- Personal Finance»
- Managing Credit Cards & Payment Options
Reward Miles for the Rest of Us – How to Realistically Collect Credit Card Points for Travel
I’ve been just recently getting into the Miles & Points game. And be certain of it, it’s essentially a game you’re playing with the credit card companies and with certain retail stores in order to get the most out of your points. I think the thing missing from these piles of blog articles, websites dedicated completely to miles, and even travel blogs, is that there aren’t any realistic goals for the rest of us. I do find after perusing these websites for quite a bit something that’s useful. In that, I mean, it’s actually realistic to do given the fact that I work full-time and have other obligations outside my job besides counting points.
There is some leg-work required but there usually is for any reward of any kind in life. However, Ill breakdown here the easiest way to rack-up points so you can have your system set-up and then just live your life like a normal person. I’ll also refer back to some great blogs so you can get set-up receiving their newsletter. That way, when a great deal happens, the information is coming to you and you can continue on your merry way keeping busy.
Miles Programs Sign-up
First and foremost, sit-down and sign-up for every travel rewards program out there that is FREE. That’s right, there are so many miles and points programs as well as frequent flier cards that are absolutely free. The best list is available at the website awardwallet.com. There, you can sign-up for an account, and you’ll see a list of miles programs organized by Airlines, Hotels, Credit Cards, Shopping, Rentals, Dining… and more. The great thing about a lot of these programs is that you can retroactively add trips or stays you’ve already completed to your account even after you’ve already returned from your trip. It’s easy to find these points since we all now have confirmation e-mails sent to us. Just think about recent trips you’ve gone on and search your in-box for the confirmation numbers. I know, for sure, that Jet Blue, Holiday Inn (IHG Hotels) and Carnival Cruise line honor past trips. I would imagine that almost all air and cruise lines honor these but you’d need to check. This website will tell you when your points are set to expire too so you can decide whether or not they’re worth using them. They don’t help you sign-up for the programs but atleast this gives a great running list to start from. Also, sign up for the Frequent Miler (or any other travel miles reward website you prefer) to receive their monthly newsletter on what’s happening in the miles world.
Organize Current Credit Cards
After that, go to your actual wallet and take out all of your credit cards. Ask yourself, are any of these credit cards carrying a balance and are any of these credit cards a rewards card? First things first, you never want to be carrying a debt on any of your rewards card. It’s simply, after doing the math, besides the entire point of what we’re talking about here. You can end up spending money in the end, especially if the credit card has a high APR and charges a yearly fee, which many of the better rewards credit cards do. Secondly, try to place any credit card debt onto the card with the lowest APR and only have one card that holds that debt. Even if you need to pay a small transfer fee, get it off those high fee rewards cards. I know that many of us can’t say we have absolutely no debt. Ofcourse, that’s the goal, but again, I’m trying to be a realist here. Another option, but which requires a little more work, is to transfer the debt to a 0% APR intro credit card. However, I wouldn’t recommend this at the same time as accumulating rewards credit cards since you likely won’t get approved for a credit card so close in time to eachother. I need to assume here that you are somewhat responsible, have always paid your credit cards on time (if not, set-up auto-pay now on all your cards) and have a steady full-time job. This is the only way to have a good credit score and thus apply for rewards credit cards.
Getting Your Rewards Cards
Now, I’m going to say I’m quite bias when it comes to rewards credit cards because I have all chase rewards credit cards. I will explain why these are the best credit cards for those of us still in reality. The first plus is that you have one sign-in to one website and can track all of your rewards points in one place. And even though you will have multiple credit cards with Chase, you can pool your points all together, which become available instantly on the Ultimate Rewards website. Specifically, chase ultimate rewards is the best for travel because your points are worth 20% more when applied to travel. So, in other words, 100,000 points may be equivalent to $800 cash back but worth $1000 if used towards travel. Also, the points system is so easy to follow with these cards but you do need to ensure you’re using the correct one at certain times. I simply keep a folded up piece of paper with this information in my wallet so I can give it a quick glance before I make any purchase. The list for what my little paper says is below.
Another great perk of the chase rewards cards is that they do usually have the best sign-up bonuses around. Chase freedom has a 15,000 points bonus, Chase Sapphire has a 50,000 bonus points sign-up and Chase Ink has an amazing 60,000 sign-up points reward. This is where you need to buy a planner and you need to set-up your bill auto-pays accordingly. You must spend, within usually 3 months, about $3000 to receive the sign-up bonus. This is where I insert my first caution on spending on these credit cards, though it won’t be the last, do not ever carry a balance on this card past the monthly due date. This, again, is besides the entire point of these cards. They all have high intro APRs and want to ‘get you,’ but don’t let them. This is another part of the “game.” We are using the fact that the credit card companies assume we are going to spend more than we can pay back in a month, don’t let them be right or they do win the game.
As you can probably guess, though, it’s best to sign-up for each of these cards in 3 month increments, if you don’t already own them. Then set-up your auto-pays for bills that accept credit cards and spend normally. Also, request a second card under the same account for your significant other, so that you can easily double the money spent in 3 months. Once the 3 months is up in each case, though, you’ll want to start strategically using your credit cards where you’d gain the most points.
Miles & Points Tips & Tricks
A few tricks, always sign-up for the Chase Freedom bonus program every 3 months. The 5X spending points are in certain categories each month. And they are usually great categories! For example, this 3 month increment is gas and transportation. That can be any gas station, even buying a sandwich at your local QuickChek or Wawa counts. It can also be subway tickets, bus tickets, railroad tickets and even taxi cabs. But, keep mind that when this increment is over and the bonus categories next month are amazon.com and Sams Club, you’ll want to use another card for purchases like these. For example, the Chase Sapphire card pays back 2X points for any travel related purchase. This includes your local gas station, train tickets and taxi cubs. It’s just a matter of knowing what counts. Sometimes some trial and error is necessary.
Another great card that I recently acquired is the Chase Ink Business Plus. The bonus points are out of this world, though there is a $95 yearly fee like the Chase Sapphire (no fee for the Freedom card), but the 5X bonus points at Office supplies stores can go a lot further than you may initially think. To explain this, first let’s discuss the Ultimate Rewards website. There are certain retail outlets on the website that if purchased through Ultimate Rewards, you will gain points. Some of these are up to 25X points. This can be great for any one that could really use the things sold at those retail stores, such as ProActive.com and Magazines.com, but there are also 6X points at RiteAid.com, which is great for all the necessity purchase like Shampoo, face wash and toothpaste. There are certain rules for purchasing through Ultimate Rewards you must remember. You must go to the website from Ultimate Rewards, you must use one of the Chase credit cards on your account and you can’t apply any other outside discounts to your purchase or else it’ll void the points. That last one, I found out the hard way.
Now, the game comes in here with some other retail listings on Ultimate rewards. You’ll see listed Lowes.com, HomeDepot.com and even PETCO.com on the rewards website for 3X, 2X and 3X, respectively. Why don’t you want to purchase anything from these retail outlets through the Ultimate Rewards website? It’s because you can purchase no fee gift cards for these same retail stores at Staples or Office Max and gain 5X points for it. So in some cases, you will find that using certain cards in certain places will supersede points if used a different way. Again, the easiest way to track all of this is with that little slip of paper you keep in your wallet and always glance at before making any purchase.
Chase Ink Plus
⇒ 5X at Office Supply Stores
⇒ 5X category
⇒ Rite Aid 6X
⇒ 5X for cell, internet and cable bills
⇒ Restaurant.com 12X
⇒ 2X for gas and hotels
⇒ 2X for travel (gas) & Restaurants
⇒ ProActiv 25X
⇒ 1X all other
⇒ 1X all other (for Freedom & Sapphire)
⇒ Magazines.com 25X & many more
Also, every Friday (pay day), I ensure that all my auto bill pays went through. I also check the balance on my credit cards to ensure it’s not out of control and that there aren’t any strange charges. Each month, you’ll see the reward points added to your account. Each month, as well, before the due date for your credit cards, pay off your bills in full. Again, for the third time, never carry a balance on these high APR reward credit cards. It’s no fun and beside the point. Other people also like to pay it off right away, rather than at the end of the month, especially if you don’t trust yourself enough yet to pay it. In that case, every Friday, pay the balance you spent that week then. And don’t forget the big payoff, that free or close to free trip to Europe (or whatever the goal maybe). The effort will be worth it but alteast this strategy will keep your sanity and you can rack up points while still living a normal life. Happy Travels!