Miles and Points – Basic Tips

Over the past year, many of my friends have started asking me about the miles and points “game”.  Figuring out how to describe it is difficult but game is probably the most appropriate term because to me, that’s what it is.  Trying to game the travel system and get something from nothing.  I love to travel and see new places but probably couldn’t afford to travel near as much as I do if I didn’t use points or miles.  I’m going to start by detailing the two types of travelers I see most often and then offer some basic tips

The Miles Bystander

Unfortunately, a lot of people fall into this category.  They fly every once in a while and stay in hotels a few times a year but don’t collect miles and points because they don’t think they travel enough to ever get rewards.  They’re wrong.  And hopefully after a while you’ll understand why.

The Mile Waster

This is the level that most people fall into.  At this level, people sign up for an airlines frequent flyer program when they fly a new airline and then credit all flights on that airline to that account.  This is only slightly better than not collecting miles at all.  Example: A friend recently had a trip from Chicago to Istanbul stopping over in Ireland.  She credited the flights on United to United Mileage Plus, Turkish to Turkish Miles and Smiles, and Air Lingus to Air Lingus Gold Circle Rewards.  Unfortunately, these people don’t fly often enough on some of the airlines and miles are wasted since there aren’t enough to use.  Most people don’t fly Air Lingus enough for get an award before the miles expire.

Some Basic Tips

There are three main alliances in the world: Star Alliance, Oneworld Alliance, and Skyeam Alliance.  Sign up for one frequent flier program within each alliance and credit all miles flown in that alliance to that carrier.  Using the example above, my friend could have sent the miles from United, Turkish, and Air Lingus all to her United Mileage Plus account.  Not only would she have fewer accounts to remember, but she also wouldn’t “orphan” a small amount of miles in an account she’ll probably never use again.

Use to keep track of frequent flier numbers and passwords.  The basic version is free and keeps track of usernames and passwords.  It also lets you log into your accounts automatically with a link and automatic updating of miles.  For $10 a year you get some extra capabilities like keeping track of mile expiration dates.  The site isn’t perfect since several major airlines have removed the ability to automatically update points, but it sure beats an excel spreadsheet for keeping track of usernames.

Whenever you purchase an item online, make sure you’re getting miles and points for it.  You can do this by going through a shopping portal from one of the frequent flier programs or credit card reward programs.  To do this, search for the best shopping portal on  Sign into the shopping portal and click on the link for the store you want to search at.  Almost every online store is available.  Then just purchase your items like normal and in a few weeks you’ll get points for your purchase.  This is a great deal since you can get anywhere from 1 to 35 points per dollar for items that cost the same price as if you bought from the store.

Sign up for a points earning credit card and use it whenever possible.  Unless there is a fee involved like when paying tuition or taxes, I use my credit card whenever possible.  Paying cash doesn’t get you anything but using a credit card gets you a least one point per dollar spent.  And since those points are usually worth at least 1 cent per point, you’re getting at least a 1% rebate.  1% > 0%.  Most places have this price built in so you can think of it as overpaying if you pay with cash.  However, I try not to use my card at small mom and pop shops where the fee that the credit card companies charge could hurt their business.

The final tip is to not use miles or points unless you’re getting a good value on them.  Lots of people get some points and then see they can use them to buy a new camera or phone, etc.  It is almost never a good mile valuation since it’s usually less than .5 cpm (cents per point).  You can almost always double that on flights or hotels and can get as much as 12cpm.  My rule of thumb is not to use points unless I’m getting 2cpm or have a good reason why.


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