DESTINATIONS
EXPERIENCE
DESTINATIONS
EXPERIENCE
 Learn how to make the most of your travel points and miles.

8 Strategies to Maximize Your Travel Points and Miles

BY KAELI CONFORTI
It’s no secret that using airline miles and hotel loyalty program points to cover the cost of flights and hotel stays can
save you a ton of money
on your next vacation.
While all the travel rewards rules and jargon might seem overwhelming at first, the world of loyalty programs and credit card points isn’t hard to get into if you take a few key tips to heart. Travel points and miles can open the door to incredible travel opportunities, from stays in five-star resorts to epic first-class flights you never dreamed you could afford. For budget-minded travelers, they can be stretched to cover several flights or hotel stays if you’re willing to stick to economy class and lower-tier hotels.
Here are eight tips to keep in mind, whether you’re just getting started with travel rewards or need a quick refresher.

1. HAVE A CREDIT CARD STRATEGY IN MIND

Keep an eye out for welcome bonuses if you’re thinking of signing up for a travel rewards credit card, as they’ll let you earn a large amount of points and miles right off the bat if you can meet minimum-spending requirements, which vary by card. Try and time it so you’re making any big purchases within the minimum-spend time frame — typically within the first three months of opening your account — or ask friends and family if you can charge larger purchases on their behalf, then have them reimburse you as you move closer to achieving those beautiful bonus points. Ka-ching!
Before signing up for a new credit card, make sure you’re able to spend responsibly and can afford to pay your balance on time and in full each month. No amount of points and miles is worth going into credit card debt.

2. CHOOSE A CARD WITH TRANSFERABLE REWARDS

If you prefer to fly with a certain airline or regularly stay with one hotel chain, signing up for a co-branded credit card means you can earn status and take advantage of cardmember-only perks, such as free checked bags with your favorite airline or late check-out at your preferred hotel.
Otherwise, signing up for a credit card with transferable rewards allows for more flexibility when it’s time to redeem your credit card points since you can transfer them to any of your card’s travel partners. Some of the best credit cards for travel points are offered by
Chase
,
American Express
,
Capital One
, and
Citi
. Read up on their various benefits — some also offer lucrative redemption rates for booking through their respective travel portals — and choose the card that best aligns with your ideal list of airline and hotel partners.

3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AIRLINE ALLIANCES

Another way to use travel points and miles to your advantage is to transfer them between carriers that are part of the same airline alliance —
Oneworld
,
SkyTeam
,
Star Alliance
— which further extends your redemption options. 
If, for example, you’ve accrued enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points to transfer to its partner, United, for a flight, you could then switch those United MileagePlus miles to any of its Star Alliance partners. If you racked up enough American Express Membership Rewards points to transfer to its partner, Delta, you could then switch those Delta SkyMiles to any of its SkyTeam alliance partners. Transferring Amex points to another partner, American Airlines, would allow you to change those AAdvantage miles to any of its partners through the Oneworld alliance.

4. EARN REWARDS FOR THINGS YOU’RE BUYING ANYWAY

Certain credit cards offer bonus points for different spending categories, such as dining, travel, gas, groceries, or small business expenses. Check to see if your preferred airline offers a shopping portal, which lets you earn rewards for the things you’re already buying online, or a dining program, which lets you link your card and earn rewards for eating at restaurants.
Choose a travel rewards credit card that best aligns with your ideal list of airline and hotel partners.

5. REDEEM REWARDS ACCORDING TO YOUR TRAVEL NEEDS

It might be tempting to cash in all your travel rewards for first-class seats, but keep in mind that the same amount of miles could also be used to fund a few economy flights. Similarly, while you could redeem all your points for a night or two at an upscale resort, you could also put them toward several nights at a budget-friendly property. If you’re using transferable credit card points, one night in a fancy hotel could run you the same amount of points as one round-trip flight, so choose your redemptions wisely.

6. REMEMBER TO KEEP YOUR REWARDS ACCOUNTS ACTIVE

While some loyalty program rewards never expire — here’s looking at you, JetBlue, Delta, United, Southwest, Hawaiian Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and Best Western — other airlines and hotel brands will give you anywhere from 12-36 months before deeming your account inactive and canceling them. Check to see what the rules are for your preferred program and if there are other ways to keep your account active if you’re not traveling, such as utilizing its dining program or shopping portal, donating points and miles to charity, or transferring credit card points to or from your account.

7. START KIDS EARLY IN MILES PROGRAMS

Have kids? Get ‘em signed up young for the rewards program of the airline you fly most often. They can start accruing miles from an early age and, as long as you remember tip number six, use them toward future family travel.

8. FOLLOW THE POINTS AND MILES PROS FOR MORE TIPS

There’s a reason why sites like
The Points Guy
,
God Save the Points
,
Upgraded Points
, and
AwardWallet
have become so popular — they’re go-to resources for everything you need to know about credit card rewards and how to earn miles and more points, with easily digestible tips so you can get in on the points-earning and redeeming possibilities, too.

NOW TAKE THOSE MILES AND SEE WHERE YOU COULD GO AND STAY WITH SENTRAL.
Find Sentral destinations across the country.

ABOUT THE WRITER
Originally from New York City, Kaeli Conforti grew up in Hawaii and Florida, then moved back to NYC for the editorial internship with Budget Travel that launched her career as a travel writer and editor. She later moved to Washington, D.C., following an epic two-year Working Holiday Visa adventure in Australia and New Zealand. Her work has been featured in Budget Travel, Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC Select, Thrillist, TripSavvy, Mental Floss, and The Points Guy, among other sites. She also co-authored Frommer’s Easy Guide to Washington, D.C. and penned the Outback chapter of Fodor’s Essential Australia. 

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