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UPDATE: The Starwood American Express credit card offers in this post are no longer available, but check Hot Deals for the latest offers!
What is the best direction for someone who doesn’t have an immediate use for miles & points in the near future, but would like to stockpile them for a few years until life becomes less hectic and allows us to travel?When we do eventually travel, it will be a mix of domestic and international.I’m looking to join loyalty programs according to Step 2 in your Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points. But it’s a little overwhelming because there are so many to choose from.Which are the main ones I should look into? Or does it depend on the cards I have?
Jonathan wants to earn points now for travel he’s planning a few years down the road. How should he get started?
And which loyalty programs should you sign-up for, if you’re new to collecting miles and points?
What If You Don’t Plan on Traveling Anytime Soon?
Jonathan isn’t planning trips for a few years. But he wants to get a head start on earning miles and points now.
I usually recommend folks use their miles and points quickly. That’s because award charts, rules, and transfer values can all change.
That said, if you want to get started collecting miles and points and you don’t know your travel plans, the best place to start is cards that earn transferable points.
Most flexible points never expire (except Starwood points) and when you’re ready to travel, you can transfer your points to an airline or hotel partner that best fits your plans!
But if you want to transfer your flexible points to airlines and hotels, you’re still going to need a rewards account.
Top 7 Loyalty Programs for Newbies
Airline miles and hotel points expire. So if you aren’t traveling soon, you may not be able to hang onto them. That said, many times a bit of activity such as using a few miles or earning miles from dining will prevent your points from expiring.
It’s free to register for reward programs and Award Wallet can help you keep track of all your accounts. And keep in mind, if you fly a particular airline you may be able to credit the miles to another partner airline that you’re more likely to use in the future.
If you’re like Jonathan and you want to start out with just a few, here’s a look at 7 of my favorite loyalty programs:
1. American Airlines
I’ve earned hundreds of thousands of American Airlines miles over the years. It’s 1 of my favorite frequent flier programs because there are so many ways to earn American Airlines the miles.
Starwood is the only flexible points program that currently transfers to American Airlines.
If you have the Citi Prestige, you can book paid American Airlines flights though the Citi Travel Portal with the Citi ThankYou points at 1.6 cents per point.
American Airlines has an off-peak award chart that can save you points when you fly coach to places like Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Europe. And if you have an American Airlines credit card, you can stretch your points with their quarterly reduced mileage awards.
American Airlines is a member of the oneworld alliance which means you can use your miles to fly on some of the best airlines in the world!
Check out my guide to booking American Airlines award flights for more tips on how you can use American Airlines miles.
There are also plenty of ways to rack up Hilton hotel points.
My favorite Hilton card is the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve. That’s because you can earn 2 weekend nights at almost any Hilton hotel when you complete the minimum spending.
Thanks to reader tony manzi for reminding us that hotel night certificates from cards like the Hilton HHonors Reserve expire 12 months from the date of issue. So don’t sign up for cards that offer nights (instead of points) if you can’t use them before they expire.
And you can currently earn 75,000 Hilton points with the Citi Hilton Visa card with NO annual fee!
Read my post on all the ways you can earn Hyatt Points!
4. IHG Rewards
You can get amazing deals with IHG PointBreaks hotels, which cost only 5,000 points per night!
IHG also gives you the option to use cash and points for your stay. You can save 5,000 IHG points by spending $40 or save 10,000 IHG points by spending $70.
I like to use my IHG points to save on shorter stays within the US. But you also get a night at ANY IHG hotel with the Chase IHG Rewards card each year. You could use that night at more luxurious hotels like the InterContinental Thalasso Bora Bora or the InterContinental Hong Kong.
5. Southwest Airlines
That’s why Emily and I use Southwest for the majority of our domestic flights. Plus, you can cancel for a refund if your plans change and you get 2 free checked bags.
Starwood has some exceptional luxury hotels, but they also cost a lot of points! But it could be worth it if you want to treat yourself to an amazing experience!
Folks who want to get the most from their points can get more nights by redeeming them for lower to mid-tier Starwood hotels.
Starwood points are flexible because you can transfer them to ~30 airline partners. Plus, you’ll get 5,000 bonus points when you transfer in increments of 20,000 points.
Starwood points are harder to earn, which makes them more valuable. And for a limited time, the sign-up bonus on the AMEX Starwood personal and business cards has increased to 30,000 Starwood points when you complete the minimum spending.
7. United Airlines
With so many ways to earn United Airlines miles, having a United Airlines frequent flyer account is a good idea for anyone starting out in our hobby.
United Airlines also has short distance domestic awards flights for cheap and lots of available award seats compared to other airlines.
My United Airlines award booking guide will show you how to use your United Airlines miles.
Folks who are new to miles and points shouldn’t feel like they need to sign-up for every award program available. Instead, take a look at some of the top loyalty programs and decide which fit best with your travel plans.
If you don’t have a specific travel goal in mind yet, I recommend you focus on earning flexible points such as AMEX Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, or Starwood points. This way you’ll leave yourself with more options in the future.