Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points

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Welcome to the world of miles and points!

We show time-starved folks how, they too, can acquire airline miles and hotel points, and travel very comfortably to see the world, for a fraction of awhat they would otherwise pay for such travels.

For example, (when we were married) we enjoyed a $32,000 honeymoon in Paris for ~$2,000paid only $60 for two ~$8,000 seats in a First Class plane suite, and stayed for free in a hotel suite that costs ~$3,500 per night!

Using Etihad Miles

Welcome to Million Mile Secrets!

Thousands of others have also made cheap travel their hobby, and this Beginner’s Guide can help you get started.

You can earn lots of airline miles and hotel points by signing-up for credit cards and using them responsibly.  In this guide, we will give you the tools to get started and recommend specific credit cards for which you can apply.  You can go on family vacations for a fraction of the cost, fly First Class, and stay at the some of the best hotels around the world.

You will NOT damage your credit score!  You’ll actually improve it if you pay your bills in full and on time.  Included in this guide are some great organizational tools to help keep you on track.

Beginner’s Guide Index

How Collecting Miles & Points Has Changed Our Lives

Emily and I have visited over 30 countries, made some wonderful memories, and learned about ourselves and the world.  We wouldn’t have been able to do this without collecting miles & points from large credit card sign-up bonuses!

Prior to this hobby, we thought travel was something that we’d have to save up for over several years.  Fortunately, we discovered collecting miles and points.  This opened up a world of travel we never thought possible!

3 Cards 100,000 Miles 890 Statement Credits

Credit Cards Make It Possible for Us to Take Trips We Otherwise Wouldn’t Be Able to Afford!

Imagine being able to visit friends & family who live in far away places…

Tampa Trip Report

Spending Time With Family in Tampa

Treating your loved one to a surprise weekend trip…

Z Ocean Hotel - At the beach

Emily’s Surprise Birthday Trip to Miami

Exploring ancient cities…

Activities In Rome Part 1

Anniversary Trip to Rome

Lounging in a private overwater bungalow…

You Dont Have To Pay To Upgrade To An Overwater Bungalow In Bora Bora

Our 2nd Honeymoon in Bora Bora

Or even getting a good night’s sleep in a bed during a long flight…

First Class on Lufthansa

First Class on Lufthansa

We’ve done all this and more, thanks to miles & points.  Learning about cheap travel has provided us with nearly free flights, free hotels, and cheap rental cars.  And you can do it too!

The most rewarding part is that we’ve been able to help family, friends, and readers along the way!

What Our Readers Say

“Thanks for a great blog. My grandmother turned 90 this year! So with your help and advice, my wife and I were able to get her a ticket to Hawaii and a free room to enjoy a surprise party with 40 of her family and friends.  Without your help, there’s no way we could have made this trip of a lifetime happen for her!” –Doug

“Hello Daraius and Emily!  I wanted to say “thank you” for sharing your trip with us! I am a physician who takes care of cancer patients.  My wonderful nurse (who is a truly caring and giving person) has had a lifelong dream of traveling to Italy…We plan to visit Rome, Florence, and Milan.  I am probably most excited about Siena!

“It will be a trip of a lifetime for us. You guys helped make it possible!” –Kristen

“I have been on 3 wonderful trips to Europe since collecting miles and points. Traveling very luxuriously!
  We are retired and never dreamed we would be traveling as much and as well before finding this passion and hobby.

“You have helped so much with your wonderful insight and knowledge you share.  Thank you for helping these 2 older people follow their dreams.” –BFD

How You Can Do It Too!

The easiest and fastest way to get frequent flyer miles is to sign-up for credit cards with big bonuses.

Some credit cards will give you 100,000 points for signing-up and completing a certain amount of spending.  You can turn those 100,000 points into a lot of cheap travel!  Some of these bonuses are enough for a family to go to Hawaii, or fly First Class to Europe and Asia.

You don’t have to get 50 cards to get enough miles for a vacation.  One or 2 is all you need to get started!


Fly in Style for Cheap!

You will be getting credit cards with lucrative sign-up bonuses.  Some of these bonuses are enough for a First Class trip to Hawaii, Europe, and Asia!

What’s the Catch? (Read This Before You Get Started!)

Be sure to read my post on the 5 Dangers of Applying for Credit Cards before getting into this hobby.  Collecting miles & points isn’t for everyone.  This may not be for you if you don’t:

  • pay your bills on time
  • have a credit score of at least ~700
  • pay attention to detail or
  • track your credit card balances

And you shouldn’t get into this hobby if you plan to take out a major loan within the next 2 years (mortgage, car, student, etc.)

If you have a credit score significantly below ~700, it is better to fix your score 1st and get into this hobby afterwards.

You can estimate your credit score for free by using Credit SesameCredit Karma, or the tool on   You’ll see your credit score and report.  All of these services can help you monitor your credit moving forward.

Expect to invest some time and effort into organization and shopping.  But the pay off is Big Travel with Small Money!

For many folks reading this blog, they’d NEVER be able to afford First Class tickets to the Maldives or a bungalow in Bora Bora.  So the time spent earning miles is worth more than they could ever earn by working overtime or at a 2nd job.

Step 1 – Set Your Travel Goals for the Next Year

The 1st step to getting started with collecting miles and points involves making some fun choices.

Where & How Do You Want to Travel?

Where & How Do You Want to Travel?

A mistake many folks say they regret making when they started collecting points was jumping right in and not setting goals or determining a strategy to reach them.  This can leave you with lots of points in different accounts that can’t be used to their full potential.

Also, it’s MUCH easier to find flights you can book with miles if you plan a year in advance.  So it’s a good idea to plan ahead.

You can still find good deals only 3 to 4 months in advance, but it may require more flexibility.  For instance, you may have to leave the US on Wednesday instead of a Friday.  Here are some questions that only you can answer:

  • Are you mostly interested in traveling within the US or internationally?  Do you want to visit a beach destination, a big city, etc.?
  • Do you prefer fancy hotels or budget hotels where you can stretch your miles?
  • How many people will be traveling with you?  Are you part of a family of 4 or more, or is it just you and a companion?
  • How often do you want to travel?
  • Which destinations appeal to you?

For domestic flights, the best way to get Big Travel with Small Money is with the Southwest Companion Pass.

I also like collecting Hyatt and Hilton hotel points for my hotel stays because it’s easier to use the points I earn.

You can earn points with airline and hotel branded credit cards.  Or you can earn bank points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points and AMEX Membership Rewards points which gives you the ability to transfer to airline AND hotel partners.

If you need a little travel inspiration, check out our Trip Reports which include trips to Hawaii, Europe, Asia, and more, for ideas on places to visit and step-by-step instructions on how you can use your points to get there!

Step 2 – Sign-Up for Loyalty 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 of the major programs initially.  You can always sign-up for the rest later on.

Make note of your user name, password, and account number for the next step!

Step 3 – Stay Organized

Staying organized is the most important thing you can do to make sure you get the most value out of your miles!

When you are applying for multiple credit cards at a time, there are lots of payment due dates, spending requirements, and account balances to track on top of your household budget.  And if you aren’t responsible, you can end up paying late fees, interest, and accumulating debt.

If You Don't Stay Organized, You Could Wind Up Owing the Bank More Than Your Miles Are Worth!

If You Don’t Stay Organized, You Could Wind Up Owing the Bank More Than Your Miles Are Worth!

Fortunately there are a lot of excellent tools available to help you keep track of it all.  Here are some programs that you can use to stay organized.

  • Award Wallet – enter your airline and hotel account information from Step 2 to track all of your mile & point accounts in 1 place.  You can even track accounts for multiple people.
  • Mint – will help you keep tabs on your checking account and credit card balances
  • Credit Karma –  tracks your credit and gives you an estimated TransUnion credit score
  • Credit Sesame – also tracks your credit and gives you an estimate Experian credit score

You can also use spreadsheets that include information such as the date you were approved for the card, the minimum spending requirement, the date the minimum spending should be completed, the bonus, the credit limit, the annual fee, and any other categories that may help you.

Step 4 – Choose a Credit Card That Will Help You Achieve Your Travel Goals

Because you are new to this hobby, I recommend starting out slow with just 1 or 2 cards.  But keep in mind in the long-term, you want to apply for multiple cards.  That’s because more cards means more sign-up bonuses and more miles for travel!

American Express Small Business Saturday

Lots Of Cards Means Lots of Travel!

Choosing a card that is right for you depends upon your travel goals.

You have decided where you want to travel, now you need to decide which points you should earn to get you there.  For example, if you want to go to Paris find out which airline (usually United or American) has the most flights from the US to Paris for a low amount of miles.

Then decide which hotel chain offers the best options for you in Paris.  You could also use my guide to choosing the best hotel card for a trip to Paris to help you with this decision.

Paris Day 1

Do Some Digging to Determine Which Airlines & Hotel Points Are Best for Your Destination

There are also a few categories to consider and how they may fit with your goals. In the next step, I’ll give you my top choices for specific cards but here are the 5 general categories.

1.   Cards That Offer Flexibility

Cards that fall into this category are a good choice for folks who are new to this hobby.  Despite your best efforts to make plans, you never know what direction life may take you and these cards give you options.

One of my favorite flexible points card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  You can transfer points to airlines including Southwest or United, hotels such as Hyatt and Marriott or use on the Chase travel portal

Things To Do In Kauai

You Never Know Where Life May Lead You, But If You Collect Miles & Points It Could Be a Place With a Nice View!

2.   No Annual Fee Credit Cards

Many mile & point credit cards charge an annual fee which can range from ~$50 to ~$450 per year.  These fees are often waived for the 1st year you have the card (Don’t worry, it’s easy to cancel your card if you don’t want to pay the annual fee in the 2nd year.)

And sometimes paying the annual fee is worth it because the benefits outweigh the costs.  For example, if a credit card comes with a free hotel night, it could be worth it to pay the $49 annual fee.

However, there are a few cards that charge NO annual fees.

One of my favorite flexible points card is the Chase Freedom and the Chase Freedom Unlimited

no annual fee credit card is a great choice for folks who are new to this hobby.  That’s because with no annual fee you never have to cancel these cards.  This helps you build a relationship with the banks and increase your credit score by creating a longer credit history.

Whatever you do, don’t cancel your longest credit cards because they help your credit score and establish history with the bank.

No Annual Fee Credit Cards Mean More Money in Your Pocket, a Better Relationship With Banks, and a Longer Credit History

No Annual Fee Credit Cards Mean More Money in Your Pocket, a Better Relationship With Banks, and a Longer Credit History

3.   Airline Credit Cards

With airline credit cards you will earn points for use with specific airlines.

This is may be a good option for folks who do a lot of business travel with a certain airline.  These are also good cards to get when you know the airline you want to fly.  And airlines have partners.  So you can use 1 airline’s miles to fly its partner airlines.

For instance, British Airways award flights typically come with high fuel surcharges.  But you can get around this because British Airways is a member of the oneworld alliance, which includes American Airlines.  So you can use your British Airways miles to book a flight within the US on American Airlines and avoid the high fuel surcharges.

My favorite airline cards are the American Airlines card or the Delta Airlines card.

4.   Hotel Credit Cards

Hotel credit cards earn points that you can use at certain hotel chains.  A hotel card may be a good choice if you stay at hotels often.

My favorite hotel cards are the Starwood hotel card and the Chase IHG card

5.   Cash Back Credit Cards

With cash back cards you earn points that can be redeemed for credit card statement credits.

CardCash Back at RestaurantsCash Back Limit Annual FeeForeign Transaction FeeSign-up Bonus
AMEX SimplyCash Plus3% cash back at U.S. restaurants if you choose this as your bonus category• up to $50,000 in spending per 12 billing cyclesNo2.7%Earn up to $500 in statement credits. Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $5,000 or more on qualifying purchases on your Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership and earn an additional $250 statement credit after you spend an additional $10,000 or more on purchases within the 1st year of Card Membership.
Chase Ink Cash2% cash back at restaurants
• up to $25,000 in spending each card anniversary yearNo3%• 30,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points ($300 cash back) when you spend $3,000 within 3 months
Chase Sapphire Preferred• Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwideNo limit- $95 (Introductory annual fee of $0 the 1st year)No• Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

5,000 points when you add an authorized user and they make their 1st purchase within 3 months
Barclaycard Arrival Plus• 2X points (2.1% cash back if redeemed for $100+ travel purchases) on dining and all other purchases
No limit$89 annual fee waived the 1st yearNo• 40,000 Arrival miles ($420 in cash back when you redeem for travel) when you spend $3,000 within 3 months
Citi DoubleCash1% cash back on spending and 1% cash back on paymentsNo limitNo3%No
US Bank Cash+5% cash back at fast food restaurants if you choose this as 1 of your bonus categoriesup to $2,000 in spending each quarterNo3%No
Chase Freedom5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter (sometimes includes restaurants)
• Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate$03%• Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
Discover It5% cash back on rotating categories including restaurants

• Earn 5% cash back at chain restaurants when you buy gift cards in other categories such as online shopping, home improvement, and gas stations.
up to $1,500 in spending each quarterNoNo$50 cash back after your 1st purchase in the 1st 3 months of opening your account
Fidelity Visa2% cash back on all spendingNo limitNo2.7%No
Chase AARP3% cash back on restaurants and at gas stationsNo limitNo3%• 10,000 points ($100 cash back) when you spend $500 within 3 months

Cash back cards could be the right choice if you prefer types of travel that you can’t usually pay for with miles & points.  For example, road trips, trains, boutique hotels, and cruises.

Which Is Better 2 Cash Back Or Southwest Points

Cash Back Gives You the Most Flexibility But It Won’t Give You the Highest Value

Cash back cards are also a great way to help pay for incidental travel expenses such as meals and entertainment.  And cash back cards give you the ultimate flexibility because you don’t have to worry about black out dates and finding award space.

However, keep in mind that cash back is NOT the best way to get Big Travel with Small Money.

That’s because you can get much more value from award travel than cash back.  For example, 125,000 cash back points are worth $1,250 in travel.  But with 125,000 American Airlines miles you can fly round-trip from the US to Europe in First Class.  Without miles a First Class flight from the US to Europe could cost ~$7,500 depending upon your destination and exact travel dates!

Step 5 – Sign-Up for Your 1st Credit Card

Now that you have thought about your goals and different credit card categories, it’s time to choose 1 or 2 cards that will work for you.  Again, this is just to get you started.  But once you feel comfortable the best strategy for Big Travel is to have multiple cards that cover several different categories.

Here are few cards I recommend within each category.  However, each person has their own unique goals.  So take a look at the Hot Deals page for other cards that may work for you.  If this guide was helpful to you, please consider applying for these cards using our links on the Hot Deals page.  We earn a small commission on some cards, and we are grateful for your support!

1.   Credit Cards That Offer Flexibility


  • Chase Ultimate Rewards – You earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the Chase Sapphire PreferredChase Ink Bold, and Chase Ink Plus cards.  The benefit of collecting Chase Ultimate Rewards points is that you can choose from a variety of hotel and airline transfer partners.  Your points aren’t useable in just 1 airline alliance or hotel chain.

Note:   If you’ve opened 5 or more credit card accounts (from any bank) in the past 24 months, it’s VERY UNLIKELY Chase will approve you for any of their Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards, like the Chase Freedom, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or Chase Ink Plus.

Chase Adds New Transfer Partner More Options To Europe

Having the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (or Ink Plus or Ink Bold Small Business Cards) Allows You to Transfer All Your Ultimate Rewards Points to These Partners for Award Flights and Hotel Stays

If I could only have 1 credit card, it’d be the Chase Sapphire Preferred because of the flexibility, no foreign transaction fees when I use my card abroad, and because I get 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points for all my travel-related purchases.

  • American Express Membership Rewards Cards – You can earn American Express Membership Rewards points with cards like the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold and AMEX Platinum.  These cards are also great if you want some flexibility because you can transfer your points to many different airline and hotels partners.

Choose From 16 Airline Transfer Partners With AMEX Membership Rewards

2.   No Annual Fee Card

My favorite no annual fee card is the Chase Freedom card.

With this card you get 5X points on up to $1,500 in spending on rotating categories.  So you can earn an additional 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points per year by spending the maximum in bonus categories each quarter. You can redeem your 30,000 points for $300 cash back.

Or if you have the Chase Sapphire PreferredChase Ink Bold, or Chase Ink Plus card, you can transfer your points from your Chase Freedom account to 1 of these cards, and then you could then transfer your 30,000 points to Hyatt and get 2 free nights at a category 4 hotel.

3.   Airline Card

For travel within the US, I recommend the Chase Southwest credit cards.

The best deal in domestic travel is the Southwest Companion Pass because your favorite person can fly with you for free for up to 2 years!

You can easily achieve the Southwest Companion Pass by signing-up for 1 business and 1 personal Chase 50,000 mile offer Southwest card and earning 6,000 additional points.   Chase usually offers the 50,000 bonuses every few months.  Some folks may qualify for a business card even if they don’t own a large business.

For international travel, the best way to determine which airline card is right for you is by checking which airlines have the most flights out of your local airport to your desired destinations.

4.   Hotel Credit Card

My favorite hotel card is the Citi Hilton Reserve card.

This is an excellent choice because you get 2 weekend nights at any Hilton hotel (even the hotels that cost thousands of dollars per night!) when you spend $2,500 on this card within 4 months.


The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Hotel Costs ~$1,300 Per Night, But You Can Get 2 Weekend Nights With the Citi Hilton Reserve Card!

You also get free Hilton Gold Status with this card, which includes free breakfast and internet.  This could save you $20 to $30 per night!  Check out our Trip Reports for ideas on which hotel card will fit with your travel goals.

5.   Cash Back Credit Card

My favorite cash back card is also my favorite no annual fee card, the Chase Freedom.

I like this card because you can earn points faster by taking advantage of the rotating 5X points categories.  I also like the Barclays Arrival Plus card because you earn 2.1% cash back on ALL spending when you redeem your cash back for travel purchases of $100 or more.

You’ll notice that some of these cards are business credit cards.  You might be surprised to learn what qualifies as a business!

Step 6 – Meet Minimum Spending Requirements

To get the sign-up bonus on credit cards, you have to complete a certain amount of spending on the cards.  The required spending can range from making your 1st purchase (of any amount) to spending $10,000 within 3 months.

You Don't Need a Money Tree to Meet High Credit Card Spending Requirements. You Just Need to Know a Few Tricks!

You Don’t Need a Money Tree to Meet High Credit Card Spending Requirements. You Just Need to Know a Few Tricks!

You may be wondering how folks are able to do this amount of spending on multiple cards.  Check out my list of 40+ ways to meet minimum spending requirements for all of my tips.  But here are a few highlights :

  • Avoid using cash –  You want to be rewarded for your spending.  So put as much of your everyday expenses as possible on credit cards.  But do NOT spend beyond your budget just get miles & points!
Cash Is NOT King in the Miles & Points Game

Cash Is NOT King in the Miles & Points Game

Using these tips and the other 40+ ways to meet minimum spending makes it easy to do lots of spending on credit cards and earn big credit card sign-up bonuses!

Is Meeting Minimum Spending Requirements Easy for You?

Big Spenders get even more perks for putting lots of spending on credit cards such as:

  • More bonus miles
  • Elite status without flying or staying in hotels
  • Companion Passes
Credit Card Companies Give Big Spenders Even More Perks!

Credit Card Companies Give Big Spenders Even More Perks!

For example, with the Citi Hilton Reserve card you can earn another weekend night stay each year you spend $10,000 on the card.  Read my series on Big Spenders for more details on rewards you can earn for doing lots of spending.

Step 7 – Decide Whether to Keep or Cancel Your Card(s)

Now that you have met your minimum spending and earned your sign-up bonus, do NOT cancel your card!

Get More Miles for Travel by Clicking Through Shopping Portals Before Shopping at Your Favorite Stores

Canceling Your Card So Soon Could Put You Out of the Game!

Canceling your card right away will make the banks unhappy.  They could even decide to blacklist you.  Which would mean no more credit cards and no more Big Travel with Small Money for you!

If you have applied for cards with annual fees, you should evaluate whether or not the card is worth paying the annual fee after ~8 to 10 months.

Before canceling, read this post to find out if you will lose the miles or points which are already in your account. Read my post on When to Cancel Your Credit Card to help with your decision.

Emilys 4 Cards 140,000 Miles 600 In Statement Credits

Cancel Cards That Aren’t Worth The Annual Fee

Don’t worry about it being a hassle if you decide not to keep the card, the banks are happy to close your account for you.  You can also have the bank switch you to a card that doesn’t charge an annual fee.

While no annual fee cards typically don’t have as many benefits, this will help you keep fostering a good relationship between you and the bank.  The bank might even make this call easier for you by offering you some incentives to keep the card.  They could give you a statement credit or additional miles to help cover the annual fee.

Step 8 – Earn More Points on Everyday Spending

Aside from sign-up bonuses, you can earn lots of points by taking advantage of bonus categories and promotions.

1.   Category Bonuses

With mile & point credit cards you typically earn 1 point per dollar on regular spending and then more points per dollar in certain categories such as groceries, gas, travel, and dining.

For example, you can earn 5X points when you use the (no longer offered) Chase Ink Bold or Chase Ink Plus cards at office supply stores and on cable, internet, and phone.

Reader Question When Does The 5x Bonus On The Ink Cards Reset

5X Points at Office Supply Stores & Telecom With the Ink Cards!

And you can earn 3X points with airlines and 2X points at US restaurants, gas stations, and US supermarkets with the AMEX Premier Rewards Gold card.  You can rack up a ton of points by taking advantage of these spending categories.  And having multiple credit cards that cover each of your major categories ensures that you are earning bonus points on most of your purchases.

2.   Shopping Portals

Another way to earn more points is by shopping online through portals.


Get More Miles for Travel by Clicking Through Shopping Portals Before Shopping at Your Favorite Stores

Airlines and hotels offer bonus points for clicking their links to certain stores before you shop.  These bonuses can be quite lucrative especially because you are earning points for shopping you were doing anyway.   Sometimes you can get 18X to 36X points when you shop online!

Before you shop, check evreward to see which portals offer the best bonus.


Just Enter the Store Name Into the Search Box at Evreward to Find the Best Shopping Portal Deals

3.   Earn Bonus Points For Dining Out

With Rewards Network you can earn up to 5X points per dollar spent at one of their over 10,000 participating restaurants, clubs and bars.  Each city has a roster of different restaurants that range from fine dining to fast food.

Emily and I live in Austin and the list of places includes a highly-rated Brazilian restaurant, casual Mexican dining, local pubs, a pita place, Jack in the Box, pizza, sushi, coffee shops, and of course barbecue!

Here’s how you get the points:

  •  Sign-up for a free Rewards Network account
  •  Enter your credit card information
  •  Automatically get miles in your frequent flyer account when using your card at 1 of their ~10,000 restaurants, bars, and clubs
Register Your Chase Sapphire Card for Free with Rewards Network to Earn Points With Your Favorite Travel Program

Earning Bonus Points For Dining Is Easy As 1-2-3!

Step 9 – Use Your Points for Flights & Hotel Stays

The possibilities are almost endless when it comes to using your points towards travel.

How Will You Use Your Points?

How Will You Use Your Points?

Take a look at the airline and hotel award charts to find out how many points you need to travel to your desired destination.  You can also browse our Trip Reports to see how miles and points can get you to MauiKauaiVeniceRomeBora Bora, and more.

Try to book your travel as soon as possible, because award seats fill-up fast!

The number of bonus points offered by the bank will fluctuate, but let’s say you earned 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points by signing-up for the Chase Ink Plus card.  To use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points with United Airlines (1 of its partner airlines), you would go the United Airlines award chart and find that it costs 30,000 miles for a 1-way coach trip from the US to Europe.

You’d also see it’s 45,000 miles for a round-trip coach ticket from the mainland US to Hawaii!  Without miles, this same flight could cost you ~$1,000 depending upon your travel dates.

Hyatt Regency Maui

With 1 Credit Card, You Could Be Saying Aloha to Maui!

You can also transfer 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt for an All-Inclusive Weekend in Mexico!


Signing-Up for 1 Chase Ultimate Rewards Card Could Get You 2 Nights in Mexico With Free Drinks and Dining!

And if you earn a few more points on your Chase Ink Plus card you could book a 1-way Business Class ticket from the US to Europe for 57,500 United Airlines miles.

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Signing-Up for 1 Credit Card Will Get You Most of the Way to a 1-Way Business Class Award Ticket to Europe!

The same ticket could cost you ~$3,000 (depending on your dates of travel).

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Most of Us Would Never Be Able to Pay Cash for a Business Class Ticket to Europe!

You have to transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines or Hyatt to book your award travel.  But make sure seats or rooms are available on your desired travel dates BEFORE you transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points!  Once you transfer your points you can’t get them back.

These are just a few examples of what you can do.  But check out our Trip Reports for some inspiration and to learn how to use your miles like a Pro.

While my award booking guides, like The Ultimate Guide to United Miles, will give you in-depth details on how to book an award flight, here are some basic tips to remember:

  • Book in Advance – You will find the most availability ~1 year before your departure date.  This is important if you want to use your miles to travel during peak times, such as holidays.
  • Be Flexible – Remember you will be taking a trip for close to free, so there are going be some trade-offs at times.  You may not be able to get an international flight at the exact date and time you want.  This is especially true if you don’t book well in advance!
  • Use Airline Alliances to Your Advantage – There are 2 major airline alliances Star Alliance and oneworld.  If you can’t find available award seats to a desired destination, check with a partner airline.

And if you need some help, there are plenty of Award Booking Services who can book your award ticket for a fair price.

Step 10 – Signing-Up for Multiple Cards

Now that you have applied for 1 or 2 cards you have an idea of how things work.  It’s time to start applying for multiple cards at 1 time, so you can earn lots of points quickly.  This is how you get Big Travel with Small Money!

How Many Cards Should I Apply For?

Emily and I each like to sign-up for 3 to 6 cards every 3 to 4 months.  But do what feels comfortable to you!

Apply to Cards From Different Banks

Banks don’t like to see that you’re applying for a lot of credit at once.  But many banks only pull your credit score from 1 of the 3 credit bureaus.  So by spreading your applications across different banks you are limiting the number of credit inquiries with each credit bureau.


Spreading Your Credit Pulls Across Different Credit Bureaus Can Increase Your Chances of Being Approved

For example, if you apply for the Chase Sapphire card and the Barclays Arrival Plus card in the same day and Chase pulls your credit report from Experian, then Barclays pulls your credit report from TransUnion they will not see that you have already applied for a card from Chase.

Which credit bureau is used not only depends upon the bank, but also the card you are applying for and your location.  You can check the CreditBoards and Flyertalk to get an idea of which bureau a bank may use.

Maintain a Good Relationship With the Banks and a High Credit Score

If you don’t do these 2 things, banks will consider you a risk and you will be denied credit.  Here are the steps you should take to ensure you stay in the game:

  • Stay organized
  • Pay your bills on time
  • Find no annual fee cards and cards with great benefits to keep and establish a long history with the bank
  • If you decide to cancel a card after you get the sign-up bonus, wait 8 to 10 months!

Bonus Step 11 – Share With Your Family & Friends

Now you get to enjoy a special bonus reward…sharing your travels with your friends & family! We like to send photos of us in tropical locations…

Don’t Be As Dumb As Daraius When You Book A Car Rental

A Glorious Day in the Florida Keys

Or photos like this, of us on another adventure…

Panda Macau

Fighting Dragons in Macau

It’s fun to share all of the amazing trips you’ll take and it just might inspire some of your loved ones!

You may even get the chance to pay them back for all they’ve done for you by treating them to a special trip!

Bottom Line

We’ve taken a lot of incredible trips over the years thanks to miles & points!  And we’ve helped a lot of friends, family, and readers do the same along the way.

By mapping out your travel goals, signing-up for credit cards with large sign-up bonuses, and staying organized you will be on your way to Big Travel with Small Money, too!

We hope this guide motivates you to start collecting miles & points and to get out there and see the world!

We enjoy hearing about the trips our readers take!  So follow us on Twitter and Facebook to send us your travel photos and tell us how Big Travel with Small Money has changed your life!

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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754 responses to “Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points

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  9. Bonnie McKnight

    This was so very helpful. Not sure if anyone can help with a question. I have a son going to college and will need to pay for several plane flights from Tampa to Boston during the year. I have other credit cards that I use almost exclusively for reward points but want one with the airfare miles only and I will use that to accumulate these. Would it better to go with one of the airline cards or one of the cards recommended here? Again, I am just interested in the free miles for my son. No hotels etc. are necessary.

  10. All of the above can work out quite pricey but savings
    can be made on all of the above with careful planning for example staying offsite in an apartment is often much cheaper than the onsite hotels.
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  11. I hope I am leaving a comment on the right page. I read your article about using American Airline miles to fly to India without fuel surcharges on Ethiad. I have a stash of ultimate reward points and avois points and can collect American Express reward points but none of these will help build my advantage points. Other than dining and merchants and opening credit cards (not in a position to right now) are there any partners to transfer from for this purpose? Thank you in advance

  12. Larry Gropper

    Is there a service that can build your trip using the points you have accumulated? We are a retired husband and wife who know where we want to go, when,but are flexible, and with 5-6 hundred thousand mixed points.

  13. Very informative article.
    Definitely gainef some great insight, I
    Plan to go forward with.
    Question: I recently opened a Capital 1
    Venture card. However, I have not figured out
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    Monthly expense. Presently, only checks are
    Accepted by my property manager.
    Suggestions are welcomed. Thank you.

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  20. I have southwest rapid rewards points. I have over 60,000 points. I noticed in my companion pass it only shows 10,000 points. I earned the 50,000 with the southwest chase credit card. When I called southwest they said the bonus points from the credit card do not count towards the companion pass. Anyone learn anything different. Let me know.

  21. Hi, Does anyone have some miles, its been 8 years i didn’t managed to take my kids on vacation, i need at-least 300 000 miles to take them this summer somewhere.

  22. Hello and thanks for all this great information! I am just beginning this process and get tell you how helpful your site is. My wife and I just applied and received Southwest Rapid Reward Premier Cards, one for each of us. We will definitely meet the spending requirements in the 3 month period to receive 50,000 miles but wanted to ask you about the timing of the charges and what other cards you think I should research for maximum benefits! Again many thanks and I look forward to hearing from you and reading your newsletter.

  23. Thanks for the great information on your website I was very skeptical but I got the Bank of Hawaii World MasterCard. I spent 1000 dollars in three months and got 50000 Hawaiin airline miles. For 42,500 miles and$11.20 in taxes I am traveling Round trip from JFK to Maui, HI. Thats a deal!

    • @Chris – It still counts towards the Companion Pass as long as you earned them this year. It also takes a few days to update on the Southwest website.

      @ Brian M – I’d suggest another Southwest card, perhaps the business version so that you can get 110K points and the Southwest Companion Pass. Thanks for reading!

      @Kevin Napalo – Thanks for reading and have a fun and exciting trip!

  24. I would like to apply for fly. Points

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  29. Hi – I’m just looking into this. Currently I have most of my expenses on a regular discover card earning 1% back. I pay this card off every month (usually around $5k per month). What’s my best way to get the most out of my spending?

  30. Can I earn points on the Chase Safire Preferred card by using the card to purchase a money order to pay my rent and utilities, instead of writing a check? I live in a mobile home and my rent and utilities are combined into one bill under the name of the mobile park.

  31. For those who just want raw cashback, get Sallie Mae Mastercard. It gives 5% off gas, groceries, and books (including amazon).

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  33. Hi.
    Any opinion on the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card? Also, whats the best way to use AMEX rewards. Transfer them to hotel/airline partners or book through AMEX Travel, which I find more expensive. Thanks

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  35. Charles McClellan

    Thanks for all this info. I just jumped into the miles-life with the sapphire reserve. Now I’m an addict. Maybe I shouldn’t thank you?!? 🙂

  36. Thanks for all of the information that you offer! I have been collecting miles and points for about 18 months. Have more than 5 new credit cards in 24 months so unfortunately couldn’t qualify for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but do have Chase Sapphire. My biggest question is: How do I mange to meet minimum spending on multiple cards as a single woman who’s total expenses are about $3000 a month and what can I do for manufactured spending. My American Express Serve was closed down. I do use shopping portals when I can. I haven’t yet used Plastiq for my mortgage
    or a service to pay my taxes, but have to figure out if it would be worth paying the fees for the points I would accrue. Can you recommend any manufactured spending strategies that might work for a single individual. So far I have acquired 5 credit cards at one time and another 5 a second time. I have downgraded some of those to no annual fee cards,but now I seemed stuck!!!! I guess my real question is: How can I use my credit cards more without spending more money? I did use Target Red Card, Amex Serve, bought money orders with gift cards but now all those options are shut down in my area. Recently I planned a trip to Bhutan and was able to use miles to get there (economy only) but I had to pay the fee for the trip via a money transfer. I searched for a way to do this using a credit card creatively, but couldn’t come up with any ideas. Was there a creative way to do this? Any help would be appreciated. Other than credit card sign up bonuses, I really can’t think of ways that I personally can accrue lots of miles.

  37. I’m really impressed with your information. I have had this hobby for years. In the last 2 weeks I got delta, Hawaiian and American cards (total 125k). I satisfied the purchase requirements by paying my property tax for a year, my insurance premiums for a year and my medicare gap insurance for a year. Otherwise I use Chase Freedom for cash back. [i had to boast]

    Question: I have miles nailed. But I still don’t understand points. Let’s say I have 50k airline miles. I can use them on the cards’ airline and its partners. I want to fly SEA>MEX>SEA. that could require anywhere from 35k to 67.5k depending on the particular flights I choose.
    1. Now what if I have 50k in points. How do I use them to attain the same effect as above? If what I get for the points is 50k airline miles, so what?
    2. OR do I get $500 to use against the price of whatever tix I choose?
    3. What is the reason to accumulate points instead of miles, other than flexibility? If spend $50,000 to get 50,000 miles what is the difference? [ I don’t ever do that. I rely on signing bonuses]
    I know i must be missing some vital information. Please help.

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  39. Darius,
    I have been follower of yours for a few years now. I currently have enough Ultimate Rewards with Chase so that I can use Marriott’s Hotel + Air Package 3 and get 120,000 Southwest Airline Rapid Reward Points, enough for free companion air fare. I am just want to double check with you that this program is still valid and I will get free companion air. This is VERY important to us we are moving and want to have better access to our old neighborhood.

  40. One I didn’t see is the Hyatt card. After spending 1k in three months you earn 2 free nights in any of there hotel categories. I got a card and my boy friend got a card, that’s 4 free nights. Only thing is you have to call to make your reservation… you can book back to back stays for a 4 day vacation. The annual fee is $75 after the first year and you earn a free nights stay every year. We travel a bit and live pretty far from any airport so we stay in a hotel close to the airport the night before an early morning flight. We also take advantage of free parking at the hotel while we are one our trip. This card for me is worth keeping.

  41. Hello, is there a site or forum for talk about possible upcoming credit card launches, such as there was for the chase reserve?

  42. Does anyone have any advice on best way to use 300k ultimate rewards points to go to Australia and New Zealand in February? (Sapphire Reserve)

  43. This post was so helpful in getting me started! I already have the chase saphire! Thank you guys for sharing your expertise

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  46. Does Southwest still offer 50000 points for personal credit card?

  47. If I have the option to pay larger ticket items (rent for temp housing, consulting fees, etc.) via credit card. how do I determine if the fee charged for such is worth accruing the miles on my credit card?
    For example, I have a $2500 consulting fee I need to pay. I can pay with my Chase Sapphire via paypay but the consultant will add the PayPal fee to my invoice (3%/$75). Is that worth it? I’m thinking yes as the consulting fee is a tax deduction.
    The rent on my temp housing for a long term contract (I still have house in another state) is $840 and the fee is $65 to pay by CC

    • This is NOT worth it. you will be paying 3% but you will only get 1% back in points. Only pay for stuff that wont charge you a fee.

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  49. Retirement. Any ideas on how to do this in retirement. It’s a real issue we are facing and we won’t have the items to buy on a fixed income.
    We bought a timeshare so we can at least have lodging taken care of.
    What’s your thoughts? The timeshare has a great card to. Zero percent for a year and very close to the chase card you recommend. It’s a Barclays.
    Thank you

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  51. I am new to point travel. After going through several articles on this site, I’ve managed to earn 200+K chase UR points. I would now like to use the points for travel to Europe (Prague, Vienna, Paris) and would appreciate ideas/suggestions for airlines(similr to united with little to no fuel charges) that would be best use of chase UR points. TYI

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  53. This is a great primer on using mileage to travel for free! I would definitely also recommend the Southwest Premier card for mileage folks that are just starting out. It has a 40,000 mile signup bonus. Highly recommend getting it in addition to the Southwest Plus card (which comes with its own bonus). Southwest Rapid Rewards is great because they have great customer service and you can easily reserve travel with points, then cancel or change your reservation if you need to and get all your points back.

  54. This is a great overview guide to earning miles. I have always thought it was pretty complicated, but this makes it sound simple! I am going to take the plunge soon to start earning miles towards our next trip! Thanks!!!

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