Welcome to the points game! Many people feel like they can’t benefit from points and miles loyalty programs because they travel infrequently, but nothing could be further from the truth. Almost anyone can leverage the insane value of miles and points to travel the world. Travel can be expensive, but there are ways to significantly reduce the cost!
The key to being a Thrifty Traveler is to accumulate loyalty points/miles, primarily through credit card sign-up bonuses. Even signing up for as few as 1-2 cards will allow you to travel almost anywhere in the world for next to nothing. By signing up for credit cards I have earned over 5 million points and miles in the last seven years! You can too. Simply follow the steps below.
Step 1: Sign up for airline/hotel loyalty programs
Airlines: Signing up for loyalty programs is free. Don’t leave points on the table! Use Awardace or Awardhacker to determine which airline program will require the least points to fly you to your next destination.
Hotels: For hotels almost any hotel loyalty program will work in most major cities. Utilize Tripadvisor to find the top hotels in an area. Then find out how many points those hotels require by using Award-o-matic. When signing up for loyalty programs, I recommend utilizing a spreadsheet to track all your usernames and passwords. The key to the points game is organization!
Top airline programs
- Best use of American AAdvantage Miles (Off-peak European Awards)
- Pre-devaluation tips for booking AAAdvantage Tickets
- AAdvantage 10% rebate on Point Redemptions
- Guide to Booking Delta Award Tickets
- The Secret to One-Way Delta SkyMiles Award Tickets
- Which Points can be Transferred into Delta SkyMiles
- How to pay for Delta flights with SkyMiles
- Difference between SkyMiles and MQMs
- How to earn Delta Medallion status without flying (Manufacturing Delta Status)
- Save on GoGo In-flight Internet Access
Top hotel programs
- Ten Reasons why SPG is the best hotel rewards program
- How to Earn SPG Elite Status
- How to Transfer SPG Points To Another Account
There are of course other airline/hotel loyalty programs, but those listed above are backed by our favorite travel rewards credit cards.
Step 2: Sign-up for AwardWallet
AwardWallet aggregates all your loyalty program information in one place so you can login to view all your program balances at once, including if and when they are set to expire. It’s a great tool which also includes a phone app.
Step 3: Sign-up for Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Now let’s find the best credit card to allow you to travel. I’ve listed the best personal and business credit cards below. I generally sign up for 1-2 cards every 90 days and maintain a 780 or better credit score. In fact, if you properly manage your credit cards it should improve your overall score. I recommend monitoring your credit score for free through Credit Karma.
The key to the points game is to have strong organizational skills and pay your cards on time and in full every month.
Thrifty Tip #1: Avoid carrying a card balance from month to month. The interest charges may negate any rewards you receive. We are very debt averse here at Thrifty Traveler. We strongly recommend paying off any existing credit card debt before getting involved in the points game.
Thrifty Tip #2: Always monitor your credit score to see any impacts new openings or closures of cards have had on the your score. I recommend Credit Karma’s free service.
Step 4: Meet Spend requirements
The hard work is done and now you should keep track of the date you were approved for the card and strategize how to meet the spending requirements. Do not fall into the common pitfall of buying stuff you don’t need to hit the spending requirements. If you have large spending requirements I would recommend the follow strategies:
- Everyday spending (Ensure all autopay bills are changed to your new cards)
- Pay for friend’s and family’s share of meals, trips, etc.
- Purchase items on SlickDeals to resell on Craigslist (Apple products are the easiest sellers)
- Pay Rent with a Credit Card
Read more on our Top 5 Strategies to Hit Spend Requirements
Using these methods I have always been able to hit my spending requirements. Once you meet the spending requirements, the points/miles are usually deposited within one billing cycle (30 days).
Thrifty Tip #5: Utilize Mint.com to track all your credit cards to ensure they are paid on time. The more cards you are approved for the more complicated it can get, and Mint helps keep everything organized. I use Mint everyday and have for over seven years. Mint is an absolutely essential part of the points game. You must be organized to ensure all bills are paid on time!
Step 5: Travel
Now it’s time to book your trip! Utilize the individual loyalty program websites to book your travel with the points and miles you have earned. Curious how many points it takes to redeem a flight or book a hotel room? Check out our travel award charts.
- Use Award-o-matic to find hotels you can book with points in any city.
- Use Awardace or Awardhacker to determine which airline program will require the least points to fly you to your next destination.
Thrifty Tip #6: If you haven’t signed up for Uber and Airbnb do so now. Airbnb is great for finding cheap accommodations, especially when you’re short on points. You’ll get $20 off your first Uber ride with this link, and $30 off of Airbnb with this link!