THE EARNING MILES MYTHOLOGOGY
For the longest time, I thought that earning miles was pointless, that the only way of doing it was by flying only one airline and that implied spending a lot of money to see the benefits. How could anyone be attracted to a concept with so many limitations? Surely, I wasn’t. If there’s one thing I’m well-known for, among my friends, it’s how much I dislike limitations. I didn’t sign up for any loyalty rewards programs for the longest time, but nowadays I’ve changed my tune; I had to do it to keep traveling, there’s no way I could afford any of it without the miles.
And like me, I believe there are a lot of people that still believe these common misconceptions, and it’s the purpose of this post to clear them out.
Earning miles is the most cost effective way of saving up for a trip, because done right, it does not have to cost you extra. The entire concept it’s based on making the most out of your everyday expenses by making decisions that will benefit your mileage account, like using the right credit cards or dining at restaurants with loyalty programs. So, let’s get into it with this step by step guide that I made for you.
BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO EARNING MILES
STEP 1. SIGN UP FOR MILEAGE REWARDS PROGRAMS.
Ok, here’s the first myth: Signing up for a mileage account limits you to one airline. Not true and here’s why:
Almost every major airline with a mileage rewards program belongs to one of the three airline alliances in the world:
You’ve probably already heard about them or seen their logos at the airport and because the airlines always identify their alliance and promote their benefits, but if you haven’t, next time pay attention and don’t be afraid to ask the airline for more information.
So, what does all this mean for you? It means you will have more opportunities of earning miles and making use of them.
An Alliance is a family of airlines that work together and recognize your rewards earned on any of airlines in the same alliance. For example, I’m a member of the SkyTeam Alliance through China Airlines, but I can use those air miles on my next Delta flight.
There’s a simple criterion to use when signing up for a rewards programs, and you’ll see me repeat it over and over. Simply base your decision on your location and the airline(s) you are most likely to fly.
In my case, since I live in Florida, I travel through JetBlue quite often, and although JetBlue does not belong to an alliance, it’s great when I have to catch an international flight from a domestic destination. I also have China Airlines, JAL, Lufthansa, and AAdvantage because they all have offers I can use. All rewards programs are all free to sign up, so I encourage you to do it.
ProTip: Choose reward programs that you are likely to use.
ProTip: always, always, always use your mileage account number at the time of booking or at the moment of check-in. This way you can make sure the miles for that flight will be credited to your account, afterward, it will be harder to do so.
STEP 2. JOIN OTHER LOYALTY REWARDS PROGRAMS.
Don’t limit your earnings by sticking to air miles rewards. Car rental companies, restaurants, and hotel chains provide loyalty programs with free sign up and will help you to add miles to your account continuously. The key is to choose a rewards program that offers the products or companies you use the most.
Loyalty programs are not only good for saving miles; these programs come with lots of perks like free upgrades, discounts or free nights at participating hotels. Check you preferred hotel’s website; chances are you can apply immediately. Also, loyalty programs are good to have when you can’t request a credit card.
ProTip: When you can’t stay in a hotel participating in your rewards program, try to use a booking engine that allows you to earn points or miles for hotel nights. My favorites are RocketMiles and Agoda.
STEP 3. MANAGE YOUR MILES.
Managing your miles is crucial because and the more you have, the harder it gets. With each account each account you have to keep track of the balance, account numbers and expiration dates. Not doing so could prevent you from making use of your miles as well as earning more.
ProTip: Avoid losing your rewards by using tools like Usingmiles.com, Tripit.com, Points.com or Awardwallet.com to alert you when your miles are about to expire and keep track of all your balances.
Personally, I like to use Points.com because it makes it easy to transfer and redeem miles; and AdwardWallet’s because of its “add profile” feature which helps me track my friend’s and family’s accounts.
You won’t need both, but check them out, see which one suits you better. Signing up for one of these tools will save you miles and headaches, so please do so.
STEP 4. APPLY FOR TRAVEL-FRIENDLY CREDIT CARDS.
Travel credit cards can be tricky business. And, between choosing the right benefits and interest rates for you, it can also be time-consuming.
To begin, I think it’s important to differentiate between an airline co-branded and a points credit cards. A co-branded credit card is a fast an easy way to start earning miles; most come with high signup bonus points. But it can limit the way you make and spend those miles because the card will give you the most points when you use it for purchases on that particular airline.
On the other hand, with a points card you earn points for everyday purchases, they’re easier to redeem, and a good way of complementing your miles account by transferring the points.
ProTip: Be strategic about your loyalty programs and how these can complement each other.
If you need help figuring out which credit card is best for you, I recommend using creditcards.com’s wallet up tool for personalized recommendations or read this article by the expert on the subject, The Points Guy.
ProTip: When applying for a new credit card, make sure you keep in mind the date and make sure you understand the terms because the majority offer the most benefits through the first year only. Then they can add fees, there are no more bonuses, and it takes more time and purchases to be able to make use of the points earned. Expert travel hackers are great at burning through the miles and applying for new cards every year.
STEP 5. STRATEGIZE: Make the most out of your everyday purchases.
If you have a points card, get the most out of it by paying everything with it and staying on top of your payments. Why spend money on tickets when you can get points by purchasing gas, groceries or going out for dinner?
Make sure that everything you do benefits your mileage account. You can do this by being mindful of the opportunities in which you can earn miles. Keep the use of cash to a minimum. Pay everything with your credit cards, from bills to movie tickets, because you can’t make points if you don’t use the cards, which brings me to my next step.
STEP 6. EARN MILES BY DRINKING & DINING.
I don’t know about you, but earning miles never sounded so good. A night out can come with fewer regrets!
This step is the same as #5 but brought to a new level. Most hotel and airline loyalty programs have drinking and dining programs that are free to sign up. Most of this programs come with a sign-up bonus, and you earn miles for, get this, eating and drinking at participating restaurants. It’s the easiest way to double up your earnings! The key is to link the reward program to your points card. Then when you use it to pay the bill, you get points credited to both accounts.
ProTip: Remember the criteria when signing up for a rewards program. Consider which programs offer restaurants and bars you are most likely to visit.
STEP 7. USE SHOPPING PORTALS.
Plenty of airlines, hotels and credit cards with loyalty programs also have online shopping portals, also known as mileage malls. The concept is simple, using a shopping portal it’s similar to using a hotel booking website, in the sense that you don’t book directly on the hotel’s website. Instead, you do it through a page like hotels.com or agoda.com that offers benefits for booking. You see how it’s a similar concept?
The difference is that shopping portals redirect you to your retailer’s website using a link that will track your purchase and earn you points or miles. It’s an additional step on online buying but is worth it, and you still get a lot of the same stores, brands, and items. I never go directly to an online store when I can earn rewards by logging into my shopping portal first. Now, when the retailer is not part of my rewards program, I make sure to use the points card.
ProTip: I can’t emphasize enough on always trying to pay with your points card, for any purchase. And, by doing so, when buying through a shopping portal it’s an easy way of doubling up your rewards for a single purchase.
STEP 8. EARN MILES WHEN YOU STAY IN HOTELS.
Almost every hotel chain has a loyalty program which can get you nice perks like free room upgrades, free nights or dinners. But if you want to be strategic about this, make your bookings through a website like RocketMiles or Agoda that will earn you miles on every booking by linking your mileage account to the hotel booking website.
So, let’s say that you have the HHonors program from the Hilton Hotels, for each night you’ll make points towards your hotel loyalty program, and by booking thru a “hotel for miles” website, you’ll contribute to your mileage account as well.
The downside to this two-step method is that for loyalty programs to work, you have to be just that, loyal. So, in my case, it doesn’t quite work like that because I think that variety is the spice of life. I prefer to find smaller and more unique hotels outside of a chain, that can offer me different experiences. So, I skip the hotel loyalty program and earn miles instead of points. But that’s just my opinion. If you have a hotel chain that you love and a rewards program with it, please, by all means, don’t let go to waste.
STEP 9. RENT A CAR.
There are certain locations where renting a car is more of a hazard than an asset, but if the place allows it, do yourself a favor and rent a car. The way you experience a place is way better and different than by a tour bus, you have more freedom and fewer crowds. Additionally, car rental places like Avis, Budget or Hertz are have partnered up with different airlines that will reward you in miles for renting a car through these companies. Just add your loyalty program at the moment of booking.
STEP 10. LET THE DEALS COME TO YOU.
I’ve said it in another post, and I’ll say it again. Sign up for the newsletters of your favorite airline, search websites or travel blogs. Mailing lists are a serious source of relevant information. This way you’ll get all the latest deals & flash sales delivered right to your inbox, so you don’t have to be looking deals up all day long.
If you’re afraid that they’ll clutter your inbox, then subscribe to mine, and you’ll get curated offers by me. I’ll go thru all the deals and send them to you in one email. Besides, sometimes airline websites have mistake fares or glitches they won’t send you through their newsletter.
STEP 11. FIGURE OUT WHAT KIND OF TRAVELER ARE YOU.
Figuring out your priorities or preferences will help you decide when is the right moment to use your miles. For example, I preferer to save my miles and book two or three cheap airfare flights out of them, instead of using it for a first class ticket. But if you travel at the most 3 or 4 times a year you might want to treat yourself and book in first class.
The more points or miles you accumulate, the higher the tier in the loyalty program, which can earn you complimentary upgrades and free segments. However, you may not be interested in the free champagne and cheeses in first class, but rather on getting to more places, no matter the means.
I hope this beginner’s guide provides you with valuable information that you can start using today to get started with earning miles for your next travel adventure.
If you have any comments or questions about the content on this blog, please feel free to comment below or send me a message. I’ll answer as soon as possible and will be happy to go over any doubts you may have. And if you liked the content, show some love by liking and sharing. It would be highly appreciated and it would help keep this blog alive.
Thanks for reading,