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6 Tips From TPG Readers on How Infrequent Travelers Can Earn Points and Miles

Feb. 12, 2018
9 min read
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It's no secret that TPG himself got his start booking his family's vacations to the Caribbean using the miles his father accumulated from work. Then once he began his own career, Brian also amassed his own wealth of points and miles, first from his time as a road warrior recruiting for Morgan Stanley, and now from running the TPG brand.

But for the rest of us who may not have the opportunity to earn travel rewards as part of our everyday work, a first-class international award redemption can feel impossibly out of reach. So if you're not on the road that often, what are some of the best ways to maximize the number of points and miles you earn? We posed this question to the experts in our TPG Lounge, and here's what they had to say:

1. Focus earn and spend in a single direction

If you aren't a professional road warrior, you might lean toward purchasing whichever airfare is cheapest when you need to travel, because you doubt your infrequent travel will add up to enough miles to earn you free award flights. However, even the occasional trip can make a difference if you consistently book your travel to maximize your potential earnings.

Some savvy travelers focus their spend on a single airline within a strong partner network, such as United Airlines within Star Alliance, American Airlines in Oneworld, or Delta Airlines and SkyTeam for maximum award redemptions on international travel.

"I stick with only one card and put all my expenses on it, plus I try to fly with only one airline domestically and partners internationally. I don't spend a whole lot, but I usually end up with a free international round-trip flight every other year." — Šeila S.

At the same time, experienced points and miles collectors get a credit card — or several credit cards — which earn travel rewards that match their selected airline.

"No work travel here. I use the Chase Trifecta (Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, and Sapphire Reserve) to maximize my earning. Occasionally, I grab a sign-up bonus or new hotel card. I try and stay in the Chase family [of credit cards] for convenience." — Ryan F. The Chase Freedom is no longer open to new applicants.

2. Charge everything to your credit cards

Charge everything to credit cards
Put all your spending on credit cards and pay off the balance each month. (Photo by jacoblund/Getty Images)

In the points and miles space, every dollar spent is important, because it can count toward earning award flights. Most readers said they charge "everything" they spend each month to credit cards, paying off the balance each month.

"I charge everything I can as much as humanly possible. I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR), Chase Freedom Unlimited (CFU), and the Chase Freedom (CF). My wife has her own CFU, and also uses my Reserve and Chase Freedom when she can. I accumulated over 100,000 points in 2017 between spend, shopping bonuses and a sign-up bonus for the Chase Freedom. I pay my utilities and my insurances with CFU. I don’t care if I charge a dinner at Del Frisco's for $500 or buy a Big Mac for $5: it goes on my CSR. If we go out to dinner with a group of friends, I have no problem taking cash from others in the group and then charging the entire bill on my CSR. Use the right cards in the right situations, and you’ll be surprised how quick it all adds up." — Mark D.

And when using a credit card for all your purchases, don't forget to also take advantage of any bonus offers that may appear from time to time.

"No work travel accumulation for me, but I do put almost everything on my Amex Platinum. I add all the shopping/dining/travel bonus offers that come up, and take advantage of as many of them as I can. ... It’s kind of a no-brainer way to get a nice vacation in Europe every year. ... Delta and [SkyTeam Alliance] are my preferred carriers, and I use points only for international trips, always in business class." — Tracey P.

3. Charge work expenses to your personal card for later reimbursement

Once you're already charging every personal dollar on credit cards, charging work-related expenses is the next step. This option works best within companies without much red tape, of course. But it's always worth asking your higher-ups or HR department if you can pay out of pocket first, and then submit receipts or expense reports for reimbursement afterward.

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"I do ~$50k of catering for my office/employer every year (3x points for restaurants), plus a ton of other events and such that I help plan. In 2017, I was reimbursed for ~$110k in company expenses. I’d estimate 65-70% [of the spend was] food/catering, with the remainder being any event expenses I am able to put on my cards (vs. being required submit through Accounts Payable)." — Bryan O.

4. Utilize online shopping portals and pay special attention to promotions

If you’re looking to earn points or miles and you ever shop online, going through a shopping portal is a no-brainer. Airlines, hotels and some credit card issuers offer these online programs, which earn you extra rewards when you sign up and click through to a retailer from the portal, rather than simply going to a store’s website directly.

"I don't have a huge arsenal of cards like others do, so sometimes creativity can earn extra miles. Chase has a bonus of 10 UR points/dollar at Best Buy when using Chase Pay. I did not need anything from Best Buy, but I went and purchased two $300 Exxon/Mobil gift cards (one with each of my eligible Chase cards) and already have the bonus in my account. So I earned 6,000 points rather than the 600 if I just filled up my car with my CSR as I usually would do." — Paul G.

It can be difficult to track which program is offering the best current promotional rate, so Cashback Monitor is a great resource. Use Cashback Monitor to search for a retailer, then evaluate which shopping portal will offer you the best return. And around major holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, many retailers will offer bonus points or miles for each dollar spent in order to incentivize shopping.

You can even double, triple, or quadruple-dip the points or miles you earn on a single purchase, as one TPG Lounge reader explains:

"Just an example - I bought a couple of items from Macy's for $165. The MileagePlus X app got me 496 miles, [and the Chase MileagePlus] Explorer card got me 124 miles. United shopping portal would give me another 661 miles, and finally, Chase Freedom would give me 248 [Ultimate Rewards] points, which can be transferred 1:1 to United miles, coming to a total of 1,529 miles." — Mithun B.

5. Partner up with other travelers

Partner up with other travelers
Pool your airline and hotel points with a friend or family member. (Photo by @ajknapp via Twenty20)

Tired of traveling alone? Not sure how to make that big family vacation happen? Work out a partner-earning strategy with close friends or relatives to get quicker results.

"Since my sister and I are both unmarried and frequently travel together for personal vacations, we do family pooling with our JetBlue points. This helps a lot since its hard for us to build a ton of points on our own as solo, non-business travelers." — Marie W.

You can also ask family and friends to let you charge dinners out together to your credit card during your sign-up bonus period, then return the favor three months later.

6. A combination of all of the above

After all is said and done, you'll find the most effective points and miles earners utilize a mix of all the strategies above to get the best value for their own needs.

"Sign-up bonuses are a big help, but I don't rely on it. Just do all my everyday spending, bill paying, whatever on my cards and always pay my balance off each month. Shopping portals, Mileage Plus X, dining programs can be a huge boost." — Christopher N.
"I earned the bulk of mine through sign-up bonuses, and via the AA Citicard. I also use the shopping portal regularly, and earned just shy of 30k last year just from shopping online for things I would have bought anyway." — Deena H.

We always recommend sitting down and figuring out your top travel priorities, then selecting credit cards and loyalty from there. Do you typically road-trip or fly? International or domestic? Hotels or Airbnbs? Different credit cards and spend strategy will apply, based on your personal answers to those questions, so make sure you're earning the right points and miles, especially if you only have a few chances each year to earn them by traveling.

@andrey_rage via Twenty20.

Featured image by (Photo by @andrey_rage via Twenty20)

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