A lot of people have asked how I continue to travel in style. No, I don’t have a crazy inheritance nor did I win the lottery but really the key to affordable luxury has always been about being smart with frequent flyer and hotel loyalty points. If you play your cards right, you can rack up the points really quickly without breaking a sweat.
The biggest key to accumulating points, especially when you don’t have all the time in the world to be a travel hack, is to focus on a few key programs (flight, hotel, car rental, etc.). You want to make sure you put all of your eggs into one basket because if you start spreading out your earnings across several programs, you’ll end up getting a bunch of points scattered around that you won’t be able to use. This means that it pays to stay loyal.
For airlines, sticking to one airline program and alliance is key. The first step is to decide what airline you’re going to have the highest probability of taking. If you live near Chicago and you’ll most likely be going to O’Hare, then United Airlines is going to make the most sense for you since that’s one of their hubs and the likelihood of you taking them will be higher because of flight options. If you know you’re going to be flying a lot to a small town and it’s only serviced by one airline, then it makes sense to go with them. Things like that you’ll want to think about. Once you’ve figured that out, sign up for the frequent flyer program and make sure you use that card every time you fly. The beauty of flying is that most airlines are part of some sort of alliance. For United Airlines, that’s Star Alliance, which means that anytime you fly with an airline that is part of this network, you can accrue points on your frequent flyer account.
If we’re talking about hotels, it works about the same way. You want to think about a few factors before locking down your decision. For me, it’s a combination of what hotel brand I’m most comfortable with and the availability of that brand in the places I tend to go to. What’s great about a brand like Marriott is that it has a wide variety of hotel brands that cater from budget to luxury. For example, on the lower end you have Springhill Suites and on the upper end there’s JW Marriott. The other thing I like about Marriott is that they’re not only worldwide but also in a lot of the small cities and towns that most people tend to pass by. So if you’re doing a road trip or if you have a work trip to the middle of nowhere, there’s likely an option for you to pick from. The worst is when you go with a brand that only caters to the big cities and when you end up in one of these smaller places, you have no choice but to stay at a hotel that you’re not loyal to.
Take Advantage of Credit Cards
Image via Flickr via Mighty Travels
That’s great and all but I’m sure you’re thinking, “How the heck do I collect points with these programs if I’m not travelling ALL the time?” The answer is in the credit card. In the US, there are an insane amount of options for credit cards that can help you quickly collect points.
There are credit cards that can help you collect airline points and others to help you collect hotel points. One particular card you could look at is the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase. Currently, this card is free for the first year and gets you 50,000 Marriott Rewards points off the bat after spending $2,000 and from that point forward 1 point per $1 for regular items, 2 points per $1 for airline, car rental and restaurant spend, and 5 points per $1 for spend at a Marriott property.
Credit cards like this are great because you’re just spending like you normally do and building up points as you go along.
Other credit cards you can check out are the United MileagePlus from Chase where cardholders earn miles for United Airlines.
Stay In The Loop
The next part is critical so pay attention because a lot of people miss big opportunities. Every frequent flyer program has special promotions happening all the time. These offers typically come in the form of bonus points and for me these bonus points were precisely how I built up my stash as quickly as I did.
Right now, there’s a promotion going on called Double Stay, Double Go where the Marriott Rewards Premier and eligible United MileagePlus Credit Cards from Chase have come together to offer a limited-time opportunity to earn double rewards on Marriott and United purchases. So for the month of November, Marriott Rewards Premier cardmembers earn double points on United purchases, and United MileagePlus Explorer, Club and Presidential cardmembers can earn double miles on Marriott purchases.
So how do you find out about these? I always make sure I’m subscribed to the newsletters of the respective programs. This way, I always get the e-mails about new promotions and if it requires registration, I do it right away so I don’t forget. Another way to do it is to follow forums like Flyertalk where frequent flyers obsess over all the latest deals and promos.
What are you waiting for?
The holidays are coming and whether you’re saving up points to spend for this year or have a crazy trip planned for next year, this is the kind of thing that you want to start a lot earlier than later. The bottom line is to find out what programs work for you and find ways to amp up collecting of those points with credit cards and special deals.