How to Decide Which Miles to Collect for Your Trip

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If you want to take an award trip using miles and points, you have lots of options!  And if you’re new to miles and points, you might not know where to begin.  Miles and points are worth collecting because they’re your ticket to Big Travel with Small Money to nearly anywhere in the world!

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

I’ll Help You Decide Which Miles or Points Program Is Best for Your Goals!

But it’s not so hard!  Certain programs are better choices based on factors like where you’re located, and where you want to go.

I’ll give tips about how to start collecting miles and points.  And help you decide which program is best for you!

Which Miles or Points Are Best for You?

Link:   Beginner’s Guide to Miles and Points

When some folks start collecting miles and points, they open whichever credit card has the biggest sign-up bonus.  Or with the program that seems the easiest at the time.

That’s great!  It’s good to get started, because you can always adjust later.

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

Sometimes a Helping Hand Is All You Need! Let’s Take a Look at How to Break Down Your Options

Other folks have a harder time deciding on the right program.  But it’s easier if you break down your options, and then choose the 1 that’s best for you!

1.   Where Do You Want to Go?

Do you already have a goal in mind?  If not, think about where you want to visit.

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

It All Starts With Your Goals, So Think About Where YOU Want to Go!

The terrific thing about miles and points is you can let your mind wander.  Think big, because miles and points can take you nearly anywhere worldwide.

Emily and I have taken many “once-in-a-lifetime” trips to places like Paris, Italy, and the Maldives, which is a gorgeous chain of tropical islands in the Indian Ocean!

2.   Which Airlines Are Available?

Each airline has a stronger presence in certain parts of the world, or even in different US cities!

The easiest way to check which airline is best for you is to look up your home airport on Wikipedia.

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

From Cincinnati, American Airlines, Delta, and Possibly United Airlines Are All Solid Options

For example, when I search for the airport in Cincinnati, I can see which airlines fly from there – and where I could potentially connect to other flights!

According to Wikipedia, Delta has the strongest presence in Cincinnati.  Collecting Delta miles might be a good place to start because they have the most flights out of Cincinnati.  Or, American Airlines miles is the next best choice.

Once you see where you can fly, start connecting the dots to the destinations you want to visit.

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

If You’ve Dreamed of Visiting Patagonia, American Airlines Partners With LAN, an Airline Based in Chile. Which Airlines Service Your Home Airport Is a Big Deciding Factor!

For example, American Airlines is a great choice if you want to explore South America.  That’s because they partner with 2 South American airlines, LAN and TAM.  And their award chart has off-peak awards to South America at a discounted rate, which means you save miles.

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

If You Mostly Travel Domestically, Find Which Airlines Fly to Where You Want to Visit. Maybe Las Vegas?

Or, if you only want to travel within the US, it’s better to pick an airline that flies to lots of different US cities and whose miles are easy to earn!  Study the routes they fly and make sure they have a presence in the places you want to visit.

This trick works for any airport!

Other websites to help you include:

3.   Who Are Their Partners?

Link:   oneworld Alliance Airlines

Link:   SkyTeam Alliance Airlines 

Link:   Star Alliance Airlines

Most major airlines are in 1 of 3 alliances: oneworld (includes American Airlines), SkyTeam (includes Delta), and Star Alliance (includes United Airlines).

If an airline is NOT in an alliance, it usually has partner airlines (though there are a few exceptions).

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

Star Alliance Is the Largest Alliance. You Can Use Your United Airlines Miles to Book Flights on Any of These Airlines. And Remember, When You Have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold, You Can Transfer Your Ultimate Rewards Points to United Airlines!

The benefit of alliances and partnerships is you can use your airline’s mileage program to book award flights on any of their travel partners!

So, even if your airline doesn’t fly to where you want to go, you can use your miles to book an award seat on 1 of their partner airlines.

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

Howdy, Partner! Check an Airline’s Partners on Their Website

You can usually find an airline’s partners on their webpage.  Click the name of the loyalty program and poke around until you find the section about their airline partners.

Or, you can usually find the direct page by searching Google for the name of the airline with the word “partners” after it.

Some of the partners are ones you might not expect, like JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines.  Or United Airlines and Aer Lingus for flights to Ireland!  It’s worth checking, because it gives you more ways to use your miles!

4.   Which Type of Miles?

Now that you know where you want to go, and which airline can get you there, it’s time to find the miles or points you’ll need to collect.

Should you collect American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Singapore Airlines, Southwest, or United Airlines miles?  Or perhaps another kind?

Points earned from a bank are usually the most flexible kind of points you can earn.  That’s because they transfer to several other miles and points programs!  And, they’re:

  • Relatively easy to earn
  • Never expire
  • Often have great bonus categories

Also, you can use them to book award flights and award hotel stays.  So you can use them to put together a whole trip!

Here’s a table for the most popular points programs:

Miles or Points ProgramAMEX Membership RewardsChase Ultimate RewardsCiti ThankYou PointsStarwood PointsNotes
American Airlines MilesNoNoNoYes, and you'll earn 5,000 bonus miles when you transfer 20,000 Starwood points to partners with a 1:1 transfer ratio If you have Citi Prestige, you can book American Airlines flights at 1.6 cents per point through the Citi Travel Portal
Britsh Airways Avios PointsYes, but it's NOT a 1:1 ratio. You'll only earn 800 British Airways Avios points per 1,000 AMEX Membership Rewards Points you transfer.Yes, when you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold card. 1:1 ratioNoYes, and you'll earn 5,000 bonus miles when you transfer 20,000 Starwood points to partners with a 1:1 transfer ratio Read about all the ways to earn British Airways Avios points
Delta MilesYes, at a 1:1 ratio, and you'll pay 0.06 cents per point up to a maximum of $99 as an excise feeNoNoYes, and you'll earn 5,000 bonus miles when you transfer 20,000 Starwood points to partners with a 1:1 transfer ratio Are Delta miles really that hard to use?
Singapore Airlines MilesYes, at a 1:1 ratioYes, when you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold card. 1:1 ratio.Yes, when you have a Citi Prestige, Citi ThankYou Premier, or Citi Chairman Card, at 1:1 ratioYes, and you'll earn 5,000 bonus miles when you transfer 20,000 Starwood points to partners with a 1:1 transfer ratio Deals on award flights in the US (Including Hawaii) with Singapore Airlines miles
Southwest PointsNoYes, when you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold card. 1:1 ratio.NoNoA companion can fly almost free for ~2 years on Southwest with the Southwest Companion Pass
United Airlines MilesNoYes, when you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold card. 1:1 ratio.NoYes, but at a 2:1 ratio. So 1,000 Starwood points convert to only 500 United Airlines miles.Read about all the ways to earn United Airlines miles

There are a few other considerations:

  • Does the airline impose fuel surcharges?
  • How easy is it to earn the miles you need?
  • Are there lots of available award seats?
  • Do you feel comfortable finding and booking award flights?
How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

Make Sure You Understand How to Earn and Use the Miles Before You Start Collecting Them

For beginners, Chase Ultimate Rewards points and United Airlines miles might be the best place to start because of no or low surcharges, simplicity of finding award flights, and it’s relatively easy to earn the miles.

Some airlines will let you book award seats a year in advance.  But with others, it’s better to book closer to departure.

And with some airlines, like Southwest, if there’s a seat for sale you can book it with points.  But some airlines withhold award space even if the flight isn’t sold out.

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

Hawaii Is a Popular Tourist Destination. Be Sure to Plan Your Trip Well in Advance, Especially for Families or Large Groups

Keep in mind it can be difficult to find award seats around peak times for the most desirable locations.  That said, it’s not impossible.

Generally, if you search early enough, and book a few months out (or earlier), you have a better chance of finding the seats you want to book.  This is especially true if you’re searching for more than 1 award seat.

Most airlines open up their flight schedules ~330 days prior to departure.  If you can plan that far ahead, you’ll have the most luck.

They also open up more award seats the week before departure.  So if you’re flexible, you can get a good deal with a last-minute award flight!

5.   How Many Miles?

Link:   Book American Airlines Award Flights Like a Pro

Link:   Book British Airways Award Flights Like a Pro

Link:   Use Delta Miles to Get to Europe

Link:   About Singapore Airlines Miles

Link:   8 Easy Steps to the Southwest Companion Pass

Link:   The Ultimate Guide to United Miles

Once you find the type of miles you like, the next step is to check how many miles you’ll need to get to where you want to go.

Here’s my page for airline award charts.

And, if you need help booking your award, here are some award booking services I recommend.

Also be sure to read my guides to different types of miles (linked above) for tips on earning, redeeming, and getting the most out your award booking!

6.   Now, Earn ‘Em!

The easiest way to earn more miles and points is to sign-up for credit card offers.

Earlier, I mentioned bank points.  Here are cards that earn bank points, which can be transferred to several other miles and points programs.

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

With Your Sights Set, Earn the Miles That’ll Get You to Your Destination!

You can also look for airline miles cards, if you found an airline program you really like.

Remember, you’ll earn more miles or points when you use the cards.  And look out for ways to earn bonus points!

For example, you’ll earn 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points (which transfer 1:1 to programs including United Airlines, British Airways, and Singapore Airlines) on your travel and dining purchases.

You could also earn miles the old-fashioned way.  That is, by flying!

7.   Meet the Minimum Spending Requirements

Link:   40+ Powerful Ways To Complete Your Credit Card Minimum Spending Requirements

Link:   Top 20 Ways to Spend $20,000 in 1 Year

One of the biggest concerns folks have about signing-up for credit cards is meeting the minimum spending requirements.

How To Decide Which Miles To Collect For Your Trip

Use Your Cards for Every Purchase and Meet Minimum Spending Requirements Faster!

I’ve written about how to spend $20,000 in a year to earn sign-up bonuses through basic, everyday spending like auto repairs and oil changes, dental and medical bills, and big party plans.

Then, watch the miles or points roll in.  When you accumulate the number you need, book an award ticket to your dream destination!

Bottom Line

Miles and points are worth collecting because everyone can customize their own travel plans according to their goals.

When you start collecting miles and points, those “once-in-a-lifetime” trips start to happen more often!

If you’re new to miles and points, be sure to check out my beginner’s guide.

Break down your travel goals into smaller, actionable steps to decide which miles or points are best for YOU.

The fastest way to earn more miles or points is to sign-up for new credit cards and meet the minimum spending requirements.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to collect miles & points!  Folks without a definite plan might do best by starting with flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  Or if you already know where you want to go, follow the steps in this post!

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Editorial Disclaimer: Neither the responses below nor the editorial content on this page are provided or commissioned by the bank advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertisers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers’ responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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One response to “How to Decide Which Miles to Collect for Your Trip

  1. “Once you get to know your chosen mileage program better, you can even purchase gift cards and load them onto an AMEX prepaid debit card (like Bluebird, Serve, and Target Prepaid REDcard) to pay bills (like rent!) that don’t usually accept credit cards.”

    Surprised you haven’t heard, the REDcard is dead. Don’t mislead your readers.