Get Started With Travel Rewards in 4 Simple Steps

By Jason Steele on 11 June 2013 0 comments

Frugal shoppers often spend a lot of effort looking for discounts worth a few dollars off of the goods they normally purchase. But what I have learned is that far greater bargains are available to those who get serious about earning travel rewards. And while some might consider the world of frequent flyer miles and hotel points to be for those who purchase the most travel, I earn and spend hundreds of thousands of points and miles each year, and I hardly pay anything for my vacations. (See also: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards)

It took me years to learn everything I know about reward travel with points and miles, but my goal is to help you get started today with four simple steps.

Step 1: Organize Your Points and Miles

If you use a reward credit card, or have ever traveled anywhere, you probably have more than a few accounts with points and miles. But do you know how many accounts do you have, what their balances are, and when or if they expire? If this sounds overwhelming to you, don't worry! There are several websites designed to make this task easy. I use Award Wallet (free with an optional subscription), but others include Points.com and usingmiles.com. (See also: Perform a Credit Card Rewards Annual Review)

Step 2: Learn More About Your Favorite Program

If you are interested in reward travel, you probably already have a favorite airline, hotel, or credit card program. Rather than trying to learn about the programs of all of their competitors, start by discovering something new about the one program you use the most. Simply visit their website, explore of the program's features, and find out if they are currently offering any promotions. Focus on all of the ways to earn points or miles, as well as the different options for redeeming them. Also, check out what it takes to become an "elite" member in their program and how far away you are from the next level. Finally, if you Google the name of program, you can tap into a wealth of knowledge published in blogs and on message boards.

Step 3: Set Some Reachable Goals

Hold off planning an around-the-world trip in first class and start by focusing on a more modest vacation. If you already have some points and miles, you might look at planning a trip later this year, but if you are starting from scratch, think about looking forward to next year.

Why should you plan so far ahead? First, you will need to accumulate enough points and miles for the trip, and that can take time. But also, it can be very challenging to find available reward seats on most airlines, and the more time you have to plan your trip, the better. On the other hand, less time is necessary when you can be very flexible with the dates you want to travel and you choice of destination.

Step 4: Start Earning Miles Today

There is no need to pack your bags, as there are plenty of ways to earn points and miles at home. The easiest way to do so is with a credit card, but this may not be the right choice for everyone. Those who are carrying a balance on their credit card should always be focused on finding the card with the lowest possible interest rate, and unfortunately that is not going to be a rewards card. And the last thing you need when you are trying to get out of debt is a product that rewards you for spending more.

But those without credit card debt should be earning as many miles as possible from their cards!

Choosing the Right Credit Card

For beginners, the best credit card is going to have a great bonus offer while earning points or miles that are easy to redeem. Check out the co-branded cards of your favorite airline and hotel program. Decide if your spending falls into the categories where they offer bonus rewards for. Also check their travel perks and benefits. Those can be even more valuable than travel rewards earned through your purchases. (See also: How Travel Rewards Credit Cards Really Work)

Cards that offer more flexibility in travel redemption might offer less value and travel perks, but gives you more options for booking travel. See our guide on choosing the perfect travel rewards credit card.

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Get Started With Travel Rewards in 4 Simple Steps

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