“5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started With Miles”

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Recently, I asked the Million Mile Secrets team to share their tips and tricks of the trade.  So today I’ve asked team member Jason to tell us what he wished he knew when he started collecting miles and points.

Jason:   When I started earning miles, I had no idea what I was doing.  But I also had no idea that I had no idea.  Ignorance is bliss!

The first points I can remember seriously collecting were Best Western hotel points.  I was working a job that required a lot of travel.  And my coworkers were all into Best Western hotels.  So I jumped on board.

5 Things I Wish Id Known When I Started With Miles
When I Started Collecting Miles & Points I Acted Confident, but Really I Was a Little Chicken

What got me excited was hearing rumors of folks who were able to take trips to Hawaii with the points they earned from work travel.  That sounded like a pretty sweet perk.  I was all in!

It was only much later I realized the Best Western points I had weren’t going to get me anywhere close to a Hawaiian beach. 🙁

Looking back, I could have taken several trips to Hawaii if I had only known a few simple tips.  Here’s how you can avoid making the same mistakes I made!

1.   Understand the Power of Credit Card Bonuses

My first rewards card was a Best Western Rewards Mastercard.  I don’t remember what the sign-up bonus was, or if there even was one.  I just knew that I was part of the Best Western family.  And having the card seemed like the right thing to do.

It wasn’t until years later that I began to understand the power credit card sign-up bonuses have to unlock Big Travel with Small Money.  Since I learned my lesson, I have easily earned more than a million miles & points from credit card bonuses and other promotions!

I get excited when a credit card offers 5 points per $1 of spending.  But when you’re earning a sign-up bonus, you can easily get ~10 to 40,000 points per $1 spent!

2.   Collect the Right Points for Your Situation

The biggest mistake I made was collecting the wrong points for my Hawaii travel goal.  Best Western points transfer to lots of different airlines.  But the ratio for most of them is only 5:1.  So even though I may have had 100,000+ Best Western points, they really weren’t that useful to me.  Because they would only convert to ~20,000 airline miles.

If I had understood the value of different points, I could have easily achieved my goal.

5 Things I Wish Id Known When I Started With Miles
I Love Starwood Points Because They Transfer to Lots of Airlines

Starwood points are currently my favorite points (because they’re transferable).  They transfer at a 1:1 ratio to dozens of airlines.  And you get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 Starwood points you convert into airline miles (when the ratio is 1:1).

So if I’d earned Starwood points instead of Best Western points, I could have had 125,000 airline miles (6+ times more) to work with!

3.   Connect to the Travel Community

Link:   Stay Connected With the Million Mile Secrets Community

I started taking miles and points more seriously when I heard Chris Guillebeau talk about the Travel Hacking Cartel on a podcast.  From there, I began reading lots of miles and points blogs (including Million Mile Secrets!).

I found it easy to get my questions answered with a little searching.  This helped ease my fears.  And I was able to conquer challenges, like figuring out how to meet multiple minimum spending requirements at the same time!

5 Things I Wish Id Known When I Started With Miles
Staying Connected to a Travel Community Is the Best Way to Learn!

I follow lots of miles and points blogs by signing up for email newsletters, like ours.  I rarely miss great deals, because I pay attention to Twitter and Facebook.

And I have found community forums, like FlyerTalk, are helpful for getting specific questions answered.

4.   Know the Power of Partnerships

When I started earning miles, I would always credit the frequent flyer miles to the airline I was flying.  Because I thought that was how it worked!

So when I took my first international trip to South Africa, I credited the miles earned to my South African Airways account.  I had a bunch of miles, but not anywhere close enough for an award.  So eventually those miles withered away to nothing and expired. 🙁

I had no clue what airline alliances or partnerships were.  What I could have done was credit my South African Airways flight to their Star Alliance partner United Airlines.

I would have added those miles to the bonus I later earned on the Chase United MileagePlus® Explorer Card.  And gotten value out of them.

5.   Find Online Resources Other Than Blogs

Link:   How to Use ExpertFlyer

Link:   Search for Award Nights With Hotel Hustle

Understanding how to collect miles and points is one thing.  But it’s an different skill set to use them effectively.

I used to get frustrated when I would search one airline or hotel’s website, only to not be able to find the award I wanted.  And the process would get more time-consuming when I was flexible with my travel plans and wanted to search multiple dates or locations.

5 Things I Wish Id Known When I Started With Miles
Once You Have the Right Tools, It’s Easier to Get Award Tickets to Beautiful Places Like Costa Rica

Since then, hotel and airline search engines have improved.  But what really changed the game for me was when I discovered powerful tools like ExpertFlyer and Hotel Hustle.

I love Hotel Hustle, because you can search for hotels across multiple hotel chains.  And it will also let you know if an award is available on the date you want.

Expert Flyer is great, because you can set alerts for the award seat you want.  And you’ll get notified if it becomes available.

These are both huge time savers!

Bottom Line

If you’re like me, you started collecting miles and points with no clue what was going on.  The only thing I did well in the beginning was actually starting!  Other than that, it was all a guessing game.

I earned the “wrong” points.  I didn’t get the best credit card for my situation.  And I wasn’t sure how to take advantage of airline partnerships.

But that’s OK!  Because I did a lot of research and found the right tools and community.  And eventually I was able to get Big Travel with Small Money.

What do you wish you had known when you started earning miles and points?

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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