Redeeming those points is equally laborious. Tom and I consider ourselves smart travel shoppers and hope our tips can help you find the best value for your hard earned miles.
1) Be loyal to one airline or hotel chain (and its’ consortium):
Do your research and determine which airline is best for you. Who are their partners? What are their typical routes? Is the award chart “fair”? For years, Tom focused on American Airlines because his work required a lot of travel to the Caribbean (tough, right?) They also boast a decent award chart with partner airlines. On the other hand, I really like Alaska Airlines because they have excellent partnerships. I rarely fly on Alaska, but I travel a lot on Delta. This allows me to accumulate Alaska miles. Alaska is also pretty flexible and allows me to redeem miles at a low rate, compared to competitors. The reason I don’t focus on Delta’s program is the difficulty and high mileage cost to redeem miles.
2) Get a credit card associated with your program choice:
Once again, be loyal. Tom and I have 2 credit cards: Alaska Airlines and Marriott. If you decide to sign up for a credit card, search for the best deal. For example, Marriott regularly offers 50,000 bonus points to sign up. However, several times a year they offer 80,000. We charge everything because we get points for cash we would spend anyway. If you’re like us and don’t want to accumulate debt, pay off the balance each month. You’ll be surprised how quickly travel points accrue with normal monthly spending habits.
3) Have an award goal:
Do you travel domestically or to international destinations? Which cabin class do you prefer? Do you want a one night free stay at a hotel or a vacation package? Tom and I prefer to bank our points and travel internationally on business class. This February, American Airlines offered amazing international business class award travel for a short period of time. Tom and I almost had enough miles. We transferred Marriott points and converted them into American Airlines and Alaska Airlines miles to have sufficient miles for business class tickets.
4) Plan award travel early:
I cannot stress this enough. The airline and hotel award systems frequently change. Make your reservations as soon as you have enough points to cover your travel plans. The amount of allotted award seats and rooms is limited. Also, point values can decrease at any moment. Luckily, we plan our travel trips early. In doing so, we secured business class seats to SE Asia on both American Airlines and Emirates (through an Alaska Airlines partnership) literally weeks before the award levels changed.
5) Search for one-way tickets:
Believe it or not, this is our most important tip! Even if you plan to travel on one airline and not divide it into two carriers as we did. There is a difference in routes and prices when we search for a one-way ticket versus round-trip. When we search for a one-way ticket, there are more options and the points required can be significantly less.
Although award travel can be frustrating, the rewards may very well be worth the aggravation of planning and strategizing. Tom and I figure that if we spend money, we might as well accumulate award points through credit card usage. If we are traveling, why not focus on an airline or hotel chain? We’re not changing our spending and traveling habits to earn points. We simply reap the benefits of what we do anyways. If you have a similar philosophy, award travel is icing on the cake! Enjoy friends and happy travels.
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