Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I want you all to travel for free




Aside from getting lots of great things into the shop, lately I've been obsessed with accruing frequent flyer miles. I've learned a lot and thought some of you might be interested in, oh I don't know, TRAVELING FOR FREE?!?

SO, drop your credit cards. Right now. Put them down and don't charge another iTunes, Amazon.com, or Zappos purchase until you finish reading this post. Actually, don't even buy a head of lettuce until you finish reading. I was once like you. If I needed something, I found the best price (sometimes) and bought it. With my debit card.

I can't believe how naive I was. Unless you're so off the grid that you're bartering for tomatoes, there is absolutely no reason you can't take one or two (or more) free trips this year based on your normal spending. The one caveat is this: if you're not disciplined about credit card use, you might be better off just saving cash and finding the cheapest deals for travel. I wrote a detailed post about that method here. There are some non-credit card methods of earning points that you can take advantage of as well, and I'll cover some next week.



For the rest of us, swiping cards is part of our daily life, and as long as you're swiping, you might as well swipe your way to your next vacation.

The following is my basic, beginners advice meant for those that need an intro to the world of points-hoarding. You may already be well beyond this, and there are lots of sites for more advanced frequent flyers. I'm no expert, but I wanted to share what I know in the event that it helps you.

The first thing you need is your first good miles card, with a nice fat bonus and really flexible redemptions. For instance, if you open a US Airways card, you can only redeem for flights on US AIrways and their affiliates. Too much information? I thought so. Just do this:

Apply for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Charge $3000 on it within the first three months. Get 50,000 bonus miles. You can use these bonus miles on just about any airline.

Have your spouse/travel partner/significant other apply for their own card.

Net points: 100,000

You now have enough points for two round-trip tickets to Central or South America (Jamie!), and approximately 30,000-40,000 points left over to redeem for hotel stays and/or car rental. Or two off-season round trip tickets to Europe. And the list goes on.



But wait! Because you have a Chase Sapphire card, you now have access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall. It sounds like a tacky place with bad lighting and Cinnabons, but it's not! It's a place where your normal spending is rewarded with massive points! Yay, you!

Before buying ANYTHING online, always link to the site THROUGH Chase Ultimate Rewards. Recently you would have earned 10 points per dollar spent at Apple. Bought an iPad? That would have earned you 6000 extra miles. Bought a Macbook Pro? 20,000 bonus miles (almost a full domestic airplane ticket!) There are hundreds of other stores in the Rewards Mall, and chances are you've shopped at many of them in the past few weeks.

Technically, you could stop at this point and be way ahead of the game. For now, managing one card and working out how to redeem your huge stash of points might be enough. It's a lot to absorb. You'll have some questions. You can ask me and I'll try to answer them.

If you're ready for more information, I'll post next about the second card I think you should have in your wallet.

*Important to know: if you apply for the Chase card and don't get instant approval on-line, call their reconsideration line IMMEDIATELY. Chase is stingy with credit, BUT nearly everyone gets approved by making this call. You might want to read this short tutorial before calling them.



So, I want to know. Do you play the points game? Or does it seem too complicated, or even too good to be true? Do you have any questions about how it works?


If you're dying for more information, you can find a super-extensive beginner's guide here, from my favorite miles blogger. This is where I started and still go when I need a good, clear explanation of something.

12 comments:

  1. Do you secretly work for chase? haha JK. We've flown to Hawaii, Alaska, NY and Costa Rica for free. But it's so true, you really have to be disciplined and have the right thinking about credit cards.

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  2. i'm sending this to dusty to do tomorrow! i've been an AA points hoarder for years (we've been to hong kong, greece and spain on miles!!! plus a million dollars in fees but who cares?! the tickets were "free"ish!!) i shop in the AA points mall and eat at restaurants that are points partners!! BUT we cancelled our AA credit cards when the credit meltdown happened and they raised our interest rates to like 30%. i need to go to south america stat so we might just need to go for these cards. you're brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh, how did I know you two were smarties??

    p.s., South America is our next trip! Boys want to hike Machu Picchu, so, you know, I guess we have to go!

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  4. I was Christmas shopping yesterday and encountered a salesgirl who could only be described as a "hipster" and I immediately thought of your hipster jokes. It made me smile. Then I came home read your post about air miles and points and kicked myself for not using my points collecting visa more often.

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  5. Thanks for the information! Question: do the miles have restrictions on when you can travel? My wife is a principle of a school so we only travel during school breaks and we never seem to be able to get good deals or use our frequent flyer points.

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  6. Welcome Bicycle Built For Two! There are no restrictions...there just have to be "awards seats" available on the flights you want. That's why in the last post I recommend the Chase Sapphire card, because you can transfer those points to ANY airline program. SO, if you want to go to Paris and there are no awards seats available for your dates on, say, United Airlines, you can check on American, or US Airways, or Virgin (and so on) until you find flights. You're not stuck with one airline's availability.

    Most airlines show availability for up to 330 days into the future. The beauty of your wife's schedule is it's predictable, so you can book your trips super far in advance when you have the best chance of finding availability.

    Who do you currently have points with? If it's a single airline program, like American Airlines, don't forget you can book with their partners for the same amount of miles. You just have to use a different search method to find those tickets.

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  7. This information is so fantastic (as is your writing tone). Our points are with American. How do we search to fly with partner airlines and still earn points?

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  8. American Airlines is part of the Oneworld alliance, so you can redeem AA points to fly on any of the Oneworld partners. You have to call American Airlines to book these tickets. It's best to already know what airline and flights you want to book before calling.

    If you are flying on a partner airline with a PAID ticket, you'll earn full points for the flight. Just make sure your AA frequent flyer number is attached to the transaction.

    If you are redeeming POINTS to fly (on any airline, American or partner), you don't earn points.

    Thanks!

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  9. I am VERY uninformed about reward credit cards. I have one credit card an american express sky miles card. I use it for big purchases. Is this sufficient to start redeeming more points or do you think I should get a new credit card?

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