Friends know I love to travel and I’m starting to get questions about how I can take such nice vacations each year. When I reply that I use miles and points to help defray my expenses, of course then they want to know how I can accumulate those points if I’m spending them for travel. I explain about using credit cards both for the sign-up bonuses and for strategic spending to earn those points. Then the inevitable question comes: which card should they get first? The answer? It depends.
It sounds like a cop-out but it is truly the best answer because the best card for someone just starting out in this game depends on how they want to use their points and miles. Is your goal domestic travel or premium cabin international travel? Will you be traveling solo or as a couple or a family? Do you live near an airline’s hub or is your city serviced by an airport with limited service? All of these are things to consider what card is right for you.
But the most important factor is: where do I want my points and miles to take me? The different airline alliances have different strengths in different parts of the world, so accumulating points with a destination in mind is crucial. Once you can answer that question, you’ll have a good place to start.
Once people start accumulating miles their expectation becomes “I can fly any time, anywhere for free!” – and that’s not realistic. I try to coach people that when using frequent flyer miles (more-so than hotel points) a person will need to be flexible in at least one of these three categories:
If a person is locked into a certain destination on certain dates and is only willing to fly non-stop, they’ll almost certainly find themselves disappointed when they can’t use their miles. I run into this frequently myself. I love to go skiing and am in a ski club. The club sets the dates and the destinations. Many times we fly to smaller mountain airports that have only a few flights per day. So quite I often I must decide whether to pay cash or use the same number of miles on a regional jet flight in economy that could otherwise be spent on a business-class trip to Europe.
Decisions can be further complicated depending on whether or not there’s a traveling companion who’s paying cash. What if the flights with award availability are much more expensive that the flights one would choose when paying cash?
All these factors should be considered when determining whether to use points and miles or cash for a trip.
If you’re wondering where to start, drop me an email and tell me where you’d like to go, what credit cards you have now and I’ll be happy to offer suggestions on the best cards to use to get you to your destination. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Note: if you don’t currently pay off your credit cards in full each month, this game is not for you. The interest incurred will offset the value of the points and miles earned.)