One of the most frequent questions I get with regards to utilizing miles and points for cheap travel is “how do I get started.” And I have two diverging thoughts on the topic that I thought I would lay out here.
My first recommendation is for those who know where they want to go within the next six months to a year (you really should give yourself at least 6 months when first starting out to start acquiring miles and points). Once you’ve identified your destination, it’s pretty simple to figure out what credit cards you should think about getting. Say you want to go to Hawaii from Maine. Through a little research (or by asking me), you’ll find out that your best option would be flying United or USAirways (now partners with American Airlines). And by researching the credit card offers out there, there are a couple of different options depending if you’d like to minimize the required spending, minimize the annual fee, or maximize the number of miles/points received.
In this example, if you’d like to minimize the required spending you’d want to get the USAirways MasterCard which simply requires one purchase before receiving 40,000 USAirways miles (enough miles for a roundtrip to Hawaii in coach). If you’d like to minimize the annual fee, you’d want to look at the Chase United credit card (requires a little work for the 50,000 mile offer) or the Citibank American Airlines credit card. And similarly, if you want to maximize the mileage received, you’d want to look at the same Chase United or Citibank American Airlines credit cards. If you still can’t decide what card is best, it’s useful to find out what availability is like between your origin and destination around your dates of travel. In this case, availability appears to be better using United miles so that’s what I’d recommend here.
There are also others who haven’t yet decided where they want to go but want to start compiling miles and points for future travel. In these cases, I’d recommend applying for credit cards that transfer to a variety of airlines or hotels. Those cards would include the Chase Sapphire Visa, the Chase Ink cards (business), and the Starwood American Express. There are also opportunities through the American Express Membership Rewards program but there aren’t any great offers out there right now so for now, I’m going to skip those options.
Points acquired through the Chase cards transfer to a variety of airlines and hotel programs including United, Southwest, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and several others. Points acquired through Starwood transfer to most airline programs in addition to being useful at Starwood hotel properties around the world. The flexibility offered through these programs is invaluable to those who do not yet know where they might like to travel to.
I could spend hours discussing this topic in particular so please feel free to ask if you have any questions with regards to specific destinations or plans that you have in mind! You’ll be on your way to your dream destination before you know it!