Getting Started in Miles and Points Tips + Presentation Slides

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My passion in the world of miles and points is helping those new to the hobby get on the right path toward earning trips they never thought would be possible, as well as providing tips that “normal” folks can integrate into their daily lives.  So, as you might expect, the sessions that I usually like to provide at miles and points events and seminars such as Frequent Traveler University or Chicago Seminars are centered around those topics.  I’ll leave the ‘manufactured spending’, ‘fuel dumping’, ‘secret tips’, and other similar topics to the experts in those fields!

A few weeks ago,at the Frequent Traveler University, my friend Ed from Pizza In Motion and I gave a session together entitled “Getting Started with Miles and Points” to kick off the morning.  As I promised in that session, I will share the slides here for anyone who is interested in checking them out.  I’m not entirely sure how helpful the slides are as a stand-alone, but I’m happy to share them in case they might have some value.

For everyone else who doesn’t want to cruise through the slides, here are five take-aways from the presentation that I think are good things for any beginning miles and points collector to keep in mind as they start their journey.

1.  Know your travel goals and start earning with those in mind.

There are some offers you simply can’t go wrong with such as 500 free and easy United miles or some of the mega credit card sign-up bonuses.  However, since the miles and points world is so big and varied, you will probably do better at first with earning if you have an idea how you want to use your miles.  Even now, I earn many of my miles with a specific trip in mind.  This keeps me focused on the types of miles and points I want, and lets me tune out the offers and promotions that aren’t relevant to my goals.

Travel goal of having fun in Paris!

Travel goal of having fun in Paris!

2.  Start small and stay organized.

As you are getting started, it is more important to have a good system in place for your accounts than to take advantage of every offer.  You need to set up a tracking system so that your miles won’t accidentally expire – is perfect for that.  You also need a very solid system in place for tracking and paying your rewards credit cards, especially if you are used to just having one or two cards a month.  Get credit cards slowly, and consider setting them to all be due on the same date, using a service like to help you track due dates, etc.  Don’t get in over your head and start racking up interest charges or missing due dates as that will very quickly wash away the value of the rewards you are earning.


Don’t get disorganized and miss out on Hawaii!

3.  Free isn’t always free, but it might be darn close.

When I started getting serious in this hobby rewards travel was a bit more “free” than it is now thanks to lots of credit cards that awarded a bucket of miles after just one purchase and no annual fee the first year.  Banks and various promotions make you work a little harder for your miles and points now, so what you are getting now isn’t always free.  For example, if you are paying lots of annual fees, or buying points via Daily Getaways, or buying gift cards to earn points, or paying fuel surcharges when you redeem miles, you probably aren’t actually flying or staying in hotels for free…but sometimes it might be darn close.  Also consider the time you are investing in the hobby as your time is worth something as well.  I find the rewards to absolutely outweigh the costs of earning miles and points, but it is something to keep an eye on to ensure you are always coming out ahead.

4.  Learn a little about the various ways to earn miles, and only use the ones that make sense for you.

There are lots of ways to earn miles and points including: credit card sign-up bonuses, gift card/reload card purchases, dining programs, online shopping portals, promotions, purchasing miles, actual travel, filling out online surveys, etc.  I recommend learning just enough about each type of way to earn to determine if it makes sense for your life and travel goals, then ignore the ones you don’t need.  For example, if your family rarely buys anything from retail stores then you don’t need to focus your attention on online shopping portal payouts.  However, you should know that method of earning points exists for the rare occasion you might need to make an online purchase – especially a larger online purchase.  You can then do some searching through blog posts to walk you through the process.  However, if you don’t know that is a possible way to earn miles then you will miss it completely when the time comes to buy a new appliance or computer online.

5.  Burning effectively is harder than earning.

Being skilled at redeeming your miles and points is actually harder for most people than racking up a decent pile of miles.  Learning which partners might offer lower redemption rates, more favorable stopovers/routing rules, leveraging those stopovers to get more than one trip out of one reward, and determining when to use cash versus when to redeem points can be tough.  On the other hand, some redemptions like via Southwest, or fixed value points you can use toward travel such as with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, or with many hotels, is pretty straight forward.

My advice is learn about partners and routing rules as they relate to your travel goals.  Don’t feel like you need to be an expert in all programs, but do take the time to do some searching and read through forums on sites like Flyertalk as they relate to where you want to go.  You can start with one of my recent posts on some of my favorite award chart sweet spots if you want to get an idea of what I’m talking about.  Of course, you can also decide learning the ins and outs of complex redemptions isn’t worth your time and instead pony up the cash to pay a pro at an award booking service to book those complex awards.

Around the world

Map of our journey on miles from Great Circle Mapper

I didn’t learn how to earn and burn the miles for things like our recent around the world journey overnight.  I’ve been at this for years and am still learning, and the “game” is ever-changing.  I’m more than happy to help you get started (here’s a Beginner’s Guide), and keep you up to date along the way.

I’ll be presenting a somewhat similar session geared toward beginners with Million Mile Secrets at Chicago Seminars in October, so hope to see some of you there!




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  1. Very good tips for those starting. The folks might also want to use a free service, like Credit Karma, to monitor their credit score over time.

  2. You are right about using miles being the more complicated part of the game.
    What kind of whacky mixed up game has the best way to fly Air Canada from Canada being United miles, the best way to use United airlines being Aeroplan miles, the best way to get to London being on a German airline using united miles and the best way to get to Central America being on American using British Airways Avios!
    It can be simply amazing but it is most definitely not simple!

  3. I’m not sure of the best place to ask this question. I know you have written about booking United Airline flights to Maui through Singapore Airlines krisflyer miles. When I go directly to the United site I see economy flights at 45,000 miles one way, and in business class 90,000. That’s a lot of miles. Are you saying that there would be a significant savings in the miles necessary if going through Krisflyer?
    Thank you

  4. Thanks. i read the post. What confuses me is that you mention that flying business or first class on United to Hawaii would be 80,000 miles roundtrip as opposed to 60,000 if going through Singalpore Airlines. When I go to the United site, it seems that business roundtrip would be 180, 000 miles. I do have 120, 000 miles that I could transfer into Krisflyer and book through SAL, I just want to be sure that I can get two business class tickets to Hawaii for those miles.

    • David you are flying on united flights but using the Singapore chart and booking solely using Singapore miles by calling Singapore. Hope that helps!

      • Well I transferred points from my Starwood Preferred account to Krisflyer. I had to do it over two days as they seem to have a maximum transfer allowance of 60,000 points per transaction. They say to allow up to 4 weeks for the transfer to go through which makes me nervous since I don’t know if the flights will still be available. Do you have any knowledge on how long this transfer will actually take to go through?

          • I read your new post today and saw that your UR points transferred in less than one day. I guess things are pretty different when transferring Starpoints to Singapore Airline. I made transfers on 5/21 and 5/22 but they have not gone through yet. The confirmation email had said it could take up to 4 weeks. I check every day to see if the points have posted and just hope the flights I need are still available when the transfer goes through.

  5. I’ve been checking every day and saw my points are posted today. I checked availability on the United Airlines Mileage Plus program and saw that the flights I needed were still available. I then immediately called Singapore Airline to book the flights. To my surprise they said nothing was available in any seat class. I went back to the United site to double check and again saw that the flights were available so I called back to Singapore. Again I was told nothing was available. So it seems that although these flights are open to United’s members, they are not open to partner airlines. As best as I could understand from the representative, there does not seem to be a way for me to check to see if these flights open up without calling Singapore airlines from time to time. This is so frustrating, as I have all these miles sitting in the Krisflyer account which I can’t use. Any thoughts?

  6. I did the search without logging into a United account.
    It seems that what I did not realize is that I needed to look only at Saver award levels as opposed to Standard awards. That was my mistake. It seems that only Saver awards are available to Partner airlines while the Standard is available only for United credit card holders.
    So if I want to book through Singapore Airline one need to look for Saver awards in Economy, or Saver awards in Business/First class not Standard awards.
    When speaking with the Singapore reps I got the impression that even if a Saver award is visible on the United site, it still might not be available to book through Singapore. I’m not 100% certain of that because the reps have such heavy accents it was often hard to understand them. All together I think I spoke to 4 or 5 reps.

    The things is that even when looking at alternate dates, there was nothing for First Class in the Saver level. I suppose that time of year is high season and the airline has little reason to release these seats to partner airlines.

    • David, yeah it needs to be saver and displayed when not logged into (as credit card or elite status can add some extra availability that wouldn’t apply). The availability then should be the same for UA as Singapore and other Star Alliance partners, regardless of what the agent said. Should meaning the systems don’t always play 100% perfect 100% of the time, but it should work.

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