I stayed away from frequent flyer credit cards for a long time, because I wanted to avoid debt. The other reason was that since I lived in Asia, flights were relatively cheap anyway. Looking back, there were a lot of missed opportunities to earn air miles. Now that I’m back in the States, my situation has changed. Getting outside of North America can easily cost over $1,000. As a result, I researched into travel rewards cards to see how to earn flights.
Nomadic Matt had an interview with Brian Kelly, better known as The Points Guy. TPG is one of the best-known blogs for how to earn more frequent flyer miles. Kelly is like a real-life Ryan Bingham, the character memorably portrayed by George Clooney in the film Up in the Air (watch the air miles scene) Take this excerpt, for example:
For instance, while the current Chase Sapphire Preferred bonus offer is down to 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points from its high of 50,000, I still think it’s a great card because you get double points on travel and dining spending (basically all I do), and those categories are fairly broad so you can earn a ton of points. You could then combine those points with the Ultimate Rewards points you earn with the Chase Freedom card’s quarterly spending bonus categories where you earn 5 points per dollar spent on things like groceries, office supplies, gas stations, or specific merchants like Amazon. Suddenly you’re looking at a ton of extra points.
I will say that you absolutely must do your homework before applying for a credit card. Always look at the fine print and carefully read the terms and conditions. For example, many credit card promise big sign-up bonuses. However, if you read closely, they often require you to spend a large amount of money over a short time period. A common deal I’ve seen is spending $1,000 in three months. The card I picked offered 25,000 miles with your first purchase, regardless of the amount.
The other tip I can give is that if you buy stuff on the Internet, always check your card’s “shopping portal” first. Most credit cards have specific websites that link to the online merchants they’ve partnered with. Let’s say you want to buy new clothes from Nordstrom’s website and you have a credit card with United Airlines. You could earn more miles per dollar if you logged into the United Airlines Mileage Plus Shopping website, then clicked on Nordstrom there. MileagePlus would bounce you over to Nordstrom, and then you would make your purchase. You would get more miles then if you’d gone to Nordstrom directly.
Of course, sometimes you’ll find that your credit card doesn’t have an affiliation with a site you prefer to use like Amazon, and you have to go with lesser-known vendor like Buy.com. I encountered this recently when shopping for video equipment. Then there are times where you have to go for quality, regardless of how it affects your miles. I wanted a good-quality lapel mic for my videos, and the best reviews were for a small independent business called Giant Squid Audio Lab. The owner is an audiophile who makes his own microphones. Even though I wouldn’t get double or triple miles, I bought a mic from him anyway.
Do you use travel rewards cards? How do you get the most out of them? Please share your tips in the comments.