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A question I frequently see posted on message boards like Milepoint and Flyertalk (and that I receive via email) is how to get started in the world of miles and points. Sometimes this question is related to how to get the necessary miles and points for a specific trip, and sometimes it comes without a specific destination in mind. A common theme I see in these types of questions is both excitement for the new possibilities, and a sense of being completely overwhelmed with where to start. I have a Beginner’s Guide with several steps that I recommend for those new to the hobby. I’m not going to re-post that guide here, but instead consider this a companion to that guide. My main takeaway for this post is to start small. Put temporary blinders on to the almost limitless possibilities out there, and stay focused on just a few ways to earn miles in the beginning. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew at once, and start out with just one or two travel goals.
- Identify your goal(s) and stay focused on those. The world is big, and in the beginning it is very helpful to identify where you want to go with your miles and points BEFORE you even start earning them. You don’t need to plan out where you want to go for the next 10 years, but where you want to go in your next one or two trips is very important. If you don’t have specific goals in mind at first, it is much harder to know where to focus your points earning efforts. Many of us have partners who may or may not be as interested in miles and points as we are. This step is even more important if you have a somewhat reluctant spouse. If they are more invested in identifying how the points will be spent, they will probably be a more willing participant in earning the points.
- Do your homework. If you want to go to Destination X, then research which carriers fly there, and what hotels operate there (assuming you want to stay in a hotel). Then check out some reviews of the hotels, airlines, etc. and narrow down which ones look like they would best meet your needs. Next, check reward availability. If you want to fly your whole family in First Class on Fancy Pants Airways, but there are never more than possibly one or two seats available on those flights, then you may have to amend your goals somewhat to make them realistic. Maybe you don’t all fly in first, maybe you split up on different flights, maybe you try another airline, maybe you try a different routing, or maybe you pick a different destination. Once you have done that research up-front, you will have a much better idea of what type of miles and points to focus on earning. For example, a mountain of Hyatt points won’t do you a ton of good if you are going somewhere that only has Hilton or Priority Club properties.
- Start earning…slowly. Once you get a glimpse of how many points there are out there to be earned, it is very tempting to want to dive in head first. I would argue you shouldn’t dive into the deep-end, but wade in starting from the shallow end. This especially true in regards to credit card sign-ups. You will read about some people signing up for 3, 4, 6, even 10 credit cards at one time. Heck, I even sign-up for multiple cards at a time a few times a year, but I don’t recommend that you start that aggressively if you are brand new to this hobby. Start slow with one or two rewards cards that will earn points directly related to your identified goals. Get the minimum spending requirements out of the way on those cards and make sure that transitioning to a system of paying things by credit cards works for you and your family. If you find yourself spending more on credit than you would if you were paying with cash, checks, or debit cards then the rewards you may earn aren’t worth incurring debt. If you find that the rewards credit card system works well for you, then after about three months consider getting a couple more cards that also align with your set goals.
- Closely track what you are earning. Start your tracking system early so you don’t lose track of points and account numbers. Whether you use a pencil and paper, an Excel spreadsheet, Awardwallet.com, or something else, just start tracking early. This is even more important if you are involving multiple people like spouse’s, children, parents, etc.
- Learn more. I recommended doing some initial research before you really even start earning very many miles and points, but once you start earning then do some more learning. There are tons of blogs out there that make this pretty easy. Some focus on keeping you up to date with daily updates and changes in the miles and points world, some focus on specific airlines or alliances, some focus on hotels, some focus on maximizing award tickets, some specialize in trip reviews, and some do a little bit of everything. Find the ones that are relevant to your type of travel and you will pick up some tips pretty easily. Additionally, nothing replaces digging deep into Flyertalk and Milepoint. Focus on the forums within those massive websites that are are most aligned with your travel goals. You can also consider going to some in-person events and making some face-to-face connections.
- Use your points. Once you have enough points for your “goal” trips that you identified at the beginning, book them. Of course as you learn more, your goal trip might have changed some, but what is important is that you use some of your earned miles and points. Over time your miles and points will only get devalued, so don’t treat them as a retirement nest egg. Treat them as a vehicle with which to see the world, visit your relatives, connect with your partner/family, etc.
- Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
Earning and using miles and points is an engrained part of my life. It was before I started this blog ,and it would continue to be even if the blog disappeared overnight (which hopefully it doesn’t do during this transition to a new BoardingArea server!). I hope that this hobby becomes that engrained in many of the new members of the miles and points community, but until it does, just start small and stick with clear goals. You may not become a points millionaire over night, but you will absolutely be headed in the right direction…whether that is the ocean, the mountains, or somewhere in between.