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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Airline Route Maps
- ExpertFlyer (There’s a free trial, but this is a paid service. Read my guide!)
3. Who Are Their Partners?
Link: Star Alliance Airlines
If an airline is NOT in an alliance, it usually has partner airlines (though there are a few exceptions).
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.
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 Program||AMEX Membership Rewards||Chase Ultimate Rewards||Citi ThankYou Points||Starwood Points||Notes|
|American Airlines Miles||No||No||No||Yes, 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 Points||Yes, at a 1:1 ratio||Yes, at a 1:1 ratio when you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Ink Business Preferred, or Ink Plus or Ink Bold (no longer available) cards||No||Yes, 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 Miles||Yes, at a 1:1 ratio, and you'll pay 0.06 cents per point up to a maximum of $99 as an excise fee||No||No||Yes, 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 Miles||Yes, at a 1:1 ratio||Yes, at a 1:1 ratio when you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Ink Business Preferred, or Ink Plus or Ink Bold (no longer available) cards||Yes, when you have a Citi Prestige, Citi ThankYou Premier, or Citi Chairman Card, at 1:1 ratio||Deals on award flights in the US (Including Hawaii) with Singapore Airlines miles|
|Southwest Points||No||Yes, at a 1:1 ratio when you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Ink Business Preferred, or Ink Plus or Ink Bold (no longer available) cards||No||No||A companion can fly almost free for ~2 years on Southwest with the Southwest Companion Pass|
|United Airlines Miles||No||No||Yes, 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?
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.
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?
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.
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
One of the biggest concerns folks have about signing-up for credit cards is meeting the minimum spending requirements.
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!
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.
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