personal finance

How to kickstart your points and miles earning

To many people, points and miles seems to be a dark art. We’ve heard all the excuses – it’s too confusing, complicated, time-consuming and, most of all, you can never actually use your points.

But it needn’t be daunting or confusing – you simply need to arm yourself with the right knowledge. And once the perks start rolling in – a first-class suite, a luxury hotel stay – you’ll be hooked for life, knowing that they were almost free. So let’s get to grips with the basics.

To start off, you just need to make small adjustments to the way you spend. Without realising it, you’ll be racking up enough miles to travel more often or in more style.

Earn points every time you fly or stay

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© Getty Images

Whenever you take a flight or stay in a chain hotel, you could earn valuable miles and points. To be eligible, make sure you’re signed up to loyalty programmes (which are free to register to) and add your membership number to every booking you make.

Loyalty to a particular airline alliance or hotel chain may not always influence your booking decisions, but if you are going to be flying or staying away from home, you should be earning the points that are yours for the taking.

As many airlines and hotels have a number of partners, you may have the option of crediting your flight or stay to different programmes. In order to take your earning to the next level, you should understand which programme to credit your miles to in order to maximise your return.

For instance, if you’re flying with American Airlines in economy, you might want to credit the miles to a programme that earns you more. The site Where to Credit can help you find the best airline programme for crediting your next flight.

Using American Airlines as an example, a slew of options outside of its own AAdvantage programme are available, including British Airways’ Executive Club, Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan, Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo Club and more.

Sign up to the major airline- and hotel-loyalty programmes now and concentrate on a couple of key ones, depending on who you fly or stay with most often. Once you’re ready to diversify your points, you can branch out into other programmes to provide greater flexibility when you want to redeem them.

Credit cards

Credit cards are the backbone of any strategy to earn points and miles. The types of cards available vary depending on the country you live in, but the overall story is the same regardless of where you are based.

You can kickstart your points balance with a decent sign-up bonus. This is where a credit-card issuer will give you a large number of points if you spend a certain amount in the first few months of holding the card.

Once you’ve earned a sign-up bonus, you will continue to get points on everything you spend on your card, with the rate governed by the offer on it.

A cardinal sin of the points and miles world is using a normal debit card or cash to make purchases. Each purchase made with a rewards credit card means you’re one step closer to a redemption – whether a free flight or hotel stay. When you use cash or a debit card, you’re throwing that away.

To fully maximise your cards, you should pay off your balance in full every month so you don’t lose the value of your points earned by the interest due. Before applying for one, research the right product for you and always use those that earn the most in each particular purchase situation. For example, some cards offer elevated earning rates on categories such as spending abroad, in grocery stores or on airline tickets.

Shopping portals

Points guy illo Credit: Getty Images
© Getty Images

One of the easiest ways to earn miles can be done from home via airline shopping portals, where miles are offered as a reward for online purchases. All you need to do is find the retailer on the airline’s shopping portal, and click through to that retailer before making your purchase as usual on the retailer website. The purchase will be tracked in the background and you will eventually be credited with the relevant number of points.

Almost every major retailer (and many smaller ones) has a presence on shopping portals, where you can earn masses of miles and points. Some of the offers are staggering, with 25 miles per pound or more offered as a bonus.

For example, if you wanted to buy a new suitcase from Harvey Nichols that costs £469, British Airways’ eStore is currently offering 12 Avios per pound spent at the London department store. So you’d earn 5,628 Avios – enough for a one-way flight to several European destinations from the UK.

Shopping portals also allow you to double-dip on your mileage earning. You’ll earn the miles via the shopping portal, and the relevant points on your credit card.

You could even triple-dip. If you’re making a hotel booking, use a shopping portal to earn the airline’s miles when you click through to a hotel chain’s site; earn points from your credit card on the purchase; and then earn the hotel points when you complete your stay. It is easy to see how your mileage balances can quickly add up.

Make a resolution to never make an online purchase again without checking the portals and clicking through to the retailer to rack up maximum points.

It is easy to start earning miles and points as you go about your daily life – and it’s never too late to start.

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