Make The Most Of Your Travel Points
By Art Robinson, Contributing Editor
Travel hacking is all about changing the game in your favor – learning the little secrets and tricks to get well more than your money’s worth while on the road. Whether you’re in it to save money, get better perks, or both, these expert tips about how to handle your travel points and rewards will help!
Travel Hacking Guide for Earning Points and Miles
Frequent traveler programs (points and miles) are a mainstay of many people’s travel plans. Here’s our travel hacking guide with our top eight tips for earning points and miles.
Companies offer frequent traveler (points and miles) to secure your loyalty – and get more money out of you. In a way, they are gambling on you to increase your share of business with them. But you can play that game too. Points and miles addicts play the game back and amass huge amounts of points/miles to travel for practically free (as seen in the movie Up in the Air).
A popular term these days to explain the game is Travel Hacking.
“Hacking” has become immensely popular, in a whole variety of areas, but travel hacking is easily the most fun of all. Who doesn’t want to get better flights, better hotels, and better bonuses, all for less money and with less stress?
Everyone has their own definition of travel hacking, but we define it as involving two related goals:
- Traveling for the least amount of money possible. The goal is to reduce your expenses to practically zero.
- Traveling above your means by employing upgrades and perks that you would not otherwise pay for. The goal is to make the experience of travel more relaxing and enjoyable.
Tip 1: Sign up for all the mileage/points programs you can. You won’t get the reward if you don’t play the game.
Here’s why. The biggest mistake travelers make is not signing up or not signing up early. They say, “we travel so infrequently, we’ll never get the reward.” Initially, that was our thinking. But we signed up anyway once we learned how travel rewards programs work. Now, we tell travelers to sign up for every program they can – because you can never predict your future travel plans.
Tip 2: Spread the Love Around – But Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin
The travel companies offer these programs in the hopes that you will consolidate all of your business with them. And the more you fly/stay with a company, the more rewards you get (they offer incremental 25% or 50% bonuses on their programs once you get to higher-tier levels). This makes a compelling advantage to consolidate your travel rewards programs. But don’t consolidate too much!
Tip 3: Consolidate Your Travel During Bonus Periods
When you signed up for the programs you gave them your e-mail address and they began e-mailing you (A LOT). You’re skimming those e-mails looking for special promotions and you ALWAYS sign up for every promotion (remember you don’t reap the reward if you don’t play the game). Even if you don’t think you’ll meet the minimums to receive the reward, you sign up anyway (because you can never predict your future travel).
All of the major hotel companies run special promotional campaigns or bonus periods.
To get the benefit you have to sign up (which takes less than 30 seconds).
Another advantage to you, the bonus periods sometimes do not overlap, so you make the choice to consolidate your travel with the company that is currently running a bonus – and reap the rewards.
So much of the travel hacking process is just about doing your homework. Knowing what the different rules and specials are for each program means you can make the most of their offers and travel far above your means – without breaking the bank.
Tip 4: Keep Your Points and Miles Active
The airline and hotel companies don’t want you accumulating rewards indefinitely. They want to see activity – ideally, they want you paying them money for more flights or stays. But they also want to see you using your points (it decreases their “liabilities”). So, in general, points and miles expire 12 months after you earned them, unless you have activity on your account.
But don’t worry if you don’t plan to travel that often – you can spend money with the program’s points partners to keep your account active without spending money on travel itself. You can purchase things you would normally (like gas, food, or from the example below, flowers!), while gaining travel points and keeping your rewards accounts active between trips.
I have a lot of American Airlines miles and ultimately will probably use them for a free flight to South America, but I haven’t flown on American in years. I keep those miles “active” by accumulating “partner” mileage.
In other words, I spend money with an American Airlines partner and chose to have the reward accumulate with American.
Twice a year, like clockwork, my mother receives flowers on her birthday and on Mother’s Day. I order the flowers with the American Airlines shopping mall and get a mileage credit in my American account, which keeps my miles active.
Tip 5: Sometimes Your Best Reward is Actually the Upgrade
The idea of free flights or free hotel nights is appealing, but sometimes your best perk is actually using the points/miles to secure a travel upgrade. Don’t want to pay $4,800 for a business class flight to Europe? Pay the airline the $800 for the coach flight, and then upgrade with frequent flyer miles. Or, use your hotel points to upgrade to the Club Level and get free drinks and meals.
Read more here:
What are the best travel secrets you’ve learned while on the road? Do you have a favorite travel rewards program?
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