A Newbie's Guide to Miles & Points
by Prince of Travel
Welcome to Miles & Points...
For the vast majority of people, "rewards" or "points" are an afterthought at best.
Many consumers are content to pay for their purchases with cash or debit, forgoing any bonuses altogether. Others are diligent in carrying a good credit card and earning points for their purchases over the years, but have little idea in the end what to do with the mountain of points they've earned.
Some of you have perhaps heard of the art of Miles & Points at one point – perhaps under the guise of "churning credit cards" or "travel hacking". Perhaps you've read a clickbait article along the lines of "How I Flew First Class Around the World for $50”, but soon lost interest for whatever reason.
Relatively few people are in the habit of carefully considering their travel goals and developing a strategy to meet those goals using their points.
Why is this? Well, it's sort of ingrained in the name of the game. We’re meant to be merely "rewarded" for our normal, everyday spending behaviour with a pinch of cash back in our pocket, or a stash of miles we can use a few years down the road. Or so goes the conventional thinking.
It can be a little unintuitive to many people that leveraging travel rewards to their full potential can transform the way you travel.
What You Can Get Out of This
By learning how to effectively collect points and redeem them for travel, you can travel in First Class for less than the price of economy. You can stay in fancy hotels around the world for a fraction of the price. And you can make so many of your "dream trips" a reality that you begin to question the very definition of a "dream trip".
Take it from someone who, many years ago, had huge aspirations of travelling the world but very little cash in my bank account to make it happen.
However, this stuff doesn't magically happen. There's an entire body of knowledge relating to earning and redeeming points for you to absorb.
To learn about Miles & Points is to develop and hone a skill set – one that can change the way you travel for the rest of your life – but like any other skill, it takes time, effort, and resources to reach an advanced level.
The more you dedicate yourself to this hobby, the more you'll get out of it. If you're willing to put in the work (which mostly consists of a cycle of reading, researching, and putting what you've learnt into action, all whilst staying organized and keeping track of your progress), then you'll reap the rewards in the form of affordable, extensive, and unforgettable trips around the world.
Earn & Burn
There are two sides to this game: earning points and redeeming points. Indeed, everything there is to know about Miles & Points can be divided into one of those two categories.
The idea is to earn as many points as possible without spending a lot of money, and then redeem these points for stuff that would usually be very expensive if booked with cash, like business class and First Class flights or luxury hotels.
In doing so, you capture the "value" between the price at which you acquired the points and the price of the stuff you redeemed your points for. It's like the age-old saying – buy low, sell high.
Earning points cheaply is typically done by taking advantage of the huge signup bonuses on credit cards – you can consult this page for the best Canadian credit card offers at the moment. Enthusiastic points collectors sign up for dozens and dozens of credit cards in order to capture the bonuses.
Bear in mind that your goal is to earn as many points while spending as little money out-of-pocket as possible, so you must be judicious about which credit card offers you choose.
Meanwhile, learning how to redeem points effectively requires studying the ins and outs of the major travel rewards programs out there. You can consult the in-depth guides I've written about some of Canada's best points programs. Every program has its strengths and weaknesses, so it's all about maximizing each program to your advantage as you plan your travels around the world.
Both worlds (the earning and the "burning") encompass a myriad of tips and tricks, all with the goal of earning points for less and redeeming them for more. Absorbing this knowledge is where the bulk of your time will be spent.
Thankfully, you've come to the right place, because this website is all about teaching you these tricks and helping you along the learning curve.
The Action Plan
Talk is cheap. Let's jump straight into how you can get started:
Change the way you think about rewards points. Having the right mindset is an essential part of this game. Don't think about points in terms of swiping your AIR MILES card at the cash register; instead, view them as a key strategic resource that will help you travel the world.
Think about your travel goals. Where in the world do you want to go? What flight and hotel bookings do you need to make over the upcoming year or so? Are you happy with economy class, or would you like to treat yourself and your loved ones to a luxurious experience in business class or even First Class?
Figure out how many points you need. Study the various points programs to work out how many points you need. I recommend beginning with the Aeroplan Reward Chart, since Aeroplan tends to be the most versatile program for Canadians, and is also the best for earning a large amount of points in a short time.
Earn those points. Head over to the Credit Cards page, where you'll see that a single credit card application – the American Express Business Platinum – can earn you 75,000 points right off the bat. In the previous step, you figured out how many points you needed to accomplish your first goal, so now's the time to strategize over which credit cards to apply for in order to get those points in your account.
Read and learn. When you're starting to handle multiple credit cards, you'll need to know how to keep your credit score in good shape. Many cards require you to spend a certain amount before getting the points, so learn the best tricks for meeting those spending thresholds. Get a head start on learning to redeem points at a good value. There's a lot of information to pore over, so keep up with the blog and go at your own pace!
Travel. The reason we do all of this. Once you've earned the required amount of points, it's time to book your desired trip, enjoy the fruits of your labour by travelling for a fraction of the price, and of course, do it all again upon your return.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is this best suited for?
If one or more of the following describes you, then collecting points is better than not collecting points:
You love to travel, and are constantly saving money and/or budgeting for future trips
You regularly travel overseas to visit friends and family
You enjoy getting away every once in a while, even if it's a weekend trip somewhere close by
You love figuring out how things work and developing new skills
You have decently strong organizational skills and financial literacy
That last point is particularly important. If you are in the habit of spending beyond your means or carrying balances on your credit card, avoid pursuing Miles & Points until you've fixed your financial habits. Paying interest on credit card balances completely defeats the purpose of earning rewards points and can leave you in a perilous financial state, so getting your finances in order should be your foremost priority.
If I apply for so many credit cards, isn't that bad for my credit score?
Contrary to popular belief, applying for a large number of credit cards doesn't necessarily have a negative impact on your credit score. That's because your credit score is composed of many different factors: payment history (35%), credit utilization (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit applications (10%), and credit types (10%).
So while a large number of applications might impact the 10% of your score that's based on new credit applications, it can actually help you demonstrate a good payment history and credit utilization, which together contribute to 65% of your score. In fact, it's often the case that Miles & Points practitioners see their credit scores increase after responsibly handling their credit cards for a period of time.
Lots more information can be found in this article, but the bottom line is that you don't have to worry about tanking your credit score while you collect points, as long as you continue paying off your credit card balances on time.
Can I use my points on any flights I want?
One of the things you will become very familiar with is the idea of award availability, which is different from regular flight availability. Just because you can find a flight on Expedia doesn't mean you can book it with points.
To start with, the airlines you can choose from are limited to the points program that you're using. For example, Aeroplan members can book flights on Air Canada and other Star Alliance partners, but not on British Airways. Similarly, British Airways Avios members can book flights on British Airways and other Oneworld airlines, but not on Air Canada – you get the idea.
Then, not all flights might be available for an award booking. After all, airlines only make seats available for award bookings when they don’t think they can sell that seat to a paying customer. This means that you may need to have some flexibility in order to make your trip happen. If your desired flights aren't available, you may need to look at alternative routings, dates, or classes of service.
Some people moan about having to endure a layover or two on the way to their destination, but the great thing about points bookings is that you can often stretch a layover into a "long layover" of up to 24 hours, giving you plenty of time to do some serious sightseeing.
Will my vacation be truly free?
Let me be upfront here – there's no such thing as free travel. Even when redeeming points, there are certain components of your airfare that you’ll need to pay out-of-pocket. For example, airport taxes and government-imposed aviation fees are almost never covered by points.
The goal isn't to travel for free, but rather to spend a fraction of the usual cost on flights and accommodations, while also enjoying an elevated level of luxury if you so choose.
Moreover, in general you can’t redeem points for tours, shows, attractions, activities, food and drink, and what have you, and depending on the destination you might end up spending a bit more while travelling than if you were sitting at home, so that’s something to keep in mind.
How is this even possible?!
Honestly, I’m not quite sure. It’s pretty incredible to me that the profit-seeking airlines, banks, and credit card issuers have created a system in which people can travel the world at rock-bottom prices. Call it the invisible hand in action, I suppose.
I will say that, in my experience, most things that appear too good to be true are indeed so. This is one of the rare exceptions.
What if I’m uncomfortable with the idea of getting something for (pretty much) nothing?
That’s fair enough – to each their own. I’d only say: don’t knock it until you try it. I know many people who were doubtful or skeptical at first, until their partner or friends brought them on a “free” vacation. Now they’re hooked.
Any further questions? Contact me.