TPG readers’ best advice for someone just starting out with points and miles

Dec 1, 2019

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We recently asked our TPG Lounge readers to share the best piece of advice they would give to someone who is just getting started with points and miles. Here’s a look at some of our favorite answers. (Some responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity).

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Do your homework first and don’t rush into it

Like anything else in life, it helps to take your time and learn how things work before diving head first into a new thing, especially such a complicated hobby as points and miles.

“Take one hour to figure out which cards will earn you the most points on the stuff you already buy, and armed with that knowledge, apply for a card with the highest sign-up bonus when you’re about to make a big purchase — moving, home goods, holiday gift buying or travel, etc. — to ensure you meet the minimum spend without having to spend more money than usual.” — Wallace C.

“Before everything else, check your credit and understand how credit scores work. People sometimes start applying for lots of cards and their scores drop or they don’t understand why they are declined when they have opened six cards in three months and have good credit.” — Kim S.

“Keep one point currency until you learn more of the in and outs of this hobby. Focus on maximizing your earnings first. Maximizing your redemptions is a whole other ballgame. The more effort you put into learning this system, the more you will get out of it. Don’t expect to master it overnight.” — Bao C.N.

Related: The top 6 mistakes every points and miles beginner makes

Have a strategy in mind

Perhaps the most important advice of all is to have a goal for how you want to make the most of your points and miles. That way, you can strategize the most effective way to reach it.

“Where do you want to go? What’s the least amount of points you need to get there? Familiarize yourself with transfer partners, alliances and where to book what, then open the credit card that will let you accumulate said points fastest.” — Giselle A.P.

“I’d say focus on transferable points and benefits you will use. If you have an airline you have to fly, get their credit card though whichever bank you prefer and always really focus on fees and benefits. Having [a certain] airline card that you fly with a lot can be better than status (unless you are top status) for seat fees, baggage fees and boarding privileges.” — Kellie C.

“Start with an end goal in mind. Mine was a premium-cabin flight from Chicago to India next summer (one-way only since I had an American Airlines bump voucher for the return trip). From there, I was able to figure out which airline offered the best product on that route (Lufthansa), how to book (by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United) and set a hard target goal of how many points I needed.” — Ethan S.

Lufthansa first class sure looks like a nice way to travel long-haul. (Photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy)
Lufthansa first class sure looks like a nice way to travel long-haul. (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy.)

“Cards and currencies are a whole lot more powerful when used in a system, don’t just look at a single card but how it will fit in with your portfolio and strategy. Also, diversify, as one can never have too many options.” — Felipe D.L.

“Although there are plenty of great and accurate valuations out there, something is only worth what you are willing to pay for it. If a first-class ticket is $10,000 but you would never ever pay that much for a ticket, then your valuation of the points price is inflated. If you only would ever book economy tickets, do a little math yourself and figure out what your points are usually worth to you. Then base all of your decisions on your own valuation.” — Jack G.

“1. Don’t do anything until you lurk here for at least a month. 2. Choose your airline alliances and hotel families wisely. Jumping in without fully thinking through your choices can set your journey back a year or more. 3. Know what your employer will allow you to do to earn miles and points. Can you use your personal credit card for business travel, thereby greatly increasing your ability to earn? And, if so, what’s the expense reimbursement policy? 4. Ask questions while you’re lurking and don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions or guidance. Everybody has their own motivations for playing this game, so the more questions you ask, the more likely you’ll be able to make the game work best for you. 5. Finally, don’t be loyal to a fault. The programs have little to no loyalty to you so don’t be afraid to ‘date somebody new’ for a while.” — Mike C.

Related: The ultimate guide to credit card pairings

Always pay off your credit card balance

Several TPG Lounge members reiterated the importance of paying off your credit card balance each month to avoid interest and other unnecessary fees.

“Never ever ever ever leave a balance on your card. Pay it off in full every month, no exceptions.” — Evan C.

“I use the “’If the money isn’t in the bank, don’t buy it” approach. If you aren’t using credit cards, you’re leaving money (points) on the table and that’s such a waste. I simply monitor every purchase I make on my card and never have any balance at the end of the month. It’s not a game for the faint of heart or the financially irresponsible, but it’s a game many can play if they want to put the work in.” — Kayla J.

Related: The best starter travel rewards cards

Relish in your success

TPG reader Logan W. provided a thoughtful and reflective response, reminding us to treasure the free flights and hotels you earn as you go no matter what it takes to get there.

“Accept that you’ll one day wake up, look in the mirror and not recognize yourself anymore. Your days and dollars will be consumed with finding ways to game the system. But that mirror you’re looking into is on a plane and that sleep you woke up from was in a first-class suite over the ocean. You paid nothing for the ticket and probably nothing for the five-star hotel you’re checking into when you land. Life is sweet.” — Logan W.

Featured photo of Lufthansa first class by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy.

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.