Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points


I’ve created this page as a way to introduce folks who are new to miles and points to the joys of collecting miles and points, and the cheap travel which is possible.

Emily and I pay a fraction of the retail cost to fly and stay in hotels.  We do this by collecting miles and points.  We participate in a number of promotions, but the main way we earn miles and points is by signing up for credit cards which offer large sign-up bonuses.

Collecting miles and points requires a bit of organization, but it is not rocket science (otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it!).

Step 1 – Sign-up for miles and points programs

Sign-up for a few hotel and airline loyalty programs.  There are many programs to choose from, but I recommend signing-up for just a few programs initially.  You can always sign-up for the rest later on.

Make sure to copy and paste your account number, username, and password into an Excel or Word document to help with Step 2.

Step 2 – Manage your miles online

I use to manage our miles.  AwardWallet not only tracks Emily and my miles, but also our parents’ mileage accounts.  It is a free service, but with a small donation ($5 for 6 months) you get premium services such as alerts when your miles are expiring.

Simply sign-up for and enter in your username and passwords for your accounts from Step 1.

Step 3 – Credit card strategy & does applying for credit cards damage my credit score?

The easiest way to collect miles and points without flying is through credit-card mega bonuses (think 50,000 or more miles and points from just 1 credit card).

I earned over 1 million miles and points this year from credit card sign-up bonuses and my credit score is still over 700.  Credit cards are the easiest way to earn miles and points.  Your credit score does decrease each time you sign-up for a credit card, but the effect of that is small (less than 5 points), and over the medium to long term your credit score improves because of the increase in available credit.

If you are not taking out a big loan in the next 2 years (equity, house, student,  etc.) than apply for credit cards and build up a hotel point and air mile balance.  If you are applying for a big loan in the next 2 years, than I would recommend very few or no credit card applications so as to ensure that you’re doing everything possible to get your loan.

According to MyFICO, applying for credit cards reduces your score usually by 3 to 5 points per application, but banks look at other factors such as how often you’ve applied for credit recently when they evaluate big loans.  Much better in my opinion, to get that big loan first at the lowest possible interest rate, and then apply for credit cards.

If you do decide to apply for credit cards make sure to pay your bills off when they are due and to not pay interest.  Paying interest on credit cards is a losing proposition  – even if you manage to earn miles and points.

Even if you don’t want to apply for credit cards, I recommend getting 2 of my favorite credit cards which give you a lot of flexibility.  I do get a referral if you apply for these 2 cards, but Emily and I are very grateful for your support!

1) Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa – This is my favorite card and one of the very few cards which Emily pays an annual fee for.  Basically, you earn a 40,000 point sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 within 3 months, and double points for dining and travel expenses.  These points give you more flexibility since they can be transferred to different airline and hotel partners.

Here’s a link to my review of the card.

2) American Express SPG card – Another of my favorite cards and for which I’d pay an annual fee.  Here’s a link to my review of the card.

Step 4 – Eat, Shop and earn miles

Put all your expenses on a credit card and sign-up for programs which give you miles for dining.  Check EVReward for the best online mall to earn miles and points from.

To be continued…

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

587 Responses to Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points

  1. I have a virgin atlantic cc the black one from bank of america, do you still get miles if you pay your account down before the next closing date? I want to keep my credit utilization under a certain percentage so that’s why I’m asking.


  2. Do hyatt check only primary account holder Id during check-in? I want to make reservation for a room for 4 nights 2 adults(me & my gf), but she is staying for only 2 nights then I would like to invite a friend of mine for rest of the stay. Is that doable? Thanks

  3. @Devon – That’s a tough route for business class seats. I’d consider flying 1-way using American Airlines miles and another 1-way using United miles. There are easy ways to collect American Airlines miles.

    @Nimish – You get the miles regardless of when you pay the balance due on your card.

    @ Scott – You can add your girlfriend or friend as the 2nd person on the reservation so they can check in for you. You can just give your girlfriend’s key to your friend when he arrives at the hotel.

  4. Can you explain “different product” as it relates to applying for various credit cards?

  5. @Don – It means either a business or a personal card. Or if the card has different versions (e.g the Southwest cards have 4 distinct versions).

  6. This summer I plan to get married :). My wedding will likely cost me 25-30k. My question to you is, how can I use credit card bonuses in such a way to maximize my rewards that I can use towards say a honeymoon?

    I’ve just entered this world of credit card rewards. Discovered your blog and have been reading the internet for the past 1.5hrs to educate myself on this system.

    In this article you say that paying interest negates any rewards. That makes sense. So if I don’t have the capital to avoid interest fees on the reward cards, would you agree with transferring the many introductory 0% apr cards without rewards?

    Any help appreciated. keep up the great work.

  7. Hey Darius,

    What would you consider a good deal for first time sign-up bonus? I am currently debating if I should spend 10K to get 25,000 Avios because the cost of buying GCs has increase.


  8. Hi Darius,
    I signed up for the 50K mile Southwest Visa thru chase and am almost at my $2K spending amount in the first 3 months to get those points. I wanted to sign up for a Chase Ink business card that says they will give a 50K bonus if you spend 5K in the first 3 months, but there appears to be a catch. It says the 50K is only for “new cardholders” with chase. Do you know if they stick to that rule? I don’t have any other “business” account cards with any bank.
    also, I have 30k in ultimate rewards points and want t know the best way to transfer them to my Southwest account to try to get the companion pass.

  9. @Justin – Congrats! You can use the amount to get the sign-up bonus from credit cards (for example, Chase Sapphire Preferred, American Express Starwood etc.). That said, I wouldn’t apply if you don’t have the money to pay the amount in full.

    @Raymond – Anything above 40K miles is a good offer, but if you’ve already got those, it could make sense to get something else.

    @Jennifer – The business and personal cards are considered different products so it should be possible to get those different cards.

  10. Hi Daraius,

    Does any of Mileageplus explorer benefits apply to authorized user for this card? (I’m traveling alone). Thanks

  11. Hey Darius,

    I am having difficulty with household account with BA. I do not understand what does the household can only redeem for the other members. Do all members needs to register BA? I am very confuse! Please help!

  12. Did I miss read your comments about opening a business card that they do not check your personal credit only the business? I had applied for an Chase Ink Business card for one of our companies. My name and information was filled in as the card holder and I just got a check alert from LifeLock that they were requesting a credit check. With my high score it should not make much of a difference with the hit but I don’t understand why they did that.

  13. @Praveen – They don’t, unless the primary cardholder is traveling with you.

    @ Raymond – Each member has to sign-up and you then designate them as part of your household account.

    @ Doreen – They do inquire about your personal credit score, but the credit line doesn’t sit on your personal credit report.

  14. What travel card would you recommend for someone beginning on their first credit card coming out of college?

    I want to stay away from annual fee’s but would love a card that generates some sort of miles so I can travel :)


  15. I have Amex Business Sky Miles Gold and Amex Starwood Preferred Guest cards. I’m thinking of applying for another 1 or 2 Amex cards. What would you suggest?

  16. I am a frequent traveler and I get a lots of travel miles, rewards and earn points. With numbers of memberships and loyalty cards I have, some of these expires without me knowing it. Good thing I discover this website GIIFT that allows me to manage, share and monetize my miles, gift cards, points and membership – all in one place.

  17. Daraius,

    I currently have a US Air card through Barclay. It is my understanding they will eventually send me a new card that will be an AA card but still be issued through Barclay. I was thinking that I should go ahead and apply for the 50,000 mile bonus card with Citi now and eventually cancel the older Barclay card since both would be tied to the American Airlines program. Am I thinking right on this one?

  18. @Don – I’d consider the Starwood business card, the Simply Cash or perhaps the Platinum cards.

    @ Ashley – You can do that and even apply for the 100K mile Citi Executive card.

  19. Hello, I am a non frequent traveler (~2-3 times/yr). Just starting out this whole rewards credit card regime, I am very curious about it, which cards would you reccommend for a newbie like me? I am leaning towards the Chase Sapphire Preferred and…not sure which others. Any recommendations?

    Also wanted to point out I have a loan on a house that I started 2 years ago, not sure if that matters.

  20. IDaruis
    I’ ve had the united card for 3 years and the yearly fee is due. If i don’t renew it what is the waiting period for another one? Thanks

    Also I did sign up for both southwest personal cards, but the 2nd one was about 1 year later and received the 50,000 bonus points on each one.
    When I called chase to inquire if you could apply for the 2nd SW card and still get the bonus points, the rep said no. But I figured I would try anyway and I am glad I did.

  21. @JP – I’d consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Barclays Arrival (or both!)

    @Bob nelson – It varies by bank, but you may be able to get the bonus on the business version.

  22. Darius,

    With you help I just got approved for 3 credit cards and will start my way to building miles for travel. Since my credit score is about 760, what’s your guess on how many points it’ll drop as a result of my 3 new inquiries.

    How many months down the road you recommend I wait before applying for additional cards.

    Lastly, since my wife is a homemaker, would it be possible to get her approved for any credit cards based on my income.

    Thanks for all you help.

  23. @Brian S – I can’t really say because credit scores vary by person. Your wife can get cards based on your income.

  24. Deborah Klipper

    Help! All I know is airfare is getting prohibitively expensive for my husband and myself on fixed pensions. A friend told me about this blog and how he gets all these cheap flights etc. All I really need is to know the best credit card, airline or plan to use for travel between Costa Rica and Montreal Canada. Can anyone address this for me please. BTW, I checked my credit score…not so stellar-668.

  25. @Deborah Klipper – Unfortunately, I don’t focus on the Canadian credit cards but only on the US market.

  26. Deborah klipper

    Thanks for,the prompt reply. I havea stateside bank and address, live in costa rica and visit family who live in montreal. I have a chase amazon credit card, a mastercard through my bank in texas, so i can get cards. I just wonder if there is any benefit for the aircanada and the aeroplan set up. If you are unfamiliar with this, not a problem. United is also affiliated partner with air canada so maybe something with united? I know you are busy, but thank you in advance. Deb

  27. I’ve hit the $10,000 spending on my AA card to qualify for the 100,000 bonus miles. I haven’t gotten my first statement yet. (moving really helps for meeting spend requirements). I’ve read that I can cancel the card within 30 days of getting the first statement and get the annual fee refunded. My Question: Will the miles post to my AA account now, or after I’ve actually paid off the $10k?

  28. Hey Darius,

    Can I still use AA miles to book partner’s such as Cathay? I noticed they have changed the rule and now I don’t know what’s the best way to use my 100k AA miles…

  29. @Deborah klipper – Nothing like getting cards in both Canada and the US. You can also collect United miles and use them for flights on Air Canada because they are part of the Star Alliance.

    @FR – They should post after the statement in which you complete the minimum spending closes.

    @Raymond – You sure can!

  30. dustin chang

    if i sign up for 2 different credit cards ( i.e. barclays and hawaiian miles mastercard) can i combine the reward miles? i have a hawaiian miles mastercard and just recieved the 35000 bonus miles and i was wondering if itd be worth it to sign up for the barclays travel rewards card.

  31. I’m currently outside US on vacation. Can I apply for credit cards while I’m abroad in Asia? Is there any disadvantages of not being approved?

  32. Darius,

    So why did you comment on your post about no more one world partner flight?

  33. @dustin chang – You can’t combine the points or miles from those programs because they are separate.

    @Lin – You should be able to apply, but sometimes the application could be flagged for additional processing if it is from a foreign IP address.

    @Raymond – Which comment are you referring to?

  34. Hoe much does my credit score go down by closing a card?

    I have asked 3 different personal bankers at Chase bank about opening and closing a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card multiple times a year and they all told me I can do it (they have seen others do it 2 time a years).

  35. I love a point whore like me….!
    Don’t stop at travel…..though you can get points to put towards travel with! Surveys, click thrus and such get ya easy points!

    My point weaknesses….
    Opinion Miles Club
    Marriott Credit Card

    Thanks for sharing…and Aloha!
    Love Kauai! Did visit the Hyatt while our friends were staying there during our stay at the Marriott Waiohai!


  36. @George – See this post.

    @Raymond – I mention that the Explorer award is no longer available, but partner awards are still available.

    @Debbie Brown – Aloha to you too!

  37. Darius,

    OMG! What’s is the difference between explorer award and partner awards? I am so confuse right now!

  38. @Raymond – A partner award is when you use American Airlines miles to fly on oneworld alliance airlines such as British Airways and Cathay Pacific. An explorer award was an award which was distance based (i.e. you pay miles based on how far you travel).

  39. ecuamerican

    Question regarding shopping through a credit card online mall–

    The card I have gives 2x/dollar miles for any purchase (non-mall usage). But say I’m shopping on their online mall and I see an offer that says “buy and get 4x miles/dollar”. So if I buy something that is $40, would I get 80 miles (from the regular offer) AND another 160 miles (from the online mall offer)? Or does one supersede the other, like the online mall offer?

    Another quick scenario (which is why I started investigating this question), what if the online mall offer is only 1x miles/dollar? Because that would seem like a dumb offer if my original 2x miles/dollar is invalidated and the online offer supersedes it.

  40. @ecuamerican – You get both the miles for using the card and from the online mall!

  41. Is topcashback>giftcardmall still the best way to buy visa gc with amex gift card?

  42. In mid April, I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred for 40k miles and added an additional user for 5k miles. I also signed up for the United MileageExplorer Plus card in the branch for 50k miles and added an additional user for 5k. Once we hit the minimums, I expect to net 100k miles. What’s the best way to apply these points to 2 RT tickets to Europe? We plan on going in October. Any suggestions would be appreciated! Thank you!

  43. @Christina – It is 60K for a return coach ticket to Europe. You can search by going to the United website and searching for low level awards. You can also check out my award booking series!

  44. When the year term is up, what do you do to prevent being charged an annual fee? Do you cancel or downgrade?

  45. happyindian

    I am a noob in this area and would appreciate if you can help me in choosing a credit card that would suit my needs. I will summarize what I am looking for and all your guidance is highly appreciated. I am planning for a US vacation for my mom and dad who are in India right now. The plan is to book a vacation package through a renowned tour operator, Cox and Kings. They would take care of flight tickets, hotel stays and food. The total cost for two would be around 8-10K USD.
    I want a credit card that would do two things
    1) Give me very good return in terms of points and or air-miles for the amount I am spending.
    2) Give me a about 6 months to a year to repay the amount.
    I do have cash in hand but if I can get good benefit for the spending I would like to do that. My credit score is 750+.


  46. HappyIndian – if you’re planning to pay for the trip with a card and actually carry a balance on the credit card you may be in the wrong place. If that’s what you want you oughta find the card with the lowest possible interest rate. The cards with high point returns tend to have high interest rates

    Most of the folks here are about using cards to earn points and using the points to get the trip for free.

    If you plan to book through a tour operator (that is going to take care of everything) you will find that using points for air, hotel, etc is not a likely proposition.

  47. Pingback: The Best Ways to Get Travel Rewards with Your Credit Card |

  48. Hey Darius,

    I applied Barclay arrival using your link for my mom but I wanted to know if you use it to buy ticket using BA + Avios (i mean like the surcharges) is it redeemable? Because it seems like you can use a different card for that purpose that would make the deal even better!!


  49. Hey Darius, it has been great exploring Million Mile Secrets and I recently got the Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa and am wondering which card to apply for next. I currently have around 32,000 miles with American Airlines, 10,000 with United, and 25,000 with Delta. I’m considering the Citi Platinum Select/AAdvantage World Mastercard, the United Milage Plus Explorer Card, the Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express, or one of the bank point cards that partner with the airlines. I’d prefer redeeming miles/points for flights rather than hotels.

    Also, how often is it okay to apply for new cards?

    Look forward to hearing back,

  50. @Kristen – It depends on the benefits. If the benefits (free night in a hotel etc.) are worth the annual fee, I keep the card.

    @happyindian – I’d suggest paying the balance off in full. Here are some miles and points cards with 0% APR offers. That said, you’re better off not playing the game if you can’t pay the balance in full.

    @Raymond – Thanks for using our link. You should be able to get credit for the surcharges with the Barclays Arrival card.

    @Matt – I usually apply for cards every 3 to 4 months. If you’re looking for flights within the US, I’d consider the Southwest cards and the Southwest Companion Pass.

  51. One or multiple cards every several months? Best bet for international?

  52. What if my credit score is not very high?

  53. 1.) You won’t get approved
    2.) Your score will fall further

  54. Darius, can I get credited for sending money through PayPal? Does it matter whether or not its sending it as cash/gift or sending money for goods or services? I know with the former I pay the fees and the latter the merchant/friend pays the fees. Just curious if either will work towards my award bonus level? Thanks in advance.

    Also, can I apply for both the Ink and the Ink Bold at the same time?

  55. @Matt – I’d choose either the United or American Airlines card.

    @ Annette – I’d work on getting your score up first!

    @ Sam – PayPal is great at closing accounts down, so I wouldn’t use them in the way you intend. I’d pick applying for either 1 Ink card now.

  56. Hey MMS, I am about to apply for the Chase United Explorer Card, which gives me 30,000 bonus miles after making purchases of 1k after 3 months. Does 30,000 bonus miles really mean I get 30,000 miles of free travel when I’m using United, or is there some catch that I’m missing? This seems too good to be true!

  57. Pingback: MileagePlus Explorer Card: Earn a Free Trip in the First Year | Money BeagleMoney Beagle

  58. Which points have the most value? Chase Ultimate Rewards or Barclaycard rewards?

  59. @Walker – See the Hot Deals tab for ways to get a better offer. Yes, you get the miles after completing the minimum spending and can use them in any way.

    @ Don – It depends on your goals! I like the Arrival points for domestic US travel and the Sapphire Preferred for international travel.

  60. Brooke from San Francisco

    Daraius, one piece of advice for newcomers to the points + miles game:
    Before you apply for multiple cards, figure out your cash flow and how much you can spend in each of the coming months. (Of course, you can manufacture spend by buying gift cards for groceries, etc., but you do need the money on hand to pay the bills at the end of the month.) If you can meet the spend requirements for your new cards, then you won’t find yourself 3 months later with a wasted card but no signup bonus!

  61. @Brooke from San Francisco – Very true!

  62. I went to flight stats and they indicated there were 2 economy seats from lax to Paris cdg on July 25. I called AA twice, both agents said there was no availability. They said there is a difference between economy seats for purchase and economy seats for award travel. What am I doing wrong.

  63. Are there many cards that don’t count gift card purchases towards the spending requirements?

  64. ferry vendy

    Hi Daraius, i just signed up for 3 credit cards last week. first i got approved for chase ink business card, second citi executive world elite master card. and still waiting on the decision on the 3rd card which is the carlson card.
    i’m not planning to make a big loan in the next 2 years, and i always pay the balance on all of my card each month in full.
    i’m just wondering which card should i have next?
    how can i get your “I earned over 1 million miles and points this year from credit card sign-up bonuses and my credit score is still over 700.”?
    which other cards can help me to get that much points?
    thanks in advance.

  65. @Lee Ann – Usually if you buy them in a store, they count towards the minimum spending.

    @ferry vendy – It depends on your goals. But I like the Barclays US Air or Arrival card, the Starwood hotel card and the Southwest and Sapphire Preferred card.

  66. Pingback: Are Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Better Than Barclays Arrival Points? | Million Mile Secrets

  67. Tracie Williams


    I want to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. I have had a Chase credit card in the past but it wasn’t the “Sapphire Preferred”. Would I still qualify as a “new cardholder” and receive the bonus points?

  68. How do I use British Airway Avios to book US domestic flights from the BA website? From LAX to JFK one-way will I need 12,500 Avios? Is this the least expensive way to travel coast to coast? Does BA automatically put me on an American flight?


  69. @Tracie Williams – You should qualify as long as you haven’t had the exact same card before.

    @LP – Search on the British Airways website and you will see flight options on American Airlines because British Airways doesn’t fly that route.

  70. I would like to use my cards to my best advantage so I was thinking that I would use my Ink Plus at Office Max/Depot to buy gift cards to use when I shop at other places. That way I would get the 5x points vs the 1x points for normal shopping. In your opinion gift (debit) card would work best at this, Visa or Master or would it really matter? I would buy the largest card ($500 I think) to mimimize the attivation fee cost for the month but I figure that I would be getting about 800 extra points a week on food alone. That will add up quickly, if my math is right and I am thinking the correct way that would be at least an extra 41,600 points in one year. Thoughts?

  71. I am new to this, but I have applied for and received the Citi AAdvantage platinum card, the Amer Express premier awards gold card and the US Airways Premier World Mastercard and I am accumulating points. Would it be wise to add the Marriott Rewards Visa card with a bonus of 50,000 points for spending $1,000 or perhaps some other card. Or, better to wait awhile? The Amex card points will transer to British Airways and so will the Marriott card, but my plan is to take a trip to England in a few years and I don’t know whether I should be amassing B/A points because of the fuel charges.

  72. I currently have arrival + & us airways, which Barclays card would you recommend next?

  73. Is there a credit card I can apply for now that will get me a free or reduced flight on August 16?

  74. @Doreen – Office Depot no longer sells Visa gift cards with a credit card.

    @Joe Parr – I’d wait to apply for the Marriott card. I wouldn’t collect British Airways miles for travel to the UK because of the high fuel surcharges. I’d consider United miles instead.

    @ Liam – Depends on your goals, but perhaps the Lufthansa or Hawaiian Air card (but you could also consider cards from other banks).

    @ Doug – I’d consider the Southwest card if you can meet the minimum spending quickly. But check for availability on the Southwest site before applying.

  75. Is it possible to combine lufthansa miles into united miles and book a award? If yes how?
    Secondly, do you get instant approvals for SPG business cards? Thanks

  76. I applied to the Chase Sapphire card recently. I have an excellent credit score and two other credit cards. I make ~15k a year and still got declined for this card. How, you ask?
    They said I didn’t have credit long enough to get the card. -I’ve only had credit cards for 1.5 years and could not get this card.

  77. marshall manson

    Hi Darius

    What is the best credit card to get where you get the most miles per purchase?
    Also I was thinking about getting one where I can get lots of mileage paying bills.
    Is it better to get two at a time.


  78. Hi Darius,

    I really appreciate it your website.

    I was wondering…when I get discounted gas at stations like stop&shop, do I get gas rewards on my credit card too?

    Thank you

  79. I have 11000 krisflyer miles expiring soon. Could I transfer them to other programs? Or how to keep them active if possible? Thanks

  80. @Liam – You can’t combine them, but you could book a 1-way award with Lufthansa and United.

    @Sara – I’d wait a bit and reapply after ~6 months.

    @marshall manson – The best card depends on your goals. See the Hot Deals for a list of my favorite cards.

    @ Thorpe – It depends on how it is coded, but do a small test at your location to make sure.

    @ Sebastian – You can’t transfer them, but can extend them for a cost for 6 months. It could be best to just use them before they expire!

  81. Pingback: Europe 2014: Getting the Miles to Fly for Free | Stafford Travels

  82. Thanks for the great blog! It’s been part of my inspiration to get on the horse and start my own finally. :)

    Question… do you have recommendations for points and miles programs that allow easy sharing between members with minimal / no cost?

    My thought is, if I’m also accumulating miles for my kids, I’d like to be able to aggregate point balances at the lowest cost possible, to be able to use sooner.


  83. Hello,

    I accidentally stumbled across your website, and must say that I have seen some pretty interesting things. I would love to travel, and this seems like the best method of doing so. My concern is that my credit score may not be high enough to apply for the cards you have listed. Do you know of a credit card I may apply for that accepts those who are rebuilding credit? Are there any other programs that I may utilize to assist me with accumulating points for travel?

    Thank you

  84. @Ken Clark – Thanks for reading! British Airways Avios is likely the best choice for family accounts. But most airlines let you book awards for anyone.

    @lnk – I’d suggest rebuilding your credit first and then applying for the cards. Good luck!

  85. Pingback: Use a Travel Credit Card that Rewards Your Wanderlust | Mudluscious Press

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