The Basics Of How To Get Started Earning Points And Miles Balances

by joeheg

“Last edited on February 12, 2017, at 1:53 PM.”

That’s the time stamp that stared me in the face for years. I’ve intended all this time to write about how to get started with earning miles and points, but it’s just never happened. I mean, that’s the whole reason we started the website; to give tips to people so they’d be able to travel the same way Sharon and I have been able to. After all, I have plenty of experience, since I’d been earning some sort of rewards from my credit card spending for almost as long as I’ve had credit cards. How hard could it be to share what I’ve learned with others?

The problem with telling someone else how to jump-start earning miles and points is that the answer is different for everyone. If I’ve learned anything over the last twenty years, it’s that no two people are the same. Everyone will have different wants and needs, as well as a different ability to earn valuable points and miles.

That’s the reason we called the website Your Mileage May Vary in the first place. There were plenty of sites that told you to sign up for this deal or to use that program because it was the best. After following the directions I read on the internet for a while, I learned that not every deal was for me and some programs were better than others for the way Sharon and I traveled. So when we started the website, it was because we felt someone had to say; what’s good for others might not be best for you, and that’s OK.

So knowing that, how could I reasonably write and explain what to do to start your miles and points balances? I finally realized that by writing articles for this website, I’ve already answered the question. The problem is that I’ve spread the answers over multiple articles that span the history of our site. While I’d love to send you on a scavenger hunt through our website, I’m not going to ask you read through all 3,000+ posts we’re written. To make things easier, here are my tips on how to decide the best way for you to get started collecting miles and points.

Step 1 – Have A Goal

If you’re starting out and have decided you want to start collecting miles and points, you need to know why you’re doing this. What is it that you want to do with your miles and points? This is very important for reasons we’ll discuss later on. So really, set a goal. Imagine your dream trip or just the trip you want to go on and not have to pay for.

To learn more about this, check out this article: Want To Travel With Points And Miles? Have A Goal!!!!

Step 2 – Learn About The Different Types Of Points

Before setting out to collect points you need to know about the differences between all the types of points that are available. Will you focus on earning points with a specific airline, hotel or rental car company, or should you try to earn transferrable points? Maybe a card that earns fixed value points might be the best option for the way you want to travel.

Here’s an article, Want To Earn More Points & Miles? Here’s How To Know What Kinds To Get, that explains all about the difference between types of points.

Step 3 – Sign Up For Programs (If You Haven’t Already)

You’re ready to get started. Before you can earn points in the different programs, you need to sign up for them. Pick out which ones you want to concentrate on and make sure you have accounts with each of them.

If you need, here are links to the signup pages for airlines, hotels and rental cars

With all these programs, you’re going to start collecting sign-in information and passwords. It helps to use a program like AwardWallet to keep track of all your accounts (and the pleasure of watching your balances increase). Since we live in a world where accounts, including loyalty accounts, get hacked all the time, I’d suggest using a unique password for each program. This is tough to keep track of so I recommend one of the many password managers out there to make your life easier. I like 1Password for Mac but I’m sure there are other many other options available.

Step 4 – Learn What The Points Are Worth

It’s at this point when you’re going to start earning points. Hopefully, you have a good idea by now of the programs you’re going to be focusing on. Take a minute to learn what the points are worth. How many points or miles will you need to achieve your goal? Every plan is different and each plan’s respective points or miles have different monetary worth.

Check out the article All Miles/Points Are NOT Equal to see how much difference there can be between two different programs.

Step 5 – Start Earning Points

I know that all this learning stuff isn’t fun but you’ve finally reached the reward; you can start earning points. The easiest way to get a quick start is by signing up for credit cards and collecting the signup bonuses. You usually (but not always) have to reach a minimum spending requirement to earn the bonus so make sure to pick a card that’s reasonable for you to handle. If your credit is not great or if you have credit card debt, don’t start signing up for new cards. Get your financial house in order and then you can jump into this ocean.

Some of the cards that are great to start with are:

Chase Sapphire Preferred – This card currently has a 60,000 point bonus if you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening and the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. It earns 2x points on dining and travel expenses.

American Express Everyday Preferred – This card currently has a 30,000 point bonus and only requires spending $2,000 in the first three months. It has a $95 annual fee that you’ll have to pay but it earns 3x points at supermarkets and 2x at gas stations. You also get a 50% bonus if you use the card at least 30 times per statement cycle. If you don’t want to spend the $95, the plain Everyday card has a 10,000 point bonus and pays 2x at supermarkets and a 20% bonus after 20 or more purchases.

To read about how I choose what card to sign up for, check out How To Decide What Rewards Credit Card To Sign Up For Next.

Step 6 – Use Common Sense

After you get your first point bonus, it’s human nature to look towards finding the next card to sign up for. Take it slow, as it’s really easy to fall into the habit of applying for every card that has a great signup offer. This is where having a goal comes in handy. You need to stay focused and remember what you’re going for. If the card doesn’t fit into your plan, you don’t need it right now. I don’t care if it’s the best deal ever; it will probably come back again.

This article goes into the traps you can fall into and how to play for the long term: When It Comes To Earning Points And Miles, I’d Rather Be The Tortoise Than The Hare

Step 7 – Enjoy The Results

Watching your account balances go up is satisfying but what’s really thrilling is redeeming those points to book a trip. How to book awards is a whole different thing and not the reason for this article. I can tell you there is nothing like booking a $25,000 trip to Australia and Japan on points. The only thing more fun (for me) than booking the trip was actually going on the trip but booking it was a close second.

Final Thoughts

So there it is. It turns out I had already written the article I thought I could never write. By following these tips, you should have a good idea about how to get started with collecting points and miles, the differences between the types of points, what points are worth and how to choose which is the best card for you to get.

Remember, the plan that is best for someone else may not be the best plan for you. As long as what you are doing is going to get you to your goal, you’re on the right track.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


1 comment

Karen January 20, 2019 - 2:09 am

What a high value post. Thank you for sharing.


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