We recently got a request for a simple how-to use points and miles guide for beginners. I explained that there hundreds of posts about the topic, but I will try to write a simple one under one condition: before even reading that guide, our dear reader had to promise to read this post.
These days, the easiest and fastest way to get lots of points and miles is through credit card signup bonuses. Typically, if you spend somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000 depending on the card, usually within 3 or 4 months, you get from 10,000 to 80,000 points/miles. Sometimes, you get even more. Not so long ago, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum card from American Express were offering 100,000 points. Here's the thing, credit cards can be the most wonderful or the worst thing in the world depending on how you use them.
Before you start to plan on getting huge bonuses to travel the globe in first class and stay at the finest hotels in the world, you need make sure you follow this simple advice:
1. You must pay all your credit cards in full every month ALWAYS! Treat credit cards as charge cards which you must pay in full each month. This is the only way to go. We have not paid ¢1 in credit card interest in well over a decade. If we can't pay it off by the time payment is due, we simply do not put it on a credit card and neither should you.
2. Do not apply for any card regardless of the stupendous bonus offer if it does not fit your miles and points strategy. For instance, we never fly Southwest, many people love it and its cards are some of the most sought after. You can get a companion pass for over a year, and I hear some have gotten $15,000+ worth of value out of that benefit. However, we want to travel to Europe, Hawaii, some parts of Asia and places in South America where SW nor its partners fly. Now, if JetBlue's cards were remotely as good a deal we would have gotten it/them a long time ago!
3. Do not apply for credit cards trying to get a bonus if you do not have an organic way to spend those $1000, $3000 or $4000 or any other amount. By organic, I mean, you were going to spend that money anyway. You are not overspending just to meet the credit card minimum spend required to obtain the bonuses. You are not engaging in what some call manufactured spend. Although, this practice is not ilegal, it can get you in trouble.
4. Only get cards for which you have long-term use beyond getting the bonus. For instance, last year I got the United card, we used the bonus as part of our trip to Colombia. However, I got the card because I'm forced to fly United most of the time. The United card gives me priority boarding. To me this perk alone is worth the $95 annual fee. If my travel pattern were to change, I would consider downgrading or closing the account. While I have no use for the 2 United Club annual passes, the card has another perk which I find very useful: access to extra award space.
5. Make sure you do your own research before applying for any card regardless of how good it sounds. Put your critical thinking skills to good use, almost every blog or publication "reviewing" and recommending cards is getting a referral bonus or some kind of compensation. Only you have your best interest at heart.
6. Getting lots miles/points can become your next addiction. Remember hoarding millions of miles and points is not the end, travel is, hence the name of this blog. So far this year, we have burned half a million points and looking back the redemptions were not necessarily optimal, yet we have zero regrets.
The allure of free premium travel is in deed powerful. Remember that credit cards are a true double edge sword. Taking the above 6 points into consideration can help you make the most of credit cards while minimizing the risk of getting in debt or making regrettable credit card mistakes.