Over the course of a year, I visit dozens of countries around the world without ever breaking the bank. How do I do it? It’s easy – my secret lies in maximizing the value of airline frequent flyer miles and credit card points.
Now that you’ve found your dream home exchange, the next question you’ll ask yourself is, “how will I get there?” One of my favorite things about points and miles is the great sense of freedom that comes along with knowing that you can travel comfortably to almost destination in the world without leaving a dent in your wallet. Sure, there are unavoidable expenses when traveling, such as fuel surcharges, taxes, visas, spending money, etc., but if you play your cards right, you’ll be up in the air and on your way in no time (and since you’re exchanging homes instead of paying for a hotel, those small expenses might be the only ones you have!)
So now that your excitement level is up, let’s get started! Allow me to share some of my favorite points and miles strategies with you:
Set Travel Goals. This one is easy, and chances are you already have a travel goal in mind since you’re using HomeExchange.com. The good news is that you have a place to stay. Now you’re probably at the part where you’re searching for ways to get there. Do you dream of flying first class to your beach-front oasis in Maui? Or are you yearning to have your entire extended family join you for a family reunion in Orlando? Whatever your dream plans are, be sure to jot them down and create a game plan.
Sign Up For and Keep Track of Loyalty Programs. First things first, you should open up accounts with the major airline loyalty programs, especially if you’ve flown recently (most airlines allow you to retroactively receive points for recent flights). Signing up for frequent flyer programs with your favorite airlines only takes a few minutes, and accumulating miles is as easy as adding your frequent flyer number to your ticket at the time of purchase or when you check in for your flight. Be sure to keep your balances active by flying, or by other mileage-earning activities such as shopping online or dining out. One note – With most programs, miles expire after a significant period of inactivity (usually 2 years), so be mindful about keeping track of your accounts. My favorite free program that allows you to track and manage all miles and points accounts in one place is Award Wallet.
Practice Good Spending Habits and Credit. Having good credit and spending habits never goes unrewarded in the world of points and miles. In fact, one of the fastest ways to fly for free using miles is by redeeming credit card offers (more on that in a bit). Before thinking about applying for a travel credit card, be sure to know your credit score and monitor it monthly. Sure, there are many programs out there that offer free credit reports, but many of them come with hefty monthly fees after the free trial period is up. CreditSesame and CreditKarma both offer truly free credit monitoring.
Use the Right Travel Rewards Credit Card. As I mentioned above, one of the best ways to earn and travel with points and miles is to take advantage of some of the lucrative credit card sign up bonuses out there. With so many “travel credit cards” being pushed upon us, how can you be sure you’re using the most rewarding one? I recommend starting with no more than two travel rewards credit cards at once (you can work your way up from there; I currently have a dozen active cards!) My personal favorites at the moment include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa, the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express, and the Chase Ink Plus (for business accounts).
Earn Miles While Shopping Online. Did you know that you can earn valuable points and frequent flyer miles just from shopping online? Yup, you can still get the same great online deals from your favorite retailers and earn points and miles in the process just by shopping through a loyalty program’s co-branded shopping portal. I use Evreward, an awesome database that tells you which award programs will get you the most points or miles for your dollar when shopping online. Go ahead and shop ’til you drop, and watch the points add up!
Stay tuned for Part 2 and learn even more about the wonderful world of points travel!
Hi! I’m Angelina, and I’m an avid traveler and bargainista. Combine the two and you get a points and miles fanatic who takes way too many vacations. I’m so addicted to traveling on pennies and dimes that I started writing about my stories and strategies over at my blog, JustAnotherPointsTraveler.com. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook.