Look I believe in bargains, and I love a cheap flight, or a discount hotel, but in the end if you are not playing the points game, then you are missing the party. Points are freedom, points are life, points are a necessary evil if you plan on traveling on a regular basis. But seriously, unlocking the power of rewards points can change your life, you just have to be ready to go all in. And once you do, the rewards are magnificent. So here are some basics that you can institute today.
You ever get one of those customer loyalty cards from a Fast Food place? Ya know, buy nine sandwiches and the 10th one is free. Well that’s basically the premise behind reward points. But ya can’t earn ’em if you don’t join ’em. So If you stay at a hotel, if you fly with an airline, then you need to get rewards points. The second you book your travel, look at your itinerary and sign up with the appropriate programs. Staying at the Marriott, join their program. Flying on American Airlines, join their program. Renting from Hertz, join their program. Signing up is free, and usually easy, and the points add up quickly. I am a member in about 25 different rewards programs, because I want to get the maximum value out of every travel dollar I spend. I’m always shocked when I travel with people and they don’t have a frequent flyer number or take advantage of the rewards programs where we stay. That means they are literally, refusing a gift from the company that they are doing business with. Join the programs, start earning points right now.
Get A Rewards Card
Credit Cards can be your worst enemy, or your best friend. I have learned that if you play your cards right they can open doors to a points bonanza. Here’s how I learned. I went on vacation with friends to Cancun about 20 years ago and we stayed at the Four Seasons. The hotel was fantastic, but the real bonus was that our friends had this massive suite that was right on the beach. It was a great spot to hang and relax for the entire week, even though it was a little pricey. Well one day while we were sitting on the deck, I told my buddies wife that it was pretty cool that she went all in for the trip. I complimented her on her amazing planning skills. Well imagine my surprise when she turned to me and said “I paid for the entire trip with points”, meanwhile, I was pinching pennies to cover my stay in a standard room. She didn’t spend a dime for her sweet suite, with a deck on the beach or her flights to Mexico. I immediately had to know the deal, so she took me to school and broke down how she pulled it off.
Her family used their American Express cards to pay for certain expenses throughout the year. Expenses like groceries and other bills that they would pay anyway each month. Nothing excessive, the normal purchases. Instead of paying the vendors directly, they used their credit card as an alternative to checks, debit cards or cash. Why us a credit card over cash, well American Express has one of the best rewards programs available. Each month, my friends wife would pay off their entire AMEX bill and along the way they stacked up a bunch of points in the companies Membership Rewards program. By the end of the year they had accumulated a bunch of points and she flipped those points, into a fabulous vacation. Here is a great example… If you put $5000 worth of expenses on your card and pay it off every month, plus take advantage of bonus programs you will earn a minimum of 60,000 points in one calendar year. With proper planning that is enough for two round trip tickets from LA to Hawaii. Now add in incentives and other deals available through Membership Rewards and you could nearly double that total.
I use American Express but there are so many others, like the Chase Sapphire Card or even some of the airline specific cards. I say go with a card that makes it easiest to transfer your points to any airline or hotel of your choice. Listen if you really want to maximize your travel opportunities, then credit cards are a key component.
I know lots of people who sit and wait for the cheapest deals on discount airlines so they can fly, but at the end of the day if you want to make more than one trip, then loyalty is more important than price. I know that sounds a little crazy but sticking to one or two airlines when you travel is how you can hit the points bonanza. Pick an airline with the strongest rewards program, and ride with them. I try to stay on American Airlines no matter what. Even if it means that I have to connect and can’t fly direct, I would rather stay with American and earn the points and status. The points allow me to go fabulous places with my family when its time for vacation. It’s how my children end up flying business or first class to Europe. We use our points. If I purchased those ticket I would spend close to 10K on two kids under 10. By staying on American, I have earned elevated status, and that gives me multiple options when it comes time to fly.
Work The Network
Now for those who say that the bigger airlines like American, Delta, and United are too pricey, let me fill you in on a little secret. Say you want to go to Barcelona, and Americans best deal is $717 round trip. Well Norwegian Air is running a special and you could save $200 dollars, flying to Barcelona from Los Angeles for a little over $500. So normally people see the deal and lockdown their discounted, best price. But wait a minute, American Airlines, One World Partner, Iberia actually has a better deal than Norwegian. They could get you from Los Angels to Barcelona for $469, plus you earn miles that are transferable to you American account. Make the network work for you! My wife and I wanted to go to India, and to fly Business Class on American partner British Airways it would have cost us 225,000 miles each. Meanwhile on American partner Etihad, we went First Class for 100,000 miles each. We got the royal treatment and saved 250,000 miles. Wether it’s cash or miles, If you are going to travel international then work the network, and it will work for you.
Bonus Miles Deals
All over the internet you will read stories about how people, using credit card bonuses, were able to travel the world. It’s a simple game, you sign up for a card with a massive bonus for joining, take those miles or points you get initially and burn them up. When you are done with the bonus dump the card and move on to the next. Now it sounds easy but usually most of the deals come with a minimum spending limit. You spend $3000 in the first three months and you get your bonus points or miles. You have to read the fine print because often people can not reach the minimum spending limit. I think it’s easy if you use your card for bills you plan on paying anyway but not everybody agrees. It can be a dicey game to play if you don’t have a rock solid plan on how you will use the card, and the discipline to put it away once you have gotten your mileage.
These are just a few pointers to get you started in the points game. I believe that travel is the best education in the world and a life changing endeavor. We just have to figure out how to pay for all our grand journeys. Now if credit is an issue, then check out this article about the easiest cards to secure, so you can get a started. The most important thing, get busy, because you have work to do, and places to see.