1. Starting Notes
2. Points Vs. Miles (And Their Value)
3. Envisioning a Goal
4. Checking Your Credit
5. Choosing an Airline
6. How to Pick a Card (Or Two)
7. Real Life Examples
9. How to Keep It Going
10. Keeping Track of It All
11. Wonderful Side Effects
12. Final Words
If you’re thinking, “Points? Miles? What’s the difference?” – you’re definitely not alone. When I first got into point/mile collecting, my head spun with all the new terms and words. For our purposes here, points and miles are interchangeable. Typically, points can be redeemed for things other than, and in addition to, travel. For example, gift cards, merchandise, experiential awards, even cash or statement credits. Points are usually issued by a bank – Chase has Ultimate Rewards and American Express has Membership Rewards, for example – and they can be converted from there into a specific mileage or hotel currency. Miles are issued for use on airlines – typically one particular airline. Miles are usually only redeemable for travel. There are some exceptions, and you can actually “cash in” your miles if you absolutely need to, but you will get far better value if you use your miles (and your points) for travel.
A typical point or mile is worth $0.01 – a cent, AKA 1% cash back. If you redeem 60,000 miles on a ticket that would ordinarily cost $1,200, you’ve doubled that to $0.02 a mile: and that’s the redemption value you should strive for to make your miles and points lucrative. Values of up to $0.10 a mile are not unheard of, and they can save you a lot of money. In some cases, thousands of dollars in travel fares.
Here’s an easy trick I use that might help you. If I’m looking at an award flight that requires 80,000 miles, I take the number and lop off the last two zeroes. Now I know that 80,000 miles are worth $800. Then I double that number. I need my flight(s) to be worth at least $1,600 so that I’m getting a great value.
Real life example: when I booked my award tickets to Hawaii, I plugged into the booking system that I wanted to fly into Maui and out of Honolulu. Cost: 80,000 miles. Then I searched for the same flights and dates in another window on Kayak.com. If I had bought it outright, it would’ve been $2,000. So it made sense to redeem the miles since the cost of the flight exceeded my $1,600 threshold by $400. If the flights had been less than $1,600, I would have been better off purchasing them and saving my hard-earned miles for a better value.
Don’t worry, I’m not a big math person. Only when it comes to travel. All these zeroes can make your eyes cross after a little while. Just remember to take away the last two zeroes and double what’s left. This way you’re always making the miles and points you’ve earned work harder for you – double, in fact.
This calls for an axiom and a disclaimer.
The axiom is this: ALWAYS make sure you’re getting at LEAST $0.02 of value for each mile you redeem. Using the method above will ensure that.
The disclaimer is this, and I hope it doesn’t make things more confusing: not all points and miles currencies are the same. In general, the axiom applies to bank points and airline miles, but NOT all hotel points. Hotels are a whole other ball game with a different set of values. For now, let’s stay focused on bank points and airline miles as we move forward.