket, you will be using only 40,000 Chase points instead of the 50,000 Chase points. You basically use points in lieu of money to pay for that flight. This shows a 10,000 points saving. Your points will always worth 25% more every time you purchase airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards website.

    Another option with 50,000 bonus points, you can transfer those points into United airline miles at 1:1 ratio. So you will get 50,000 United miles and that's enough for 2 round-trip economy tickets in the United States. If that's not what you want to do, you can also transfer those points to HYATT, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and MARRIOTT to redeem for a free stay. Keep in mind that, transferring points to miles creates the best value in return. Most hotels require too many points for a free stay, so it is difficult to get multiple night stays.

    As you can see, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card is considered "flexible points" earning credit card. You are not stuck with specific airline or hotel's program for redemption, but keep in mind that you can only transfer those points to a loyalty program under two conditions:
    • You have an eligible credit card that has ability to transfer points like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
    • Chase partners with the program. For instance, you cannot transfer those points to Delta SkyMiles because Chase does not partner with Delta Airlines. Similarly, if you hold an eligible flexible points earning American Express Cards, then you can transfer American Express points to Delta miles because American Express partners with Delta.

    Flexible points earning credit cards are my favorite. For those that are interested in Airline Credit Cards or Hotel Credit Cards, you will be surprised that they have several of those credit cards out there with a great sign-up bonus as well. The perks that come with airline credit cards such as free check bag, priority boarding, club access are pretty good. The perks that come with hotel credit cards such as elite status for room upgrade, free breakfast, lounge access, and earning bonus points during stay are also pretty good. With a good use in mind of those points for your next vacation, getting a specific credit card for airline or hotel makes sense. 

    Meet Minimum Spend

    In order to earn the bonus points through a credit card, it's very common that you must put certain amount of spend on the card in a period of time. This is a requirement that is defined by each credit card issuer for a particular credit card. 

    Taking the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card as an example, earn 80,000 bonus points after $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. $4,000 is a lot to spend. First of all, those $4,000 spend does not have to be travel related. Second, you have 3 months after account opens to complete the requirement. My recommendation is to take your time. There's no need to rush spending the entire $4,000 in one day. However, keep the deadline in mind or you will lose the sign-up bonus opportunity. Be strategic and creative on putting those $4,000 spend on the card. Here are some ideas:
    • Do you have a medical bill? Majority of hospitals take credit card as payment. 
    • Do you foresee any upcoming big spend on medical reasons, eye Lasik, tooth implants, furniture, holiday shopping, etc.?
    • Purchase gift cards at your favorite restaurants, electronic and clothing stores, etc. those gift cards don't expire, you just need to make sure to remember using them next time you eat or shop. Online gift cards are also good ones. Since we are on the traveling subject, airlines also sell gift cards and so do hotels. Buy now and use later. 
    • Buying a car? Ask the dealer if they take some credit card payment. I personally had this experience that the dealer was willing to take $5,000 max for cash down payment. 
    • Phone, Cable TV, Internet …. contact the company and arrange prepayment. You will pay for them anyway, so prepay and don't need to worry about those bills for awhile. 
    Obviously, there are so may ways to put spend on a credit card. A word of caution here, take it slow and don't abuse the system. So be creative and strategic. You want to create a good relationship with the bank. Most importantly, pay the balances in full on the credit card. The rule of thumb with any credit cards is don't spend more than what you can afford

    See Also:


    Redeem Points

    After all said and done, it comes down to the most important question: How do I redeem those points? This is the most struggling area that many people are facing. 

    I remember when I first started out with the credit cards hobby, through trials and errors I redeemed those points for cash/credit back thinking that was the best way to do with those points. Later, I realized that I can transfer hotel points to airline miles for a free flight. Without hesitation, I did it just to find out that was a very poor transfer ratio and a waste of hotel points. 

    A flight ticket on United airline might cost $200 for a round-trip ticket. Similarly, you can redeem 25,000 United miles for the same flight. Would I personally do it? No, I would not do it because I value United miles more than that. However, for a budget traveler 25,000 miles will get him/her from point A to B and have $200 to spend on hotel/food/entertainment there. 

    The point here is that, there's no a right or wrong way to redeem those points. You learn from trials and errors. The most important for all of this is, redeem those points for travels in which makes the most sense to you in terms of your money situation. What works for you doesn't necessary work for me and vice versa. 

    Back on the subject of redeeming points - It's quite easy actually. If you have a flexible earning points credit card, first check to make sure if the flight is available using miles first. If so, then you can initiate the transfer from credit card points to airline miles. The same thing applies to redeeming for hotel points. The reason for that is because once you initiate the transfer, those points cannot be transferred back. If you have specific airline miles or hotel points, all you need to do is log on to your account and check availability using points. If you prefer to use points in lieu of money to pay for the travel, first you need to make sure you have an eligible credit card and then you search for the flight  directly through the credit card issuer's travel website and pay using points accordingly as mentioned in item number 4 above.

    Enjoy Travel on Points

    This is the most basic and fundamental in points and miles hobby. As the time goes by, I assure you that you will get yourself familiar with this hobby. Follow these steps and more importantly don't give up! I'll be creating more articles on these guides to help you through and hopefully one day you are able to take advantages of the values that miles and points provide for travel. If you are able to redeem points on your next vacation, enjoy it. The process of earning and redeeming those points do take effort, and therefore you well deserve it! 

    If you like this post, please share it!

    PL

    Posted by: PL

    Hello there! People call me PL and I am a points blogger. Obsessed with using points and miles to elevate travel experiences to explore the world. Enjoy finer things in life and good food. I have a day job, this points blog is mainly my hobby and my contribution back to the points community. If you enjoy reading this post, please help me share it! If you enjoy what you read here, please make sure you subscribe or follow this blog on social media so that you will be notified when there's a new blog's post. I thank you for reading this blog. Your support means a lot to me and it is what makes this blog's work worthwhile. If I can be of any help, you can contact me: thepointslife at gmail dot com

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