If you planned on earning miles solely on distance flown, then I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s going to take a long time to accumulate enough to earn free stuff like tickets and upgrades. Any one who uses mileage systems to their advantage does so by using airline connected credit cards. Unfortunately, I don’t have a credit card as I was raised being taught that credit cards are the devil! No good, no perks, devil. As Dave Ramsey once said “No credit is the best credit”. Your credit score is based on money borrowed and consistency on payment. No credit means you haven’t borrowed any!
Anyway, that’s a topic for another day. This isn’t a personal finance blog. I’ve read enough blogs and books and material that I can piece together a post to help you all.
Utilizing credit cards as a way to earn miles is possibly one of the best ways out there. Obviously, each card offers different rates and perks, but they all have their own advantages. When deciding what credit card to use, there’re a few things to look for.
Sign Up Bonuses
Never sign up for a credit card that doesn’t offer any initial bonuses. There are so many out there that offer 20,000+ initial miles, so why sign up for one that didn’t? Be sure to pay attention to any Terms & Conditions with signing up. You don’t want to get a new credit card that glorifies it’s “50,000 Bonus Miles” but requires you to spend $2000 in the first three months. Well, what if you don’t spend $2000 in the first three months?? Then it’ll be worthless.
Which Airline You Choose
When you choose which card to sign up with, you obviously want to choose one associated with an airline that you fly with often. There’s no point in signing up with Sri Lankan, when you’ll only be flying Delta. Before you have your heart set on a certain airline/alliance, make sure you have do your research on where they go. You want to choose the airline/alliance that goes where you want/think you want to go! Not all alliances cover everywhere.
Foreign Transaction Fee’s
Foreign Transaction Fee’s will be the death of a budget traveller. Most banks/cards charge something around 3% of your transaction for the convenience of using your card abroad. If you can, join a credit union. Typically these smaller, local banks charge less. My credit union only charges 1% per transaction, but there are some rewards cards out there that don’t charge any! You just have to do some research.
You need a card that offers at least a 2 for 1 deal. That is, for every dollar you spend, you earn two miles. Don’t settle for less! Some cards also have associated retailers where you’ll earn TRIPLE the miles per dollar spent. Like anything else, do your research. Why purchase something at Walmart with a 2 for 1, while you can buy the same thing at Target (that’s an associated retailer) for the same price, but get a 3 for 1 deal. It just makes sense.
As I alluded to earlier, credit cards can be dangerous. Not paying your statement on time could be detrimental, and all your savings and points could be worthless. You’ll be too busy paying off all the fees associated with it. It’s important to keep a budget, stick with, and don’t stray away from being frugal.
I’m not smart enough to come up with all of this myself. Most of this information has come from Nomadic Matt’s new book “How to Travel the World on $50 A Day” and The Points Guy’s fantastic blog. I suggest you all check both out for more in depth and expert information.