Putting together an effective points strategy can be a daunting task. This site alone has hundreds of posts on a variety of topics, so I understand it can be difficult to find a place to start. Well, thats what I want this page to be, so welcome to The Points Guy’s Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up an Effective Points Strategy!
First things first, you should open up accounts with the major loyalty programs. Below is a list of the top programs for your convenience. Once you sign-up, write down your user name and password for step two. Here is a link to my ranking of the major frequent flyer programs.
Airline programs (included is also whether that airline is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and/or the Starwood Preferred Guest program):
- Air Canada Aeroplan (Amex, SPG)
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue (Amex)
- Airtran (Amex)
- Alaska (SPG)
- Alitalia (Amex, SPG)
- American (SPG)
- ANA (Amex, SPG)
- British Airways (Amex, Chase, SPG)
- Cathay Pacific (Amex)
- Continental – Now United Mileage Plus (SPG, Chase and Amex until 9/30/11)
- Delta (Amex, SPG)
- Emirates (SPG)
- Frontier (Amex)
- Iberia (Amex, SPG)
- JetBlue (Amex)
- Korean (Chase)
- Lan (SPG)
- Qatar (SPG)
- Singapore (Amex, SPG)
- Southwest (Use promo code GNAVRPDRWDS for 250 free points)
- United (Chase, SPG (2:1 ratio))
- US Airways (SPG)
- Virgin America (Amex)
- Virgin Atlantic (Amex, SPG)
- Best Western (Amex)
- Club Carlson
- Choice Hotels
- Hilton (Amex)
- Hyatt (Chase)
- Intercontinental Ambassador
- La Quinta
- Marriott (Chase)
- Priority Club (Chase)
- Starwood (Amex)
- Amtrak Guest Rewards (Chase)
Join an online mileage manager. I personally use Awardwallet.com which is a free site that will track your balances in one convenient spot and even alert you if your miles are going to expire. Other managers include Usingmiles.com and Tripit.
Choose the right credit card(s). Having powerful cards with big sign-up bonuses is the easiest way to jumpstart your points strategy. Below are my recommendations for top overall cards. To view the current hot offers by hotel/airline check out my Top Deals page by other metrics like APR and Annual fee, check out my other site travelcreditcards.com.
Before you actually apply, I’d recommend getting your free annual credit report and making sure all of your accounts are in good standing. Most banks use FICO scores to determine your creditworthiness and that official score can be purchased from myfico.com, though you can learn about how FICO scores are calculated here. Other sites like Credit Sesame will give their own estimations of their credit scores, but none of them are official. Read this post to find out how you can check your credit for free.
See also: Maximizing Category Spend Bonuses on Credit Card Spend , My Year to Date Credit Card Sign-up Haul: 553500 Points/Miles, My Experience Getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred, My Credit Confessions and 8 Tips to Improve Your Credit, A Round-up Of 50,000+ Point Credit Card Deals.
Overall Best Cards:
Chase Sapphire Preferred Benefits: 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months and $95 annual fee waived for the first year. Points transfer 1:1 to Continental, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club and Amtrak. No foreign transaction fees.
American Express Premier Rewards Gold Benefits: 25,000 point sign-up bonus when you spend $2,000 within 3 months and $175 annual fee waived for the first year. It earns triple points on airfare, double points on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, double points at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets, and single points on other purchases. 15,000 point bonus when you hit $30,000 in spend within a calendar year. Downfall: Foreign transaction fee of 2.7%, so I do not recommend using this card for purchases outside of the US. Full comparison review here.
US Bank FlexPerks Visa Benefits: 17,500 bonus FlexPoints earned when you spend $2,500 in the first 5 months of enrollment. For every $1 spent in net purchases, you earn 1 FlexPoint and can get up to a $25 airline allowance per award ticket. Additionally, you can earn double FlexPoints on categories like gas, groceries, airline travel and most cellphone charges and triple FlexPoints for charitable donations when you use your FlexPerks Visa.
Capital One Venture Card Benefits: 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $100 in travel and the $59 annual fee is waived the first year. 2 points earned for every dollar spent on everything and each point can be redeemed for 1 cent towards travel. So 50,000 points = $500 towards travel, plus you earn miles and elite status on all airline tickets and hotels redeemed.
Starwood American Express Benefits: 25,000 bonus points – 10,000 after your first purchase and another 15,000 after you spend $5,000 within the first 6 months of Cardmembership and $65 annual fee waived the first year (10,000 points with first purchase and another 15,000 when you spend $5k within 6 months). Starwood points are extremely valuable because they can be redeemed for hotel stays, including Cash & Points as well as be transferred to over 30 airlines- most at a 1:1 ratio and 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred. See more here.
Best Business Cards:
Some of the best credit card offers out there are for business cards. Luckily you don’t need to have a business in order to be approved, you can simply sign up using your social security number instead of an EIN and usually that suffices. Read these posts for more information: Top Ten Reasons To Get a Business Credit Card, Do You Have to Have a Business to Get a Business Credit Card?
Ink Bold Benefits: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months from account opening and $95 annual fee waived the first year. There are no interest charges because it’s a pay in full charge card and you can earn up to 5X points per dollar on eligible business purchases, points do not expire.
Ink Plus Benefits: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months from account opening and $95 annual fee waived the first year. 5 points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV service. 2 points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and for hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel. No foreign transaction fees.
CitiBusiness AAdvantage Visa Benefits: 50,000 AAdvantage miles when you spend $3,000 on the card within the first 4 months and $75 annual fee. You will receive a one-time $150 statement credit for the first eligible American Airlines purchase you make within the first 12 months of cardmembership and $100 American Airlines flight discount every cardmembership year when you spend $30,000 or more on eligible purchases.
Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa Benefits: 85,000 points - 50,000 Gold Points after first purchase, 35,000 Gold Points when you spend $2,500 within 90 days after your account was opened and $60 annual fee. 10 points per $1 spent in eligible net purchases at participating Carlson Rezidor hotels worldwide, 5 points per $1 spent in eligible net purchases everywhere else. Receive 40,000 bonus points each year after you renew your card and pay the annual fee and a Bonus Award Night when you redeem Gold Points for 2 or more consecutive Award Nights.
Put all of your finances on your credit cards and then make sure to pay them off each month or else the interest paid will most likely negate points accrued. Use cash only when you absolutely have to! In general though, if a merchant is going to make you pay a 3% fee to use a credit card (like most universities these days), it’s not worth it in my opinion.
Sign up for dining programs. They are free and once your credit card is linked, you will automatically earn miles/points every time you swipe you use your linked credit cards at participating restaurants.
Shop online! Never go directly to a favorite retailers website if possible. Click through one of the online mileage malls and you will automatically get points for every dollar you spend. It’s amazing- they take you to the exact website, but as long as you click through the mileage mall, you get miles- plus the miles from using a mileage earning card. This adds up quickly!
Popular online points/miles malls:
- Air Canada: Aeroplan EStore
- AirTran: A+ Rewards Mall
- American: AAdvantageEshopping.com
- American Express: Bonus Points Mall
- Amtrak: Amtrak Guest Rewards
- Chase: Ultimate Rewards Shopping
- Choice Rewards: Choice Privileges Mall
- Citi: Thank You Shopping
- Delta: Skymilesshopping.com
- Discover: ShopDiscover
- Frontier: Early Returns Mall
- Hawaiian Airlines: Hawaiian Airlines eMarket
- Hilton HHonors: Hilton HHonors Earnings Mall
- Marriott Rewards: Shop My Way
- Mastercard: Mastercard Marketplace
- Priority Club: Priority Club Shopping
- Southwest: Rapid Rewards Shopping
- United: Mileageplusshopping.com
- US Airways: Dividend Miles Shopping Mall
- Visa: Visa Offers (these are discounts not points-earning)
Stay up to date with the top deals. Of course, read my site daily and follow me on Twitter. I also recommend reading the following other blogs:
There are also two main forums that serve as great resources for the avid points collector.
- Flyertalk.com is the oldest and has tons of information. It’s main downside is that it’s not exactly user friendly and the discussion in certain forums can be hostile at times. See also: 9 Flyertalk Tips for Newbies
- Milepoint.com is the new kid on the block. It was founded by Flyertalk vets who wanted to create a fresher new forum for newbies and experts alike. I know the founders and they are good people. While they have good intentions, the site does lack the deep levels of content that Flyertalk offers.
Understand that attaining elite status (building loyalty with a brand) is a huge aspect of a successful points strategy. Not only can elite customers get enhanced customer service and upgrades, they almost always get bonuses on points and miles earned. Once you get status, you can “match” or challenge it to other airlines and hotels per my post on Airline Status Match and Challenge Information.
See also: How to Cope With Losing Elite Status, Mid Year Hotel Elite Status Check-in: How Have You Fared So Far, Mid Year Airline Elite Status Check-in: How Have You Fared So Far, My Year End Elite Status Sprint Begins, My Mileage Run Decision
Understand that accruing points is only half of the equation. Familiarize yourself with the tips and tricks of the programs that you are focusing on. Highlighted are some of my key posts on redeeming miles and points:
General tools everyone should know how to use:
- ANA search tool for Star Alliance availability
- Expertflyer for Award Alerts
- Other tools that many people use to help book awards: KVS Tool and Awardnexus.com
- My Consolidated List of Airline Award Charts and Partner Airline Lists- Remember, you always reference the award charts of the carrier whose miles you have- not the carrier that you’d like to travel on.
Definitions: Video Blog Post: What are Stopovers and Open Jaws?
Air Canada Aeroplan:
One of the biggest benefits of Aeroplan are the extremely generous award routing rules. Read more about them in the post on creating a Round the World Award.
Maximizing Stopovers, Transfers and Open Jaw Ticketing on American Airlines Awards
American’s Million Miler program is changing December 1, 2011. Read this post on how to maximize your miles before the new changes go into effect.
I did a 10 part series on Maximizing Amex. See Maximizing Amex Post 1: Understanding the Card Offering and the table of contents includes links to others in the series.
I did a multi-part series on Maximing British Airways Avios. See the first post: Master FAQ post of Chase British Airway’s Visa 100,000 Avios offer.
- Maximizing Stopovers, Transfers and Open Jaw Ticketing on Delta Awards
- Delta.com Quirks and How to Work Around Them to Find Low Awards
- How to Book a Delta SkyMiles Award
- How to Get To Australia With Delta SkyMiles
- Maximizing Stopovers, Transfers and Open Jaw Ticketing on United
- United Makes Changes to 2012 Mileage Plus Program
- Maximizing Stopovers, Transfers and Open Jaw Ticketing on US Airways
- US Airways Grand Slam 2011 Master Guide
Set a goal and achieve it! Do you want to use your miles to fly first class or would you rather take two trips in coach? Want to take a family trip when your budget would not normally allow it? I always recommend putting a goal in mind so that you can always come back to it when you are tired and don’t feel like collecting miles and points anymore or you run into roadblocks- like a promotion that didn’t work out as planned. It will inevitably happen, so as long as you have your eye on the prize it makes it easier to persevere and come out ahead! Here are some links on example of how I’ve used points to travel to places in a way I’d never thought I’d be able to.
- My Summer Trip to Spain and Mauritius and How I Used Miles To Make It Happen
- Intercontinental Mauritius Royal Ambassador Experience
- My Paris/ Seychelles Trip (Intro)
- Using Points and Miles for Last Minute Travel and Emergencies
- British Airways First Class Experience and Encounters with Madonna
- Review: British Airways NEW First Class