As I mentioned over the weekend, this past week has been absolutely crazy. This is due in part to some rather sensationalist (and inaccurate) treatment I’ve been getting on social media.
Fortunately, I also had the chance to speak with several other media outlets last week in the hopes of setting the record straight. I’m a bit shy about sharing video of myself, but David Wright and the team at Nightline did a really fantastic job on this segment, and I thought you guys might enjoy watching it:
I’m still not sure how I feel about all of this, but a few notes on the video:
Tip #1: Using the right credit cards
One of the keys to traveling the world for pennies on the dollar is credit cards. Virtually all airlines and hotel chains have co-branded credit cards that allow you to accrue points in your preferred program. Not only do credit card companies offer huge sign-up bonuses just for being approved for a card, but they also offer bonus points for spending in certain categories.
At the most basic level, using the right credit cards can help increase the rate at which you earn miles. If your family spends $6,000 per year on groceries for example, would you rather earn 6,000 points or 12,000 points? How about 18,000 points? You’re going to be buying groceries anyway, so you should be getting the most for every dollar you spend.
We didn’t plan it this way, but the journalist covering the story, David Wright, actually provided a great example. He’s using a card that only earns one point per dollar. And he’s redeeming at a rate of 1¢ per mile. So he can easily double or triple the points he earns in a given year by mixing up his credit card portfolio, and then can look at finding more valuable redemptions.
#2 No such thing as a free mile
We’ll have more posts on this in the coming days, including how to set a value on your miles, but I think it’s worth repeating that nothing is “free.” Even if you travel exclusively on points, there’s an opportunity cost to every point you earn, and there are taxes, fees, etc., on the redemption side.
Beyond that, there’s a huge time investment in learning the intricacies of miles, points, loyalty programs, and so forth. So you want to make sure the investment pays off when you go to redeem your miles.
#3 Book really early, or really late
While this doesn’t necessarily hold true for purchasing tickets, if you’re redeeming miles this is the best strategy. Many airlines will release award seats far in advance (around 10-11 months prior to departure), but the very best award availability comes from the unsold inventory in the days prior to departure.
These seats would otherwise go out empty, so many carriers will actively release these seats for awards and upgrades in hopes of bringing in the marginal revenue. If you aren’t able to find a great itinerary 3-9 months out, it can make sense to lock in a reasonable option, and then change the award ticket when additional space is released.
Credit scores and AARP
I’ve written extensively about how actively managing my credit cards has led to a better overall credit score. The key is to be responsible with your credit, and to always pay your bill on time (or early), and in full.
For those wondering about AARP, yes, anyone can join. The membership is $16 per year, and can save you hundreds on travel — particularly for business class travel on British Airways.
Everyone can travel better
I’m particularly grateful that Keri of Heels First Travel and Stefan of Rapid Travel Chai were able to join me. The segment was put together on very short notice, so it was hardly convenient, but they were both gracious about the entire situation.
Both are also, I think, great examples of how you don’t need to be a full-time addict to find great value in miles and points. Stefan regularly travels in economy, and to countries that barely have airports. Keri takes a handful of luxury vacations every year. But both also have “normal” jobs, and wouldn’t be able to travel the way they do without leveraging miles and points.
The main goal with what I write here on the blog everyday is that you guys will be able to find the tips and deals that make the most sense for your travel aspirations.
It’s the same reason I try to review so many diverse flights and hotels: I’m incredibly fortunate to have the flexibility to not be limited in the amount of time I can spend traveling, so my hope is that by sampling as many different products as possible, I can help those of you with limited vacation time make the most of your trips.
The possibilities really are endless!