Points and miles travel is the cornerstone of Travel Tactics. It’s the purpose of this site to share the best information available when it comes to successfully mastering travel skills.
This master post covers points and miles travel from end to end including loyalty accounts, earning, and redeeming points and miles for travel.
Here are six steps you can use to get started on your path to points and miles travel.
1. Sign Up for Loyalty Programs
You can’t have points and miles without any loyalty programs. We actually suggest signing up for them all!
It takes a while to sign up for a lot of loyalty programs. But in points and miles travel, you may end up choosing an airline or hotel that you didn’t initially consider. So having a loyalty program waiting in the wings can come in handy even if you haven’t added any points to it (more on that in the next section).
Check out our Ultimate Loyalty Programs Guide for the main signup links to a myriad of the world’s airline loyalty programs. This valuable list also includes airlines corresponding award charts (where available).
2. Get the Right Credit Cards
In the current travel landscape, the fastest way to earn points and miles for travel is through travel rewards credit cards.
These come in a variety of types that mainly fall into two categories: cobranded and transferrable rewards cards.
Cobranded Credit Cards
Cobranded credit cards exist when a credit issuer or a bank collaborates with a certain travel brand, usually an airline or a hotel, to provide a way for users to earn specific points or miles through spend.
Let’s take a look at the Delta Gold SkyMiles credit card from American Express. This cobranded credit card allows cardholders to earn Delta SkyMiles when they use the card to make purchases.
In this case the cardholder benefits from earning 2 SkyMiles per dollar on purchases made directly with Delta, and 1 SkyMile per dollar on purchases made everywhere else.
Offers and Fees
The card also delivers a welcome offer of bonus SkyMiles (usually 30,000 but up to 65,000 miles) for completing minimum spend in the first 90 days. All those SkyMiles can quickly add up to award tickets with Delta.
As with most cobranded credit cards, it has an annual fee. The Delta Gold Skymiles credit card annual fee is $95, which is waived for the first year.
Cardholders also receive the following benefits: First checked bag free on domestic flights, priority boarding, and discounted Delta Sky Club access when flying Delta.
On the other side American Express, the issuer, benefits from cardholders making purchases on the card. Delta also benefits from this, while also gaining additional loyalty from SkyMiles members who fly or do business with Delta as a measure of loyalty to the airline.
The bottom line with cobranded credit cards is cardholders can reap specific benefits through an airline or hotel. However, any points or miles earnings through spend are only with that particular airline or hotel.
Transferrable Rewards Credit Cards
Transferrable rewards credit cards exist when a credit issuer or a bank creates its own rewards points system. These points are then with airline and hotel transfer partners.
Let’s take a look at the American Express Gold card. This transferrable rewards charge card allows cardholders to earn American Express Membership Rewards points when they use the card to make purchases.
In this case the cardholder benefits from earning 4 Membership Rewards (MR) points per dollar on purchases made at U.S. restaurants and grocery stores, 3 points per dollar on purchases made directly with airlines, and one point per dollar on purchases everywhere else.
Offers and Fees
The card also delivers a welcome offer of bonus Membership Rewards points (usually 25,000 but up to 50,000 points) for completing minimum spend in the first 90 days.
But the points are not locked in to one travel brand or another. Membership Rewards points can be transferred to a number of airline and hotel travel partners for more flexible award travel.
That means you could transfer your points to Iberia Airlines or Air France for an award ticket to Europe. Or you could transfer those same points to Singapore Airlines to make your way to Asia.
I consider the American Express Gold Card to be an upper-mid tier travel rewards card. It has an annual fee of $250.
The card offers a number of benefits and value to new users for that annual fee. These include the following: $100 airline fee credit, $120 dining credit, no foreign transaction fees, and premium roadside assistance.
Meanwhile American Express, the issuer, benefits from cardholders using the card and from the annual fee.
The bottom line with transferrable rewards credit cards is cardholders can reap flexible benefits through award travel partners. Alternatively, points can be used toward a statement credit of card spend. However this is usually a low value redemption compared to other options available.
3. Use Credit Cards in the Right Places
Once you have a travel rewards credit card that you plan to earn with, it’s time to maximize your use!
First off, if you have a card that delivers a welcome bonus based on spend and you intend to meet it, be sure to use that card as often as possible when making purchases. That way you can meet the spend goal before the applicable cut off time.
It’s important to note here that it’s not advisable to go into debt to reach any kind of spend goal on a credit card. Any interest accrued quickly erodes the value of travel rewards a card might offer. Always pay cards off in full each month.
If you’re not completing spend for a welcome bonus offer, it’s time to be more tactical when making purchases. Do your best to memorize the bonus categories of your cards so that you know the best places to use each of them.
For instance: let’s say you have an American Express card with a bonus category for grocery stores and a Citi card with a bonus category for gas stations. Don’t forget which has which when it’s time to refuel the car.
If you have only one rewards card, you can use it on purchases without much thought since your choices are singular.
Let’s move to a more advantageous place to earn travel rewards points and miles.
It’s pretty amazing how many things are available to buy using shopping portals.
Online shopping portals offer hundreds and hundreds of stores to choose from. Once you’re there, they provide a variety of points and miles bonuses just for using their gateway. And more often than not, they are stores you already frequent.
To name a few, American, Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines offer shopping portals. These are all free to sign up for and use with your applicable frequent flyer account.
Shopping portal accounts are connected to your loyalty account, but are still a separate login. You’ll need to create a new login for each shopping portal and connect it to your loyalty program in that process.
In addition, some credit card companies offer their own shopping portals. These also earn additional points on purchases made at connected sites.
Credit card shopping portals include Chase and Barclays. More portals for credit card companies, like American Express, Citi, and Discover previously existed, but closed over the last several years.
Whether you eat out a lot or a little, using dining programs to add bonus miles to your accounts can be a valuable tool. Here’s what they are all about.
Dining programs are available from many airline and hotel programs. They allow users to connect a credit card to their loyalty account to earn additional points or miles.
Travel shopping portals have bonus amounts listed for individual stores. However, dining programs are more of a “set it and forget it” operation.
Once you’ve connected your credit card of choice to a dining program, it automatically delivers bonus points or miles to your paired loyalty account when you dine at participating restaurants.
Do note one major difference with dining programs is that you cannot connect a credit card to multiple dining programs. The card you connect to a dining program is the only one credited when you spend at specific restaurants.
Finally, you may notice the restaurants that participate in your dining program are ones you’re not familiar with. And they may not be the restaurants you like to go to. So depending on where you live, the selection may be plentiful, or a bit of a letdown.
But still, being able to simply go out to eat and earn bonus points or miles is pretty nice.
4. Fly and Stay
Over the past several years, credit cards that earn points and miles have really come to the forefront of travel.
But don’t forget that paid travel earns lots of points and miles as well! Paid stays at hotels earn loyalty points at a higher rate in most cases than credit card spend alone. Plus it gets you closer to reaching new levels of status with brands (if you’re going for that).
Meanwhile paid flights earn hundreds of miles per one way or round trip booked and flown. These also bring you closer to elite status with an airline.
5. Learn How to Redeem For Points and Miles Travel
Once you have earned enough points or miles to travel, it’s time to actually put them to use.
Points and miles from co-branded credit cards automatically post to the connected loyalty account. Transferrable points from credit cards need to first be transferred to the account you wish to use. Then they can be redeemed for the stay you are planning.
With transferrable points, many programs receive transfers immediately, but some take a number of hours (or even days) to arrive. Be aware of any transfer limitations before transferring points and miles out of a credit card account.
In addition, remember that your transferrable points may not be able to directly transfer to the airline you want to fly. Be sure to research loyalty programs and each one’s availability to transfer. Also look for alternate miles programs that have alliances with the airline you really want to fly with.
6. Make Specific Goals
Getting started with points and miles can feel a little complicated at first. But not setting specific travel goals can hamper what you’re doing. Especially if you don’t know what you’re doing it for.
So, whether it’s a week in Hawaii or a visit to go see family, figure out what you want to do with your points and miles, then make it happen! It won’t happen all at once. But once you are on the path of your goal, award travel will be more within reach.
Travel Tactics exists to make award travel with points and miles easier to understand and useful. If there’s anything in this guide is or will be expanded upon in articles across this site.
Is there anything you believe is missing or should be added? Let me know by sending an email to email@example.com.
Featured image courtesy of Archie Binamira via Pexels.