Beginner’s Guide

If you’re new to the miles and points world, there are a few things you need to know before you get started. Let’s start with the basic ones:

  1. Sign up for a few airline and hotel reward programs: For airlines, the main ones you should have are American Airlines, Delta, United, and U.S. Airways. Keep it simple at first. Most of these airlines partner with dozens of other airlines, so you can actually use your American Airlines miles to fly on Iberia, Alaska Airlines, and many other carriers of the OneWorld Alliance. For hotels, we like Starwood Hotels (SPG), Hyatt, Hilton Honors and Club Carlson. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, which we cover on this site.
  2. Get at least one or two reward-earning credit cards: There are many out there that grant very generous sign-up bonuses. These bonuses can be upwards of 25,000 to 100,000 frequent flyer miles, which right away can get you a free domestic ticket to just about anywhere in the U.S., or a Business or First Class ticket to Europe, Asia, and many other corners of the world. There are also many reward-earning credit cards that will get you thousands of hotel points, which you can redeem for free stays all over the world. Think about your travel goals before you choose the offers that fit best for you. For the best current credit card offers, see our Credit Card Offers section.
  3. Think about how much you can realistically spend on a monthly basis: Many credit card sign-up bonuses are awarded after you meet certain spending thresholds. Some of the most generous bonuses sometimes require several thousand dollars in spending, while other credit cards will award you the entire sign-up bonus once you use the card for the first time while buying lunch. Keep in mind that the credit card game is played with the purpose of accumulating free miles and points for free travel by leveraging credit cards to pay for things you’re going to buy anyway. If you find yourself getting into credit card debt and spending money just to get a sign-up bonus, then this game isn’t for you.
  4. Meet minimum spending requirements: Try to pay as much of your daily expenses as you can using your new credit cards. This doesn’t mean going on a shopping spree just to get points. Take expenses that you’re paying on a monthly basis anyway, and put them on the card. Think about your monthly bills, such as cell phone, cable, landlines, drycleaning, gas, groceries, clothing, movie tickets and other entertainment, etc. Most can be paid with credit cards, and you will earn miles and points for paying things you are already paying anyway. Have a large minimum spending requirement? In the future we will show you other ways to get creative and more aggressive in order to meet a spending requirement and get some of the larger sign-up bonuses (Hint: It is easier than you think).
  5. Try to get the best redemption value for your miles and points: When possible, and if it makes sense to you, try to redeem your hard earned miles and points for high value redemptions. In the end, do what makes the most sense to you according to your needs and travel goals. Think about the dollar value of what you’re getting if you were to pay for a flight or a hotel at regular price, and how many points it takes to get the same value for free. You might find out that sometimes it isn’t worth to redeem 25,000 miles on a domestic flight that you can get for $200, but instead you can save those miles for a flight that might cost $500 or $600, thereby getting better value for your miles. If you want to know if you’re getting a good return, take the cost of the redemption (in our prior example, $200) and divide it by the amount of miles it takes (25,000). In this case, the value is $0.008 per mile. As a general rule of thumb, anything below $0.015 per mile is not a good deal for you to redeem. But if you were to redeem the same 25,000 miles for a flight that costs $600, now you’re getting a return of $0.024 per mile. Get the idea?
  6. Track your miles and points: Many of them expire after a few years, while others do not. Most airline miles expire after any time from 18-36 months of inactivity. Don’t lose track of their expiration date. The more you play this game, the more accounts you will end up having, and tracking them can become overwhelming. Luckily, there are services and websites out there that can track them for you for free or nearly free. Our favorite one is, which allows you to click one button to refresh all your program balances all at once, and will send you e-mail alerts to let you know if any of your accounts’ expiration date is approaching. There are many simple ways to “reset” the 18-36 month activity clock on most miles and points programs. We will cover that on a later article.
  7. Welcome to the family! At this point you will probably be addicted to the miles and points world. If you find yourself telling everyone at parties how many hundreds (or thousands) of dollars you were able to save on your last trip and detailing every trick on the book on how they can do it too, you’ve already become more knowledgeable about the subject than 90% of the world. Welcome to the club. Happy travels!

One Response to Beginner’s Guide

  1. Mike crawford says:

    I haven’t done this yet but I’m planning to. But an Alaska Air Flex ticket with my southwest card and pay the bill the fully refund the ticket after 2 billing cycles. Flex tickets are fully refundable.

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