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New to points and miles? Why now may be the best time to start

Nov. 17, 2020
16 min read
20200923_Delta A319 Zach Griff - 1
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Even if you don’t have travel planned soon, I bet you’re still thinking about it. The coronavirus pandemic drastically slowed down travel across the globe, and for U.S. travelers, many countries closed their borders and continue to restrict entry to Americans.

But even during a global pandemic, this might be the best time to get into points and miles. From elevated welcome bonuses to hotel promotions aimed directly at home-bound travelers, there’s something for just about everyone. And in honor of Airlines Week at the 2020 TPG Awards, today we'll go through everything you need to know about getting started.

Let’s dive right in.

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Getting started

Points and miles can unlock an entire world you might’ve not known about before. Whether that means going off the grid at the remote Calala Island in Nicaragua or booking a staycation with the family at the W South Beach, it’s all possible if you know where to begin.

First, it’s helpful to know what types of award redemptions you want to book. Are you an all-inclusive person, or do you value perks like free breakfast? Do you want to fly in a premium, lie-flat seat, or are you fine in economy? Even if you aren’t traveling right now, it’ll be much easier to earn (and redeem) points when you have a goal in mind.

For instance, if your goal is to redeem points (more on that later) for a nice hotel stay, you should be familiar with the major global hotel loyalty programs. Each has properties in dozens of countries:

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If it’s valuable free nights you want, then World of Hyatt may be your best bet. If you prefer widespread lodging options around the globe, you might want to look at Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors.

(Photo by Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

If you like the idea of flying in a seat that reclines, you should pay attention to airline programs. There are 10 major airlines in the U.S. alone, and you can use miles earned through their programs (or transfer points) to fly the way you want. For example, if you have Delta SkyMiles, you can use those miles to fly on Delta or SkyTeam airlines.

And frequent travelers with these airlines can earn elite status and unlock a number of perks. Here’s some additional reading on these programs:

Regardless of your end goal, keep in mind that airlines and hotels have made adjustments to earning requirements and have extended elite status due to the pandemic. For many, this includes counting miles flown or nights stayed in 2020 for earning status in 2021 — meaning even casual travelers may be able to climb the elite-status ladder as the industry recovers.

Learn the lingo

Jumping straight into the world of points and miles can seem intimidating, even if travel is slowed down right now. After all, “How many MQMs can I earn on a transcontinental J fare if I'm routing via JFK and SDC to a different flight?” almost reads like another language.

If you want to become a points-and-miles expert during your travel downtime, you’ll need to learn some terminology. We won’t go over all of the terminology here, but here are some of the most popular terms you may encounter while searching for redemptions.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
  • Award availability: The number of seats an airline has made available on a particular flight or route to book using points or miles
  • Base fare: The ticket price before taxes, fees and surcharges
  • Devaluation: When a loyalty program makes a negative change, which could include raising the price of award redemptions, making it more difficult to use your miles or even taking away perks that they previously offered
  • Elite status: How airlines and hotel programs reward their most loyal members with a host of perks, depending on how much business they do
  • Flexible points: Points that aren’t tied to a single airline or hotel loyalty program and can be transferred to many loyalty programs; popular programs include Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One Miles.
  • Minimum spend: The amount of money you need to spend within a given timeframe to earn a credit card’s welcome bonus
  • Points and miles: A type of currency issued by airlines, hotels and some banks via credit cards

If you're overwhelmed, start small with the above terms. You can also follow The Points Guy or join the TPG Lounge group on Facebook to follow (or participate) in the conversations.

Related: TPG from A to Z: Your complete travel glossary

Earn, Earn, and earn some more

Before you can even think about using points or miles, you need to actually earn them. Fortunately, there are many ways to accomplish this goal — including some strategies that you didn't know existed.

Even better? We've seen a number of lucrative earning opportunities launch over the last few months.

Here are some overall strategies to consider as you dip your toes into the world of rewards.

Credit cards

It’s no secret to anyone that the easiest way to earn a ton of points and miles quickly is through credit card welcome bonuses. Even if you don’t have travel plans coming up soon due to the pandemic, these points will be valuable to use whenever you start traveling again.

Related: The best first credit cards for 2020

Once you've added a new card to your wallet and earned the welcome offer, it can continue to provide value through category bonuses and additional perks. Some of these — like free airport lounge access — may not be applicable during the pandemic, but there are many cards that offer terrific value right now.

Here are some great options to consider if you're in the market for a new card:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best starter travel credit card
  • American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining at restaurants
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for travel credits
  • Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Best for small business travel
  • Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card: Best for no annual fee (no longer available for new applicants)
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for lounge access
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for earning miles at a flat rate
  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Best premium hotel card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Best for airline rewards
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Best mid-tier hotel card
  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card: Best for Alaska Airlines miles
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Best for American Airlines flyers

The information for the Wells Fargo Propel, Hilton Aspire Amex card, and Citi AAdvantage Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Remember that many issuers have restrictions on how often you can earn a bonus on a card, so it’s important to apply when there’s a good offer. Higher bonuses don’t always stick around for long, so if you’re considering one of these offers, you’ll want to hop on it sooner rather than later.

RELATED: How to earn up to 225,000 bonus points with the new Amex Platinum offer


Keeping track of the latest hotel or airline promos can be difficult. However, these promos can be a great way to boost your account balances and unlock awards more quickly. These promotions incentivize members to fly or stay a certain amount to earn bonus points or miles. Even if you aren’t a points expert, this is a pretty simple way to earn points and miles.

For instance, one of the most popular hotel promotions right now is World of Hyatt’s Bonus Journeys.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

During this promo — which lasts through Jan. 4, 2021 — members can earn 3x points on paid stays at all Hyatt locations worldwide. Members with a World of Hyatt Credit Card (or the legacy card) can earn 4x points on Hyatt resort stays (up to 75,000 points).

To put in simpler terms, if you wanted to take a week-long vacation and unplug at the Andaz Hollywood at $200 a night, you’d earn at least 21,000 points — possibly more if you have Hyatt elite status. That’s not a bad haul, especially considering that Category 1 hotels start at just 5,000 points a night.

RELATED: Current promotions with the World of Hyatt program

That week-long stay can get you at least four free nights at the Hyatt Regency Dulles or the Hyatt Place Los Cabos. Or, when the world reopens, Hyatt Regency Sharm El Sheikh Resort in Egypt or Studios at Alila Seminyak in Bali.

Dining programs

Did you know you can earn bonus points or miles when you order food from thousands of restaurants? And that this is in addition to those you earn on your credit card? Yes, this even applies to takeout orders. It’s one of the easiest ways to earn points and a great way to start, especially now if you’re ordering takeout often or taking advantage of outdoor dining.

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

I’ve earned thousands of points just by linking my credit cards to my dining rewards accounts. For instance, I always earn American Express Membership Rewards points by buying dinner on my American Express Gold Card — which earns 4x points on restaurants. Then, if it's a participating restaurant in Marriott's Eat Around Town program, I'd take home Marriott Bonvoy points as well.

This is known as double-dipping — that is, earning points or miles across several accounts in the same transaction.

Related: 10 programs that reward you for dining out

Shopping portals

When I was quarantined at home and stress-buying home goods in the early days of the pandemic, I turned to shopping portals often. This accomplished two things. First, I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my home. Second, I earned a ton of extra points and miles from online shopping.

That’s right; you can earn rewards for your online shopping. Leveraging online shopping portals for anything and everything you buy online is one of the easiest ways to earn points and miles. Just about every major airline — and even Amtrak — has an online shopping portal. Each one will award bonus points or miles based on your purchases across hundreds of retailers.

Some of these sites are even offering holiday bonuses right now, making it a terrific time to start shopping for gifts for your loved ones.

There are also a number of cash-back portals, but one of our favorites here at TPG is Rakuten, a hybrid option that gives you the choice of earning cash back or Amex points for your online purchases.

Utilizing these sites is pretty simple, but here's how it works.

Let’s say I wanted to buy some clothes for the winter at Rag & Bone. Instead of going straight to the store’s website or to a brick-and-mortar location, I’d instead start my transaction at a shopping portal. Today, I’ll use American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping portal, which offers 10x AAdvantage miles (that’s 10 miles per dollar spent) for purchases at Rag & Bone.

If my total came up to $500, I’d earn 5,000 AAdvantage miles just for that single purchase. TPG values American miles at 1.4 cents each, meaning this one purchase would be worth $70. That may not seem like much, but American's Economy Web Specials start at just 5,000 miles each way.

Think about that: A single online shopping trip could get you a free, one-way domestic award ticket.

If you’re more focused on hotel points than airline miles, you’re a bit out of luck here. Unfortunately, only two major programs currently offer a portal — Choice Privileges and Wyndham Rewards.

As a newbie in the points and miles hobby, I found shopping portals to be the easiest way (aside from welcome offers on credit cards) to earn points, especially if I'm able to stack the bonuses with an Amex Offer or Chase Offer.

Related: The beginner’s guide to airline shopping portals

Bottom line

If you’re just getting into points and miles, it can seem daunting, but now’s a great time to start. The pandemic gives you more time to learn the lay of the land, earn points and miles through sign-up bonuses or promotions, and begin dreaming (or planning) that next getaway when the coronavirus pandemic is fully in our rear-view mirrors.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/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.