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Earning and Using Frequent Flier Miles and Hotel Points

Updated on May 31, 2017
The Caribbean from the window of a 757.
The Caribbean from the window of a 757. | Source

One of the most expensive hobbies in the world can be travel. One of the best ways to cut the cost of traveling to exotic (or mundane) locations is through the earning and using of frequent flyer miles and hotel points.

Few people dislike travel, but many are unable to travel as much as they might like because of finances. This is a shame, because there are easy ways to pay for such trips without going into massive amounts of debt.

An award flight to the Caribbean paradise of Aruba is only $62.50 in taxes.
An award flight to the Caribbean paradise of Aruba is only $62.50 in taxes. | Source

Fly for Free

This headline might be a bit misleading, but only slightly so. The use of frequent flyer miles can help individuals who want to get from the US to Europe, Africa, or Asia. It can also help people travel from Des Moines to Eugene.

Every major airline in the United States and other nations has a loyalty program to encourage travelers to use their service. The idea is that people will fly with a certain airline to get something free in return. That something free is free flights.

Most domestic carriers will deposit frequent flyer miles into the account of a patron for every dollar spent on that carrier. For example, Billy Joe Bob decides he needs to get from Dulles Airport near Washington, DC, to Yeager Airport in Charleston, WV, as quickly as possible. Most base members of a frequent flyer program would earn something like 5 miles per dollar spent.

Those travelers who are able to get thousands of miles accumulated are then able to cash them in for free flights, upgrades, or other benefits. Most carriers require 25,000 miles for a free flight, so those who rely on flying for their frequent flyer miles might find it hard to reach this total. Even these free flights are not exactly free. There is a governmental tax that is not avoidable, but it is around $10 on a domestic round-trip flight.

The best way to earn a free flight is through signup bonuses on airline credit cards. 25,000 to 50,000 miles are common bonuses for opening up a new card and meeting a minimum spending requirement. Free flights to North America, Central America, Hawaii, or the Caribbean might be within easy reach in this instance. Of course, it is important to remember to pay of the credit card each month, because the interest costs will make the "free" flight cost much more in the long run.

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Using Marriott Rewards points led to a few days on this private island in Aruba.
Using Marriott Rewards points led to a few days on this private island in Aruba. | Source

Stay for Free

Unlike free flights that are not completely free because of taxes, free nights in hotels can actually be free. Like those airlines that have frequent flyer programs, hotels will try to encourage loyalty to the brand by offering a hotel points program.

Just about every major hotel chain the United States has a loyalty program. Among the most popular are Marriott Rewards, Hilton HHonors, Priority Club (Intercontinental/Holiday Inn), Starpoints (Starwood), and Choice Privileges. Each of these programs offer those who stay the opportunity to earn points with the hotel chain or frequent flyer miles with their chosen airline.

Unlike the frequent flyer programs, the hotel loyalty programs can vary widely in the amount of points needed for a free night. Also, each chain has properties that fall into certain levels. For example, a Fairfield Inn in Fargo will take far fewer points than a JW Marriott on Oahu. Supply and demand rule in this instance.

The most common way to earn hotel points is by staying at one of the properties held by the company. Most will pay out at a certain number of points per dollar spent. For example, most properties in the Marriott Rewards family will pay out 10 points per dollar. Of course, it will take many stays to earn enough for free nights.

Like the frequent flyer programs, however, most hotel loyalty points offer a branded credit card that will allow cardholders to earn a large bonus or a certain number of free nights for holding the card. Additionally, both hotel cards and frequent flyer credit cards will pay a point or two per dollar spent on everyday purchases. These options allow cardholders to earn additional points on these purchases, and these points will add up to free flights or nights more quickly. Some people like the Frugal Travel Guy and Million Mile Secrets have earning these bonuses down to a science.

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Does Earning and Using Frequent Flier Miles and Hotel Points Work?

Many people might wonder if earning and using frequent flier miles and hotel points actually works. I can say for a fact that it does, although I have benefited far less than some of the more active members of this fraternity.

I was able to get seven nights on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu for $30 per night in a Marriott a few years ago. The cost was only necessary because they had no standard awards available, and required a partial ocean view upgrade.

My second experience was getting three domestic tickets for about $270 for a Christmas trip in 2009. The cost was related to transferring points from one account to another, not for the tickets themselves.

My third experience using points and miles was getting to Aruba and paying just under $300 for flights and lodging last winter. Again, a large part of the cost came from transferring points between accounts, not from getting the tickets themselves. Here is a link to my story about getting to Aruba for less than $300. We stayed at the Renaissance Aruba, and here is my review of the Renaissance.

I have also used points for a night or two here and there over the past 10 years or so. Therefore, I know it can be done. Earning and using frequent flyer miles and hotel points can definitely be a lucrative option that can cut travel costs considerably.

The Baby Bridge in Aruba--courtesy of frequent flyer miles and hotel points.
The Baby Bridge in Aruba--courtesy of frequent flyer miles and hotel points. | Source

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