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Since JohnnyJet gets new readers every day, I thought I would write a quick guide for beginners to the world of rewards travel.
Know Your Credit Score
If you plan on applying for any travel rewards credit cards, then you should know and monitor you credit score. It’s that simple. There are plenty of free sites like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and even some credit cards that let you see your credit score for free, but I pay for a full service through Wells Fargo where I can monitor all three bureaus and keep a tally of my inquiries.
You should also know what factors go into your credit score.
Understanding your credit score and the impact a new credit card application or closing has on it is very important. You don’t want to play around with your credit.
Also, if you can’t manage your credit card spending, you shouldn’t apply for any travel rewards credit cards at all. It’s that simple.
But if you know your credit score, and it’s in good condition, you can leverage it for insane travel through rewards miles and points.
Have a Goal
If you’re just starting out, make sure you have a specific goal that you’re working towards. This helps you know which miles and points to earn. Also, it’s easy for some to become focused on earning, earning, earning, but then they feel some sort of guilt about using their hard-earned miles or points. Nonsense!
You should be redeeming your points, because they don’t earn any interest in your accounts. Don’t be a points hoarder! There’s always going to be an upcoming devaluation, so earn & burn, baby.
When my wife and I started out, we wanted to go to Europe, specifically Italy (Jordan had seen “Under the Tuscan Sun” a few too many times). So I started researching what miles I needed to get there. Two credit card applications later, we had our airfare covered. I couldn’t believe it.
Know What Travel Cards to Apply For
My favorite type of rewards points are transferrable points, which simply means points that you can transfer out to travel partners. Transferrable points give you more flexibility because of the multiple travel transfer partner options, and because they can be redeemed at a higher value than fixed value points.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred out to travel partners. One of those partners is United Airlines. Once you transfer your points out to United, you can book a round-trip ticket to Europe for only 60,000 miles in economy. This is easily worth $1,500. If you were to use fixed value points for this flight, from say, the Capital One Venture card, you would have to have 150,000 points. No thanks!
Fixed value points can serve a purpose, and I do collect them, but for beginners who want to travel internationally and/or in business/first class, it’s important that you start earning transferrable points, or airline miles, first. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, and Citi Thank You Points can all be transferred out to multiple travel partners. Here’s the best standard personal card from each program:
- Ultimate Rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Membership Rewards: Amex Premier Rewards Gold
- Thank You Points: Citi Thank You Premier
It’s also worth noting that it’s currently a little harder to get approved for the Sapphire Preferred, so it should be the first card you apply for.
- Citi Thank You Premier or Chase Sapphire Preferred?
- Chase CSP vs Amex PRG
- Capital One Venture or Chase Sapphire Preferred?
Read, Read, Read
Once you’ve decided to do this, you might as well dive in. There are a ton of resources online about how to earn and redeem miles & points to get the most value. Use the google search feature on our website to search past articles, so you can learn to travel like you never thought you could before.
An example of something that can be difficult for new readers to understand is alliances, but understanding alliances opens up the possibilities even more. Here’s the quick explanation: If you have miles in an airline’s loyalty program, then you can use those miles for any airline that’s a partner or is in that same alliance. The Star Alliance and One World Alliance offer the most value. For example, if you have any British Airways Avios (UR transfer partners) you can fly American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and any other partner airline with your Avios miles.
Also, understanding each program’s routing rules, fees, and award charts will help you get the most out of your miles.
Don’t be intimidated if it all sounds daunting. You can easily book most award flights on the major airline’s websites, but diving in a little deeper will reap you even greater rewards. For example, even though I used American Airlines miles to book Cathay Pacific first class flights, I didn’t search for award availability on the AA website. I searched the British Airways website for Cathay Pacific award flights. Once I found the award availability I was looking for, I then called AA at 1-800-882-8880 and spoon fed them the flights.
This hobby can be extremely rewarding, but don’t get started before knowing your credit score, and only if you can manage your credit card spending. After that, it’s as simple as picking a goal, learning the cards to apply for, and learning some of the ways to maximize your points. Trust me, your efforts will be well spent!
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.