- I have almost 30 credit cards and regularly fly around the world thanks to credit card rewards, but getting into points and miles has a huge learning curve.
- When I first started out, I didn’t realise how much more valuable business class is than economy, and that the best way to earn points isn’t by flying.
- I also wish I’d realised that buying points isn’t ridiculous, that Alaska Airlines miles are unbelievably valuable, and that applying for credit cards doesn’t do permanent damage to your credit.
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People who are new to the miles and points game often start kicking themselves when they realise how many points they could have earned, the trips they could have taken, and the experiences they could have had.
What if we look back 10 years, though? Ten years ago, in 2009, there were so many amazing opportunities that I missed. Now, I have almost 30 credit cards and spend my time flying around the world thanks to credit card rewards, but I’ve learned a lot along the way. Here’s my top five list of things I wish I had known about miles and points 10 years ago.
Business class really is better
In 2009, I had never flown in international business class (in fact, it would take me until 2014 to do this!). I’d managed to score first class upgrades on domestic flights once or twice, and didn’t really realise the difference between that and international business class. So even though I had enough points for business class, I ended up spending my hard-earned points – earned primarily through flying – on economy-class tickets that would have been relatively cheap if purchased in cash.
You see, when you fly business class, especially internationally, you get a much better seat. On long-haul international routes, your seat will usually even recline into a full bed! You’ll be given a nicer blanket and pillow which makes it easier to fall asleep and arrive at your destination well-rested. And, the food is generally much better. If you have enough points for business class, use them for business class.
The best way to earn points is not always through flying
Ten years ago, I liked to travel as much as I do now, but I was still in college and had limited options to earn miles. I definitely didn’t realise that the best ways to earn miles usually don’t involve flying.
The best way to earn a lot of miles quickly is to pick up a new credit card with a generous sign-up bonus. Two cards that I think are great options out there right now are the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Ink Business Preferred, offering 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points and 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points, respectively, after meeting minimum spending requirements.
Cards that earn transferable points like Ultimate Rewards are generally a great place to start because they are extremely flexible and can be used directly through Chase’s travel portal or transferred to airline and hotel partners like United and Hyatt.
Applying for a lot of credit cards doesn’t hurt your credit score in the long run
In the wake of the recession I was afraid to apply for credit, for fear of harming my credit score, especially since I was still in college and didn’t have much of an income to back it up.
However, I wasn’t actually doing anything with my good credit. I already had a car and I didn’t have much intention of buying a house anytime soon (I still haven’t done that because of how much I travel now). I shouldn’t have worried about hurting my credit.
When you apply for a new credit card, your new card issuer conducts what’s called a hard inquiry, and consequently your score will generally go down by few points for a period of around three months.
The biggest factors that impact your credit score are your payment history and your overall credit utilization, so as long as you are paying your credit cards on time and keeping your credit utilization (the amount of your total credit you’re using at one time) low, your credit score will only see a minor, short-term impact when you apply for a new card. If you’re not trying to get a loan in the near future, you shouldn’t have to worry – your credit will recover before you need it.
It’s not crazy to buy points, even on airlines you don’t fly
In 2009, US Airways was running frequent mileage sales, and was also a member of Star Alliance. It had a call centre with agents who allowed all sorts of creative (to the point of being outright crazy) award routings. I more or less ignored US Airways, though, because it had very little service to and from Detroit, my home airport at the time. It also seemed ridiculous to me to spend real money on airline points.
Had I taken advantage of these mileage sales, I could have taken advantage of some truly epic award flight opportunities, such as flights to Asia routing via Europe with a stopover.
The best way to find out about mileage sales is to be signed up for airlines’ award programs and opt-in to receiving emails. I’ve still never bought airline miles only because I’ve been able to earn enough to support my lifestyle by signing up for credit cards, spending on credit cards, and earning miles through flying, but there have been sales that I strongly would have considered if I had needed miles for a specific redemption. Alaska Airlines and Avianca are two great airlines to watch for good mileage sales.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles are (usually) too valuable to spend on Alaska flights
I love Alaska Airlines. I fly it as often as makes sense, faithfully carry its credit card, and even put everyday spending on it (because the value I receive from Alaska points exceeds almost any other everyday spending bonus). And I racked up a ton of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles by flying.
How did I spend those points? You might think I flew Alaska Airlines, but luckily, I didn’t actually spend them until I knew a lot more about points and miles. I’ve redeemed my Alaska miles for LATAM Business Class and Japan Airlines First Class, and in the future I also would like to book flights to destinations in the State of Alaska that are incredibly expensive to purchase, but are reasonably priced with Mileage Plan miles. That way, I’ll be able to fly to an extremely remote (and extremely expensive) destination airport like Barrow with a stopover in Anchorage or Fairbanks.
These flights are still a great deal. In fact, flights to the state of Alaska (which is an absolutely incredible summer destination) are one of the unsung sweet spots on Alaska’s chart. However, Asia on Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines in business class or first class yields equally good value.
We can’t turn back the clock, but we can take advantage of opportunities that exist today. The key takeaway? Opportunities that exist today won’t necessarily be here tomorrow. Nothing ever happens without taking action, so don’t let today’s best opportunities become tomorrow’s “wish I had.”
- Read more:
- I have almost 30 credit cards, and there are 5 I know I’ll never bring myself to cancel
- Last year I lived, worked, and visited in 19 countries and ‘rent’ cost a fraction of what it would in the US
- 6 things I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self about money
- I have almost 30 credit cards, and I’m convinced people seeking a perfect credit score are missing the point
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