How to Use Airline Points
It's a chase that's easy to become obsessed with: the airline points hunt. People will go to extreme lengths to rack up points, but for good reason. Just by spending money you'd be spending anyway, it's possible to net yourself free travel. Maybe you travel every week for work, or maybe you have a favorite credit card (or cards) that earns airline points—maybe it's both. Your travel can earn you status that comes with nice benefits like early boarding, but also miles (sometimes known as points depending on the airline) that can be redeemed for future travel. Meanwhile, there are a slew of credit cards that give you points (or miles) for every dollar you spend, and there are so many ways to level up to exponentially increase the number of points you receive through sign-on bonuses or spending in certain categories.
This world of collecting (and redeeming) points is dizzying. Luckily, there's a wealth of information available whether you're a frequent flier or just want to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris or Tahiti. Brian Kelly, CEO and founder of digital travel platform The Points Guy, helps us to break down the way to receive free or upgraded travel. Here are some of the best tips you can glean from his wisdom.
Use credit cards, but don't let it cost you.
Kelly's top tip when it comes to cards that earn points is to make them work for you, but don't pay unnecessary fees. If you've earned points that will be worth, say, $50, but you carried a balance and racked up $50 in interest, well, the math is easy—you didn't win. The same goes if you miss a payment and get hit with a late fee. Annual fees, on the other hand, may be a worthwhile expense depending on how many travel perks the card comes with, so they shouldn't necessarily deter you.
Know when to hold them.
While it feels great to score a free flight, Kelly cautions travelers to be sure it's worth cashing in the points. If you can catch a great airfare sale to Paris (which Francophiles have been finding for $300 and less recently) it's not worth turning over tens of thousands of hard-earned points. Save them for a time when you can't take advantage of a huge sale.
Double dipping is encouraged.
When you get really deep into the points earning world, you'll find opportunities to score points twice on the same purchase. Double dipping is not only allowed, it's also a smart way to speed up the time it takes to get that free flight. Loyalty programs, online shopping portals, and dining networks are just a few of the ways intrepid points-chasers can build up their balance.
Earn with one, fly with them all.
Airline alliances are a great way to maximize the value of your points. The majority of major airlines are part of an alliance that greatly expands how much of the globe they cover. You might earn points with American Airlines, for instance, but redeem your points to fly with another member of Oneworld Airlines to get to, say, Malaysia. Rather than mix and match, it's best to pick your target airline or alliance, then focus on earning with them.
Do your homework.
It if were easy everybody would do it, right? Every airline has their quirks and their possibly convoluted steps to booking award travel. Never fear though; it may look impossible at first, but people are doing it every day. The more flexible you can be with your plans, with the time of year you travel, how far in advance you book, and even where you go, the better your odds of getting a great deal. TPG offers the lowdown on several major airlines with tips on making the most of points or miles, and primers on how exactly to redeem that flight.