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English not your 1st language? Use these 8 tips to help your points and miles game

August 17 2022
7 min read
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Living in a new country can be exciting. It can also be quite challenging if the language of your new country is different from your native tongue.

Learning to earn points and miles for free (or cheaper) travel is a great hobby to stumble upon. However, much of what's involved in this hobby can feel intimidating when English isn't your first language. Just ask my wife.

She has lived in the U.S. for 10-plus years and speaks great English. However, some parts of the points and miles hobby are still complicated, especially when it comes to banks and credit cards. When you call a bank, phone representatives often mumble — on top of the bad connection your call may have.

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How do you navigate these issues so you can collect lots of points and miles when English isn't your first language? Let's look at some tips my wife and I have developed over the years.

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Use chat or secure messages whenever possible

Out of all the tips, this one is the most important.

Phone calls with banks can be confusing for anyone. There's a mix of complex words, maybe a fuzzy connection and often someone reading a statement to you very quickly. Add the fact that many of the phone agents tend to mumble and it can be frustrating to talk to a bank, whether the conversation is in your first or fifth language.

(Photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images)

Luckily, many banks have a chat or secure messaging feature. If your bank has this, take advantage of it. Reading what someone says to you can be much simpler than listening to it being spoken. If the message is unclear, you can copy and paste it into Google Translate.

My wife finds chat much simpler to understand than a phone call. Plus, I can sit next to her in case she has questions; eavesdropping or helping with a phone call can be more complicated.

Related: How 5 minutes of chat got me 85,000 points plus $150

Ask for help — on both sides of the call

That leads to my next tip: Be willing to ask for help when you need to make a call. You can ask a partner, friend or family member to assist you. You also can ask the person on the other side of the phone call for help. Don't be afraid to ask for explanations or ask the employee to repeat something.

If you're going to ask a friend or relative to help you during the phone call, most banks will need to verify your identity before someone else can join the phone call. Then, you can have a friend or family member help answer your questions or translate as needed.

Add an account manager

(Screenshot from americanexpress.com)

You may be able to have someone else make a phone call for you. This is if you have an account manager on your account. But while an account manager can do many things, there are limits. Account managers usually can't open, close or apply for a credit card.

There may also be times when a bank wants to talk to you about questionable account activity. This happened recently to my wife: Citi thought an online purchase was suspicious and wanted to talk to her about it. The bank insisted on speaking with my wife to make sure everything was OK — despite me being an account manager.

However, there are still many reasons why you may want to have an account manager. The person you choose as your account manager will be able to call to alert the bank when a card is lost, as well as make payments for you and ask about your card's benefits.

Practice before making phone calls

If you will need to call a bank or credit card company and are nervous about it, remember that "practice makes perfect." Ask a friend or relative to help you practice before the phone call. That way, you can think through what you need to say before you talk with a phone agent.

You likely know why you're calling and what you need to do during the phone call. However, practicing saying this out loud in English and repeating what you'll say so it's clear to the phone agent will make the real phone call much easier.

Get documents ready before picking up the phone

What if you need to call about a specific card, such as a United Airlines credit card? You've practiced for the phone call and know what you want to say, but before you start the phone call, you'll want to get all of the information you might need so you have it in front of you when you call.

(Photo by Pormezz/Shutterstock)

My wife likes to have a pen and paper for taking notes, her driver's license for all of her personal details, the credit card she's calling about and anything else that may be related to that credit card. So if she's calling about a United credit card, she makes sure she has her United MileagePlus frequent flyer number handy just in case it's needed.

Think through the upcoming phone call, then collect anything you might need. This way, you don't have to search for it during your phone call.

Related: The ultimate guide to credit card application restrictions

Use a script

Preparing a script before your phone call can be very useful. Think about what you need to say, or ask a friend or family member to write it down for you. If you have a script, you don't have to worry about remembering what to say — you can just read it.

You can make a script for what to say when the call starts and also a script for answers to some questions the bank might ask you. When I help my wife with phone calls, I point to the answers we wrote down before the phone call. She then reads them to the phone agent.

Don't be afraid to ask for more time or to be put on hold

If you've used the strategies above and still encounter problems during a phone call, don't be afraid to tell the phone agent to wait. It's OK to say that you didn't understand a question or that you need time to find some information. Don't feel like every answer must be given immediately, as this pressure can make the phone call even more difficult.

If you're still having problems, ask the phone agent to put the call on hold. Use this time to find the information requested or to talk to the person who is helping you.

Hang up and call again if you don't like that phone representative

If you feel like your phone call isn't going well, end the call and try again. Hanging up and calling back can help you find an employee who is friendlier. Before you call again, take time to breathe and relax.

My wife sometimes hangs up the phone and calls again until she finds an agent with a nonnative accent. In her experience, those who also speak English as a second language tend to be more helpful.

Bottom line

Living in the U.S. can make it easy to earn points and miles, unlike what you may find if you live in another country. However, if English isn't your first language, the world of credit card points can seem really difficult to understand.

Luckily, there are tips you can use to help you talk to your bank. For example, as long as you tell your bank that someone is helping you with the phone call, it shouldn't be a problem and can make your interaction much easier.

Featured photo by Pools and beach at the Hyatt Regency Maui (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
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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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
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  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

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  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • 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

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

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  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees