Getting to your vacation destination can be the most expensive part of a trip, especially if you’re traveling long distances. Lodging, another significant vacation expense, can be greatly reduced or even eliminated through sharing economy lodging options like home exchange and peer to peer rentals. But unless you are super rich and want to use a service like Zigair for peer to peer seats on private airplanes, the sharing economy doesn’t offer much for long distance transportation. As someone whose favorite trips involve flying to countries halfway around the world, this is a significant problem that I’ve solved through miles and points accrual. This has nothing to do with the sharing economy, but getting to your vacation destination is half the battle, so I want to cover this topic once, and then I’ll leave current news coverage to the miles and points blogs, of which there are already plenty (see list of my favorites at the end of this article).
The active accrual of miles and points is a hobby mostly in the United States because of the credit card deals that are offered here, which are not available elsewhere in the world. While I’m sure there are some good tricks in other countries, this post is going to focus on the U.S.
It’s possible to earn a lot of miles without flying, just by taking advantage of promotions offered primarily by credit card companies. Since I don’t want to pay for my flights at all, I put time into staying up on the latest offers and sign up for new deals on a regular basis. In about a year of actively working at this I have accrued several hundred thousand miles (and almost as many hotel points). And I’ve basically stopped paying for flights, unless it’s a really really good deal.
Although there are some good guides and lots of information out there on the blogs I follow, this is still not a simple activity. It takes time to work out the best deals for me, figure out when to sign up for particular offers, and determine how to complete minimum spend requirements. Then there’s the tracking of which cards I have, when to use them, and when to cancel them. I’m far less adept at this than the experts who blog about it. But it turns out expertise is not required to earn enough miles to take several international trips and a few domestic trips a year all for free (well for the cost of the taxes and TSA fees). All you need is a decent credit rating and a few hours a week.
One of the blogs I follow, Milevalue, explains why you should get into the miles earning business better than I can. Once you’re convinced this is worth your time, you’ll need to figure out a system for researching and tracking offers and rewards. Here’s what I recommend:
1. Set up an RSS reader to follow the blogs that post miles and points earning opportunities.
2. Check your blog feed daily to see what deals are out there. Some days I only learn about something silly like Starbucks stars (which earn you free drinks). But often there are new card offers, or tricks to use to redeem miles. I like to do this reading over breakfast, and can stay up to date with just 10 or 15 minutes of scrolling through the latest headlines in my reader.
3. Set up a spreadsheet to track which credit cards you have, when you signed up, what reward you will get, and the terms of the deal (i.e. spend $1000 in 3 months and get 30,000 miles). Include details like the annual fee and anything else that matters to you.
4. Figure out how to pay most of your bills by credit card, and come up with a system to use the right cards to complete minimum spend requirements on time.
5. Read up on manufactured spend, a way to meet minimum spending requirements when you don’t have enough bills or expenses.
6. Read up on how to redeem miles.
7. Spend your miles and points on fabulous trips!
I recommend also tracking your miles and points in one central place, noting the alliances and which ones can be transferred to other programs. This can be a spreadsheet you set up, or one of the online tools that will automatically synch with some of the airline and hotel programs once you provide your account information.
It takes a bit of work, but by my calculation this is some of the most profitable time in my day.