So many people ask how they can travel using miles and points. You don’t have to fly every week to accumulate your miles or stay in a hotel once a week. The easiest way is with credit cards. This scares a lot of people, but it is certainly worth it. Also, just because you use points doesn’t mean that travel is free. Sometimes it can be extremely cheap. However I like to view it as going on a 20k vacation for $2k.
First, if you don’t pay your credit cards off in full every month, then don’t read the rest. Stop, pay off your cards, and then continue reading.
A lot of people think that opening up credit cards hurts their credit score. I can tell you that my credit score has been over 800 for the past 8 years. Your credit score may go down the week you open up a few cards, then it goes back up to an even higher number a month later. Your credit score is based off of late payments, utilization ratio, depth of credit, and opened accounts and inquiries over the last 2 years. On my credit report the open accounts and inquiries I am usually red in, but everything else I am green in so it’s only a small negative. Even when buying a house 2 years ago our mortgage broker inquired on this. I told him that I churned credit cards for miles and points bonuses and we were still able to get a 2.75% rate on a 15 year loan.
Credit card companies offer lots of different bonuses for their consumers to use their product. These bonuses can be of varying degrees. From a free t-shirt on a college campus, to 25k points, to 100k miles after spending $3k in a certain time period. Before you get too far into the points and miles game, you have to figure out what you want to do with your miles and points and be realistic with the expectations and availability. I typically have close to 3 million miles across over 15 different programs in my account. While that’s a lot, this doesn’t mean I can travel to the places I want on the date that I want. Most domestic flights start at around 25k miles for a round trip airfare. If you want to fly home over the holidays though, you aren’t going to be able to find too many fares at the 25k mark. If you are just getting started, you should have a vacation in mind and see how many miles it takes to get there and what the availability is. If your dream is to travel to Australia in Business class, that’s achievable for around 150k miles a person depending on the airline. But if you can only fly on specific dates and you have a family of 6, you will have to get pretty lucky to find those flights.
Especially when it comes to business class overseas flights, the key is flexibility. I view our vacation as the time we leave our house till when we get back. The plane rides are part of the vacation and can be as enjoyable as the destination. Sometimes the destination can worked around the airfare miles availability as well. For example 2 years ago we knew we wanted to go to London and Dubai, and somewhere else in the middle. No specific destination or dates. We looked at about 10 different cities in Europe and found great availability using our American Airline miles to fly on Etihad in Business and First class (split 2 and 2) from Paris to the UAE. My wife had her own chef and our kids had face painting. Flying doesn’t have to be dreadful, you just have to plan! Then getting from London to Paris is easy and cheap on the train.
I am picky when it comes to applying for new cards. Depending on which bank the card is through, you may only be able to get that card once so you better make sure its a good bonus and not like 25k miles. Typically I will only apply for credit cards if they have a least a 50k mile bonus. 50k mile bonus and no annual fee is a pretty good card. You can find this type of offer periodically from airlines like United, American, Delta, and Southwest. Those types of credit cards you can typically only use to redeem on those airlines.
Now some credit cards like an American Express Gold or Platinum Card, Citi Prestige, or a Chase Ultimate rewards card give you points that can be transferred to numerous different airline partners. So if you can’t find the flight you want on one airline, you can find a way to use those points on a different airline. Some of these credit cards have a high annual fee though. It’s often worth it because of other perks they offer like Airline Lounge Access, airfare credit up to $300 a year, Global Entry credit, bonus point offers, and others.
If you are just getting started, you probably ant to start small to get a quick win. Plan a trip to New York or Miami or somewhere and get a credit card with 50k points so you can book it for you and a friend. After you see how easy it is, then obtain a few more credit cards and plan your dream trip.
The past 3 years we have taken somewhat of dream trips as our summer vacation. 2016- London, Paris, Dubai. 2017- Tokyo and Osaka. 2018- Machu Pichu, Galapagos Islands, and Panama. These were all done mostly in business or first class and probably over 500k miles each vacation. While that’s a lot, its easily obtainable for a family with a little planning.
Future Posts Coming Soon:
Other ways to earn points and miles
Airline and Hotel alliances
Breakdown of Credit Cards out there