Miles and Points 101- Part 2: Earning Points

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Learn how to leverage credit card points to fly for (almost) FREE!

Beginner’s Guide To Miles and Points – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of my Beginner’s Guide To Miles and Points series.  This post will focus on actually earning points!

Beginner's Guide to Miles and Points - How to earn points
I’ll be staying at the Hyatt Centric Key West Resort & Spa all thanks to miles and points

Earn your Sign Up Bonuses

Signing up for credit cards with big bonuses isn’t all that spectacular if you don’t actually earn the bonus.  Missing out on 30,000, 40,000 even up to 100,000 points isn’t a fun pill to swallow.  You will need to keep track of when you opened your new account, the spending requirements and your actual spend (a simple excel spreadsheet comes in handy).  Once you earn your bonus, continue putting all of your purchases on that card.  I like to earn my bonuses as quickly as possible so I don’t get into a situation where I accidentally miss a deadline or miscalculate how much I have spent.  Earning the sign up bonuses from your credit cards is the #1 way to earn big time points


Additional Ways to Earn Points – Shopping portals and Dining Programs


Shopping Portals

Beginner's Guide To Miles and Points - shopping portals

Shopping portals are a great way to maximize every dollar you spend online.  Most airlines and hotel programs as well as credit cards each have their own shopping portal with varying amounts of extra points you can earn.  All you need to do is click through your shopping portal of choice in order to make your purchase.  You can also click through a cash back portal like Ebates or Coupon Cactus.  There are a couple of sites you can use to see who is offering the most extra points.  Try  Cashback Monitor or EVReward.  I personally use Cashback Monitor because I think it’s easier to see at a glance where I will get the most benefit.  The great thing about these portals is you can stack these offers with the points you would normally earn on your credit card.  Extra points for a purchase you were going to make anyways?  Yes, please!


Dining ProgramsBeginner's Guide To Miles and Points - Dining Programs

Depending on the restaurants you frequent, you can earn some nice bonus points through a dining rewards program.  Many airlines and a couple of hotel chains participate in a similar program (actually most seem to be the exact same program).

All you need to do is join a program, register your card then dine at a participating restaurant and pay with the registered card.  You will earn bonus points on top of the points you earn with your card.  Most programs offer a welcome bonus so I would recommend staggering your participation if you plan on joining more than one program so you can earn all the bonuses available.

At least in my area, I find that the list of restaurants is a random mix of places, none of which are ones we eat at on a regular basis.  So while I participate in the programs I don’t count on it for big points – but a point is a point so I keep my registration up to date.


Maximize Earning Categories

Each card has its own set of rules and ways to earn points.  It pays to know the ins and outs of each of your cards to maximize its benefits.  Let’s say you start with an American Express Everyday Preferred and a Chase Sapphire Preferred.  The Amex will earn you 3x points at grocery stores and 2x points at gas stations (up to $6,000 combined).  The Sapphire Preferred will earn 2x points on travel and dining.  Charging your Panera breakfast on your Amex Everyday Preferred wouldn’t make sense – you would be missing out on an extra bonus point available on the Sapphire card.  Keep track of each of your card’s bonus categories and use them accordingly to maximize points.


Hotel Stays and Flights

Beginner's Guide To Miles and Points

Last but not least is actually staying a a hotel or taking a flight.  Be sure to sign up for each hotel loyalty program or frequent flyer program you use.  Keep track of your membership number and use it each time to book a hotel or flight  (you can often add your number retroactively to recent reservations too).  While this isn’t the most exciting way to earn points, it still counts!  If you are lucky enough to do some traveling for work (that other people pay for!), be sure to add your loyalty numbers to your reservations.  You can earn points even if your job is footing the bill.  While the goal is to use your points to pay for hotels and flights, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes the value isn’t there and it’s just best to pay cash (I mean credit card!).


So, great, that all makes sense…now what card should I get first?

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Beginner's Guide to Miles and Points - Learn how to use credit card poitns, hotel points and airline miles for FREE travel