Miles and Points 101

Miles and points. Once you start doing it, you’re hooked. Always looking for the best way to get somewhere inexpensively. This is the life of airline miles, hotel points, transferrable currency and cash back credit cards.

First things first. The number one rule: You cannot carry a balance on these cards.

Ever.

Why not? Because the interest rates on rewards cards are higher than on other types of credit cards. It doesn’t make financial sense to pay interest just so you can earn miles and points. You can use that interest payment to pay for your travel!

The easiest thing to do when you receive your reward card is to set it up for automatic payments for the full balance each month. This way, you set it up once and forget it.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s discuss loyalty programs. There are many programs available, but I will discuss what programs I use for frugal travel because I am most familiar with them and how you can do the same!

Airlines:

  • American
  • United
  • British Airways
  • Southwest
  • Alaska

Hotels:

  • Hyatt
  • SPG/Marriott
  • Hilton
  • Club Carlson

If you plan to replicate how I travel frugally, you need to sign up for the above airline and hotel loyalty programs. They are free to join.

There is an app called AwardWallet that helps you keep track of all your loyalty programs. There is a free version and a premium version. I used the free version for a couple of years before I upgraded.

This app lets you log into one central place and see the balance of all your loyalty programs. A crucial factor of why I upgraded is because the premium version tracks the expiration dates of your miles and points. Once you have a lot of programs, it makes it so much easier to just log in once and see anything that may be expiring.

Miles and Points – Using your airline miles

It is helpful to know that you are not limited to using your airline miles on just that specific carrier (commonly referred to as that airlines ‘metal’). Almost all airlines belong to an allegiance.

American belongs to One World. This means you can use American miles to travel on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, British Airways and Iberia among others.

United belongs to Star Alliance which is the largest group encompassing 28 different airlines. United miles can be used on Air Canada, Air China, Swiss, Lufthansa, Austrian and Singapore in addition to 23 more.

Why is this important?

Because if you had to the chance to fly United or Singapore Airlines, you should take Singapore almost every time. The United State’s carriers lag behind in terms of amenities and service. This is especially true with Asian carriers.

Lately however, some airlines have instituted different award charts for those flying on their own metal versus flying on a partner’s. More often, this is the case with first class seats, but it sometimes applies in business and economy as well.

In addition, airlines have different award charts. If you have United miles and wanted to use them to fly from the continental US to Hawaii round trip in economy, it would cost you 50,000 miles. However, if you had Singapore miles, you could fly on that same United metal for only 35,000 miles round trip. This is on my bucket list!

Miles and Points – Using your hotel points 

Hotel points are pretty flexible. You can pay for a room with your points and get it completely free. Or you can you use a combination of cash and points to get a discounted rate. I mostly use cash and points. This stretches the points I have a little longer.

However, you may want a completely free hotel stay which is great! We did this on our first Europe trip with Little TFT. That was probably one of the greatest frugal vacations we have taken.

You can stay at luxury hotels, moderately priced hotels or economical hotels. We do all three! I usually use my Hyatt points to stay in luxury hotels, but I use my Starwood points to stay in economical and moderately priced ones. This is another way to stretch out those points! You can stay more nights for free by choosing a lower category hotel.

Free breakfast

This may sound silly, but I really look forward to a free breakfast. I think it’s because I believe breakfast sets the stage for your whole day. If you are out sightseeing, you want a hardy breakfast to tide you over until lunch so you don’t have to stop.

Plus, it saves money!

The following hotels provide free breakfast:

Hilton: Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites and Embassy Suites

Hyatt: Hyatt Place and Hyatt House (Hyatt Zilara/Ziva do too, but these are all-inclusive properties)

SPG/Marriott: Element, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites, TownPlace Suites and Fairfield Inn and Suites.

Club Carlson: Country Inn and Suites

There is an additional way to get complimentary breakfast at some other hotels and that is by having status with that chain. Several of the Hilton credit cards give you mid level status enabling you to get free breakfast at some of their hotels in addition to the ones listed above. This is either in the Club lounge or the restaurant.

Miles and points can be complicated. Follow me and I’ll show you exactly how you can replicate the trips I take (or use them as guidance!) so you, too, can enjoy every precious minute with your family and see the world on a frugal budget!

What are your favorite hotel chains and perks to get while traveling?

 

Do you want to know the basics of traveling for free or reduced cost? This article walks you through the basics of miles and points so you can be on your way to the vacation of your dreams.

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