Double Duty Daddy

Miles and Points – How And Where Do You Start?

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It’s been entirely too long since I blogged about a topic I hold near and dear: travel rewards points and miles. If you think that racking up tons of airline miles, hotel points, and credit card rewards to travel around the world at dramatically reduced prices is strictly reserved for full-time road warriors and the wealthy, you’re so wrong.

Traveling the world on reward points is for middle class working families, retired folks, stay-at-home moms (and dads), leisure travelers (like me) and lots of people in between. In other words, a world of extremely affordable, luxurious, and attainable travel is waiting for you.

I know this because I have been traveling with DD Mommy and family using miles and points for years. Dream come true vacations such as our upcoming November trip to Japan which I’ve written about here and here. Sometimes we stay at 5 star hotels and travel abroad, only paying a few dollars for airline taxes and sometimes we just take a small break to Naples or Orlando and stay at a 4 star hotel for free. All these trips are attainable by accruing miles and points that are earned by everyday expenses or the sign-up of a credit card or two.

The world of miles and points can seem a bit overwhelming at first given all of the earning and redemption options, but no need to fear, I’ll help you break down step-by-step how to get started.

1. What are your travel goals?

Make a goal. Do you want to take the kids to Washington D.C. and spend a nice weekend visiting free museums and the zoo or maybe you want to visit the Maldives with your loved one? Whatever your travel goal is, choose one and roll with it. Once you’ve attained your first goal, dream bigger.

2. Research Your Desired Destinations

In order to know what type of hotel points or airline miles to earn at the beginning, you need to know which type will help you attain this feat. Find out what hotels and airlines serve the city (or cities) you want to visit, and then see which ones look like they would be your top choices.

Tip: Go to http://google.com/flights, enter your hometown airport(s) and use the “explore destinations” map and play with various cities you aspire to visit. See all the airlines that service this route. Your favorite flights based on route, time, non-stop or direct will be the miles you need to use. Ask ME or research before applying for cards.

While you can use some types of credit card points essentially as cash to pay for any type of travel expense you want, it can be easiest to begin your miles and points journey by looking at chain hotels like Hyatt, Starwood or IHG Rewards since you will have the most points earning opportunities to get “free” nights at those types of hotels.

3. Check Your Credit Score and Review Credit Reports

Now that you have narrowed down where you want to go, it is time to get down to business.

There’s no denying the fact that the quickest and easiest way to rack up tons of miles and points is by obtaining credit cards. I have 19 actively open credit cards and my credit score has never been healthier. I can get approved for a mortgage loan tomorrow! Credit cards are badly misunderstood. Do some research starting here MYFICO and ask questions.

You can obtain one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus annually from annualcreditreport.com. I also strongly recommend getting an idea about the range into which your credit score falls. Mostly every credit card issuer now offers free FICO scores for customers.  There is no set number but from my experience and from helping others, I wouldn’t apply for credit cards until your score is above 710. That’s just my number not a definitive rule of thumb.

4. Apply for a Good Rewards Credit Card (or Two)

After determining that your credit score is solid, then consider applying for a good rewards earning credit card…or two.

There are dozens and dozens of rewards credit cards out there, and the best ones for you will depend on your travel goals.

For example, say you want to visit Vegas. Las Vegas is served by several airlines from your hometown but out of all the flight options, you find the Southwest times are the best. You figure out what credit cards earn Southwest miles and you find that the Chase Sapphire Preferred transfers to Southwest and that Chase also has a Southwest co-branded credit card.

You want to stay at the Aria, MGM Grand or Bellagio but don’t know what points to use. Research a little and you’ll see that you can redeem nights at those hotels with Hyatt points. One of my most coveted cards is the Chase Hyatt credit card that comes with 2 free nights at ANY Hyatt property in the world. Hyatt Gold Passport partners with M life and M Life is the rewards program of MGM Resorts International meaning you can use your Hyatt points for stays at those awesome Vegas hotels or better yet, use your 2 free nights from the Chase Hyatt credit card!

You just covered your flights and hotel nights with the above example and it may have just required signing up for only one card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

5. Shift Spending to Your Rewards Cards

Never, under almost any circumstance, use cash.

Charge everything from car insurance, to daycare, to groceries, to phone and cable bills, to gasoline, and more on your rewards credit cards. Why not earn a large number of miles and points each year for things you were going to pay for anyway?

Once you’re organized and have gotten into the routine of using your rewards credit cards for all expenses, focus on utilizing cards that pay out a bonus in certain categories. Some cards will pay out extra on gas, groceries, or travel, for example. Tip: Write on a piece of paper the credit cards you have and what their bonus categories are and tape it to the refrigerator. This will remind you which cards to use for what expenses. Trust me, after a couple of weeks, it’ll be second nature.

6. Redeem Your Points for an Amazing Trip!

The miles and points you earn are only as valuable as what you redeem them for, so when you have enough for your first “dream trip,” use them! Tip: Flights within the continental United States are affordable. Save your hard-earned miles for an international trip or Hawaii to get the maximum value from your points!

Lastly, start your planning early. I book my trips 6-12 months in advance with miles because award availability is unpredictable and I want to lock down my destination and preferred dates before they sell out.

 

Have you used travel rewards points and miles to take a trip? Please share your experience in comments!

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