Here are some basic tips that everyone needs to know before I walk you through the process of earning and redeeming miles! My Getting Started post also has some information for beginners. If you are already familiar with miles and points this post may not apply to you.
- Check your credit score. There are free services such as credit karma, but if you already have a credit card, check to see if the bank provides a free FICO score because it is a benefit of many credit cards
- Assuming you have good credit, decide what your travel goals are. Do you want first class tickets to Europe? Or a family trip to Disney World? This will help determine which points best suit your needs
- If you are new to this and want to get started, in my opinion the 2 best cards to start with (and you can apply for both on the same day) are:
- Start putting all of your spending that is possible to put on credit cards, on credit cards
- If you do not already have an SPG account, sign up for one. SPG
- If you open a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you will be able to access Ultimate Rewards from your Chase account after receiving the card in the mail.
- Now is a good time to make a spreadsheet of your airline and hotel loyalty accounts. If you don’t already have an account with the airlines and hotels you’re most likely to use, now is also a good time to sign up for those. It’s free.
- Try to keep all of your account numbers and passwords in one place. It comes in handy when you’re trying to link accounts to transfer points.
I have more detailed posts about how to link accounts and transfer points from SPG, Amex MR, and Chase UR, and all of the different transfer partners for each of these 3 programs coming soon, but here is a little information to show you how important it is to learn about transfer partners.
VERY IMPORTANT: Never transfer points to an airline or hotel before confirming availability for the dates you need. Transfers are one-way (meaning they are permanent!) so if you transfer 65,000 miles for a business class ticket on Singapore Airlines without confirming availability and award seats are not available for your dates, you’re stuck with 65,000 Singapore Airlines miles that you cannot transfer back to whichever program you transferred from. Some airlines will allow you to put an award ticket on hold. I always do this if possible. While Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards transfers tend to be instant, sometimes SPG can take a few days.
This brings me to another very important point that I think a lot of people do not understand. Award seats are not always going to be available on any given flight (except maybe Southwest), but that’s fine. While it’s always good to plan ahead and book as soon as you have the points and the seat is available, not all airlines release their award space at the same time.
For example, a few weeks ago I was helping a friend book tickets to Europe in September, so about 5-6 months out. We searched just about every city that American Airlines flies into from DFW and found nothing. Since they also had AMEX points, we had a backup plan on hold with Singapore Airlines (I know, Singapore Airlines from the US to Europe? Yep. I will talk about that soon). Then a few days later, American Airlines released lots of business class award space to several European cities and she was able to get those tickets. Do not get discouraged if you see no availability when you first start looking, especially if your desired dates are a few months out.
Diversify your points
The reason I stress diversifying your points and using cards that earn transferable points (such as the cards mentioned above) so much is because you will have lots of options when it comes to airlines. Even if an airline is not a direct transfer partner it still may be possible to book. For example, AirFrance/KLM partners with Delta. AirFrance/KLM is an Ultimate Rewards partner but Delta is not. Since AirFrance/KLM partners with Delta, you can still ultimately book a Delta flight with Ultimate Rewards points.
Here’s the best part! In many cases, partner redemption costs are lower than the airline itself. I’ll give you an example.
Hawaii flights on Delta booked with KLM/AirFrance FlyingBlue miles:
AirFrance/KLM requires 15,000 points each way or 30,000 points for a roundtrip economy ticket on a Delta flight from the mainland US to Hawaii. The exact same flight booked through Delta is 22,500 miles one way, or 45,000 round trip. That saves 50% of the miles required!
I know this sounds like a ton of information. If you take a little time to learn the basics, you can make some of these amazing trips happen too!