Sunday, January 29, 2012

Points & Miles 101

A lot of our friends have been asking about our new "hobby" of collecting points & miles. We just started this August of last year when we came across this blog about a couple who travels the world in first class for a lot less than you would think! We later discovered a whole new world of points aficionados who figured out how to maximize points--acquire them for cheap, and use them extravagantly. We were amazed at this idea and a little overwhelmed at first.

There are so many things to learn and absorb, and since we're still newbies ourselves, we still remember how overwhelming it can be at first. We are still learning everyday, and the majority of the tips below are discussed at length in various points & miles blogs, but for a lot of our friends who want to get their feet wet, here are some "beginner's tips":
  • Sign up for loyalty airline & hotel programs. They are free and you want to start accumulating points and getting credit for every flight and hotel stay. Don't let one more day pass where you don't get credit for your travels!
  • Track your mileage on AwardWallet. This site gives you a quick view of all your points/miles and also helps track those that will expire. Tracking your points/miles is very beneficial so you know what you have and you can start dreaming what your goal is and where you want to go! It will also help you keep aware of soon to be expiring miles/points and either redeem them or do something to push out the expiration date.
  • Start reading the frequent flyer blogs--start from the beginning if you can :). There's a LOT of information, which can be very overwhelming at first, but you'll get the hang of it! Here are a couple of good ones we like to start:
  • If you're married, consider combining your credit card spending into one account, so you accumulate points faster. Previously, we each had a couple credit cards that gave cash back, but all the earned cash was spread out among different cards, and every year we only got a couple of hundred dollars back, which is great but definitely not enough for a free trip anywhere! We started to research for the "best" credit cards that would be flexible and allow us to travel more. Based on our research, we found the one that fits our lifestyle the most to be the SPG American Express card. 
    • One of the benefits of the SPG American Express card is their flexibility to transfer to many different airlines, so you are not "stuck" on one particular airline program. 
    • Starwood's Cash & Points hotel redemption is one of, if not, the best hotel value that currently exists. For example, you can redeem a night at the Westin Kauai for as low as 4800 points + $90/night compared to 12,000 points/night for a regular redemption. Considering a room at the Westin Kauai goes for $310/night, if you do the straight points redemption, each point is worth $310/12,000 points = 2.58 cents/point. Now, compare that to a cash & points redemption, you essentially pay $90/night out of pocket plus points which would be worth ($310-$90)/4800 points = 4.58 cents/point. By redeeming the Cash & Points option, you have essentially doubled the points value!
    • After the first year, there is an annual fee of $65 for the SPG AmEx card.  However, we feel that it is worth it based on how many points we will earn.
  • When purchasing items online, first check EVReward to see where you can earn the most miles/points. For example, we purchase Groupons regularly but never knew that we could actually earn miles. Now, whenever we see a Groupon voucher we want, we first check EVReward for the mileage program will give me the most value. AA mileage will earn 8 points per dollar spent. So if we were to buy a $100 massage Groupon that we would have bought anyway, we would login to AA's shopping portal first, click the link to Groupon, and then purchase the $100 coupon that will net me 800 AA miles! 

Here are a couple of educational videos to also help get you started:

First is a great 20 minute mini-documentary about frequent flying from one of the blogs:

Frequent Flyer from Gabriel Leigh on Vimeo.

Second, click here to view the Nightline 6-minute segment, "Flying First Class for Free."

We are still very conservative in the ways we collect points and miles, and are still learning--by no means are we experts--but it is a very interesting world, and we'd like to continue sharing what we're learning along the way. Keep an eye out for other points and miles related posts in the future.

In the mean time, feel free to ask away if you have any questions!

Dan & Marcela

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