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How to Work Airlines Miles to Their Fullest

There’s a lot to consider when deciding on a frequent flier program and a rewards credit card. I’m here to teach you how the top programs perform and how to exploit their rewards. You can compare tables and reviews yourself, I’ve flown for free using these programs and can tell you, practically, how they work. Many of the cards mentioned below have annual fees ranging from $65-$95. If you actually plan on traveling to South America, Europe, or Asia for free (like I do) then why are you upset to less than $100 annually for over $1,000 in ticket savings. However, at the end of the article I’ll teach you a trick to potentially dodge the annual fee.*

Spending Habits
In order to reap the most benefits I charge everything possible on my rewards card. At one point, I was renting from a management company that allowed me to pay rent online via credit card for a $5 fee. An extra 1,000 points a month was most certainly worth the $5 fee. This scheme only works if you pay your entire balance off each month. If you have a rollover balance you incur a finance charge which negates your savings. Don’t change your spending habits just because you are charging things, just make your money work for you. You have spending power, and with the right card you’ll have travel power too.

The Right Card
Where do you like to travel? Are you a US traveling machine, or an international junkie? Which airline services the cities you want to see in the future? The right card for you might not be the right card for your neighbor. If you enjoy domestic travel then Frontier or Southwest could be your go to frequent flier programs. Both have excellent reward credit cards that link to the frequent flier system. If you are an international buff like myself then the Sapphire Preferred, United, and the American Advantage cards are good ones to consider.

Frontier’s card will give you 40,000 points after just $500 of spending or balance transfers within in the first 90 days. That’s enough points for two domestic round-trip tickets! Southwest offers 25,000 points, enough for one roundtrip ticket, for signing up and 6,000 extra points every anniversary you keep the card. If you don’t have the best credit, or have no credit history these cards are where you may need to start before you can play with the big boys. Both programs are easy to use, and don’t require an absurd amount of miles to redeem.

United Star Alliance
The Sapphire Preferred Card is not only gorgeous and made with a metal that leaves an impression, it works for you. Earn 45,000 points after you sign up and spend $3,000 in the first three months and add an authorized user. While the sign on bonus is pretty awesome, I love this card because it truly rewards travel. Travel spending such as: gas, hotels, rental cars, cruises, train tickets, taxis, tolls, and restaurants always earn you double points!

There are no foreign transaction fees, which is a must for any frequent foreign traveler, your trip cancellations due to sickness and severe weather are covered up to $10,000, you have built in rental car coverage, accidental death insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, and theft protection! That’s not all, you can transfer these points 1:1 to a variety of programs such as: United Mileage Plus, Korean Air, British Airways, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Amtrak, Hyatt, Priority Club, Marriott, and the Ritz-Carlton. So it’s versatile too.

After many years exclusively participating with the American Advantage Reward travel system, I switched to United. Most US based frequent flier programs require that either your destination or origination include the US, that was the case with American but not so with United. For me, as an international resident, that was a deal breaker. Plus, I can triple dip into United’s rewards program. I earned a sign on bonus with the Sapphire Preferred Card, then signed up for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card and earned another 55,000 points. Then I signed up for the United Mileageplus Business Explorer Card, since I’m a business owner, and earned another 30,000. That totals 130,000 sign on bonus miles with United Airlines, plus the double miles I accrued while using the card for all of my monthly expenses. Each Explorer card grants you two complimentary passes annually to the United Club (the swanky waiting area in the airport with free wifi, snacks, beverages, and a comfortable place to await your plane). Make sure you aren’t going to cancel your rewards travel, however, because you will have to pay $150 per ticket in order for your miles to post back to your account. The last thing I’ll say about United’s frequent flier program is that the miles never expire.

American Airlines-One World
I used the American Advantage card exclusively until a year ago. I have traveled internationally no fewer than seven times for free including routes from Kansas City to Lima, Peru for just $40 in taxes, and about the same from Santiago, Chile to San Diego. American’s frequent flier program has been the easiest to use, cheapest to book international flights, and easiest to reschedule. I had their business card, their Platinum World MasterCard, and back when they had it, I added their Amex and Visa cards, each with it’s own 30,000 bonus sign on bonus (120,000 sign on bonuses back in the day)!
Which ever card you decide to use, I have two tips for you.

Tip 1
Look into their dining and shopping programs. Oftentimes, all you have to do is take a minute and sign up for a dining program and you are given up to 5x the points when you dine at participating restaurants.

Tip 2
Make a note in your calendar to call your credit card company after eleven months of activating the card, at which point you will call them and tell them that you want to cancel the card because you don’t want to pay the annual fee. Every time I have done this they have gladly waived the fee. If you really want to push your luck, just say you want to cancel the card. They will usually offer to waive the fee first, then they will ask you how they can keep you. Say something to the effect, “I found a card that accrues more points” they should offer to double or triple all of your points for the next six months.

 

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