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Not sure where to start with collecting points and miles? We’re outlining the basics of earning points and miles to help you learn how to travel for free (or nearly free!).
There are a ton ways to answer this question and even whole communities of people dedicated to maximizing the way in which they travel and exploring how to travel for free. Just check out FlyerTalk if you haven’t already to discover a ton of frequent and enthusiastic travelers who are actively sharing ideas and tricks to maximize their travel points and experiences.
3 Ways to Earn Points
For simplicity sake, there are 3 basic ways to earn points:
1. Flying or staying at hotels
If you travel all the time for work, then in a way, you’re lucky! Despite all the challenges of being away from home, you’re probably staying at the same or similar hotels all the time. If so, then you should think of the airlines and hotels that you commonly enjoy using, and making sure to register for their respective rewards programs.
For example, several years ago, I was traveling a lot for work, and I was primarily flying on United and staying in the Hilton family hotels. This included the Embassy Suites, DoubleTree Hotel, Hilton Garden Inn, and Hampton Inn. Since the rates and availability vary per week, I would try to book my hotel stays in one of these hotels knowing that the points were accumulating under the same program.
Also, you get the benefits of getting elevated status, which unlocks more point earnings potential, and other perks like early and late checkout, free wifi, breakfast, etc.
The same was true for airlines. I flew mostly United, and sometimes I would find myself on partner airlines. This helped me to build a large stash of points! By the end of my project, I had enough points for 2 roundtrip tickets to Hawaii and a week-long stay in a nice hotel.
2. Earning points through credit cards
In the last few years, most of my work has been local, so I rarely travel. As a result, I’ve lost most of my airline and hotel status. So, I’ve had to look for other ways to gain points and perks. And there is another way … it’s through credit cards!
Credit cards, especially those with specific affiliations or programs, can often give you similar or the same loyalty perks. Plus, if you time it right, you can often get a large point bonus for applying for certain cards.
One of the big questions that I get asked is should I apply for a card with an annual fee. The short answer is “it depends.” Many of the cards that I use have annual fees, but when I examine the benefits that I get either from the bonus or from the card itself relative to my daily spend, it makes a lot of sense. So, I guess in this hobby, paying a little can often yield you more rewards than paying nothing.
3. Other point earning opportunities
The third general way to earn points is through other point bonuses. There are so many smaller programs that allow you to earn points and miles by registering your credit cards. For example, I belong to the MileagePlus Dining Program which earns me United miles on top of the normal credit card bonus points that I earn at certain restaurants. It’s just another way to boost your points and miles earning potentials with very little effort.
Another way that I’ve heard a ton of points and miles is through banking account sign-ups. I once applied for a savings account and earned 50,000 American Airlines miles. That was enough for me to fly round-trip to Europe!
So, in summary, there are three general ways to earn points and miles. For most of us, option two is the most valuable way to earn free travel. I’ll be diving deeper into the topic in future posts, but before you go any further, please check out my “Before starting the points hobby” post. It’s not meant to be a downer, but I always insist that people do certain things before they jump into this hobby.
Do you have any tips or tricks on getting free points/miles and how to travel for free? What have you found to be most effective ways to earn free travel? Share your tips & tricks on how to travel for free in our comments section below.