One of the first things I put up under the Beginner’s Guide tab was a 10-step guide to help readers begin churning miles and points. Over the next few days I’ll be doing a 10-post series, elaborating on each of the steps below.
The beginner’s guide to traveling for (almost) free on miles and points:
1. Set travel goals
2. Check your credit
3. Sign up for rewards programs
4. Manage your miles and credit cards
5. Sign up for a rewards earning credit card
6. Shift your everyday spend to credit cards
7. Meet the minimum spending requirements
8. Maximize bonuses and promotions
9. Earn points by dining and shopping
10. Redeem points and miles for free travel
1. Set Travel Goals
It’s easy to get carried away and start applying for a bunch of random credit cards that seem like good offers, but I’d highly recommend setting a specific travel goal when you are first starting out. Do you want to take your family of four to Disneyland, or are you trying to fly first class to Europe to stay in luxury hotels? Most bloggers suggest that you get the most value of your points by flying internationally in business or first class cabins (because those flights tend to be VERY expensive if you pay out of pocket), but that doesn’t mean that’s how you have to spend our points.
The Villain and I tend to prefer quantity over quality. With our current mileage balances, it makes more sense for us to use our miles to be able to take several short weekend trips instead of flying in fancier cabins. For example, we are traveling to Germany this fall for Oktoberfest and we could have used 200,000 Ultimate Rewards points to get two roundtrip tickets to Europe in business class. But, we decided to fly economy for 120,000 miles total, and use the remaining 80,000 miles for weekend getaways to San Diego and Seattle this summer (flights and hotels included).
Not to say that if we had hundreds of thousands of miles sitting around that we wouldn’t fly first class and gladly enjoy the lie-flat beds, fine wines, better food, lounge access, etc., but right now that doesn’t make sense for us. The Villain was actually lucky enough to be able to fly first class on his move home from China. There were no saver awards available the dates he needed, and even economy flights were well over $1,000 if we had to pay out of pocket. Luckily there was a first class seat available on American for 60,000 miles (less miles than required for the available standard economy seat). At the time of booking, his first class seat was selling for over $10,000.
Part of the beauty of miles and points is to be able to use them when you’re in a pinch, like we did to get The Villain home. While it’s great to have some miles on hand “just in case,” in general it’s better to not just randomly accumulate miles in various programs, but to have set goals for what you might need for specific trips. The types of points you need will vary greatly based on your travel needs. For example, Southwest primarily flies domestically, so you wouldn’t want to sign up for their card if your goal was to visit Australia. It’s a good idea to pick a few possible destinations, and look at the airline and hotel charts (links to Million Mile Secrets) to determine how many points or miles your dream vacation will cost you.
When I first stumbled onto credit card churning, I immediately made The Villain pull a credit report, and when it came back all clear, I signed him up for four different airline credit cards: Delta, United, US Airways and American. I’m pretty sure his parents were appalled about the number of new cards showing up in the mail (we were abroad at the time, eagerly learning all
we I could about travel hacking from our Thai hostel cafe), but besides making them a little nervous about the financial responsibility of the woman he was about to marry, signing up for the first four cards that sounded good wasn’t the most brilliant idea. We still haven’t managed to use any of his Delta points, as Delta doesn’t seem to operate many flights out of Denver, and their availability never works for us. Now we track every point and every upcoming trip and make sure that any card we sign up for aligns with our travel strategy.