The Basics Of Cheap And Free Travel With Points. Part 1: How Points Are Earned

For many years I believed that airline frequent flyer programs were for people who fly somewhere at least every few weeks; hotel reward programs – for business travelers who sleep in hotels almost as frequently as they do at their homes; and rewards credit cards – for millionaires who spend thousands of dollars on their cards monthly. I also thought that those credit card offers that come in the mail were not worthy a single minute of my time spent reading them. But then one day in 2013 I opened an envelope with a big shiny credit card picture on it. I read what bank was offering, did some research online and realized that I did not have to fly frequently to get free flights via frequent flyer programs, I did not have to stay in hotels dozens of nights in order to get a free hotel stay via hotel rewards program and I did not have to be a millionaire to take advantage of the most rewarding credit cards in the world. I realized that a single rewards credit card can often give me sufficient number of points for a free round-trip to Europe or multiple free nights in hotels. This discovery allowed me to visit multiple holy places in Europe and Israel very cheaply during the next few years.

So how does this travel with points game work? It is not really as complicated and overwhelming as it may seem at the beginning. There are a few rules in this game and I will start today by explaining how points can be earned.

  1. Earn Credit Card Bonus Points. You can earn bonus points (usually from 10,000 to 60,000 points) when you spend a certain amount of money (usually from $500 to $5,000) with your new credit card during the first 3-4 months of your card membership. The value of bonus points varies from card to card as it depends on the point redemption options but usually 60,000 points should be worth at least $600 and sometimes can even reach $1,200. Each credit card has its own bonus offer and spending requirement therefore offer details have to be carefully read before the application process. Earning credit card bonus points is the easiest way to earn a lot of points in a short period of time. In many cases you can cover all of your flight and hotel costs of a single trip with bonus points of just 1 or 2 credit cards. A lot of credit cards have annual fees but most of them waive the fee for the first year of card membership. So you get the card, earn the bonus points, use them, and if you don’t like the card and cancel it before its anniversary date you will pay no annual fee.
  2. Earn Points For Each Purchase You Make. Every time you make a purchase with your rewards credit card you will earn points. All rewards credit card give at least 1 point per dollar spent however there are cards that give 2 points for each dollar spent or even more points per dollar spent on certain categories of purchases (such as gas, groceries, travel, etc.). Although it is a slower way of earning points compared with credit card bonuses, you can still earn thousands or tens of thousands of points annually that can be later used for free travel.
  3. Earn Points For Flying Or Staying At Hotels. If you become a member of an airline frequent flyer or hotel reward program and book your flights and hotel stays directly with that airline or hotel chain (usually via their website), you will earn points that can later be used for free flights and free hotel stays. If you don’t fly frequently and don’t stay in hotels often it can take a long time until you have enough points for a free flight or a free hotel stay. However the good news is that you can transfer points to airline and hotel programs from many rewards credit cards which can help to achieve free flights and hotel stays very fast.

    Membership Cards of British Airways Executive Club, IHG Rewards Club (InterContinental Hotels), and World Of Hyatt. Everybody Can Join These Programs For Free And Start Earning Points Today.
  4. Earn Extra Points For Shopping Online. Many banks, airlines and hotel rewards programs have their shopping portals with lists of tens or even hundreds of popular retailers. If you access the websites of these retailers via the bank, airline or hotel rewards program’s shopping portal and make a purchase on the retailer’s websites you will earn extra points. Offers of extra points can vary from a few points per dollar to 10, 20 or even more points per dollar. And the only thing you need to do is to access your desired retailer via bank, airline or hotel rewards program’s shopping portal instead of going to the retailer’s website directly. Another good thing about this is that you will get those extra points in addition to the points that you get for using your credit card. For example, if you access JCPenney’s website via Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards shopping portal and use your Chase Sapphire Preferred card to pay for your purchase on JCPenney.com, you will earn 1 point per dollar for using your credit card plus 3 points per dollar (current offer in April 2018) for accessing JCPenney’s website via Southwest’s portal. That is a great way to earn extra points for those who spend a lot of money online.
  5. Earn Extra Points For Participation In Promotions. Banks, airlines and hotel rewards programs often have promotions that encourage their members to take certain actions in exchange of earing extra points. For example, an airline can give 1000 points for downloading the frequent flyer program’s app on your phone, a hotel program can give 4000 points if you join the program’s dining program and spend $30 in one of the participating restaurants, or a bank can give extra 10,000 points if you spend $500 within a month, etc. Some of the promotions can be available to all members but some may be targeted to certain members only who in that case would be notified via mail or email directly.

It is important to know how to earn as many points as possible. But because points show their real value only when they are redeemed, it is equally important to learn about their redemption options. Next week I will explain how points can be redeemed for cheap or even free travel.