New To Points? Start Here!

If you’ve made it to this page, then you’re interested in learning the basics of the points world so you can utilize the vast amount of travel benefits available through it.

Throughout this comprehensive guide, we’ll give you the information, tools, and strategies to begin your successful career as a points collector.

If you’re looking for an Express guide to Points instead, head this way > 

A 30-Second Basic Lesson

Points are a currency earned when you utilize certain business services with a credit card or open a loyalty account open with them. The more you spend on goods or services, the more points you will earn.

Usually, earning points or simply owning a credit card will give you access to an increasing level of benefits that can be used to enhance your travel experience.

Once you’ve collected a certain number of points, you can use them to book travel, make shopping purchases, or pay off some of your statements if necessary.

Here at Upgraded Points, we focus on the travel aspect of points redemption, because in our opinion it’s the most exciting!

For the Busier Person: The Express Guide

We recognize that not everyone has the time to spend reading this extensive guide and researching everything there is to know about points. For those people, we put together an express guide to help you get started.

Hopefully, these guides will open up some opportunities for the busy business person or parent. They’ll save you hours of research and get you earning points immediately.

Check back soon to see what else we’ve created! We plan on adding some guides specifically for American Express cardholders, business owners, and more. If you have any ideas please let us know.

If You Don’t Know, Ask!

It’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around everything that’s possible to do in the points world. If you’re ever unsure, please feel free to contact us!

We’re happy to help answer any questions, and bringing us your questions will help us provide higher value content to you in the future.

Ultimately, we want you to learn about points so you can get out there and enjoy traveling the world!

Those who have traveled know that your first trip is always the most life-changing, but each new trip is just as exciting as the last…if not more!

Table of contents

How Collecting Miles & Points Dramatically Affected Us

For anyone wondering if learning to navigate the world of points and miles is worth it, I’ll give you one simple answer:

Yes.

Collecting points has been an incredible experience that has massively altered the way my wife Erin and I travel.

Our goal with points (which may be different from yours) is to use them for luxurious travel that we’d never pay cash for, unless we were using some crazy discount.

By maximizing the number of points we earn, we’ve been fortunate enough to travel international business and first class many times – and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!

Traveling in that sort of style and only paying a fraction of the cost (sometimes as little as $100-$200) is an unbelievable feeling. Just ask anyone who has done the same thing!

(Note: You can read more about “The Millers” here >>)

Enough about us – let’s get to the good stuff. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to collecting stacks of points to redeem however you want!

Learning How to Master the Points World

There are many ways to earn and redeem points! For example, see how we combined points with the British Airways “Travel Together” ticket to fly home in first class!

To do this, we made sure to put all our everyday expenses on the Chase British Airways Visa Signature® Card, which earned us a “Travel Together” ticket with BA.

This means we pay using points for only one person; a companion doesn’t pay any points at all for the same ticket (just taxes and carrier fees)!

Now, BA has high taxes and carrier fees, but this works out to 2 first class return tickets from U.S. to London for the price of 1 economy ticket ($~950 per person + 170 points). Those first class tickets are usually priced at $5,000-$8,000 PER PERSON.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s an insane value to get them for ~$950 or less each!

If you’re flying elsewhere in Europe (besides London) with BA, it’ll end up being ~$650-$700 per person instead of $1,000, because London has higher fees and taxes. These are all little tricks you’ll learn as you read more content here on the site!

For a normal middle class family in the points world, a typical year can earn you about 1 trip for a small family, or maybe 2 trips for a couple without kids.

This math will obviously depend on your level of spending, which points you are collecting, and how many cards you have opened, but the point is this: it is very practical to assume you will get rewarded for your efforts!

Part 1 Couple Traveling

What Can a Typical Person or Family Do With Points?

A single person earning $40,000 per year could rack up anywhere from 20,000-50,000 points directly from their card spending, plus another 30,000-100,000 in sign-up bonuses.

On an airline, this is equal to 2-4 round-trip flights (around a $1,200-$2,400 value). At a hotel, this could mean anywhere from 2-10 nights.

A family of 4 with an income of $70,000 per year could earn anywhere from 40,000-200,000 points in a year. This is enough for roughly 6 round-trip tickets on an airline, or anywhere from 3-30 nights in a hotel!

All redemptions differ per airline, hotel, card, etc. but the point (pun intended!) is clear: having a strategy can be worth the time.

So what about you?

To help you understand where you might fit in, we’ve developed 3 fictitious families and spending patterns that will hopefully help you hone in a little more closely on how to execute your own travel and points strategy when reading card reviews.

We named our families the Kennedys, the Jetsons, and the Hartnells, and you’ll see them in sections of our articles where we work on figuring out the math and cash value of particular cards.

We’re confident you’ll learn about what you can do with credit cards and points here at Upgraded Points. To get you started, here are some example redemptions to help get the creative juices flowing!

Part 1 Model Family

Example Flight Redemptions

Flying from New York City to Los Angeles can be done on American Airlines for 25,000 points plus $11.20 in fees. That’s one year’s spending for a flight worth around $515 if you paid cash.

You can fly from Dallas to London on United Airlines for 60,000 points and $193.76 in fees. This could be earned with just a sign-up bonus and some extra spending, and would be worth $1,222 in cash.

Fly LA to Tokyo on Delta Air Lines for 80,000 points plus $277.16 in fees. Earn this $856 flight with a sign-up bonus and a year’s worth of spending.

Travel with British Airways from Chicago to Berlin in mixed premium/business class for 16,750 points and $1,090 in fees. That’s half a year’s spending plus fees for a $4,750 flight.

Example Hotel Redemptions

Book 3 nights in a Seattle Marriott hotel for $557, or spend 120,000 points and a $6 fee, which is a sign-up bonus and about a year’s worth of spending.

Stay in an Aspen Starwood hotel for 3 night for $1,555, or spend 48,000 points. Again, that’s a sign-up bonus plus a year’s spending.

You can book 7 nights in a Rome Hilton hotel for 1,267 euros (~$1,367), or use 420,000 points. The business traveler could earn this with a sign-up bonus and a year’s worth of staying at Hilton hotels for work.

Book an IHG hotel in Mexico City for 4 nights for $547, or use 100,000 points. This redemption is about equivalent to a sign-up bonus and 6 months of business travel in IHG Hotels.

Bottom Line: Endless opportunities for collecting and redeeming points exist. We’re here to help you figure them out so you can travel like a pro, too!


So, What’s the Catch?

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” you’re probably thinking. “It can’t be this easy, right? There’s gotta be a catch.”

Well, you’re right…there always is.

First, most of the best cards to use come with an annual fee, which could be anywhere from $85-$495 per year. “Wow!” you might think, “that’s outrageous!” But the value of the card is what you really need to consider, not just the cost.

In most cases, the benefits offered by these cards often pay for the annual fee itself (and a lot more!).

For example, you may get benefits such as 1 free hotel night per year (easily worth $100-$300) on a card costing only $85 per year. Or you could get $200 in flight fees plus priority access, free bags, hotel upgrades, and more on a card that costs $450 per year.

Other cards offer free WiFi, access to shopping portals (which can really boost your points earning potential), and a bunch of other random benefits to keep you satisfied.

Bottom Line: The value of a new card is the most important thing to consider, not just the cost.

On to the Real Strategy, Then

For points earners, the real strategy is in the following:

  • Understanding credit card benefits (and which cards are best for you!)
  • Investing time to research the benefits and variety of cards
  • Organizing your cards and overall strategy to maximize your benefits

That’s why we’re here: to help you figure all this out so you can enjoy the benefits of travel with the least amount of hassle.

Organization itself can seem overwhelming, but our guide will help you get it together. Soon, you’ll find it easy to see all your awards balances in one place and identify the best card to use in any situation.

Part 2 Overwhelming Organization

On Using Points: Caveats to the Method

It’s worth noting that using points isn’t always as straightforward as just exchanging them for something free.

Certain redemptions come with taxes and fees you must pay in order to redeem. Usually, these are small enough that they don’t offset the award. But not all the time!

British Airways, for instance, is notorious for this. A redemption for international travel with them may cost anywhere from $650-$1,250 in taxes and fees. You can practically buy a whole economy class ticket for that!

Luckily, most other airlines have much smaller fees, and some don’t charge fees on reward seats at all. Hotels generally don’t have any additional fees for redemptions.

There may be fees for alternative redemptions like merchandise, but we focus on travel here so we won’t detail all of those.

The good thing is that the value of these awards redemptions can be worth far more than you think!

Some awards can be worth $1,200 to almost $10,000! If you really understand the system and can find ways to maximize your redemptions, you’ll be traveling like royalty without having to spend like it.

Bottom Line: Redeeming points may cost taxes and fees in some instances, but these usually don’t offset the value of the reward.

The Value Can Change Any Time, but Don’t Let That Deter You

Next, it’s important to note that while we give examples of how far points can take you, the value of those points can change at any time.

Credit card companies and carriers hold all the power here, and there have been instances of points devaluations that have hurt many people’s strategies. Sometimes, though, changes can go the opposite direction and make your points more valuable!

The trick is balancing out your earning and redemption strategies so that you’re constantly getting the best value. Sometimes, you may have to change your strategy completely – that’s just part of the fun.

The good thing is that these changes in valuation don’t happen too often.

When they do, we just find a better redemption option still available. There are so many ways to redeem, transfer points, and find deals that you will never experience your points completely losing their value.

Bottom Line: Even though your points’ value can change at any time, there will always be a way to find a valuable reward.

The Strategy Killer: Interest

Perhaps it’s obvious, but for these strategies to be worth anything at all, you must be paying your credit cards off each month and avoiding interest charges.

While you may be collecting between 1%-5% of your spending in points, interest rates are often 13%-30%! You’ll quickly lose the game if you’re paying interest just to play.

Some cards offer a 0% introductory APR to help you avoid interest. If you’re worried about interest, then you can always go for a card that has no annual fee and only spend on it what you can afford.

Improving your budget and finances are an important part of the overall strategy, which is not only good for travel but your life and future in general. Think of the points world as a reward to yourself for ensuring your future financial success!

Rewards build good habits.

Bottom Line: Don’t put more than you can pay off on your cards, or the interest you pay will negate the value of the points you earn.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Your Credit Score

If you’re worried about your credit score, the good news is that it’s not nearly as scary as you might think. You can (and very likely will) improve your credit score if you use the strategies we suggest.

While the exact credit score algorithm is a secret, the factors that go into it have been disclosed, and you can use these to understand what works in your favor.

Note that you’ll need good to great credit to get started on these strategies, so if you don’t have good credit now you’ll have to build some before beginning.

The process of building credit is the same no matter what your strategy is, although you’ll have less access to rewards cards and may have to pay some fees to build it back up.

Bottom Line: You can improve your credit score, and pretty easily too!

You Can’t Have Everything, but You’ll Always Get Something

The last thing to note is that while redemptions are pretty flexible, the Rolling Stones had it right: you can’t always get what you want.

Some routes have blackouts for award travel, and awards can be more difficult to find to certain destinations. Usually, these are more highly traveled routes on flights that include more elite status members than other places.

Large events can also make it difficult to get a regular flight or hotel, let alone an award redemption (e.g. don’t try to visit Austin, TX during SXSW!).

Part 2 SXSW Crowd

If you stick with it, though, you’ll have no problem finding value somewhere. It helps to go into the points world with this flexible mindset so you aren’t disappointed that the one reward you want wasn’t available.

Being flexible helps you work around these complete blackouts and upsets. So if you’re a person who really likes to have tight control over their life, we simply recommend planning your travel further in advance.

There’s no question that the more you plan ahead, the more likely you’ll be able to find redemptions you want!

However, if you’re spontaneous and just want to find last minute deals, you can often find a much higher value as opposed to planning ahead. Just know what type of traveler you are and strategize from there!

The good thing is that for the most part, your points and miles will not expire unless you close accounts or become inactive for many months on your cards. Each card will have fine print that explains this.

Bottom Line: While you may not always find exactly what you want, there is something of value for everyone out there.

That About Wraps It Up

Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of the credit card points world, we hope you’re ready to dive in a little further!

If you need some more convincing on the credit score portion, go ahead and move on to the next section.

Even if you don’t need more convincing, it’s still important to understand, so maybe just check it out. If you’re confident in your score, you can head on further down the guide!


Credit Cards & Credit Scores Explained

You probably still have questions about what getting a new card might mean for your credit score, so let’s get into some more detail about credit scores in general.

When discussing points with most people who aren’t aware of the points world yet, their number one concern is always: “Yeah, Millers, but won’t this ruin my credit score?”

Nope! In fact, you will very likely see your credit score increase by taking advantage of the system!

(Note: To give you an idea, my credit score was in the low 700’s before I had credit cards. Today, I have 12+ credit cards and a score of 752)

You just have to know how it works, and (just like with everything we discuss here) have the right strategy.

The better your credit score, the better offers you can get and the more offers will become available to you. This gives you even more ways to further improve your score, all ending with more travel rewards!

You can earn hundreds of thousands of miles per year just from signing up to new cards! Since this is the most lucrative part of the points strategy by far, we want to make sure to take advantage of that!

Bottom Line: The more you utilize your credit using the below strategy, the more you will increase your score, and the better offers you will get for travel!

Credit Score FAQ: Quick Answers to Burning Questions

Before we go any further, let’s do a quick Q&A to help answer any quick questions you may have!

Where can I check my credit score online?
You can check your credit score in a number of ways. If you use a site like freecreditscore.com or creditkarma.com, you can obtain your free annual credit reports from the 3 different credit bureaus.

These sites does not contain your actual credit score, however, and you’ll need to purchase a credit tracking program from them to get the score.

Perhaps our favorite (and the easiest!) method is to simply sign up for a card that has free credit tracking. Most cards these days come with a free FICO credit score tracker that allows you to track your monthly score.

You can also use a site like Mint.com to track your score for free; it even offers its own advice for how to improve it!

Where should your credit score should be? What are the credit score ranges?
You goal should be to have excellent credit, which is credit anywhere from 720-850. The other credit score categories are: Poor (280-590), Fair (590-640), and Good (640-720).

What credit score is good?
Good credit” is technically the second highest category of credit scores, and is associated with scores from 640 to 720. “Excellent credit” is anywhere from 720 to 850. Having a score below 640 will make it much harder to find financing and credit.

Why did my credit score drop?
Credit scores can drop for a number of reasons: inquiries to your credit, having new credit cards, high credit utilization, or missing payments (see below for details on these categories).

Bigger penalties can stay on record for up to 7 years, whereas smaller infractions only stay for up to 2 years.

What credit score do you start with?
This is a good question that is difficult to answer. Of course, before you have any type of credit, you have no score! But many different things can affect scores, from your job to spending habits, loans, bills, and so forth.

Credit data is being built on you all the time, and all of it affects your score. Eventually, your score can level out, but if you don’t have a lot of data yet then it can be quite volatile.

Which credit score do lenders use?
The group that regulates the general credit score system is FICO, and that is the name of the score that is used by most lenders. Three different bureaus have their own credit score for you: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

Other lenders may use their own individual score based off their own system. For instance, Upstart.com and GrowLocalProject.com both offer loans, but they utilize their own system for determining your creditworthiness.

How is a credit score calculated?
There is a complex algorithm used to calculate your credit score. In general, your score is made of 5 different categories: payment history, credit utilization, credit history, types of credit, and credit inquiries/requests for credit.

See below for more information on how these categories affect your score.

How does a credit score work?
Your score is a monthly snapshot of your current estimate of creditworthiness. Based on a number of factors, an algorithm will calculate a score.

This score is used by agencies to determine how much money they are willing to lend you, how much credit they would extend you, and what interest rates you can get on a variety of financial products.

Part 3 Trustworthiness
Your credit score is a measure of the trust that financial companies put in you to pay back your debts. The higher your score, the more trustworthy you are in their eyes!

Preparing for Your Points Strategy

The beginning of a good strategy is having sound finances. If you can’t pay off your cards each month, then you’ll need to get that in order before building a strategy.

Getting 1%-5% of your purchases back in miles is not worth incurring a 15%-30% interest charge!

If you don’t have a lot of credit right now, you can still build credit by executing the following strategy. You’ll just have fewer options and will have to start smaller.

The good news is that you can boost your score fairly quickly…often in less than 60 days!

Many people know that making credit inquiries can negatively impact your score. But what most don’t realize is that this is not the largest factor in your score, and your score could easily see a subsequent increase, depending on the reason for the inquiry.

While we don’t know the exact algorithm for determining credit scores, we do know the general weight certain things carry when it comes to determining the score itself. The following gives a summary of these factors.

Bottom Line: Start building credit now! The sooner you start, the quicker you can build your score and get better deals!

The 5 Credit Score Factors

credit score graph
Credit scores are determined by 5 main categories: payment history, credit utilization, credit history, types of credit, and requests for credit.

Factors 1 & 2: Credit History and Requests for Credit

Reviewing the graph, we can see that your credit history is about 15% of your score. While this isn’t the largest factor, having no credit history at all can mean you’re missing out on an easy boost to your score!

We also immediately see that a credit inquiry comes in at only about 10% of your score, which is hardly anything. In fact, each inquiry only sets you back a couple of points. After 2 years, these penalties are removed altogether.

If you want to be sure to maximize your score in this category, you’ll simply need to strategically make inquiries to your credit.

Don’t do it too often or the penalties will rack up, but if you never do it then you can never take the opportunity to increase it!

Hot Tip: If you’re pre-approved for a card, you will have less chance of rejection, which helps protect your credit score. Try to sign up for pre-approved offers as often as you can. Once you actually apply for the offers, they do affect your score, however. The better your score, the more pre-approved offers you’ll get…you can see how this becomes a powerful credit-building system!

Looking at the other categories, you’ll see that they all deal with open lines of credit. So while inquiring for new credit can slightly ding you, getting new credit is even more powerful and can result in a net gain.

Bottom Line: Opening a credit account now is the fastest way to growing your credit score if you have no history!

Factors 3 & 4: Payment History and Credit Utilization

Since payment history and credit utilization are the 2 highest factors, you’ll want to ensure you are clean in these categories.

Payment history means that you make at least the minimum payment on time each month. If you miss payments, it can stay on your history for up to 7+ years!

Your credit utilization is a measure of how much of your credit you are using. Typically, you won’t want to use more than 20% of any individual card, nor 20% of your OVERALL credit limit.

Bottom Line: Don’t miss payments or use a lot of your total credit at once! In fact, using 20% or less is probably the best strategy.

Factor 5: Types of Credit

Next up we’ll talk about credit types: installment, revolving, and open. Each is different and you want to have a mixture to maximize this 10% of the score.

Installment is credit that has a fixed payment each month. These are your basic loans (auto, student, mortgage) that you must pay off over a fixed period of time.

Revolving is the most common, and usually a credit card. A revolving credit is where credit is utilized and then paid off each month, so the net is that you have some utilization of the credit at all times.

If you want to extend the credit without paying, you can do so with an interest charge.

An open credit account is similar to a credit card, but you don’t have the option to extend the credit; it must be paid in full each month.

Certain credit cards use this type of credit (typically an AMEX), but this also includes things like utilities and phone bills.

By responsibly using a mixture of these credit types, you will positively influence your credit score. You don’t have to have all of them at once, but it is good to have them each scattered into your credit history.

This factor may also be scored by the actual number of accounts open. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more accounts you have open and in good standing, the better your score will be. It’s a sign of high trust!

Bottom Line: Use a mixture of installment, revolving, and open credit at any given time (though you don’t need all 3 at once). Having more overall accounts is also a positive marker.

More About Your Credit History

Finally, your credit history is an average of how long you’ve been utilizing credit. If you don’t have any credit right now, then opening a card is going to be a little bit of a knock to your credit score in the short term.

You’ll have to really utilize the other categories to bolster your score, and it will take time to build. This is why it’s so important to open a card as soon as possible!

In fact, we’d recommend opening a card as soon as you turn 18 years old (or younger with parental permission) so that your score begins to build while your finances aren’t as complicated.

An “average credit age” number is used for this factor, so having a few cards that are older will help your score.

This also means it’s important not to close your oldest accounts! Make sure that when (or if) you decide to close accounts, you always do so strategically.

Bottom Line: You need to start building your credit history now! Open a card or 2 to start “aging” your credit, so that when you open cards in the future it doesn’t affect your score as much.

Part 3 Opening Credit Cards Now
Start by opening a credit card now in order to build your credit. One of the most important credit score factors is the age of your credit, which is a measure of how long you have had accounts open!

So, Here’s the Credit Building Strategy You’ve Been Waiting For

OK, here’s the strategy! Let’s use a little story to make this easier to remember and explain. There are multiple steps, but they can be done in a different order depending on where you are right now.

Step 1: Open a Credit Card!

Ashley is a 25-year-old woman from Nebraska. She wants to get into the points strategy world so she can start traveling and see the world outside of Nebraska (which is very, very flat. With lots of corn). Editor’s note: Nebraska is a wonderful place!

Ashley opened her first credit card during her freshman year of college, with a limit of $1,500 (completing Step 1).

Her average credit age is 7 years. Her credit utilization is 10% (she barely uses her card), she has made 100% of payments on time, and she has a mixture of credit types (student loans and bills) that she also pays on time.

What should she do next?

Summary
Credit Score Category Note
Credit History 7 years
Credit Utilization 10%
Payment History 100% On Time
Credit Types (# accts + types) 5 (revolving, installment, open)
Request for Credit (past 2 years) 0
Total Credit $1,500
Credit Score unknown

Tip: Using a no-annual-fee card for your first card is a smart move to ensure you can confidently keep that credit line open without having to pay for it!

Step 2: Find Out Your Credit Score and Your Credit Measurements

Ashley knows she is entitled to a free credit report each year from the credit bureaus, but also knows that it won’t include her score. She supposes she’ll have to pay for one…

But wait! She hears from her friends that most credit cards these days are starting to offer free credit scores as part of their benefits package. So are some personal finance websites.

Hot Tip: If you have one of those cards already, then go check out your score for free!

Ashley’s card doesn’t, unfortunately, and she doesn’t want to spend the $15/month to track her score right now. Instead, she signs up for an account at Mint.com to check her score.

Ashley finds out her score is 650, which is in the low range of “Good” credit. Not bad!

However, whe would like to improve that score and get into the “Excellent” category to maximize her chances for better offers and more travel. Now that she knows her score, she thinks about what to do next.

Summary
Credit Score Category Note
Credit History 7 years
Credit Utilization 10%
Payment History 100% On Time
Credit Types (# accts + types) 5 (revolving, installment, open)
Request for Credit (past 2 years) 0
Total Credit $1,500
Credit Score 650

Tips: The following are some cards and places that offer free credit scores:

Step 3: Determine If You Should Open a New Card or Wait

Ashley’s next step, now that she knows her credit measurements, is to determine if she should open a new card or wait.

She asks herself the following questions:

  • If I open a new card, will that affect my payment history? (35% of your score)
  • If I open a new card, will that affect my credit utilization? (30% of your score)
  • If I open a new card, will that affect my credit history? (15% of your score)
  • If I open a new card, will that affect my types of credit? (10% of your score)
  • If I open a new card, will that affect my requests for credit? (10% of your score)

Her answer to credit utilization and payment history is “no.” Ashley has extra money to spend and can afford to pay an annual fee on a card if necessary.

If she didn’t, she wouldn’t consider adding more credit cards. She’ll always pay off whatever she spends each month, only spending within her budget.

If I Open A New Card, Will It Affect My…
…Credit Utilization? No!
…Payment History? No!

Ashley’s credit history will be affected, she realizes. Opening a new card will bring her average age from 7 yrs to 3.5 yrs. Will that be enough reason to not get a new card?

No, she decides. It’s only 15% of the overall score. Opening a new account will give her a temporary ding here, but she’ll get even more of a boost from her good utilization and payment history.

Eventually, she’ll have to take the hit to build up a little credit history!

If I Open A New Card, Will It Affect My…
…Credit Utilization? No!
…Payment History? No!
…Credit History? Yes, negatively until the accounts age

Hot Tip: The only way to build average credit age is to get cards NOW! The longer you wait, the more drastically you will affect your score, which will only make getting new cards harder and harder.

“What about my types of credit?” she thinks to herself.

Adding a new card can only help. Since Ashley only has 1 credit card but many other loans and bills, she may actually be hurting her score by not opening more cards. She knows that more accounts open will mean a better credit score overall, so decides it’s a good idea for this reason, too.

If I Open A New Card, Will It Affect My…
…Credit Utilization? No!
…Payment History? No!
…Credit History? Yes, negatively until the accounts age
…Types of Credit? Yes, positively

Hot Tip: The more accounts you have open (assuming good standing) the better your score.

“Oh, but I’ll be making a request for credit!” she realizes.

Fortunately, she remembers that this temporary ding of a few points is quickly offset by the positive influence of additional credit types, payment history, and utilization.

Eventually, credit history will boost her score as the account ages. Ashley is satisfied.

“It’s a great time to open a new account,” she decides. She begins to look around for a new card.

If I Open A New Card, Will It Affect My…
…Credit Utilization? No!
…Payment History? No!
…Credit History? Yes, negatively until the accounts age
…Types of Credit? Yes, positively
…Requests for Credit? Yes, negatively for 2 years (minor)

Step 4: Find Out Which Card(s) You Want to Open

Ashley isn’t sure if she should open just 1 card, or more than 1 card. How should she decide?

Part 3 Girl Questioning Cards

First, she asks herself how much spending she can afford on the card. She determines that she has $2,000 per month to spend on credit cards if need be.

Because she knows her monthly spending, she realizes the main factor in opening a new card will be whether or not she can afford the annual fee (in exchange for the benefits) AND meet any minimum spend required to obtain the sign-up bonus.

Hot Tip: Remember, the sign-up bonus is the most important part!

At Ashley’s spending range, she assumes that she can only open 1 card right now, and she decides it will be the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. To obtain the current sign-up bonus, she must spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening the card.

However, she realizes she has room to spend up to $6,000 right now during that timeframe.

“Why don’t I look at opening a second card?” she thinks. “The more cards I can open now, the better rooted my credit history will be in the future.”

The other card she was interested in also needs a $3,000 minimum spend in the first 3 months, which totals $7,000: more than Ashley can afford right now.

Then, she comes across the Chase Freedom®, and finds she only needs to spend $500 in 3 months to earn a bonus!

She excitedly applies for the cards and obtains an approval.

Summary (Upon Opening 2 Cards)
Credit Score Category Note
Credit History (average of open cards) 2.3 years
Credit Utilization 30%
Payment History 100% On Time
Credit Types (# accts + types) 7 (revolving, installment, open)
Request for Credit (past 2 years) 2
Total Credit $14,500
Credit Score 600

Hot Tip: Opening cards that complement each other, such as the 2 Chase Ultimate Rewards cards in this example, makes for a strong strategy!

Step 5: Meet the Minimum Spend, Pay Your Debts, and Wait

The final step in building her credit, Ashley determines, is simply to use the card responsibly and wait for the positive effects of the card to kick in.

As Ashley begins using her cards over the next few months, she gets her sign-up bonus and begins learning more about her points strategy. She really wants to take a trip to Europe, and the sign-up bonus is enough for a one-way flight!

After 4 months of spending and paying off her card, Ashley rechecks her credit score: it’s now 700! “Wow!” she exclaims, “I can’t believe it went up so much!”

Summary (4 Months After Getting 2 Cards)
Credit Score Category Note
Credit History (average of open cards) 2.6 years
Credit Utilization 30%
Payment History 100% On Time
Credit Types (# accts + types) 7 (revolving, installment, open)
Request for Credit (past 2 years) 2
Total Credit $14,500
Credit Score 700

While individual results will vary, it is clear that by strategically getting a new card, Ashley was able to improve her score. The specific amount of increase is not as important as the strategy itself:

  1. Open your first card
  2. Find out your credit score and credit measurements
  3. Determine if you should open a card or wait
  4. Find out which card(s) you want to open
  5. Meet the minimum spend(s), pay your debts, and wait

Bottom Line: If you follow those steps, then you will slowly find your credit score increasing. Once it increases or you become comfortable with opening a new card due to expanded resources, you can move on to Step 6.

Ashley decides that she really liked getting that sign-up bonus, and she’s ready for more!

Step 6: Re-Evaluate Your Finances and Credit Score, Find a New Card, and Repeat

Ashley sees now that this strategy can work, especially if she continues to implement the strategy on a regular basis. Since she already rechecked her score (Step 2), she moves on to the next step.

She first re-evaluates her finances and realizes that she can afford another annual fee as long as she gets the right benefits.

Again, she asks herself the questions about her credit score and realizes it’s a good time (Step 3), so she sets off to find what card she can open next.

Because she wants to take that trip to Europe, she looks for other ways to reach this goal. During the time she’s had the cards, she finds out it’s great to transfer points to airline partners for international flights.

She looks for another card she can use to transfer airline miles to a partner shared with Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Hot Tip: Having your strategy in mind is key to figuring out which cards to open!

A card she likes is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, because SPG also partners with British Airways. The sign-up bonus is enough to pay for her return flight, so she can transfer that and her Chase points into her BA Executive Club account and book flights!

With this card, she also gets some privileges in Starwood hotels if she stays at their properties, and gets great benefits like free Boingo WiFi worldwide, which will be perfect for Europe!

To open the card, she’ll have to spend a total of $3,000 in the first 3 months, which is within her budget.

By opening this card, she can get an additional boost to her credit score in the following ways:

  • Opening a card gives her a much larger pool of credit
  • Her types of credit and number of accounts increases
  • Additional boosts through utilization rate or payment history

She also realizes that to get these boosts, she has to take the following temporary negative hits:

  • Credit inquiries: another inquiry will drop her score by a few points and won’t go away for 2 years
  • Credit history: her average age of credit will go from 2.6 to ~1.9. This is a big hit, but again it is a good foundation to lay for later cards opened. Payment history and credit utilization will work to balance it out.
Summary (4 Months After Opening Her Fourth Card)
Credit Score Category Note
Credit History (average of open cards) 1.9 years
Credit Utilization 30%
Payment History 100% On Time
Credit Types (# accts + types) 8 (revolving, installment, open)
Request for Credit (past 2 years) 3
Total Credit $19,500
Credit Score 650

For now, she has taken a hit, but she has her sign-up bonus and future trip in sight, and Ashley knows that her credit will now start building up again.

Reviewing the Credit Building Strategy

Fast Forward: Results of Implementing Ashley’s Strategy

After opening the cards, making the payments, and generally being responsible with her cards and all her other types of credit, Ashley is very happy with the awards she has earned. She took her first trip to Europe!

Ashley had a great time in Berlin and Paris. When she got back (6 months after opening her last card), she saw that her credit score was now around 720.

Looks like it’s time to start again! Ashley’s next goal is to visit Asia. She begins searching for ways to get there and cards that will match that strategy.

Bottom Line: Having a goal and implementing a strategy carefully around that goal is the best way to begin building up strong credit, taking trips, and positioning yourself for future travel!

Summary: How to Improve Your Credit Score Steps and Tips

Hopefully you understood the example and can now see how managing your credit is very important. Managing your credit well can mean you get great travel rewards and improve your score as you go!

Here are the 6 steps to improving your credit, consolidated in single list:

  1. Open your first card
  2. Find out your credit score and credit measurements
  3. Determine if you should open a card or wait
  4. Find out which card(s) you want to open
  5. Meet the minimum spend(s), pay your debts, and wait for your score to balance out or improve
  6. Repeat steps 2-6

Some quick tips on managing your score:

Credit history is the toughest one to begin! At 15%, it can be a bit of a daunting hit to your score.

However, by NOT opening enough new accounts early in your strategy, you severely affect your ability to get the “snowball effect” on your score and continue to earn better and better rewards over time.

If you have 5 old accounts and open 2 new ones, your score will be much less affected than if you have 2 old accounts and try to open 5 new ones!

Pay off all your debts each month on each card, as well as in all of your other types of credit! Remember that your credit score is not just measuring your credit cards, but auto loans, some bills, and more.

Don’t let any accounts go delinquent in the name of trying to earn points.

Remember that the points are of marginal value compared to the amount of interest you would pay or the hits to your credit for not making a payment!

Keep your utilization low! At first, you may be tempted to put EVERYTHING on your card, but that may hurt you more than help you. Keep your utilization rate low until you have a good solid base.

Requests for credit stay on your report for 2 years. If you open up 10 cards at once, you’d have a HUGE hit to your score (20-50+ pts) all at once and it would last 2 years.

After 2 years, assuming you didn’t open up any new accounts, you would see a big boost back to your score.

Use this fact to your advantage. A few points here and there can add up: if you open 3 accounts every quarter and each causes a 3 point hit to your score, in 2 years you will have lowered your score by 72 points!

Final Credit Building Thoughts

Opening 3-5 cards is a safe bet in your first year: 2 in your first quarter, then 1-2 each of the next two quarters. Make sure your score recovers in between before opening up new cards. After reaching 3-5, let it sit and build up for a bit; you’ll notice it will go much higher!

Once your credit base is solid, you could safely open a card every quarter or every other quarter without taking too many hits. Just keep watching your score, and if it hasn’t recovered yet, give it extra time until it does.

Finally, while we truly appreciate any cards you open through our links, remember that any pre-approved offers you have are a bit safer!


How Loyalty Programs Work and Why You Should Join

What are these loyalty programs that we’ve been mentioning, and how can all these credit card companies afford to give you such a great deal?

In this section of the Beginners Guide to Points, you’ll find out more as we reveal the ins and outs of loyalty programs.

Start by Figuring Out What a Loyalty Program Is

A loyalty program is a rewards program that a company uses to help market its product and retain loyal customers. All companies require customers in order to survive, but sometimes they’re hard to find!

The draw of these programs is simple: you earn rewards for using the business frequently, which makes the process itself a sort of game. Gamification is a proven way to increase customer engagement by making everyday things seem more fun.

By using a loyalty program, you’re actually helping these companies lower their cost of customer acquisition. You heard that right: joining a loyalty program benefits the company and yourself. So don’t feel bad about all the free flights you’ll get!

While loyalty programs have been around for hundreds of years, the first modern loyalty program (at least in the travel space) is accredited to the American Airlines AAdvantage program, which started in 1981.

After that, loyalty programs took off and the whole travel industry followed suit.

For you, the result of playing the card company’s game is getting rewards for your loyalty. These include varying levels of elite status, which give the customer a sense of pride plus access to benefits above and beyond normal customers.

Elite benefits range from free checked bags to upgrades and more.

Bottom Line: Loyalty programs are fun ways to earn rewards while the company develops a solid customer base. It’s a win/win for the credit card companies, the airlines/hotels making money, and the customers benefiting from great rewards!

So, How Do These Loyalty Programs Work?

Basically, loyalty programs provide an increasing level of benefits the more you utilize the company’s services.

Most loyalty programs have multiple “status tiers” that you can earn throughout the year. Some statuses are easier to acquire than others, but all of them use the same structure. From the companies’ perspective, they’re trying to:

  1. Get people into the loyalty program with a “title” of sorts and offer some low-level benefits.
  2. Hang some additional benefits in front of customers that they can earn with additional patronage…and watch the games begin!

It is hard to resist trying to reach that next status. In fact, many people will do “mileage runs,” where they will take a cheap flight and then immediately turn around and come back just to reach the next status level.

While this may seem crazy, if you know what benefits you’re earning by getting to the next level and how much they’re worth, then working your way up can absolutely be worth it!

Hot Tip: Read up on all the airline loyalty programs to determine the benefits, and continue to read more about what you can do with points to figure out what a mileage run for status could be worth.

Usually, your program status stays intact from the time you earn it (which activates the status benefits immediately) until the end of the next status year.

For instance, say you hit AAdvantage Gold this year in August. It would be good through the next year and until the following January (it used to go through February), essentially giving you Gold status for 17 months.

Bottom Line: Try to earn status in programs so you can enjoy the benefits for a long time! Obtaining status is an important, and many times fun, part of the overall points strategy.

Part 4 Man Pledging Loyalty
Loyalty is harder to get in today’s world, so these programs really aim to get customers’ attention.

Forming an Alliance to Expand Travel Possibilities

But what if you get stuck in one loyalty program and you feel cornered? Don’t worry; that problem was solved when travel companies started forming alliances.

It turns out that alliances are much older than loyalty programs in the travel industry, but both are important in the points world.

For the consumer, alliances help expand the number of companies you can spend your points with.

From a company’s standpoint, an alliance makes sense in the same way: it allows them to expand their travel network far beyond what they could do on their own.

Bottom Line: Learn the benefits of your chosen airline or hotel and find out more about your airline alliance to expand your potential benefits.

How To Earn Status in a Loyalty Program

So how does this all work for you? First, you sign up for a loyalty program and begin using services, such as flying on an airline or staying in a hotel.

Each time you use a service, you build up “miles” or “points” in their loyalty program through an account.

Your account will track all this, and after hitting a certain number of miles/points (or sometimes a number of flights/stays/nights), then you will advance in your status.

At each status level, you’ll receive additional benefits, like the ability to earn more bonus points or get free upgrades and other amenities.

While bonus points may not improve your status, they can help you earn more awards.

Here’s an example list of some of the benefits of a loyalty program in the airline and hotel industry:

American Airlines AAdvantage: 

  • Priority boarding
  • Free checked bags
  • Free upgrades or upgrade credits
  • Premium seating/ability to choose seats
  • Bonus miles earned

Marriott Rewards:

  • Late check out/early check in
  • Free internet
  • Lounge access
  • Free WiFi
  • No blackout dates
  • Check-in amenities (water, cookies, etc.)
  • 5th night free
  • Bonus points earned
  • Hertz gold membership

Bottom Line: It’s definitely worth it to get status; the best benefits are usually the bonus points and upgrades.

What if You Want to Change Loyalty Programs?

If you have a bunch of miles or points in a single loyalty program, you can do 2 things:

  1. Transfer those points directly into a partnered program*
  2. Use those points directly from that loyalty program on a partner’s services by utilizing an alliance/partnership.

*Note: transferring typically only occurs between an airline and hotel, or a bank rewards card and an airline/hotel. You cannot transfer airline to airline or hotel to hotel.

The biggest airline alliances are: Oneworld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam.

Partnerships also expand beyond these formal alliances, and many airlines have direct alliances with each other as well as hotels. For example, here are the lists of partners for Starwood Hotels, Marriott Hotels, and Hilton Hotels.

Beyond that, big hotel chains are like an alliance already; they include multiple different brands of hotels with unique styles under one big name. Your status with one hotel in the chain offers you benefits across all the different brands.

Similarly, each airline alliance has its own “status” that can be used interchangeably with benefits of other partner’s loyalty programs.

For instance, American Airlines Gold is equal to Oneworld Ruby. Both of these are equal to British Airways Bronze.

Bottom Line: Earning airline loyalty in one place is like earning it on all your partner airlines as well!

Part 4 All Kinds of Partners
Even if you earn all your loyalty points in one place, you can still utilize the partnerships that exist between so many of the airlines to take rewards flights or get free hotel stays!

Advanced Loyalty Program Strategies

In the future, we will be providing a guide you can use to maximize the value of loyalty programs and alliances. There are so many ways you can transfer or share your miles, and it can get confusing. Stay tuned!

For now, check out the airline and hotel loyalty program reviews.


Beginners Guide to Miles & Points

Are you getting it yet? Hopefully this guide is filling you in on the reasons why points can be valuable and the methods by which points strategies work.

Now, let’s get into a little more detail:

  • What are these “miles” and “points” you are actually earning?
  • How do they work?

Different Words, Same Idea: The Awards Currency

In reality, miles and points are the same thing: they’re a reward given to you for being a loyal customer of a business or by using a certain credit card.

Your reward balance becomes a number in an account in your name, and as you accrue more points/miles, your account balance grows just like a bank account.

“Miles” are typically what the reward currency is called on airline credit cards, and all other programs (hotel or credit card) generally call them “points.”

British Airways goes a completely different direction and calls their currency “Avios,” while Starwood uses the term “Starpoints.”

Bottom Line: These different names all refer to the same thing–an award currency. For ease of explanation, we’ll just refer to them all as “points” from here on (the most generic term).

Where Do All the Points Go?

Points are typically accrued into 3 different categories of accounts:

  1. Airline loyalty accounts
  2. Hotel loyalty accounts
  3. Credit card rewards portal accounts

In a few instances, some credit cards accrue points outside of the company’s rewards portal. These are fixed assets (and not really “accounts”) that can be used for fixed redemptions like statement credit.

If you’re earning points as a fixed asset, the value of the points is typically preset and cannot be manipulated. You’ll find points are worth $0.01 each in most of these cases, though some are less valuable.

These generally aren’t the best types of cards for points-earning. Because you don’t have any option of how to redeem your points, you cannot increase the value of them.

However, when points are deposited into an awards portal, there are typically many options for redemptions. Your points are good for awards in the portal itself, as well as awards with all the portal’s partnerships and alliances.

This makes these types of cards extremely powerful!

Fixed Price Versus Variable Price Awards Options

Each airline and hotel loyalty program has a different system in place for using your points and miles for awards.

Large carriers such as American Airlines or United Airlines have a fixed price award system, where taking an award flight will cost the same amount no matter the cash value of the ticket.

For instance, you can fly one-way domestically for 12,500 miles on most airlines. These values do not change often, although there has been a recent industry-wide devaluation movement.

Other airlines such as Southwest, JetBlue, and other low-cost carriers have a variable price award system. In this system, the awards you redeem are based on the cash value of the ticket at any given time.

Existing simultaneously, these 2 systems can make the value of your points vary quite a bit!

What Is the Best Option, or Where Should I Start?

We believe the best option, at least to get started, is with cards that earn points in the credit card company reward portals.

Through these, you typically have the most flexibility, since the variety of partnerships available could conceivably cover all the alliances and partnerships in one way or another.

Check Out Our New Express Guide to Chase Ultimate Rewards Points >>

(Editor’s Note: As we mentioned in a previous section, we will be building a guide to all these alliances and partnerships to better help you navigate the system, redeem rewards, and even earn bonuses along the way!)

The real value of keeping your points in the flexible systems is that you can greatly increase their value by finding deals and knowing the best way to redeem them. In some cases, the value of your points can go from $0.01 all the way up to $0.20+!

There are 4 main points portals that are recommended among most points travelers:

These portals offer the most flexible options for transferring and redeeming points, and typically carry the best value.

You may be wondering why we included a hotel portal in this list. Simply put, they offer 2x-3x the number of partners as the other 3, though many hotel chains have much less valuable points.

Citi’s portal is the least valuable overall in our opinion, but it still offers a variety of options.

In all cases, you are looking to maximize value, NOT just sheer number of points.

Each points system has its own scale, and while many are the same or close (airlines typically all share very similar value structure), some are completely different.

Bottom Line: It’s best to start with one of the 4 most popular rewards portals mentioned above, as they provide the most flexibility for redeeming and earning points.

Part 5 Different Scales of Points
When trying to weigh in on which loyalty program to use, you will need to consider a number of factors like where you spend your money, what’s your credit score, and how you want to use your points!

Learn More About Each Rewards Portal and How to Maximize Value

We’ve put together guides to each of the various portals, and each of our credit card reviews discusses the best way to utilize that card within the parameters of its available partners. Don’t feel too overwhelmed yet; all will be explained!

Some Questions To Get You Thinking

In the next section, we’ll be talking about how to start planning your trips. Some questions to consider beforehand are the following:

  • If I travel, how do I want to get there?
  • Do I really care about all these “status” benefits, or is the destination and experience most important?
  • Would I rather stretch the benefits out (i.e. get as many flights, hotel nights, or general redemptions as possible), or is the swanky experience of higher value redemptions more appealing?

Get Started by Setting Your Travel Goals

The real meat and potatoes of your points-earning strategy begins here. To really understand what your strategy is going to be, you need to go through some thinking.

Sound scary? Don’t worry! You’ll found out how to navigate the planning process in this article.

Figuring Out Your Travel Desires and Planning Your First Trip

While there are multiple ways to go about utilizing points to your advantage, our experience tells us there is one best strategy for getting the most from your points:

  1. Choose your destination
  2. Find out how to get there
  3. Determine a time to go
  4. Find the best card option
  5. Open an account earn points
  6. Plan your trip details

The fact there are so many places to go makes this the hardest decision to make. If we get that out of the way first, the rest will fall into place.

However, it isn’t always easy, so the following section will help you figure out how to decide.

If you’ve already traveled a bit and have some ideas, you can skip the next section and just follow the steps.

Some Questions to Help Guide You to Your Destination

So, where will YOU go?

That’s a big question for the newbie traveler! You don’t always know exactly where you would want to go because there are so many choices and things to think about before you decide.

Some places may have been suggested by friends and family, and others you may have seen advertised somewhere.

But knowing the general destination, setting that in stone, and then slowly planning the details from there always seems to be the most effective method. You can always take another trip if you need to!

Questions to help you decide on a destination include the following:

  • What is one place I’ve always wanted to visit but never thought I could get to?
  • Do I want to go somewhere warm or cold?
  • Do I want to go somewhere historic or modern?
  • Do I want to travel domestically or internationally?
  • Do I want a fun, high energy vacation, or do I want to go somewhere peaceful and relaxing?
  • How long do I want to stay?
  • Do I want to travel alone, with a partner, or with my family/friends?
  • What is my yearly budget for travel? What does my general yearly spending look like?

These questions are meant to get your juices flowing so you can figure out what would be a rewarding first trip for you.

You may want to try looking through some travel magazines, other travel blogs, or chat with some people who have already traveled for ideas.

Bottom Line: Spend some time thinking to figure out what kind of trip you’d really like to take.

Part 6 Where Will You Go
Where will you go? There are so many choices. Spend some time thinking about it and ask yourself questions to help get some answers!

Step 1: Decide on the Where

First, you must decide WHERE you want to go.

We recommend choosing ONE thing, like a country, city, specific landmark, or event, and narrowing that down to the closest city to fly into.

Don’t try to figure out what you would do in each place yet; there are fun and beautiful things to see everywhere, and you can find and plan these afterward.

Hot Tip: The value in this type of strategy is that you can easily find the best way to maximize the value of your redemptions when traveling to specific places. The points world often revolves around certain discounts getting offered to specific locations.

Example Decision Process

You may start by looking at a domestic versus international redemption and narrow it down from there.

Popular domestic destinations may be New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Miami.

Internationally, you may be interested in going to Europe or Asia. England, France, and Germany are popular European destinations. Japan, China, and Thailand are popular Asian destinations.

Let’s say you settle on Japan. The biggest and easiest airport to use in Japan is Narita, which is outside of Tokyo.

Step 1 Result: The chosen city is WHERE we will fly to. For the sake of an example, suppose you will choose Tokyo, Japan (flying into Narita).

Tip: For those who still don’t know where to go, we’d highly suggest making a trip to Europe your first goal. This is a great place to start for multiple reasons.

  1. You can get some amazing deals that blow the valuation of points used elsewhere out of the water. Economy, business, and first class redemptions are all possible.
  2. Europe is a very easy place to travel to and get around once you’re there. You don’t even need to go to the exact place you want; once you get within the European area, you can easily travel on cheap flights or trains to get to your desired destination.
  3. It’s easy on the newbie traveler because it’s such a popular destination spot. This means the majority of people will speak English and be helpful to travelers, which can ease the stress of a first big trip.
  4. The massive amount of culture and exposure in Europe makes it easy to see why traveling there is so appealing, which may trigger some ideas and help you learn where you want to travel in the future Then you’ll have a basis for your future points strategy!

Step 2: Decide on the How

Now that you know where you want to go, the next step would be to figure out HOW to get there from where you live. This includes choosing an airline and investigating how many points a flight would cost.

Do a search to find out which airlines fly from your closest airport, and then find some example flights to get an idea of what it will take you to get there.

For instance, let’s say you’re flying from Austin, TX to Narita, Japan.

Two quick ways to get all this information at once:

Hot Tip: See our ITA Matrix guide for another tool!

Let’s say you really like United, so you choose them as the first part of your HOW.

The last step would be to get a rough idea of the points required to get there. You can check out some Upgraded Points guides or manually search the portal of your chosen airline to find this out, which will help in the next steps.

It turns out to get from Austin to Narita on United would cost a minimum of 70,000 points round-trip.

United_Austin_to_Narita_Points

*The screenshot above refers to a one-way ticket from AUS to NRT

Step 2 Result: You will get to your destination (the HOW) via United Airlines, which will cost 70,000 points plus taxes.

Step 3: Decide on the When

You know where you want to go, and you know how you want to get there. Now, to decide on WHEN.

This will depend on 2 things:

  1. Your own personal schedule
  2. When you will have enough points to get there

Your schedule is important, and we definitely recommend planning out when you’re going to take vacations ahead of time so you can consider it in your points strategy and personal finances.

But you will also need to make sure that by the time you are ready for the vacation, you will have earned the points you need to carry it out!

Sign-up bonuses can take 6-8 weeks after meeting your minimum spending to hit your account, so that could be 4-5 months after opening the card.

If you need to earn additional points, sometimes those can take extra time to post as well (beyond the time it takes to spend the money).

It’s best to add in some good buffer time of 4-6 months after your points arrive to make sure the points will be there when you need them. This also ensures that you can book your travel in advance once you get the points!

Step 3 Result: It’s best to plan ahead, and we recommend the WHEN be a minimum of a year in advance if you’re just getting started. Adjust your time period if you can’t make the required number of points in this timeframe.

Hot Tip: If you are trying to look at flights a full year out, you may not get any results; airlines don’t always post availability this far in advance. In this case, you can just search for earlier times to get an idea of the details and plan the date in the future.

Step 4: Find the Best Card

The WHERE, HOW, and WHEN have been answered. Now we just need to match a CARD to that strategy, get it opened, and get earning!

Here are the 2 main things to consider when finding the best card:

  • Which card provides the best sign-up bonuses directly on your airline of choice?
  • Which cards earn the most points in your highest spending categories?

To find the card for your airline, you can start by looking at direct partnership cards. For example, this could be the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card or the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard.

Check out how many points you can get for that versus a bank rewards portal card (Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, or Citi ThankYou Rewards) that can transfer points to your chosen airline.

Finally, consider getting a hotel card like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which also partners with airlines.

The card you get should offer both a great bonus and solid earnings in your biggest spending categories.

As we mentioned above, a good strategy for this would be to review your finances and find where you could earn the most points.

In many cases, you may not have large expenses in any single category, meaning a card that earns decently across many or all categories may be your best bet.

Once you know where your spending power will get you, you can look for cards that maximize your potential in those categories.

Step 4 Result: Find a CARD that makes best use of both the sign-up bonus and also the earning categories for you. It may even work best to open 2 cards at once: one for a sign-up bonus and one for earning points.

Hot Tip: Check out our Express Guide to Getting Started or our review of the Card Match Tool to help you find some beginning cards. In general, we think the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the most valuable.

Step 5: Open and Earn

Now that you know what CARD (or CARDS) you want to use, you will need to OPEN them so you can begin to EARN.

Be sure to do so using the credit building strategy we mentioned previously! Don’t blindly open the card before knowing where you’re at in your finances and credit score.

Once you are ready, though, you can open and start earning points!

Make sure you meet the minimum spend within the allotted timeframe to collect the sign-up bonus. Then, keep an eye on your points to make sure the bonus gets deposited, whether it’s in the bank’s reward portal or your loyalty account.

Remember that in some cases it can take 6-8 weeks for points to appear.

Step 5 Result: Once you are ready, strategically OPEN the card(s), EARN points by meeting the minimum spends, and follow up to ensure you are getting your points.

At this point, you’re set up to make a trip! You just need to accumulate the correct amount of points and plan out the details of your trip.

Step 6: Plan Out Your Details

Now, you simply need to sit down and slowly get your trip DETAILS together.

At this point, the most important part would be to determine exactly how many points you will need to get to your destination. Make sure that aligns with your spending, earning, and sign-up bonuses. Adjust the trip further out on the calendar if you need to.

In the meantime, you can take your time finding out all the great stuff about your destination, and make a plan of things you want to do when you get there.

You should wait to lock in exact daily plans (e.g. buying passes to parks or museums) once you’ve reached your necessary number of points and actually booked the ticket.

At the point of booking, you’ll know the exact dates you will be traveling, and can thus finalize the rest of your itinerary.

Step 6 Result: Figure out your DETAILS: determine exactly how many points you’ll need, plan your daily activities, and get your trip officially booked!

Part 6 Planning the Details
Planning the details of your trip is an important step! Here, you’ll truly figure out how to use your points and what you’ll experience on your trip.

Other Notes on Strategies

While we have given a variety of different strategies, there are other intricacies involved that can help you more quickly identify the best solution.

These include searching for upgrade deals, specific routes, honeymoon trips, family vacations, and so on, but the basic strategy works for all trips.

One strategy is to figure out when peak and off-peak times are for your desired destination and plan for an off-peak time to get the best value.

It can be difficult to get rewards travel at certain times if there is high demand since the reservations will go to paying customers first in most cases.

You can also read flight reviews to find inspiration on places to look. Sometimes, there isn’t a “best place” to start when researching, so you just have to look around and see what you can find. Letting others be your guide is often a great way to begin.

Choosing the destination and “winging it” last minute instead of planning ahead of time is another option.

Often, the best deals come up last minute! Don’t be too afraid to accumulate points, check the deals to your destination, and then use what you have at the time to get where you’re going.

Whatever strategy you choose, stick with it; soon you will be on your way to your first trip!


Sign Up to a Loyalty Program

So far in this series, we’ve taken you through your credit scores and planning a trip. If you have already signed up for a card, you have likely been signed up for one of the loyalty programs.

However, if you haven’t signed up for anything yet, this section will show you exactly where to sign up for the loyalty programs.

Getting Your Free Loyalty Accounts

Nothing prevents you from signing up to (almost) every single loyalty program in the world right now, except perhaps your availability of time!

The majority are free for the reasons mentioned in the previous section: companies want low barriers to entry and high rewards for these programs so you remain a loyal customer for years to come.

To sign up, you’ll simply need to know which programs you’ll be targeting, then find the appropriate links. Be sure when signing up to put all the information into an easily accessible file. Store all this information for quick access when you need it!

Here are some of the most popular loyalty programs people use when traveling:

Airline Frequent Flyer Programs

Hotel Loyalty Programs

Car Rental Loyalty Programs

  • Avis
  • Enterprise
  • Hertz
  • National
  • Thrifty

Airline and Hotel Dining Programs*

*Important Note: You can’t sign up for more than one dining program at once, as they are all run by the same company. Just sign up for the one hosted by your desired partner, or another one that’s best for you.

Additional Resources for Learning About Loyalty Programs

If you need to learn more about your loyalty program, search for it in our hotel and airline loyalty program reviews:

Remember that loyalty programs have many partnerships with other airlines or hotels. If you feel you’ve chosen the wrong one, look for ways to utilize any partnerships before starting over in another loyalty program.

Also remember your hotel loyalty credit cards and airline loyalty credit cards each add some additional perks that make your travel experiences even better!


Staying Organized Amongst the “Points” Madness

Once you have your strategy in place, staying organized becomes the most important thing.

  • You need to know how many points you have in which programs and how you can use these points for either a redemption or a transfer.
  • You need to know what cards you have and how much you need to spend to earn your sign-up bonuses.
  • You need to know what your credit score is so you don’t apply for a card and get rejected, as well as what your overall finances look like.
  • …and so on!

This can all seem overwhelming, but don’t be alarmed. There are programs out there already that will help you track all your points. And of course, Upgraded Points is here to help you figure out how to earn and use your points!

Manually, you’ll still need to track your sign-up bonus spending, personal finances, and credit score. Most cards these days provide your credit score, so at least that’s becoming easier!

Keeping Your Points and Programs Organized

Tracking Your Points Balances and Spending

Possibly the most popular tracking program is AwardWallet. It’s a simple and free program that works very well. You can track awards programs from hotels, airlines, and credit card portals all in one spot.

It requires you to enter your username (or account number) and password for each account, then it tracks them in a nice organized list, telling you how many points you have and when they expire.

We suggest keeping all your usernames and passwords in one place, so you’ve got them handy when you need to enter them all into this site.

AwardWallet
Example of an Award Wallet summary screen. You can see all of your different loyalty account balances in one place!

Track Your Cards and Sign-Up Bonuses

Each time you sign up for a card, you’ll need to ensure that you know how much you need to spend to earn the sign-up bonus. As we’ve discussed, make sure you can meet the minimum spend before signing up for the card! Otherwise, that card is probably not worth getting.

Make a simple spreadsheet to show which card requires what level of spending, the date you opened the card, and the time frame to make your minimum spending (almost always 3 months).

Then, keep track of what you spend (using Mint.com makes this really easy!) and make sure you hit it by the end.

Credit_Card_Tracker
Example spreadsheet tracking cards opened, required spending and dates. Note that this may not reflect current offer data.

Managing Your Finances and Credit Score

The next thing you want to do is keep track of your credit score and finances.

Tracking your credit score is becoming easier and easier! Luckily, most cards have started offering your FICO score for free, and so does Mint.com.

This started as a competitive advantage feature that soon was picked up by many cards, and the result is free credit scores for all!

If you don’t have access to a graph that tracks your score over time, be sure to create your own spreadsheet to do so. This is important to see how your activity affects your score.

Also, be sure to note when you opened up cards and keep track of all the other measurements as described in the credit score section of this guide. That way, you can make the best decision on when to open your next card.

It’s just as important to have your bank accounts organized and a budget managed.

Again, Mint.com can do all these things for you, but you may want some other resources to help you decide how to do this. Many personal finance blogs can help you; here are a few of the most popular:

We won’t get into details here since we’re not a personal finance site, nor are we affiliated with any of these blogs. We just promote good personal finance habits in order to continue earning travel rewards.

Managing Your Card Earnings and Benefits

You’ll also want to keep track of what cards you have and which categories of spending they work best with. Having a quick cheat sheet allows you to easily figure out which card works best in a certain situation.

Organized_Cards_4
Example cheat sheet made in Excel to track credit cards and categories. Note that this may not reflect current offer data.

Let’s not forget about the other card benefits, which can often be more valuable than the card’s points earning. Your list may look something like this so you can remember all the extras:

Card_Organization_of_Benefits_5
Example organized spreadsheet on card benefits. Note that this may not reflect current offer data.

Trust us when we say it is much easier to do this up front than to go back and log in each time you want to remember something! You can get other updates about new cards here at Upgraded Points.

Tools To Help You Stay Organized

We’ll be coming up with some spreadsheet templates and other tools you can use to keep organized very soon! Organizing isn’t always fun, so it can help to get a jump start by utilizing something that someone else has created.


Signing Up for Your First Credit Cards: Additional Tips

If you’ve made it this far, then you’re doing alright! At this point, you know a lot more about your credit score, points/miles, loyalty programs and travel goals.

You should have your strategy in place, or at least have an idea of what you want it to be. You’ve probably thought about what your budgets will be, and you’re sure you can continue to pay off your cards.

We’ve provided some tips and strategies for determining which cards you want throughout the guide, and here you will find some additional resources and tips to help you choose.

Finding the Right Card

These are links to the content we have on the various credit cards out there. Always check back for new updates!

Check out the links above to see if any of the cards and benefits appeal to you. The top 10 list is a great place to start! This list includes some good first cards and others you can get to improve your overall benefits.

Remember that we suggest you begin your strategy by deciding on a place to go and determining how to get there. By doing this, you have information that allows you to target specific cards.

We suggest clicking on one of the links and getting signed up if any of those cards match your strategy!

[Editor’s Note: We do get compensation for any sign-ups through our affiliate links. This helps us maintain the site and provide great content. Don’t feel obligated to do so, but know that we appreciate it when you do!]

Don’t see any cards in the top 10 list that match your strategy? Look around and find cards that do. Are you trying to earn airline miles? Bank rewards points? Hotel points? You can search and sort by a variety of parameters, so check it out.

Check into cards with high sign-up bonuses if you’re looking to get started in a new loyalty program.

A great starting card for anyone is always the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. This card offers a great amount of flexibility, earning potential, and benefits.

If you are truly a beginner trying to build credit, we suggest starting with the Chase Slate® Card. This card has no annual fee, gives you access to your free FICO score (allowing you to track it), and is available to a wide-range of credit scores!

Remember that you can use the Card Match Tool to help you find cards you may be pre-approved for already if you need help narrowing down your list.

You can also check out our Express Guide for Getting Started to help make some of those key decisions!

Bottom Line: Find a strategy and pick an appropriate card. You can also start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for general points or the Chase Slate® Card for credit building!

Part 9 Credit Cards
Finding the right card for you can take some work. It’s worth spending time doing some calculations and figuring it out, but don’t wait too long or you’ll miss out on points!

Additional Tips for Finding the Right Card

Don’t have a specific strategy, loyalty program, or card in mind yet? Like we’ve said before, you could always start with a no-annual-fee card to be safe. But remember that a no-fee card may have much weaker benefits than a paid card.

For those having trouble determining a place to travel and which card to get, you can get a card that earns general points and gives travel rewards, like the following:

When looking for cards, be sure to choose the one with the largest sign-up bonus that works for your goals.

Overall, it’s best to start by having an idea of your spending and going from there. Where are you spending your money and how much are you spending? Is that going to offset the cost of some of the cards you’re looking at?

After seeing where you spend the most, you can choose the card with the biggest sign-up bonus. The sign-up bonuses typically beat out what you will earn with regular spending for at least a couple years.

If you’re still looking for more information, try checking out this Forbes article for developing a first card strategy!

Example: Below are some credit cards The Millers use…


Be Careful Before Canceling Any Cards

Even though we covered this concept in a couple different places throughout this series, we wanted to be adamant on this point: don’t cancel your card too early, and make sure you’re meeting your minimum spend!

Problems With Cancelling Too Early

Canceling a credit card is a viable strategy after you’ve gotten the value you wanted out of the card and no longer wish to pay its annual fee.

However, canceling too early can affect your credit score in a bad way (refer to our credit score section).

Make sure to plan it out if you really want to cancel a card. Most cards don’t make you pay the annual fee the first year, so waiting 12 months is a good minimum timeframe.

If you don’t have extensive credit established, then you’ll need to be extra careful. Never cancel your oldest credit card, since average account age is a large portion of your score.

In fact, we highly recommend getting a non-annual fee card as your first/second card, simply so you can sit on it for years to build your credit.

That’s what many college students do; opening a card while young helps them build credit throughout their life.

Lastly, we’ll note that you’ll want to ensure that all the points you have earned on a card have been processed before cancelling. It would not be fun to realize that because you cancelled, the rest of your points didn’t go through!

Hot Tip: Instead of cancelling your card with an annual fee, why not try to downgrade it instead? Many cards offer a no-annual fee version, so call your customer service rep to see if this is an option for you!

Get Your Sign-Up Bonus Secured

Secondly, make sure to meet the minimum spends! If not, you are missing out on the biggest value of the card: the sign-up bonus.

These are often worth hundreds of dollars or more, and when you don’t meet the spend needed to attain them you are essentially throwing money away.

Again, by minimum spend we mean the amount the card agreement makes you spend in order to receive your sign-up bonus, often about $3,000 in the first 3 months.

This is why it’s important to know your spending beforehand. If you can’t actually support the required spending on the cards you’re looking at to earn a bonus, then choose different cards!

Otherwise, you may want to ask yourself if a points strategy is really appropriate for you. Recall that any fees incurred by not paying off the cards will greatly outweigh any benefits of the card.

Final Thoughts on Meeting Your Spends

As you continue with your points strategy, keep tracking all of your card information so you’re informed about the status of your credit, and are able to make the best decisions and keep getting the best deals.

Sometimes, credit card companies send targeted offers to your house, which can be even better than the deals we showcase here on the blog. If that is the case then, by all means, take advantage!

The Card Match Tool may also help you find other offers available to you that you weren’t aware of.

When you keep your credit at its best, you’re more likely to receive these offers, which helps you boost your travel more and more!


Upgrade Your Earnings: How To Earn the Most Miles

Are you excited yet? Since you’re this far in, you’ve already learned about, planned, and implemented the beginning stages of your strategy to earn points and become an astute points traveler!

The next 2 stages are where the real excitement starts: earning and redeeming points.

Where To Begin Earning Points and Miles

The best place to begin looking for information on how to earn miles would be to check out our guides. In these articles, we show you how to build points in whatever loyalty program you have chosen, whether it’s an airline, hotel, or card rewards center.

For example, if you’ve chosen to get the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard, you can check out our guide on earning points for American Airlines. You may also find some additional tips in the credit card review.

As time goes on, we will continually add to these guides and write new ones where appropriate, so you can find the best ways to earn points with all your cards.

So…How Does It Actually Work?

Every time you swipe your card, you’ll earn points automatically. Credit card companies have an automated system that will detect each purchase category, apply the appropriate multiplier, and add points to your account.

Your account will accrue either under your credit card portal (where you sign in to manage your card) or your loyalty account where the points go. It’s not a bad idea to follow up and check that the points are depositing correctly each month.

We recommend reviewing each account once a month. The credit card companies have made it pretty easy to see where you are earning points nowadays.

For instance, the following report shows up on your monthly statement for Chase:

Chase_Ultimate_Points_Summary
The Ultimate Rewards Summary from Chase’s Monthly Statements.

Check your card statements as well as your loyalty accounts. Most loyalty programs will send you a monthly summary.

For instance, you can see an example summary from AAdvantage here. It gives you your previous balance, newly posted miles, current balance, and an update on your elite status progress. Pretty useful!

AAdvantage_Summary_Example

Notes on Points and Miles Earned

As mentioned before, points can take a while to hit your account. Each credit card company is different, and each type of card is different.

For instance, bank rewards portal cards will deposit points quicker since they own the system and it is all in one. You can expect points to post within a couple weeks, or maybe at the end of each month.

For partnered cards, it can take longer. Your credit card company has to notify the other company’s loyalty account that you have earned points to ensure that they are transferred and deposited.

This simply takes longer because there are multiple parties involved.

Things like the sign-up bonus and other bonuses take a little longer in general, especially because you usually have to meet certain requirements to do so.

These requirements are likely confirmed in some way, and therefore take a while to be both verified and deposited.

Get yourself familiar with all the best ways to earn, and soon you’ll see your points accounts filling up! At that point, you’ll be able to start turning your points into redemptions.

Links to All Our Earnings Guides


Upgrade Your Redemptions: How To Redeem for the Best Value

Part 12 Featured Earning Travel

So, now you’ve got a bunch of points and you’re ready to redeem. Congratulations!

If you’re confused about where to start, don’t worry. It can be quite overwhelming to figure out if you’re getting the best deal or not, but we’ve got you covered.

We will have more guides describing some best practices for redeeming points soon.

Until then, understand that our goal is to get the most value for your points, usually calculated in $/pt or $/100pts. For you personally, remember that value can also come in some intangible forms as well (such as a status upgrade, experience, etc.).

Tools To Help You Use Miles and Points

First, if you’re going to be traveling internationally you will need to have a passport. You can learn how to get your first passport or how to renew your passport with the guides here on Upgraded Points.

In addition, you may be interested in having some advanced security access and expediting your time through customs. In this case, you may want to check out the Global Entry program, which allows you to do just that.

Before going abroad, you may want to review some security tips to help you prevent fraud in case your things are stolen. Check out our guide on how to prevent credit card fraud.

Finally, finding great fares and flights that you can use for redemptions isn’t always as easy as signing into your account. You may have to get creative and do some research!

The ITA Matrix is a great tool to do that. Learn how to use the ITA Matrix with our detailed guide, and then move on to some more advanced techniques.

Hot Tip: Until recently you could not book any itineraries you found in the ITA Matrix very easily. Now, a couple of guys have created BookWithMatrix.com, which makes it simple!

Advanced Strategies For Using Miles and Points

Now that you’ve got the basics started, you may be curious about the advanced strategies that allow people to get multiple redemptions per year and really maximize value.

We are still updating our advanced strategy guide, but below are a few tips to start with.

Maximizing the Open Jaw and Stopover Rules

Open jaws are perhaps the most powerful feature to help you to maximize the value of your redemption. The caveat? You’ve got to be a little more flexible or have some extra time on your hands to use them.

If you can, you’ll be able to visit multiple cities on your vacation, all for the price of a single ticket!

An open jaw means you’re going from Destination A to Destination D, but you’re going to get from B to C in some other fashion (perhaps train or car), then depart from Destination C for Destination D.

Stopovers are more like layovers, except you spend more than 24 hours at your destination.

Here are some airlines that allow these types of flights and the number allowed:

Airline Open Jaws Allowed Per Round-Trip Stopovers Allowed Per-Round Trip
Alaska 2 2
Asia Miles 2 4
Lufthansa 2 2
United 2 1
Air Canada 1 Up to 2
Delta 1 1
Emirates 1 Up to 2
Flying Blue 1 1
JAL 1 7
JetBlue 1 0
LATAM 1 1
Thai Airways 1 2
Virgin America 1 1
Virgin Atlantic 1 0
British Airways 0 Unlimited, within reason

*Note: Always check rules with the airline before finalizing plans, as rules can change or include caveats (such as non-eligibility within North American flights).

How To Make Your Own Points Valuation and Choose the Optimal Redemption

In general, you want to try to get an absolute minimum of $0.02 per point to get the highest quality redemptions. The typical redemption value is $0.01 per point, so the better you can get the better you are doing!

Let’s go through an example to show you how to calculate the optimal value for points. How about a trip to Frankfurt, Germany? We’ll assume we’re starting from the Dallas airport (DFW).

Example 1 – Step 1: Log in and Search

First, you’ll log into your AA account:

AA_Acct_Login
The AAdvantage login screen.

Once here, you’ll need to go into the screen for redeeming miles:

AA_Redeem_Miles
The redeem miles location.

You’ll have to scroll down and click on “Book now” to get to the flight booking screen. Alternatively, you can go back to the home page and just input your parameters there. Don’t forget to check “Redeem Miles.”

AA_Book_Combined
Click on “Book now” and make sure to select “Redeem Miles.”

From here, you’ll put in your search parameters. Since we’re using the example of going from DFW to Frankfurt (FRA), you’ll see that in the above search boxes.

Once you have chosen your dates and the number of travelers (1 for the ease of example), you can click “Search” and the next screen will show up.

Example 1 – Step 2: Choose a Flight and Determine its Cost

The next screen will ask you to confirm your dates and show you the cheapest flight option on that date.

AA_Dates_and_Cost
The AAdvantage award flight screen.

Click continue to move on to the specific flight selection. On this screen, you will choose the inbound and outbound flights you want on the chosen dates.

AA_Flight_Choice
Choosing your specific awards flight.

After clicking continue, you’ll see how many points and dollars it will cost to book this flight.

AA_Final_Cost
The summary screen for your awards flight, including points and taxes/fees.

For this flight, you can see the total is 40,000 miles PLUS $114.60. If you wanted to book this, you’d just continue putting in all your information and going through the rest of the screens.

Example 1 – Step 3: Find an Equivalent Full Fare Flight for Comparison

The next thing we would do to find the valuation would be to see what an equivalent flight would cost on the same dates. This shows us how much cash we would be spending so we can compare the 2 costs and find a value for our points.

Grab the same flight details and search for a non-redemption flight to find the cost.

AA_Final_Cost_Comparison

The comparison cost for this flight is $1,540.50; how does that stack up? To work through this evaluation, you need a way to compare the value of one versus the other.

This means we need to know how much the points are worth in terms of dollars. Unfortunately, that means a little math!

Example 1 – Step 4: Calculate the Value of the Points (WARNING: MATH)

The following basic equation will help you understand what your points are worth. Your full fare flight is equal to the taxes of the award flight plus a number of points at some unknown value.

$1,540.50 (full-fare flight) = $114.60 (taxes/fees) + 40,000*[x] (awards flight cost in points)

[x] = value of the points in $/pt

We want to solve for [x] in order to find out what portion of the full fare our points “pay for.”

When we solve the equation for [x], we find that [x] = $0.036. That’s a pretty good value! (Remember we discussed above that some points only get you $0.01 each in value.)

Bottom Line: To find the best value, you should search for awards flights and choose a desired one, then find an equivalent full-priced fare and solve the above equation to determine the value of the points you are spending.

Part 12 Cost Versus Value

Example 2 – Step 1: Find a Full Fare Flight to Compare

Let’s try another example so to make sure you understand. This time, you’ll go from New York to Berlin. By searching on Kayak, you find that United has a decent price on a flight to Berlin (TXL) from LaGuardia (LGA).

United_LGA_to_TXL

*A United flight from Kayak.com

Then, you sign in to your United account and get to your redemption screen for these same dates to check the rewards cost (we won’t go through all the screens again this time).

Example 2 – Step 2: Find the Equivalent Cost in Points and Taxes/Fees

Air_Canada_Reward_Flight

*United’s award flight screen showing flights for 30k points

You find that United doesn’t even have any rewards flights out of LGA, but you do see Air Canada partner flights under their rewards screen.

Next, you go ahead and select the similar flights on Air Canada. (Note that you won’t always be able to find exact matches, so just choose the best deal to compare.)

Air_Canada_Awards_Flight

*United’s award summary screen after choosing Air Canada flights

Example 2 – Step 3: Calculate the Value of the Points (WARNING: MATH)

The final cost of this flight is 60,000 points and $134.50 in taxes versus the $1,791.60 flight from Kayak.com. Applying the same formula:

$1,791.60= $134.50 + 60,000*[x]

You find that [x] = $0.027. Not as good as value as the previous example, but still above the $0.02 minimum you want to shoot for.

Points Valuation Summary

Now you know a little more about points valuation. As your skills of comparison improve, you’ll find yourself squeezing great value out of the points you’ve earned!

We are always interested in hearing your best valuations since sharing and feedback from our community is how we get better. So let us know your favorite valuations and redemptions!

In summary:

  1. Find the cash value of the flight you are looking for
  2. Find the award value (points + taxes/fees) of the flight
  3. Find out how much value the points add to the award compared to the full fare

[FULL FARE] = [POINTS]*[X] + [TAXES/FEES]

[X] = Value of the Points


“Must See” Travel & Points Resources

We truly hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to the points strategy world and learned how to implement your own strategy. We look forward to seeing where you travel!

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact us. We want this to be the #1 guide out there, and we can only do that through the help and feedback of our followers.

Throughout the guide and site, we refer to a variety of places where you can find more information.

Here, we’ve combined all those resources into one place and added links to many others. Please let us know if we are missing any, and we will continually update this page!

Upgraded Points Resources

Useful Tools and Other Resources

  • Travel Blogs Focused on Points

Table of Contents

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Here are 9 best ways to use 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (including round-trip to Hawaii for 2 people!)

And – discover 10 of the most valuable benefits you’ll get access to as a cardholder

FAQ

Where can I find good credit card offers? How do I get the best credit card?
To find a new card, you can search around the potential credit cards here on our site. You may find something you like, and if not you’ll at least get an idea of what’s out there.

We use our model families and their estimated spending levels to find the card with the greatest value. Just match your spending level with theirs to get an idea of how much your points will be worth!

The Card Match Tool is also a great place to look around. It helps determine which companies have pre-approved offers for you.

Getting the best deal for you will depend on your goals. We suggest reading through our guide to figure those out.

You can also sign up for targeted offers and work on building your credit score to make sure you’re getting the best deals!

How do I apply for a credit card?
Applying is easy. Simply find the card you want and click the “Apply Now” link. Next you will be asked to fill out some personal information.

Do not worry, it is completely safe to do so. You’ll be either instantly approved (if your credit is good enough) or you will go into a pending status.

From the pending status, you will be contacted to be told whether you were approved or denied, and you may be able to find out why.

Typically, your status will depend on your current credit score, so managing that is very important.

Is there a credit score guide available?
We have a comprehensive guide to managing your credit score here.

What should I do to prepare for entering the credit card points world? What do I need to begin traveling the world?
Great question! First, you’ll need to get a passport to travel internationally. If you already have a passport but it’s about to expire, then you’ll need to get it renewed.

Some of you may be interested in programs that help you get through the airport more easily. These include Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, and CLEAR Security.

These programs can make life less stressful by helping you speed through security or customs before and after a long trip.

Something else you may want to consider is reading up on credit card fraud. Having this knowledge will help you protect yourself if you’re new to credit, or remind you if you haven’t thought about it in a while.