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Make a New Year’s resolution to use your points and miles better: Here’s how

Dec. 31, 2022
7 min read
Park Hyatt Sydney rooftop
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Editor's Note

The author initially wrote this post about her resolutions at the start of 2019. We've updated the post with current information.

Like many travel lovers, I tick a few destinations off my bucket list each year. The problem is always how to do it most cost-effectively. While I often use my credit card rewards to book flights, I never really know if I'm getting great value from my rewards.

So, I decided a few years back that one of my New Year's resolutions was to learn how to use my points and miles better. After all, more efficient reward usage means I can travel at a lower cost and subsequently visit more destinations.

Here's how I'm striving to maximize my travel rewards without having to become a dedicated award travel master.

Use Chase points for Hyatt stays

A room at the Park Hyatt New York. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Whenever I plan a trip, I consider using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to book my flights. But there is so much more you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for — including hotels, experiences and sporting events — that can help reduce the cost of your vacation.

For example, you can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book a Hyatt stay by transferring them to World of Hyatt. You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to IHG One Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy, but Hyatt points are generally worth significantly more.

Twenty-five thousand Hyatt points are enough for a standard free night at a Category 6 property like the Park Hyatt Aviara or Park Hyatt Chicago. Redeeming these points could get you into a room that would otherwise cost more than $500 per night on most dates. World of Hyatt gives all members waived resort fees on award stays, which can add to the savings.

If you want to earn fully transferable Ultimate Rewards points, consider adding the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card to your wallet.

Related: How I'm spending 1 million World of Hyatt points

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Learn how to transfer rewards

You might consider using your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book travel directly in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. But let's look at what that means for a one-way flight from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Washington's Dulles International Airport (IAD).

I picked a sample flight that would cost $428.60 if I booked directly on United's website.

UNITED.COM

If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for travel through the portal at 1.5 cents apiece. So, this flight would require 28,573 Ultimate Rewards points if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve and redeem for this flight through Chase's travel portal.

Alternatively, you can book this flight for 15,000 MileagePlus miles and $5.60 in taxes and fees. Remember, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United MileagePlus at a 1:1 ratio.

UNITED.COM

Of course, when you transfer credit card rewards to an award program, you usually won't earn frequent flyer miles on your ticket (which you usually would when booking through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal).

Check award rates with transfer partners before redeeming rewards directly through your credit card issuer's travel portal. In particular, it can make sense to transfer rewards to book award flights or stays when paid rates are high or award rates are low.

Related: How (and why) you should earn transferable points

Track your points and miles

OLEG BRESLAVTSEV/GETTY IMAGES

Using your points and miles properly is difficult if you don't track them properly. Luckily, there are many ways to track your points and miles.

I used to track my rewards manually in a Word document, but this was time-consuming and cumbersome to keep up to date. So, you might want to use an automated tool. One option is the TPG app, which keeps track of all your balances in the same place, automatically calculates their value and gives you a heads-up when they will expire.

The TPG app gives you a snapshot of where you stand and can help inform your travel plans. When you log in, you'll see where you have the most rewards with the accounts you've synced (and the value using TPG's valuations).

Related: Change the way you travel — download the TPG app

Sign up for all loyalty programs

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Many people (including yours truly) fail to sign up for every loyalty program because they think, "Oh, I never really fly JetBlue or stay at a Hilton." But that mindset has cost me thousands of points and miles.

Even if you aren't loyal to one airline or hotel chain, signing up for the program when you fly or stay means adding more rewards to your balance whenever you use the program again. You might even get extra perks, such as free Wi-Fi during your hotel stay, just for being a member.

You might not want to join every program out there today. But consider this resolution: I'll ensure I have a frequent flyer number listed on every flight I take.

Doing so will build up rewards in various programs that could eventually get you a free trip.

Related: Hilton, Marriott and other loyalty programs are offering free points for new members

Use online shopping portals

EMILIJA MANEVSKA/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES

I buy items online regularly. But I could earn more rewards on my purchases by going through the shopping portal of my preferred credit card, airline or hotel. These portals are essentially online shopping malls that partner with hundreds of merchants. By starting at the portal rather than going directly to the retailer's site, you can earn bonus points or miles on thousands of items.

For example, let's assume you want to buy makeup from Sephora. If you go directly to Sephora's website, you'll only earn rewards for your credit card purchase. But you could snag extra rewards if you click through the AAdvantage shopping portal, for example, before making your purchase.

If you prefer earning cash instead of points and miles, you can explore online shopping portals like Rakuten and TopCashback. I recommend using a shopping portal aggregator each time you make an online purchase to find the program that offers the best return for your merchant.

Related: Your guide to maximizing shopping portals for your online purchases

Bottom line

A new year brings a wealth of opportunities to adjust your approach to earning and redeeming points and miles, and there are several simple steps you can take right now. Small steps like ensuring that you have a frequent flyer number linked to each flight can make a significant difference. I, for one, already have my eyes set on my next award trip.

Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.

Featured image by HYATT
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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3 - 4X points
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Recommended Credit

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Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees