Beginner’s checklist

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Have you ever seen photos online of folks travelling the world and wished you could do the same?  Or have you seen those beach hotel commercials of Bali or Bora Bora and thought to yourself: “I so would…if I was rich!”  Well, I have great news for you.  Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, can make it happen, regardless of their income and social status.  Yes, there may be differences in approach, but nevertheless we’ve come to a time in which travelling in style is not only accessible to the filthy rich.  Enter the ‘points game’.  Have you ever seen shows or heard of ‘extreme couponing’?  People save thousands of dollars each year when they put some effort into it.  Many aren’t even being radical, but just making a conscious effort to buy smarter.  Well, something similar can be done with travel.  Airplane tickets, hotel stays, car rentals, and more can be done in the same manner, with just a bit of your time and effort.  Check out this trip we took as an example of what can be done with just a little effort.  Want another example? Look at this other one. Why isn’t everyone doing it?  I have no idea.  Here’s to hoping you will.

All that being said, the ‘points game’ can be overwhelming at first, just like anything else you want to do that you don’t know anything about.  But if you’re eager, this checklist will get you going.  Assuming that you’re starting from scratch, it highlights the very first steps to take.  Although I’ll use United Airlines as the primary example, you should follow suit with as many airline and hotel programs possible, not only United, as there’s great value in diversifying your points and miles strategy.  Furthermore, although my blog focuses primarily on air travel, not lodging, the same principles and actions apply.  I do also use points and miles for that piece of my travels.  Without further ado, the list…

  1. Join your preferred airlines’ frequent flier programs – it’s free! (For example, you can join United Airlines’ MileagePlus program here).  If you’re unsure of which airlines’ frequent flier programs to join, a good start would be to focus on airlines that are within the same airline alliance (Star Alliance, OneWorld, Sky Team), or that have codeshare agreements; also considering which airlines provide the most options/flights nearest you.  Every member in your household should have their own/separate frequent flyer accounts.
  2. Join preferred hotels’ loyalty programs – it’s free! (For example, you can join the Starwood Preferred Guest program here).  Put some thinking into which hotel chains are more appropriate for you, and start there.  As with airlines’ frequent flier programs, every member in your household should have their own/separate hotel loyalty programs.
  3. Sign up for promotional e-mails and newsletters – it’s free!  Do so for all airline frequent flier and hotel loyalty programs.  Although it may sometimes be annoying, you’ll be kept up to date with special promotions and other important information that you’ll need in order to get the most out of the programs.  Many have set up a separate e-mail accounts just for points and travel related material.
  4. Sign up for airline programs’ shopping portals – it’s free!  (For example, you can join United Airlines’ MileagePlus Shopping here)
  5. Sign up for airline programs’ dining portals – it’s free!  (For example, you can join United Airlines’ MileagePlus Dining here)
  6. Create a strategy for either your next trip or your miles/points balance as a whole.  This is the most important step.  If you don’t have a plan in place, you might be adding a bunch of miles to many programs that add up to no redemptions.  Think about where you live; what airlines service your home airport and give you the most flexibility; what airlines have the partners you would fly the most; what airline has a solid frequent flyer program that allows you ease of finding and booking award space at a reasonable price; which airline frequent flyer program makes it easiest for you to earn miles and points via credit cards and other methods…  Questions like these will help you build a strategy.  Next, think of where you want to go and who can take you there.  This will also give you insight into what programs to tackle first.
  7. Credit your flight miles to the frequent flyer program that makes sense according to your strategy.  Though in recent years airlines have switched to revenue-based miles earnings systems, any miles one can earn as part of one’s regular travel are welcome miles.
  8. Start applying for points and miles credit cards.  (Before you start applying, determine your credit health.  If it needs repair, take a look at these suggestions.  The first step to being successful is to earn and maintain a good credit score).  See #7 in my Methods to Earn United MileagePlus Miles page.  If you’re having a hard time and need help, you’re welcome to ask me here.  Chase Ultimate Rewards and United MileagePlus make a great combo, opening the door for endless possibilities through Star Alliance.  In my opinion, credit cards are the way to get the best value out of points and miles, but there are more options to consider.  Review my Ways to meet credit card minimum spend requirements page to have a definite plan to bank those bonus offer points/miles.
  9. Follow my blog to see how to maximize credit card usage and other tools to earn bonus points and miles.  You can use the search at the top right to search for a particular topic.