Call them miles, call the points, call them whatever you like, but when it comes to travel, the long coveted frequent flier currency is among the hottest topics on the Web.
What can be one of the simplest ways to save on travel is also one of the most confusing tricks of the trade for consumers to master.
“I never give people guidelines on what you should and shouldn’t do because everyone’s needs are different,” Kelly says.
What’s a bit easier is picking out exactly where some travellers are going wrong when it comes to cashing in on their points. Here’s where Kelly says we’re tripping up:
At the grocery store: One of the best places to earn travel points is actually nowhere near airports at all; it’s at the store. “These days with miles the best way to earn them is by shopping with credit cards,” Kelly says. “I would say just take out travel rewards cards for everyday spending and when you travel.” Just be sure you nab a card that waives foreign transaction fees, which can be a real killer.
Forgetting the class system: The thing about upgrading tickets is that’s it’s not as simple as most consumers seem to think. “People just assume they can upgrade, but they don’t pay attention to fare classes,” Kelly says. “Most of what you find online are cheaply discounted coach prices and most airlines, like Delta, require full-fare coach (tickets) to upgrade on international flights.” And even then, some upgrades can cost as much as $3,000.
Tunnel vision: Some fliers will do whatever it takes to book flights to earn more points, even if it means passing up cheaper fares on another carrier. That’s not always the smartest move, especially when you consider each mile is worth about two cents. “Cash is king and yes, it’s good to have a good mileage strategy, but I wouldn’t pay a ton extra just to earn miles,” Kelly says.
Putting all your points in one basket: Spread the love and look for cards that let you transfer your points across hotel stays, car rentals and airlines.
Letting points expire: Some frequent flier points disappear if you leave your account inactive for a certain period of time, usually after 18 months, Kelly says. “No one should let their points expire. All you need to do is buy an iTunes song and that clock is reset.” Try signing up for a miles tracking site like MileWise or AwardWallet.com that will ping you with an alert when you’re about to lose them.
Using miles too quickly: If you want to stretch your dollar furthest, give your miles time to really accrue before you start applying them to travel. “I buy almost all my domestic tickets and I redeem my miles for international trips in business or first class.”
NOW WATCH: Money & Markets videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.