Welcome to the Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points. I will show you how easy it is to acquire airline miles and hotel points so you can travel the world for a fraction of the cost — almost free.
Photo By Alberto Abouganem Stephens
If you ever walked through the first or business class cabin on your way to your economy seats (that you pay out of pocket for), you were probably wondering how the heck these guys can afford these seats. The secret is that many of them did not buy those seats.
Photo By Richard Moross
Many use their miles to upgrade or redeem them using miles. Of course some pay out of pocket as a business expense, claiming to the IRS that they have “important” meetings taking place with other passengers in that cabin. 🙂
My introduction to miles & points came when I was presented an an amazing flight deal in business class to Asia.
The skinny was that I booked a round trip business class seat from JFK – SFO (stop 3 months) – BKK – SFO (stop 3 months) – JFK for only 75K Aeroplan points. With the Amex Membership Rewards (MR) bonus of 25K Aeroplan points for every 50K MR points transfer, I ended up only burning only 25K points for this award ticket.
I saved over $6,000 dollars! I cannot take all the credit (no pun intended) for this awesome itinerary.
My friend Justin Bacchus helped me figured it out. He runs Book It With Mileswhich is a service he offers if you have a lot of points and have a complex itinerary that you need to book.
The reason I created this guide is that I wanted to show you how you can fly around the globe for little to no cost using airline points.
Airline points redemption is the most lucrative way to burn your points versus spending them through other transfer partners. So if your are thinking of using your points to pay for that next Amazon Book purchase or that croft pot from Target, then STOP!
The fastest way to earn miles and points is via signing up for credit cards. Yes, it’s true. If you are responsible in paying down the card, then you will have no trouble getting your first sign up bonus offer where you can take your family (or yourself) to some of the most exotic locations, staying in amazing hotels, all around the world.
This guide demystifies miles and points, your credit score, and how you can fast track your way to your travel goal.
Table of Contents
Who is the Travel Hacking Dude?
My name is Jonathan Chum. I’m travel hacker. This is my personal blog.
I worked at Yahoo! and Zynga where I flew many times for work domestically.
In 2009, after watching and inspired by a documentary called A Map for Saturday, I decided to back my bags and in 2 days, was on my first international flight without any accommodations (whoops! forgot about that small item).
I lived 3 years between Istanbul, Turkey and Medellin, Colombia. I would have never thought of living overseas had I not made that journey in 2009.
Today I want to continue to inspire people to travel, learn new cultures, taste new foods, and do it all, NOW!
That’s what this blog is for. I want to share my secrets on how to travel hack mini vacations all year round.
Who is this for?
Ask yourself if you fit in one (or all) of these profiles:
- For people who want to explore the little planet of ours
- For those who want to experience new cultures
- For those who want to try and taste new foods
- For those who want to create an amazing network of friends around the world
Dream, plan, travel
The first step is start dreaming of your travel goals this year. You have my permission.
When you first start out, it’s good to know where you want to go.
Are you traveling domestically or internationally?
How many trips do you have planned?
How many are going to be going on this trip?
What hotels do you want to stay at?
All of the answers will play into your strategy later on for earning points through credit card sign up bonuses as well as shifting daily spend to specific credits to maximize your earning potential.
What are airline alliances?
There are 3 major airline alliances you should know about.
- Star Alliance
- Sky Team
The two major ones we will be focusing on are Star Alliance and OneWorld because combined, they provide you the most flexibility for flying all around the globe on different carriers.
An alliance is made of airline carriers such as United, American, Lufthansa, etc.
Star Alliance is the world’s largest global airline alliance. It is comprised of 27 airlines which are:
- Adria Airways
- Aegean Airlines
- Air Canada
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- All Nippon Airways
- Asiana Airlines
- Austria Airlines
- Brussels Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- Crotia Airlines
- Ethopian Airlines
- EVA Air
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Scandinavian Airlines
- Shenzhen Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- South African Airways
- Swiss International Airlines
- TAP Portugal
- Thai Airways
- Turkish Airlines
- United Airlines
That’s pretty good coverage across North America, South America, Europe and Asia.
Oneworld while has less members in its alliance, it too boasts some great carriers if you like to splurge your points in business/first class on premium airlines ie, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines with full flat bed; great for those long trans pacific flights. Oneworld has 15 members in its alliance which are:
- Air Berlin
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- LAN Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian
- S7 Airlines
- SriLankan Airlines
- TAM Airlines
Being a part of an alliance means when you earn frequent flyer miles with one of these airlines, you can use them to book award flights on any of these carriers based on the award chart of the frequent flyer program the points redeeming belongs to.
For example, one of the popular frequent flyer programs in North America is United Mileage Plus program. Thus if you live in San Francisco and wanted to fly to Rome, Italy and you were going to use United points then you have to refer to United’s Award Chart here,
In Economy, it’s 30K points to fly from mainland U.S. to Europe.
However, to fly from SFO, you may find yourself connecting in JFK and MUC (Munich) on Lufthansa before reaching your final destination at ROM (Rome).
Because Lufthansa is partner of Star Alliance, you still only need to redeem 30K United Mileage points when you book through on United.com.
My recommendation for those living in North America to be a member of both United Mileage Plus and American AAdvantage program to give you the greatest flexibility on carriers and dates.
How many miles do I need to for an award ticket?
Every frequent flyer program is different when it comes to redemption. Some carriers such as American offer deep discounts for off peak travel which means instead of spending 30K miles one way during high season from North America to Europe, you could fly for 20K miles one way during off peak dates.
For more information on AAdvantage Award Chart, seehttps://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/redeemMiles/american-airlines-award-chart.jsp
There are two tools for calculating miles. My favorite are:
AwardAce.com is a new, but very usable. You can enter an origin and destination, and it’ll return your the miles required for the frequent flyer program it’s tracking.
Know your credit score
Before you jump into the fray of signing up for credit cards, you need to know your credit score. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you do not know your score, you can get them for free at:
If it prompts you to buy anything, simply decline the offer.
My recommendation is your score must be > 700 and that you have no debt, or less than 10% of your total available credit utilize and are able to pay off the balance after each month.
This is important because to get points fast, credit cards are offering 35K, 45K, 50K, sometimes even 100K points simply for signing up and hitting a specific spend limit which is usually between 2K-3K within 2-3 months.
To put it in perspective, 50K United Mileage or AAdvantage points will allow you to fly 4 times coast to coast, from NYC to LA or vice versa.
Momma says credit cards are bad. Yes, it can be if you don’t know how to manage your spending. If you can manage your spending then you are in lucky.
If you have a low credit score, made all your payments on time, no blemishes on your credit report, your probably might be that you do not have enough credit or that you have been spending > 10% of your line of credit across total credit sum of all your cards, even though you been paying it off every month.
The trick here is to pay your card so it’s under < 10% as soon as the statement is posted. Why? As soon as the statement is posted, the bank will submit the credit utilized and credit they offered to you to the credit bureaus within 1-2 days.
Even though you have a 15 day or 30 day grace period, you won’t be penalized by the bank, but it will look back on your credit score when it is reflecting every month you are spending > 10% of your total line of credit.
If you decide to apply for more credit cards, it can actually help you to increase your score because your overall line of credit across all cards increases.
In my case, my score rose 50 points after 3 months.
So the bottom line, take care of your credit score.
Credit Card Bonus Offers
Credit Cards is the way to go to earn points towards your travel your goal quickly. Simply by signing up, then shifting your daily spends to hit the minimum spends on these offers, you can rack up points/miles in no time.
There are many type of credits offering points. Most fall under two categories:
- Credit Card Bank Points (ie, AMEX’s Membership Reward Points and Chase Ultimate Rewards)
- Affiliation such as United Mileage Plus or British Airways Credit Cards. There are also hotel credit cards such as Starwood and IHG.
Hotel credit card points do not equal 1:1 when you transfer to airline miles. Keep that in mind if you are planning your strategy.
The three key things to look for when you apply for a credit card are:
- Sign Up Bonus: > 35K points/miles
- Minimum Spend: How much do you spend and by when before you get the sign up bonus?
- Annual Fee: Some cards waive the first year fee. So you have time to decide if you want to cancel the card
The more higher end cards such as American Express Platinum offers some nice travel perks such as status for Hertz and Starwood loyalty programs. However, it comes at a hefty annual fee. So make sure you weigh in the perks before you apply or cancel a card.