Any high school economics teacher will tell you there is no such thing as a free lunch. There’s even a silly acronym to help you remember in case you forgot (TINSTAAFL)! But if you have a stable job and good credit, the current credit card awards bonanza is the closest thing you’re ever likely to find.
Before I get into specifics, I will tell you that there are better sites out there for learning the nitty-gritty of credit card points and award travel. The Points Guy, Mommy Points, Million Mile Secrets, and the FlyerTalk forums are just a few examples. They have awesome information, and if this topic interests you like it does me, I encourage you to visit those sites and dive deeper. Most of the points bloggers are business travelers (or ex-business travelers because now they’re bloggers)… a lot of them fly, stay in hotels, work and then fly home. They even take trips they call mileage runs where they find a good airfare to miles ratio, fly to the destination, then fly back in order to maintain or increase their airline preferred status level. After all, when you’re a business traveler and you spend lots of time on planes or in hotels, status matters a lot.
While my points analysis will be comparatively shallow, the service I am trying to provide is to take the secrets of business travelers and help make them work for you when you travel for personal reasons and when you’re the one paying. You probably didn’t come here for points advice. Most likely, you enjoy reading about exotic destinations around the world, but you have a job or a family (or both) and you don’t believe you’d ever be to go to these places. I aim to convince you otherwise. Maybe you’re not ready to be a digital nomad, but that doesn’t mean you can’t travel like one while you’re on vacation. The benefit of NOT being a digital nomad is that you can reap incredible rewards through making a very modest adjustment to the way you spend your money, and, more importantly, not adjusting what you buy and how much you spend.
It turns out, the fastest way to earn miles isn’t by flying. To many of you, the thought of signing up for new credit cards just for points or miles might seem extreme, and since my obsession with credit card rewards knows no bounds, I’ve talked with many people who are understandably leery of all this. I look at things differently. I’m going to have a credit card or three anyways, so they might as well be cards that give me great benefits that I can actually use. I love travel, so I want travel benefits. It just so happens that the best benefits out there are on airline awards. How lucky are we?
I maintain a fairly diverse portfolio of awards points to maximize my flexibility in the awards I can get. No two cards in my wallet serve the same purpose (unless they have an additive effect in terms of a lucrative sign up bonus for multiple cards, and I’ll give you some examples of this later on). I carefully plan everything… where I want to go and what I need to do to get there.
Well, I carefully plan almost everything… The exception is when great deals come around for a limited time and they are so lucrative that I have to scrub my long term plan in order to take advantage of them. Last year, it was possible to get 100,000 British Airways miles and 150,000 American Airlines miles just for signing up for 3 credit cards and spending a minimal amount of money (that you would have had to spend anyway on normal, everyday expenses). With those miles, I can fly round-trip to Europe twice, to South America twice and Hawaii four times. 3 credit cards, 8 awesome round-trips. Do I have your attention now?
Great offers come around all the time from both the credit card companies and the airlines. Paying close attention and staying flexible will help you maximize the benefits you get. But the best overall strategy is to craft a long-term plan targeting the awards that most interest you. And for most people, a simple strategy of signing up for one or two cards a year can earn you all the awards you could ever realistically use.
In coming articles on Ever in Transit, I’ll outline my strategy and highlight some of the great deals we’ve been able to take advantage of (like this on on Southwest).