Low Spender, No Problem: Points and Miles Tips From TPG Readers for Anyone With a Credit Card
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Whether you consider yourself to be a big spender or prefer to stick to a budget, points and miles enthusiasts come from all walks of life. With that in mind, TPG reader Kim B. posed the following dilemna to the rest of the TPG Lounge...
"I don't travel for work and only have availability to travel twice a year. I don't eat out. I have extremely low monthly expenses. Therefore, I'll never be one of those people who has 400,000 points — I earn about 25,000 points a year. Anyone else in this boat? Is the only option for me going to be 'churning?' How do I not 'run out' of cards? Is there a list of which cards give the bonus more than once or how often? I'm perfectly happy earning a free domestic coach flight every year but reading all the posts gets me a little discouraged that I'll never be able to do those awesome JAL business-class redemptions!"
As always, our readers had a lot to say. Here’s a closer look at some of our favorite answers. (Some responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity).
General Tips for Beginners
We've all got to start somewhere. Here are some overall tips to keep in mind, especially if you're new to the points-and-miles game...
"Try to charge every bill you have: cable, phone, insurance, gas, electric, etc. I never write checks anymore. [It's a] good way to earn more points." — Peter J.
"Pick some cards you plan to keep, and match them to two things: 1. Your spending patterns — there's no point in applying for The Platinum Card® from American Express if you don't fly a lot. If you eat out a lot, the Chase Sapphire cards might be good choices. If your spending is mainly at supermarkets, consider The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express. 2. What you want from it all. If you want business-class tickets to Japan, you know that's about the 100,000 to 150,000 points mark in Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points or Starwood Preferred Guest — or whatever airline's frequent flyer program you pick if you use an airline card. That said, only get a card with an annual fee as long as you calculate that you will get more value from it than you'll spend on it." — Justin K.L.
"Another great way to earn points in your situation is to pay for group dinners with friends and family and have everyone Venmo you [later] for their share. The points add up quickly!" — Eric L.
Know Your Points Programs and Shopping Portals
There's more to points and miles than meets the eye, and if you're paying attention and being smart about your spending habits, the rewards can be even greater...
"I don't really 'churn' and still flew in business to and from Japan: 50,000 JAL miles by using the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express welcome bonus, buying miles to top it off to 40,000 (there was a sale, so it only cost about $150), then getting the 5,000 bonus per 20,000. On the way back, I used 60,000 AAdvantage miles, which is an easy number to get with almost any of AA's sign-up bonuses right now. It's doable!" — Danielle D.
"You can earn miles by doing surveys, too. I earned over 10,000 miles on Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America (now Alaska Airlines), plus I use United's shopping app to buy all my cat supplies. This is what's paying for flights next year. There are also dining rewards for most airlines, and I earn way more for my IHG plan (8x per dollar, plus 2x points for using the card) when airlines typically only give you 5x. I don't eat out much but every little bit helps." — Jennifer W.
"If United is a preferred airline for you, home improvement big box stores are usually on the United MileagePlus X app. You'll get United miles for using it and if you put a Chase card as the payment method, you'll get UR points as well. In short, a $1,500 purchase at Home Depot could net 3,000 United miles and 1,500 UR points." — Brendan T.
Some of our TPG Lounge members mentioned being in the same low-spending boat. Here's how they were still able to earn points and miles to take epic vacations.
"I don't travel for work; I sit behind a desk. All of my earnings pay for housing, food and the unbelievably high costs of keeping two humans and eight animals healthy. This year, I am taking my wife on a three-week trip to Australia, complete with business-class seats in CX [Cathay Pacific] between New York and Hong Kong, the Etihad Apartment from Sydney to Abu Dhabi and 747 upper-deck seats back from London. All told, this will be more than $64,000 in tickets for $2,000 out of my pocket, plus about 600,000 points and miles I earned over the last two years. I do not churn cards. You would be amazed at what you can do with a lot of strategic planning on your ordinary expenses. Good luck and enjoy whatever your rewards in the hobby!" — Chris H.
"I’m not a huge spender either, and I take maybe four domestic trips a year and one internationally. I try and just use my miles for upgrades, so I’ll buy my coach ticket and then upgrade to business. This works for me as I don’t mind paying for the coach ticket. I book pretty far in advance so (knock on wood) I’ve always cleared the upgrades." — Kim A.
"Signing up for new cards and using them to pay for a wedding is a must! I earned enough for two round-trip tickets from Honolulu (HNL) to New York (JFK) on Hawaiian Airlines for our first anniversary. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I earned enough for our flights — Honolulu to Paris, London to Phuket and Phuket to Honolulu — for our honeymoon!" — Wil L.
Final Words of Wisdom from Points and Miles Veterans
TPG reader Soroya G. shared some great tips for anyone wishing to get started with points and miles, especially since she's been using them to travel for almost 10 years.
"I’ve been at this... for almost a decade — I started following TPG when he had only 50,000 followers. First, you need to figure out what you want. I just want to travel so the class doesn’t really mean anything to me. Second, where do you want to go. You need a goal and I set two big goals every year: either two international trips or one big international and one big domestic.
Once you have a strategy, start looking at cards. My husband and I sign up for cards with a huge bonus, some we keep and some we cancel. Excellent credit is required but more than anything, you can’t lack self control. We pay our cards off every month. My Chase Sapphire Reserve gets most of my spending but I do spread it out, especially when I sign up for a card with a big bonus, which needs to be at least 50,000 since anything less isn’t worth it unless there's a big return — Alaska Airlines is only 30,000 points but gives you a free companion pass.
Also, don’t use up all your points, especially if the flights and hotels are cheap. I accumulate a lot of points because I will pay for flights under $500 and hotels under $250. I’m headed to Philly and NYC in a few weeks — the tickets were slightly over $500 but we had a free companion pass, so instead of paying $1,600 for three tickets, I paid $1,050 for two and got one free because of the companion pass. For hotels, besides the two annual hotel nights for Hyatt (my husband and I both have the card), we’re paying $180 for The Bellevue Hotel in Philly and $230 a night at Andaz Wall Street in NYC including breakfast. We will collect Hyatt points, which will put me well over 60,000 and I’ll use them to stay at The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa. I want a big return on my points." — Soroya G.
Reader Shana G. also had some advice to share regarding taking advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses that happen from time to time and how to make the most of them.
"Research the different sign-up bonuses that the cards have historically offered — and when they were offered — so you can keep an eye out for when they happen again. Try to sign up for cards that have low minimum spending requirements but high bonus points."
"Most cards require you to spend several thousand dollars for a big sign-up bonus, so try to time those to when you'll be doing lots of spending, like for holiday shopping. You don't have to wait until Black Friday to go holiday shopping either, especially if the credit cards are only offering low sign-up bonuses at the end of the year. For example, if Citi Premier is offering an increased sign-up bonus at the end of September, get the card and do your holiday shopping then. When the items go on sale in 60 days, submit a claim for their price protection benefit so you can get the difference refunded.
Start planning your trips two years in advance. Research which types of points and miles you'll need and try to match those up with the different credit card sign-up bonuses you expect to earn. Strategically collect all of the points and miles you'll need over a 12-month period so you can book your trip as soon as availability is released about a year (more like 11 months) in advance."
If you want more tips and advice on how to earn more points and miles without breaking the bank, check our our guide on "Maximizing Credit Cards to Become Points-Rich Without Spending a Ton."