How I Changed My Ways in Order to Earn More Travel Rewards

I started my blog last spring.  During that process I discovered lots of other blogs with tons of super helpful information on travel, points and miles.  I began following a number of these sites and reading their posts regularly.  After a few months, I began to see things a little differently regarding the way I was doing things.

 

Some of the Best Blogs I follow for Points, Miles, Travel News and Views

  • Your Mileage May Vary – A husband and wife team writing about Points and Miles (and so much more) in a way that anyone (even me, lol) can understand.  Like my husband and I, they manage jobs, vacation schedules and regular budgets.  This is my favorite blog because it is understandable and easy to relate to.  Plus Sharon posts some really funny stuff.
  • The Points Guy – A team writing about travel news, promotions, credit card reviews, points and miles strategies.  I really trust the information on this site and often use it as a source of reference.  But sometimes the strategies can be a bit too high level for a beginner like me.
  • Loyalty Lobby – Their focus is on points, miles, and everything travel.  They are often the first to post in depth about upcoming travel deals and promotions.
  • View from the Wing –  The writer, Gary Leff, writes about travel and points and miles.  I count him as my go to for current information on what is going on with airlines, airports, rules and regulations.
  • One Mile at a Time – Travel news, information and reviews, plus points and miles strategies.  Well written and informative articles that sometimes even include step by step directions and illustrations on how to make your way through unfamiliar tasks (like transferring points, or booking an award flight).
  • I also like to directly follow companies that I have loyalty with like Southwest Airlines, Hyatt, Hilton or IHG Hotels. It’s a great way to learn breaking news and learn about contests or promotions. Sometimes you can even direct message them for help solving an issue or to find answers to a question you have.

 

When I decided to start using points and miles, I though that just being a loyalty member of a hotel, airline or a car rental site was enough.  I figured that I would get a free night or a discount occasionally after paying full price for several rentals, flights or stays.  Seemed ok to me.  But I learned that I wasn’t really maximizing my opportunities to earn points..  The first thing that I began to do was pay more attention to the loyalty sites that I belonged to in order to find promotions that offered higher points earning potential or bonuses.

Credit Cards

It didn’t take long to understand that adding credit cards that earn points or miles is one of the best and fastest ways of increasing your balance.  Before I paid for most of our dining in cash, I paid for groceries with the debit card and the regular bills by online bill pay or an old school check.  The biggest adjustment for me, was shifting all those payments to credit cards.  As I gained a few cards, I became more confident with the process.  I also learned to pay attention and be sure that I picked the card which would earn the biggest points return. I even made myself a little cheat sheet in my wallet in case I get confused.   Since I don’t want to incur any debt from this process, I always make sure to pay off ALL balances EVERY month.

My first card was the IHG Premier card.  It had a nice sign up bonus plus gives me 10x points every time I book a stay at one of their properties and pay with the card. It also earns 2x points on gas, groceries and dining and 1 point on everything else. I have been able to combine earnings through my credit card spending, hotel stays and promotions that offer elevated points or bonuses to really ramp up my balance.  Another perk of having their card is an Annual Free Night Certificate.  I am excited because I should be getting mine any day.

Next I signed up for the Southwest Priority Card in order to take advantage of a Companion Pass plus 35,000 points sign up Bonus.  Although this card doesn’t have the points earning potential of the IHG card, I have been able to really stretch my perks this year.  With the Companion Pass I was able to take a trip to Portland, Oregon with my daughter, and I am traveling to Texas with my husband in September.  But the real highlight is the trip to Oahu in October where I combined my points with the companion pass so that it only cost $44.80 in taxes for round trip airfare for both my husband and I.  I am pretty proud of that one.

I have now also added the American Express Gold card that has some great points earning potential.  There are 4x categories for groceries and dining, and rotating offers that provide additional elevated points earning opportunities. It’s my first universal card and earns Membership Rewards points that can transfer to many partners.  The biggest reason I got this card is to work toward a goal of 88,000 points that I can transfer to ANA next year for Business Class Airfare to Portugal.  I have found that I really like this card because it also offers a lot of ways to earn elevated points or statement credits.  I have received statement credits for offers to pay my cell phone bill with the card, for making purchases through Boxed (part of their Dining Credit) and been reimbursed for airline fees ($100 Annual Airline Fees Credit).  I have also been able to take advantage of several limited time promotions offering elevated points.  It does require that I pay close attention to the offer details, but it is well worth the effort.

 

My Advice to Someone Starting Out

  1. Know what the Chase 5/24 Rule is and determine where you stand BEFORE applying for any credit cards.
  2. Develop a strategy for what you want to get out of the process, like points to use for airfare or free nights at a hotel on a big vacation. Allow yourself enough time to achieve those goals.
  3. Ease into it slowly.  Start with some basic loyalty memberships and apply for a universal credit card with good points earning potential and transfer options. Some good options are cards that earn either Ultimate Rewards Points from Chase or Membership Rewards from American Express.  They are great tools because as universal cards, the points can be easily transferred to many travel partners.
  4. Get a feel for using that credit card for purchases and paying it off monthly.  Dig into the benefits to make sure you are taking advantage of everything that card offers.
  5. After getting the hang with your first card, when a good offer comes up in 6 months or so, you will feel confident signing up for it.  Be sure the new card (1) follows your long term strategy, (2) has earning potential beyond the sign up and (3) that you have a plan for meeting the spend requirement to earn the sign up bonus.

The Take Away

Reading travel blogs and articles is a great way to expand your know how.  Imagine that you are a points and miles beginner with an empty travel knowledge box and every time you read a post, you take away one useful nugget to add to your box.  It will fill up fast arming you with tools to really be able to plan great trips without breaking the budget.

Points and miles aren’t for everyone.  My husband likes the benefits of getting lots of free travel and perks, but doesn’t really want to be too involved with the processes.  That’s ok I am willing to shoulder most of the work.  As a budget minded travel junkie, I have found I can really stretch our travel budget by learning to be savvy using points, miles, credit cards and loyalty programs to my benefit.  You get a real satisfaction when booking 3 free hotel nights in Hawaii or when you get an amazing car rental deal.  The cost savings makes it totally worth the little bit of extra effort it takes to plan for and earn those points.

Dream, Plan, Save, Adventure!