11 Tips For Making The Most of Miles and Points

These are all basic tips, great for getting started in miles and points, but also useful for how to think about the miles you’ve already got. I don’t do enough basic talk around here so I’m hoping this list will benefit.

  1. Always earn miles. Don’t leave value on the table, even when you’re flying on an airline you rarely us. Sometimes they partner with another carrier you can credit the miles to, but at least join a program and pick up some miles, you may be able to get some value and especially if the points don’t expire you may find yourself traveling with them again in future years.

  2. Track your miles at a site like AwardWallet which I’ve used for years to collate all my accounts in one place, log into accounts easily and update balances. They also pull copies of your reservations and notice changes which is really helpful.

  3. Earn miles for the things you buy anyway. Most online shops offer rebates of some kind, search evreward.com or Cash Back Monitor to see what opportunities there are for the purchases you’re going to make. Just search the merchant’s name and click through the link provided.

  4. Sign your rewards credit card up for the dining for miles program of your favorite airline. The airline programs are more lucrative than hotel programs (though you can sign different cards up for different programs). You don’t need to select restaurants based on which ones participate, but might as well get the surprise miles when you do dine at one.

  5. Always register for promotions. You’ll never remember to do it later when you’re going to stay at a hotel or fly on a route. Just be registered to pick up the points in case you qualify.

  6. Give yourself as much flexibility as possible. The best credit cards earn points that transfer to airline miles and hotel points rather than just earning in a single currency. Think Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve, American Express Gold, Citi ThankYou Premier. That way you put miles where you need them based on where you want to go and what’s available when you’re booking.

  7. Never earn just one mile per dollar of credit card spend. Get a card that gives you multiples for the things you spend the most on (see the cards I just mentioned) and then a card that earns more than 1 mile per dollar on your other spend (Amex Business Plus, Chase Freedom Unlimited)

  8. Know your reward goals. Earn the right points that help you towards your goals. Have flexibility when you book. You’ll get the most value with airlines booking international business class (otherwise your credit card spend should be earning cash back not miles).

  9. Credit cards offer a way of earning tremendous miles quickly through initial bonus offers. Don’t be afraid to get a card that’s offering you a big reward. It’s a great incentive to try out a card. Of course Chase will only approve you if you’ve had fewer than 5 new cards in the last 24 months, Amex will only give you the bonus on a given card once for as long as their system memory tracks.

  10. Almost anything you do can earn miles. Bask Bank earns AAdvantage miles as a savings account return, which is lucrative in a low interest rate environment. You can earn big miles getting referred to a real estate agent or a mortgage.

  11. Multi-player mode. If it’s worth doing yourself, it’s worth doing for a spouse, children, parents, in-laws etc to scale. Some programs even let you pool points or combine points from multiple accounts for free (though many do not). If there’s a good deal, you want to scale it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Sometimes cash back with credit cards is better than miles.

    These mileage programs are, in some ways, very Trumpian. Poor people often don’t get miles. Mostly rich people and 1%-ers. This is why some people think miles should be taxed a lot and the money redistributed to the poor instead of concentrating miles among the rich. Those who are oppose to this are often Trump supporters. Just ask AOC and Bernie what they think of miles and elites.

  2. I am not a Trump guy.

    The issue has been long-settled in the US Tax Court.

    Gary, how about an article focusing on the best cash-back strategies . . . that can be scaled?

  3. This article should be updated to state “never earn one mile per dollar, two Bonvoy points per dollar, or three Hilton points per dollar”

  4. @ Derek, I’d be happy to provide you a list of charities to which you can donate all of your miles and cash back rewards.

  5. Number 3 is something I had always ignored because of the hassle factor and snags with shopping miles programs. But cashbackmonitor makes it easy to click through to the airline shopping and merchant sites, and have yet to encounter issues with missing miles in the past 2 years. So don’t leave money on the table as just about every company offers shopping miles except for Amazon.

    Number 9 really deserves a 9a which is “Seriously consider cancelling your card when the annual fee posts, unless you know you will get a higher value from the perks.” Most of the airline cards belong on the chopping block unless you check bags, and ditto for the high AF Amex cards unless you find value in the nickel and dime credits.

  6. @ derek

    But I don’t want to travel with poor people. That’s why I collect miles. Keeps me away from the riff-raff.

  7. My quick comment…. it only takes a minute to join the frequent ________ program, so do it.

    Why: even if you think you will never benefit, sometimes, stuff happens.

    Example: I was on a biz trip to Germany. Had to stay 2 months. Was disappointed that no favorite hotels were available. Took a local’s suggestion, stayed at a very nice place, signef up in their program,, but figured that the nights/points were functionally lost.
    A few years later, Marriott bought Renaissance. All those nights and points went to my lifetime count.

    So, always join.

  8. I’ll second Reno Joe.

    Let’s hear about cashback cards for those of us tired of paying for high priced cards and are pretty much giving up “chasing the points” of ever devaluation points programs.

  9. There’s no shame in just getting one 2% cash back card and be done with it. If you’re not miles/points obsessed, it’s hard to do better than 2%.

    When I try to explain the ins and outs to friends and family, it becomes obvious that they have no interest and would be better off with just cash back… of course that doesn’t stop them from calling me in May and asking how to get one of them “free” business seats to Paris in July.

  10. 4A) Rakuten has the same restaurant rewards as the airlines (Rewards Network) and can be transferred to Amex MR, so sign your cards up for that rather than airlines if you use MR.

  11. Pooling points may be a good option for some. Consider that unused miles and points are typically forfeited at death, but if the deceased is a member of a pool, the deceased’s co-members can use the points earned by the deceased. Or, so I’m told.

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