Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express is no longer available.
With all the recent miles and points devaluations – ranging from hotel chains like Hyatt and Hilton to airlines including both United and Delta (twice!) – you might think your points won’t get you anywhere these days. But while the current state of points and miles is frustrating at times, with a few smart strategies in place, you can boost your points earning and accrue all the ones you need to get where you want to go. So even if a program devalues by, say, 20%, if you’re earning 50% more miles than you used to, you can still “win” in this game. Here are my top 10 ideas for boosting your miles and offsetting all these devaluations.
1. Improve your category bonus spending. This is a great way to earn multiple points per dollar on almost everything you spend. So many credit cards out there offer bonus spending categories from the Ink Bold and Ink Plus‘s 5X per $1 at office stores or 2X per $1 on gas and hotels, to the Sapphire Preferred‘s 2.14X on travel and dining, the Freedom‘s 5X quarterly bonus spending categories, or the Amex Premier Rewards Gold‘s 3X on airfare and 2X on gas and groceries, not to mention the bonus points or miles you earn by using a co-branded credit card on purchases through the airline or hotel program it’s associated with – all of which means it’s easier than ever to rack up more points and miles on your everyday spending. It can be confusing, but whether you use Post It notes to remind you which cards to use when, it can pay off big time.
2. Shop online more. Beyond just squaring away category bonuses, you can earn more points and miles on pretty much every single purchase you make by shopping online through airline, hotel and credit card online shopping portals. For example, the American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping portal offered a whopping 35 miles per dollar spent at eBags, which sells a lot more than bags. Most bonuses aren’t that high, but even racking up an extra 2-10 points or miles per dollar will get you farther faster. You can also use a few strategies like buying gift cards at your favorite merchant by first clicking through a shopping portal and then when you’re ready to make your purchase, go through the portal again and use your gift card to double dip. Your success may vary since many retailers exclude gift cards from these bonuses, but review the policies of your intended retailers carefully because you might be able to double (or more) your earning that way.
3. Get in on big credit card sign-up bonuses when they come up. The reason I talk about credit cards all the time is that they are the single most lucrative way to bank points and miles, especially when limited-time high sign-up bonuses come around. That’s why it pays to remain alert to where bonuses are on cards you’re interested in, and if you see a high one, don’t hesitate. For instance, right now the British Airways Visa is offering one of its periodic high 100,000-Avios sign-up bonuses which we hadn’t seen for a while, or when the Amex Platinum Card offered a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points, it was only around for a single day, so if you see something, do something and act fast!
4. Take advantage of transfer bonuses. Speaking of American Express, its Membership Rewards program – the points program of cards like the Premier Rewards Gold, Business Gold Rewards, Platinum and Business Platinum cards – offers transfer bonuses from time to time, and for the moment, it’s actually offering bonuses when transferring points to four of its airline partners: Emirates (25%) until November 21, El Al (20%) until November 30, British Airways (20%) until December 31 and Virgin Atlantic (30%) until November 30, which means you end up with a lot more miles when you transfer points to them. It’s not just Amex either. Air Canada’s Aeroplan program is offering mileage bonuses of up to 25% when you transfer points in from partner programs now through December 9.
5. Explore new programs and partners. It might take you a bit of homework (or reading my posts every day!) but every airline and hotel has tons of partners that you can take advantage of to leverage your points and miles more effectively. For instance, though after February 1, 2014, you’ll have to use 115,000 United miles roundtrip (instead of 100,000) on United or 160,000 for first class (instead of 130,000), and on partners it’ll be 140,000 or 220,000 roundtrip in business or first respectively, you can still use other Star Alliance programs like ANA, which will only charge you 43,000 miles roundtrip in economy, 68,000 in business class or 90,000 in first class. Granted, you might be paying (much) higher fuel surcharges on awards on carriers like Lufthansa, but saving 130,000 miles might be worth it on a first class award! For more information on this strategy, you can download my Chicago Seminars 2013 Handout
6. Get family and friends involved. One of the great ways to consolidate points and miles you might not otherwise be able to put to use is to pool them in household accounts. Many airline, hotel and credit card programs allow you to combine and transfer between accounts registered in the same family or “household,” including British Airways, Starwood, Ultimate Rewards, and most recently, JetBlue.
7. Maximize manufactured spend. Though it takes a bit of extra time, purchasing reload cards like Vanilla Reload or Green Dot MoneyPaks using a points-earning credit card and then putting their value on a compatible reloadable card like the Bluebird from American Express or the AccountNow Silver or Rushcard can be a great way to mint miles and stay ahead of the curve. Check out our post on Maximizing Prepaid and Reloadable Cards For Miles and Points for more background on this strategy.
8. Join business programs. Another good (and easy) way to double dip on your mileage earning is to join the business rewards programs of airlines and online travel agencies – not only do you or your employees earn the miles or points you normally would as an individual, but your business also earns perks on top of that like lounge passes, award tickets, and more. Many of the major airlines offer these programs including American, Delta, United, Air Canada and British Airways, as do hotel chains like Club Carlson, as well as Expedia if you have a Chase Ink card.
9. Join dining rewards networks. Dining programs can be a great way to double-dip with miles or points. Not only can you earn the points or miles you would normally earn on a points-earning credit card like the Starwood Amex, or even the category spending bonus points on a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred (2.14X per $1) or the Citi Forward (5X per $1) but you can also earn 3-5 points or miles in your airline or hotel program of choice by linking your credit card to that program’s dining rewards network. Every single one of your debit and credit cards should be registered to a participating program. Once your credit cards are linked to a program, you’ll automatically earn bonus miles every time you visit a participating restaurant. It’s a quick, easy, great way to earn some bonus miles without even having to think about it…especially if you dine out as much as I do! Among the programs that offer dining rewards are Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, United, US Airways, Hilton and IHG.
10. Double/triple/quadruple dip on travel more. What with online shopping portals, online travel agencies having their own rewards programs and travel category spending bonuses, it’s becoming easier and easier to double, triple, or even quadruple dip while booking your travel. The long and the short of it is, first visit an online portal like the Chase Ultimate Rewards one to see if it is offering multiple points per dollar when you click through to an OTA like Orbitz or Expedia. Click on the one that’s most lucrative for your needs. Second, be sure you’re signed up for the OTA’s loyalty program so you’re credited with their loyalty currency. Third, pick an airline you earn points with (with hotels, you might not be able to earn points on OTA bookings). Fourth, pay with a credit card that earns multiple points per dollar on travel category merchants like the Sapphire Preferred. That way, you’re earning credit card points, airline miles, OTA points/cash back and still more miles or points…all on a single purchase. For more information, check out my post on Maximizing Online Travel Agency Loyalty Programs.
My one last tip? Try to redeem your points or miles now before certain devaluations come into effect. Here are the dates when your miles will be worth a lot less with these programs. With the hotel programs you can usually cancel points reservations free of charge (be mindful of cancellation cutoffs, especially for resorts) so you might as well speculatively book and hope your stay works out (like I did for my current Conrad Maldives trip).
Delta: February 1, 2014 for booking certain awards, and then on award tickets for travel booked June 1, 2014, or after.
Southwest: Starting March 31, 2014, Rapid Rewards members will need to redeem 70 points per $1 instead of 60 points per $1.
United: Redemption levels will rise for tickets booked on or after February 1, 2014.
Hilton: Discontinuing Points + Fixed miles after January 6, 2014.
Hyatt: Award prices on reservations booked on or after January 7, 2014, will be higher.
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