Beginners Guide To Miles & Points: What’s The Point?

Beginners Guide To Miles & Points
What’s The Point?
How Loyalty Programs Work
Credit Cards and Credit Scores
Types of Miles & Points
Identifying Your Travel Goals
How Alliances Work
Credit Card Strategy For Beginners
Earning Miles & Points
Hotels Matter Too
What’s Next?

Travel isn’t free.

Period.

But there are ways to improve both the quality and the quantity of your travel once you know a few tricks.

I’d argue that anyone can significantly upgrade their travel experiences through strategic use of airline miles, hotel points, and credit card rewards.

I’ve been able to travel amazing places, in a style I would never have thought possible, and it’s almost entirely due to maximizing the value of airline miles.

Let’s break this down into a more concrete example (and I’m going to use round numbers here just to make the math easier).

Imagine there are two couples with relatively similar financial situations. Both are planning to travel to Europe for two weeks in summer, and have budgeted $5000 for the total trip.

The first couple are savvy consumers, so they know to shop around when looking for airfare. They research flights, decide they’re okay with making an extra connection to save money, and eventually settle on economy tickets between Chicago and Paris that come to $1500 each, once the taxes are included.

ORD-CDG flights

This leaves $2000 for the other expenses on their trip; train tickets to the South of France, maybe a studio apartment overlooking the Cote d’Azur in Nice; and a few meals out. They stretch the rest of their budget by preparing meals in their kitchenette, and taking picnics to the beach.

They have a fantastic vacation.

The second couple has been collecting airline miles and credit card points using the tips and strategies I’ll lay out in this guide. They shop around for tickets using miles (maybe even using an award booking service to maximize the value of their points), and are able to redeem miles for business class tickets to Europe. Their out-of-pocket for the various taxes and fees comes to a total of $250.

No, really.

This leaves $4750 to spend on their vacation, so they have many more options. Maybe they rent a villa near Cannes, or, if they’ve been saving hotel points as well, book a room at a luxury resort in the French Riviera.

Hyatt_Regency_Nice41
I booked the Hyatt Regency Nice last summer on points, which was a tremendous value

Alternatively, maybe they decide to economize as well, and save $2500 for a future trip.

They also have a fantastic vacation.

The real difference here is in the possibilities that are created by leveraging airline miles.

Some people want to spend less on travel.

Others want to upgrade to business class (or even first class).

Some people want to take more trips each year, or be able to visit places around the globe that are otherwise out of reach.

With the right miles and mindset, anything is possible.

But wait! I don’t have a job that requires me to travel thousands of miles a year, or spend hundreds of nights in hotels!

That’s okay!

The reality of the airline industry at present is that frequent flyer programs are insanely profitable – even separate from their airlines. This means those programs have created very lucrative partnerships with banks and credit cards.

So you can truly earn more miles and points from your everyday spending than you can from flying.

This won’t always be the case, but it makes sense to maximize these rewards in the meantime!

In this guide we’ll go through the basics of earning miles and points, and give you all the information you need to upgrade your travel, and fly in international premium cabins for pennies on the dollar.

Next: How Loyalty Programs Work

Comments

  1. would like to joint milage club have been to Alaska and back to Australia going again 2016

  2. We are hoping to use Alaska points to get to europe and back approximately july 28 to Aug 28 2015.

    It looks like flights are online about 11 months ahead?

    It looks like we can get a direct flight from Vancouver BC to Amsterdam in July 2015.

    Are there any direct flights returning to Vancouver at the end of August? From any cities? Points are great but free isn’t worth 36 hours of travel time to us.

    I can’t see any for July at this time so I’m wondering if the airlines don’t release any direct flights in the summer for points?

    My sense is that I will need to book one way for the departure flights and then 4 weeks later book one way for the return flights to get the best flights?

    Any suggestions or responses are very appreciated…

    Thanks!
    A first time points user

  3. @ Joanne — Correct, they don’t release space until 11 months out. So you could lock in the outbound and then when the schedule opens up lock in space for the return, which is probably your best bet. If you look right when the schedule opens, there’s a great chance that space will be available.

  4. Since I am only 15, there is literally only one frequent flyer program I can actually use: Miles and More

  5. Hey Ben, is there a link to a crash course-type article on Mileage Plan? I’m so good at the programs I regularly use, but I know nothing about them. I just requested a status match to 75K, and I want to familiarize myself with them. Thanks 🙂

  6. I absolutely love what you’re doing for a living and id love to do the same.Can you give me any tips to do the same considering am 16 years old and from Nigeria..

  7. Lucky,

    You have the most comprehensive site I’ve seen. Thank you. I will use your links in the future to give back for all I’ve gotten out of your site.

    I have 3 cards now (Amex Delta, Citi AA, and US Airways) My next card will be the Chase Sapphire Preferred. What is the sign up bonus history on this card? I’m not in a hurry to get it. I can wait for a bigger offer.

    I’m an international economy traveler, to Europe mostly.

  8. @ Gerardo — Welcome and thanks for reading! We’ve seen some slightly higher offers a couple of years back, though I doubt they’ll return. It hasn’t gotten much higher than the current offer, so if I were in your shoes I’d probably sign up under it. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  9. Ben,

    Thanks for your blog. I enjoy your reviews and travel advice immensely. My wife and I are planning a trip to Italy or Spain for the winter of 2016. We want to travel in style so I wanted to get your advice for how to best accumulate resources for the trip. We live in Atlanta and my travel for work is by contract with Delta. I already have a AMEX platinum card. Should I get the AMEX Delta card as well? If so which one? I am assuming my options are limited to Delta with my work travel. Thanks in advance for your time.

  10. @ Ed — How many Membership Rewards points do you presently have, and do you have any other cards besides the Amex Plat?

  11. @Ben I was thinking the Amex everyday preferred card might be a good option with its monthly bonus points, low fees and membership reward points seem like a good common currency. The Amex Delta Reserve Card has a lot of overlap with the platinum card and I don’t pay for checking bags anyway, but does offer potentially more skymiles. Decisions decisions:)

  12. @ Ed — I absolutely think it’s a great card, and it gives you a lot more flexibility than directly having a Delta SkyMiles card. I’d go for it.

  13. @Ben done and done – thanks for your advice. One last question, how far in advance should I get in touch with your award help service to get our trip booked?

  14. @ Ed — Generally speaking, as close to when the schedule opens as possible. So a bit over 11 months out is ideal.

  15. Hi @Lucky!
    I’m a very enthusastic (and loyal 😉 ) reader of your blog and a plane lover myself. Please don’t take this wrong, I’m just curious about what you think of flight related health risks.
    I myself try to fly as often as my schedule permits it but articles like this (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2998699/The-scariest-ways-air-travel-affects-health.html) get me thinking. Admittedly dailymail is not the best site to get your facts straight and I certainly will not say no to flying just because of it, that’s for sure.
    But out of curiosity and because you are often around frequent flyers: Have you experienced anything like this or heard about anyone complaining about health issues related to air travel?

  16. @ Nora — Maybe stupidly it’s not something I put a lot of thought into. Ultimately flight attendants and pilots fly a ton, and in 99.999% of cases I haven’t heard of any health issues as a result. I’m not a doctor or expert on the subject, but it’s not something I put much thought into. Thanks for reading!

  17. Hi! Heard about your website from a friend. I moved to tr states two yrs back and I travel a lot(to India atleast once a year) and more. I would like to get a credit card that helps me get miles for flights n hotels. What do u suggest??

  18. @ Aakansha — Welcome and thanks for reading! Where do you live and which miles/credit cards do you currently have, if any?

  19. Ben – I have been on FlyerTalk and The Points Guy for some time, but I find your site is better at formulating a strategy, where the other sites are merely about reporting deals and news. Will definitely be sticking aound. Cheers!

  20. what is the game flying 70 days out
    sfo to barcelona is 490000 miles for business class

    is there a cheap way to buy 70000 miles??
    do they release award miles every tuesday?

    thanks

  21. @ Jon — Not really any pattern as to when they release space. As far as 490,000 miles goes, for how many passengers are you seeing that as the price?

  22. two people round trip to spain
    anyway just bought 75k miles for 2k from AA on there july sale
    wife has bad back and need the business class
    interesting very little premium economy to europe
    found your blog interesting and will refer to it in the future
    happy travels and cheers

  23. Just read your article which was very inspiring… I’m from Asia, and I always want to visit family in the US. I hope your blog will be a great resource on how to get this done with less out-of-pocket fees.

  24. Hey Ben! I came across you from the recent article. Your website is amazing. Cant wait to read more articles from you! Im from Singapore but it seems that your advice caters mainly for Americans. Could you write more articles that applies internationally?

  25. Hey Ben just read your article which was pretty amazing ..keep up with the work .. Would love to travel the globe someday in the future .. Your blog is inspiring ..!

  26. @ Farah — Welcome and thanks for reading! While the credit card advice I provide is US centric, the rest should be applicable regardless of where you live, including how to redeem miles, mileage purchase opportunities, etc.

  27. I just discovered this blog and it’s great ! I will keep following your post. thanks Lucky!

  28. With monthly credit card spend of 3k and occasional travel of family of 4 to India with a sight-seeing stopover betn US-India, which credit cards would you recommend? Especially for transfer to airline points. I am ok with purchasing economy tickets and using the points for upgrades. Thanks.

  29. Hello Ben, just stumbled upon your website, love the information!

    I have an Premier Gold Amex card and currently have approximately 70k points
    I have a Chase Freedom card and currently have approximately 91k points

    I am thinking about upgrading to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. What is the best way to use my points for travel in the US? I always end up wasting my points and not really leveraging them.

    I am not an elite member with any airline, although I am a member of Emirates Skywards program (have 21k points) and Southwest Rapid Rewards (have 12k points).

    Any advice would be appreciated, thanks!

  30. I have a Chase card…and I have about 5k miles with spirit, I also want to travel for as free as possible, how do I start?

  31. Lucky,
    First off- great blog, very organized and informative.

    I’m new to this whole idea of using credit cards and such for flights. After reading through most of your blog I want to do all of it!

    Realistically though, in the near future we would really love to travel around the US/Canada. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Southwest card and using them to fly(They have a companion program if you get 110,00 points or something to that tune), how do you feel about that? any preference?
    We would also like to travel to India in the near future, but also be open to traveling to other places (Europe, Dubai, etc).

    What’s a good place to start in terms of credit card? Chase Sapphire Preferred card? or do you recommend something else? Do you think opening an airline credit card and another card like the citi prestige or chase sapphire preferred would be a good idea?

    I just need some direction to get going.

    Sorry for the loaded questions!

    Thanks,
    HH

  32. Hi Ben,
    I just watched you on Sunrise this morning here in Australia but missed half the show unfortunately.
    I travel to Turkey once a year aconamy flight, I fly with which ever airline is on special at the time, I have no knoledge about flyer points or which credit card to own, I have a basic ANZ credit card and litrelly I don’t know how it all works. I would appreciate it so much if you can educate me regarding frequent flyer points.
    Thanks,
    Gulay

  33. @ Gulay — You’re off to a good start by reading here! Keep poking around the site, and I’ll bet you get the hang of it in no time.

  34. @ Tiffany,

    Thanks for the advice! I will definitely sit and think about both options. Maybe get both down the line some day.

    Any advice for international travel, a good place to start? (India, etc)

    Thanks,
    HH

  35. Hi,
    I’m very new to your site and I am trying to read up on as much as I can in order to have a nice honeymoon. I am very open to travel any where as long as my husband to be and I can have an adventure together. I’m really really new to this and I just wanted some clarification. In order to get to travel for free I should get a credit card that offers flyer miles? Would I be able to use this card to pay for things like my dress or other wedding related things?

  36. Hi
    Read your interview in the times newspaper (uk) so I am now hooked on your blog. Great read.
    However I live in UK. travel little (so far) but want to build air miles and hotel rewards.
    Can you recommend any European websites as good as yours (I read somewhere else on here you don’t advise on European air miles ?)
    Best wishes
    Dan

  37. Just watched you on Nightline. Great interview. Am enjoying the site. Fascinating concept. Jumping on board!!

  38. Hi Ben

    I have just moved to Dubai. Who has the more generous frequent flyer programme Etihad or Emirates?
    Rgds
    Volker

  39. Hi there,

    I just found your website and I love how well organized it is. Really enjoy the different perspectives added by Tiffany and the rest of the crew.

    I live in the Philadelphia region and want to be able to travel to Europe with my wife and daughter. What program would you recommend? I have:

    – 150,000 United Airlines miles
    – 77,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points thanks to the Sapphire Preferred card
    – 200,000 Hilton HHonors points.

    Is United the way to go, or should I look at, say, American Airlines?

    Thanks!

  40. @ Ian — That’s a toughie. Do you have any other credit cards besides the Chase Sapphire Preferred now?

  41. Wow – thanks for the super-quick response, Lucky! I currently have:

    – Sapphire Preferred
    – United MileagePlus Explorer
    – Amex and Citi HHonors cards (the no annual fee ones – I got them to score sign-up bonuses, not out of loyalty to Hilton)
    – Discover IT cash back card

  42. Hi Ben

    Despite traveling a lot (domestically in Australia) for work, and collecting about 500k points with Virgin Aus (Velocity) I have little knowledge of how to maximise/redeem the points. My wife also about 150k on the same program. We have no c/cards linked to any program.

    Ok, with the scene set, this is my plan, following which will be my questions which I’m hoping you can find the time to answer.
    1. Now I’ve discovered your site I will read, read, read and learn!
    2. Commence planning a trip for my wife and I and our soon to be born baby. Intended travel period is end of May into June next year for about 16 days (baby will be 9 months). Having seen a bot of Asia and USA this trip will be Europe – with free accom available in Budapest we figure it’s a good place to stay for 4-5 nights but move around the rest.
    3. Consider changing our c/cards to ones that accrue points on a worthy program

    Questions:
    1. Could I benefit from lobbing the required fee to Points Pros to book the trip? Curious if the points being with Velocity is limiting
    2. Do you have any immediate recommendations on c/cards which would help drive a good result for our intended trip?

    Thanks in advance for any advice given.

    DW

  43. Hi Ben,

    Thank you for your website. It is very useful and I am sure that you have changed my people’s lives as a result?!

    If I could ask some direct advise(hope that is ok).

    I live in Sydney, Australia. As a result I am a member of Qantas Frequent Flyer program. As you may or may not know, flying anywhere to/from Australia is expensive to say the least.

    I have about 150,000 points that I have never used. Can you please recommend the best way to use the frequent flyer program, as having reviewed the Qantas website, it isnt too favourable. I couldnt see if you could buy points with Qantas.

    For example I am going to Japan later this year. My friends are flying premium economy Japan Airlines. Can I use points with that airline?

    Any help would be great.
    Hugh
    ps Is there a certain credit card that you would also recommend?

  44. @ Damien — Welcome! Velocity is a bit limiting mainly because of how expensive their award chart is, but if you have lots of miles with the program it’s not impossible. If you’re interested in reading, you can probably learn how to do this yourself 🙂

    And it depends how many points you have at present, but the Platinum Edge tends to be a popular option for Australians.

  45. @ Hugh — Welcome! You can absolutely use Qantas points on Japan Airlines, and that’s actually a great use of points. We’ll try to put together a post, but if you search for “Classic Rewards” on the Qantas site you should be able to see availability.

  46. Pointspros helped me 2 summers ago with tickets and I paid only after they were able to research and complete my ticket purchase to my satisfaction. I would like to use Pointspros again for a trip next summer but am wondering if this is still the case…..you even had a phone number at the time and I called you a couple times and spoke to someone. Please let me know.
    Thanks
    Rebecca Keeton

  47. Hi!!
    I am an University student from Colombia, and I would like to make a Bogota-Moscow (Russia) Trip for december. I have some few little jobs but i would like to do this trip. Can you giv me some suggestions please? Thanks.

  48. Andres, I’m not an expert but I would find out which of your local airlines (LAN, Avianca) is partners with Aeroflot and S7 (Russian airlines). Then I’d look for a credit card sign up bonus that gives me miles for your airline.

  49. Hi! I live in Venezuela so I won’t be able to take your advices into account for now, but I’ll keep all of this in mind for my future. I was just wondering if you could give me some advice about what would be the best and cheaper way to get from Caracas, Venezuela to Dublin, Ireland in November.

    Thanks in advance!

  50. Hi! Thank you for your website and the goodie travel secrets.
    I live in Fort Lauderdale, FL trying to fly to Switzerland and from there planning on visiting a few places. When is the best time to do so in regards to lower fares and deals?

  51. Hi,

    Thank you for the very insightful and helpful tips. Is it better to use a travel rewards card, such as the Chase sapphire card, versus a cash back card such as the bank of America cash rewards card if I want to save up to travel overseas (to Saudi Arabia)? I currently have the bank of America cash rewards card, but I was thinking it might be better to get a travel reward card and start using that instead. The cash rewards card seems to accumulate money at a relatively slow pace. Would switching cards better help me to reach my goal?

    Thanks!

  52. I am currently a little under 9,000 miles from reaching Premier Silver status through United’s Mileage Plus program. I am going to Duabi this Christmas and I calculated that I will still be roughly 1,300 miles from status at the end of the trip. My dad is booking my flight so I don’t want him to spend too much, but if I was booking the flight myself I would try to make the trip longer to make sure I got those extra miles in. Therefore do you think it’s worth it to buy miles to ensure that I reach status?
    I appreciate any input or advice you can give.
    Thanks! 🙂

  53. We’re about to be debt free, come the beginning of the new year. Obviously, I don’t want to get in a hole and i want to keep my finances in front of me. But we love to travel, which card should we start off with that will give us the biggest bang for our buck?

    best,
    RG

  54. Hi Lucky,

    Thanks for putting this site together! It is so much information all in one place!

    I am a total beginner at this stuff, but my wife and I want to try and plan a trip to London, England from LAX.

    We have been looking at cards with sign up with Bonus Points, but don’t know which one to go with!!! Most cards with the high start up Bonus Points are domestic flights. I saw the Plat. Amex card, but doubt that will be enough points for the trip

    If we are planning this 10 day trip some time between March 2016 and May 2016, are we too late to attempt to use points?

    Thank you,

  55. Hello,

    My wife and infant son whom will travel on our lap plan to visit Shanghai and Beijing in late December for a total of 18 nights. I have 140k Amex points and 55k Chase points. Can you please give me some advice. Thank you!

  56. Starting my adventure in the air-mile world. Very exciting to have discovered this web-page. I was collecting miles for nothing and stopped to do so a couple of years ago, now I know where to read to learn seriously how to use them.

  57. Hi Lucky. I really appreciated your generosity of sharing your experience. My situation is a little bit different. I’m an international student in Canada, which means I’m so restricted to the credit card application even in Canada(I’ll try to find my second internship in the U.S. but I guess it’s gonna be in 2017 at least). So do you have any suggestion or recommendation for people like me? I’m now holding a credit card without any benefit from CIBC and a cash back credit card from RBC(with 0.5% cashback from normal purchase and 2% back from some grocery stores I barely go to), both decisions were sort of… or total failures… as far as I’m concerned… I’m thinking about changing my CIBC credit card plan into Aero Platinum™ Visa* Card for Students https://www.cibc.com/ca/visa/aero-platinum-visa-student-card.html
    But Aeroplan points are gonna be devalued from Dec. 15, 2015(What a birthday gift…) http://canadiankilometers.boardingarea.com/2015/12/01/reminder-aeroplan-devalues-december-15th/ So I’m not sure whether I should get this one instead(CIBC Aventura® Visa* Student Card) https://www.cibc.com/ca/visa/aventura-visa-students-card.html

  58. I love yur blog. Would be nice if yu could recommend credit cards for europen people as well. Would appreciate.

  59. Hi Ben, I came across your site and blog and it took me sleepless night in reading them and following your post on IG. Your blog is amazingly informative. Thank you for sharing. I am from Canada and I have an aeroplan which I got from my CIBC visa infinite. Do you think I should apply another one? Could you please recommend which one. Many thanks!✈️

  60. Hi Ben,
    I visited your site after seeing you on Sunrise in Australia…very impressive! My question is – what do I do with my 1,000 American Airline miles that are about to expire next week? I am not planning on any trips at the moment so can’t redeem them and my research shows that I am unable to transfer them to my Qantas frequent flyer account. Should I just forfeit the small amount of miles with American Airlines? Or is it worth spending $60USD to purchase another 1,000 miles to prevent them from expiring? I do plan on an international flight with Qantas sometime this year (as I have 164,000 points and silver status) and I recall on Sunrise that American Airline miles provide more value on Qantas flights? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!! Thank you!!

  61. Hi Lucky
    I came across your site today, I been flying with British Airways only and have slowly earned the Bronze executive Club member status. After reading your article , I signed up for a Mastercard will turn every spent 2 CHF into 1 Avios, with Cornerclub, which is for Switzerland. Would I have came earlier accross your page, I would have collected way more Avios. But it is never too late to start. Looking forward to collect lots of Avios with my new credit card (which I will hopefully receive soon). Thanks a lot!!!

  62. lucky
    site is amazing have over 300k amex points
    77.5k aa 65k british what is most worth it to get me business class tickets to israel

  63. lucky
    site is amazing have over 300k amex points my platinum is registered with delta for 30%
    77.5k aa 65k british what is most worth it to get me business class tickets to israel and back of course.

  64. If you don’t live anywhere then where do all your credit cards get shipped to? Honest question.

  65. hola buenas noches, soy española viviendo en colombia de clase media – baja, una vez al año viajo de colombia a españa retorno españa- colombia, nunca me he hecho viajero frecuente porque no dispongo de tarjeta de credito, viajo con mi hija de 4 años de edad, no se si usted pueda ayudarme o aconsejarme en que paginas o que dias los vuelos estan mas economicos, estamos planeando ir en noviembre, para visitar a mi hijo de 7 años, desde junio no nos vemos, por lo que le agradeceria cualqier ayuda o consejo que pueda darme. gracias

  66. Thank you for your blog, the information is very helpful for new and experience travelers. Trying to compare various airlines and best use of awards.

  67. Hi Ben, after watching one of your interview on YouTube with ABC news and reading articles I got so fascinated with rewards, air miles and points and I’m fairly new to this. I’m from the UK and after doing some research I found out that USA consumer’s get quiet a lot for their money comparing to UK consumer’s when using credit / charge card. Any tips for UK consumers, would really appreciate it thanks (Y)

  68. Not sure how old is your posting but the 4 of us traveling to Europe in August and we only paid $3700 (four adult ticket)
    If you can bring your ticket prices down enough you don’t really need to play around so much with miles just pay less i the first place and save actual cash.
    Flight IAD to FRU to BUD

    return BUD to Dublin
    and next day to IAD 4 star hotel in Dublin is only $360 for 4 adults
    Cash is king and does’t you to spend more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *