This post is long overdue, but hopefully you’ve all already figured somethings out. In this post, I’m going to outline the steps from The Points Guy’s Beginner’s Guide.
Step 1 – Sign up for programs
The obvious – if you haven’t already, sign up for the loyalty programs for any airlines/hotels that you currently frequent. TPG’s Beginner’s Guide contains a huge list of links to all the different programs out there (no guarantees it’s comprehensive, but there’s a lot). While the guide suggests signing up for all the programs, I personally think you should only sign up for the programs that you will participate in actively and/or do promotions for now or in the near future. One reason is that programs sometimes off signup bonuses at random times, for example, the current AAdvantage code (detailed here, ack: View from the Wing) that will give you 500 bonus miles for entering the code. Another one that I know about is for Aegean Airlines, who is offering 1000 bonus miles for signing up (it’s been there for a while). Fun Fact: Aegean is probably obscure to most of you, but they are a Star Alliance member, and their claim to fame is that you only need 20,000 status miles (EQM) on them to earn Star Alliance (*A) Gold, for which the primary award is lounge access to all *A lounges (as well as free checked bags, increased baggage allowance, priority lines, priority boarding, etc.).
Anyway, these signup bonuses are generally no more than 1-2000 miles, so it’s not really the end of the world if you miss out on them, but every little bit counts! At first, you’ll probably want to focus on a few programs, especially ones you use, but as you learn more, and get comfortable with credit card applications and promotions, I generally recommend that you start participating in more programs (even if you never travel in them). The point of collecting a wide variety of miles is so that you will always have plenty of options wherever in the world you may travel.
Step 2 – Use a service to manage your miles
Since you just created a few (or possibly many) accounts, you will want a way to track all these accounts. You can keep track of your account information in email or spreadsheets, but there are various services out there that will take your login information and track your miles for you as well as their expiration dates. The current favorite seems to be Award Wallet. Do sign up there, and provide your login information for all of your accounts. Award Wallet even allows you to log into your account at the airlines/hotel’s website by clicking on the program name in your list of balances.
The most basic version if Award Wallet is free, but it only shows you the expiration for up to three of your accounts. It is highly recommended that you upgrade to the paid version of Award Wallet, 1) to see all of your account expiration dates, 2) it’s an immensely useful service that the developers work very hard on, 3) you can name you own price. That right! They allow you to pay as much as you believe the service is worth to you 🙂 For a full list of the differences between the free and paid Award Wallet, see here. As of this writing, Award Wallet claims to support 425 loyalty programs. The programs they support goes way beyond airlines, hotels, and rental cars…
Step 3 – Jump start your miles collection…
with credit card applications! 🙂 There’s pretty much an infinite number of directions to take this one. TPG lists some of the top recommended cards under step three of his guide, and I think he’s spot on 🙂 Some of the cards he lists are the
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
There are various great offers, and these offers change continuously. However, the three cards that I have listed above are considered to be the best programs to participate in, because they all have flexible transfer options to various airlines or hotels.
Most of the bloggers that I have listed maintain their own list of current top credit card deals. For example, check out the best offers at View From the Wing
In addition to these three cards, you may want to consider applying for a card for your program of choice, if there is a signup bonus that is 40,000 or greater. I personally think that most airline cards aren’t worth using for every day spending, and that you should be using the three cards listed above for every day spending, but some airline cards require a minimum spend (i.e. spend $X00 within X number of months).
Be careful when applying that you can indeed spend the required amount on all the credit cards you apply for within the given time limits. There are many tricks (some have evolved and or died over the years) to helping you make minimum spends, but try to put everything you spend on a credit card (spending cash is just leaving points on the table), and use gift cards to make up for the rest of the minimum spend, if needed. See this post for more information on making your credit card minimum spends.
I think that is probably enough information for you all, but if you aren’t completely overwhelmed, do check out the rest of TPG’s Beginner’s Guide. There’s a few more points (no pun intended) about using the various mileage dining programs, bonus shopping malls, and following the lates deals and promos. I’ll try to write about each of those topics in the future. Please do let me know if there is anything you are particularly interested in reading about.
Happy collecting! 🙂
P.S. Now that you’ve gotten through all this, now would be a good time to start dreaming how to use your points 🙂