Here are the 5 points and miles strategies I’m teaching my family

Jan 17, 2022

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I come from a family of travelers, so it’s no surprise that every time I visit my parents in Texas, we’re always dreaming of some trip we all want to take together. As a travel journalist, I’ve always been quick to offer advice about incredible new hotel openings or dreamy destinations to consider.

But this year my advice was different, more practical than wishful, and required me to whip out my iPhone calculator more times than I expected.

The reason? Well, I’m about three months into my tenure as a reporter at TPG, and I’ve learned more tips and tricks about points and miles, credit cards and elite status than I ever thought possible. And when I got home for Christmas, it was time to share them with the family.

young man with parents in front of Christmas tree
(Photo by Tanner Saunders/The Points Guy)

Here are some of the tips and strategies I shared, mostly with my parents, who are small business owners in Texas, and currently hold a number of cards, including the American Express® Business Gold Card. But these are also tips you can easily incorporate into your own life.

Like a lot of people, my parents understand that using these cards to earn points has a lot of benefits and can ultimately help them take some dream vacations they’ve talked about. But I’ll be the first to admit that they’ve used a lot of points over the years — way too many — helping me fly home for the holidays in college and when I started my post-college life as a broke kid trying to be a writer in New York City.

Thanks, Mom and Dad. Now let me help you get to the Maldives.

Read TPG’s guides and newsletters

At the root of it, anyone who wants to embark on a real points and miles journey should start by reading our beginner’s guide to learn the ins and outs of how it all works. Luckily, I’d been following TPG for years before I started working here, so it makes sense that I tell anyone else who will listen — including my family — to do the same.

This is a team of experts who seriously know what they’re talking about. Off the top of their heads, they can tell you where to transfer points for the best deal on a business-class flight to Hawaii or which credit card to use during any given time to earn the most points on groceries.

Qsuite. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

The beginner’s guide includes everything my parents need to get started, from what points and miles even are in the first place to elite status, how much your points are worth and the best credit cards to keep in your wallet.

I also suggested that my parents sign up for our daily newsletter to be even more in the know. (Selfishly, so they can also occasionally see my own writing.)

Know when to redeem points for a flight or when to pay cash

I think we’ve always known that over the years we’ve blown through a lot of points on flights without ever thinking if it was actually worth it. Again, my mom graciously spent way too many American Express Membership Points on last-minute flights home for me for the holidays, and I’m forever grateful. (Probably not as grateful as she was once I was finally off her payroll, as she likes to say.)

Moving forward, I told them it’s best to be more strategic about when to redeem points for a flight versus simply paying cash.

There are a lot of schools of thought about the different ways to do this, but a simple understanding of the basics can make the decision more clear-cut. I explained to my parents that it’s important to consider what they want out of each trip, knowing how many points they have across different accounts and determining the point-per-cent value of an award ticket against the cash price.

This is when the calculator came out. To figure out the point-per-cent value you use a simple formula: subtract the taxes and fees from the cost of a paid ticket and divide that number by the number of miles required. Then, multiply that number by 100.

From there we discussed different types of award tickets, how you can transfer points between airlines for better value and how some people have a set price, say $100, where they’ll always pay cash if the flight is below that number.

I’m excited to see how using these tools and ideas helps my family one day cash in their points for a great value on business-class tickets for a trip they’re wanting to take.

Stay loyal to a hotel brand you love and go for elite status

For work, both of my parents travel a lot, mostly on road trips across Texas and occasionally elsewhere. For them, picking a hotel on these trips has mostly been out of convenience and price over anything else. Chasing elite status was never on their minds.

But when I explained the long-term benefits of having elite status, light bulbs started to turn on. I explained that their business trips may mostly be to lower-tier hotels where there aren’t as many perks as higher-end properties, but over time, those elite-qualifying stays can help open doors to suite upgrades, free meals and lounge access when they do go on bigger trips or a dream vacation.

Our next plan is to do an assessment of the places they travel to most and figure which brand makes the most sense for them to try to go for elite status. Beyond the specific cities they visit the most, we also talked about what perks they’d like to receive the most if they do get elite status to help inform the decision.

For them, spending upwards of 30 nights in hotels a year is easy, so I’m excited to see where they land — or upgrade, really — this time next year.

Consider opening a cobranded hotel credit card

As I just mentioned, going for elite status with a hotel brand is a great goal for my family. Though we haven’t decided which brand is exactly right yet, we also know that opening a cobranded hotel credit card can help speed up that process.

Since I’m going for elite status with Marriott this year, I explained why I’ll probably apply for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card. This card includes automatic Silver Elite Status and 15 elite night credits each calendar year. You’d need to stay just 10 more nights at Marriott hotels to get Gold Elite Status and benefits like late checkout and enhanced room upgrades when available.

To take it one step further, since my parents are small business owners, they could go even further with Marriott by also applying for the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, which also comes with 15 elite night credits. Luckily, with Marriott Bonvoy you can stack a personal card with a business card, like the two mentioned above, and earn double the amount of automatic elite night credits each year.

In this case, they could have 30 elite night credits and only need 20 more to get Platinum Elite — a level they could easily beat me to.

Sit down and plan your dream trip so it’s all worth it

My folks are the hardest working people I know and they want their money to work for them so they can slow down at times and take those dream trips we’re always discussing.

aerial photo fo two islands in crystal-clear water
(Photo courtesy of Hilton)

My mom can’t stop talking about the Maldives, and that’s a trip we’re going to make happen. So, our task is simple. Using all of the resources we discussed, how can my parents get the most bang for their buck on a trip to paradise? Having a plan and a purpose makes executing everything we talked about so much easier. When you have a goal, you go for it, right?

Here at TPG, we’re constantly sharing incredible stories of people who turned their points and miles into a stay in a luxury hotel suite or a flight in Qatar’s famous Qsuites. I want my parents to have their story be next — and if they use the strategies we discussed, that’s certainly not out of the question.

The same goes for you. At the root of it, all of these beginner strategies will help set you up for success to take your own dream trips. Then, maybe we’ll see your reader’s success story here, too.

Featured photo by Lifestyle Travel Photo/Shutterstock.

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