• Grab these cards: If you have excellent credit and are in need of a vacation, what’s your excuse for not applying for a credit card that gives you 50,000 bonus points, enough for a free round-trip coach ticket to Europe? (British Airways Visa — read the fine print and sign up.) Kelly says StarAlliance points, which share miles among 27 carriers, are valuable, and so are British Airways points, which are interchangeable with American Airlines points. Look for these cards.
HOW TO SPEND THEM
• Splurge on business class: Kelly is 6 feet, 7 inches tall and likes to fly business class. But there’s a mathematical reason to splurge on business class with points: A first- or business-class ticket can cost in dollars 10 times as much as an economy ticket. But when you pay in miles, you’re not going to pay 10 times the points for the upgrade. Often, it’s only double points to fly business class, and many airlines allow you to upgrade your seat with points. “Business-class awards are generally for everyday people who want an aspirational type of award,” Kelly says. But if you’re getting miles easily, you may as well splurge on something that’s usually unattainable.
• Buy miles: Some airlines let you buy miles and will give bonuses of up to 100 percent when you purchase them. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy miles than a ticket, so check the bonuses before booking.
• Shop online through mileage malls: If you’re buying an item from Target, did you know you can go to its website through a mileage mall and earn double or triple points just for using that online portal? “It’s a no-brainer really,” Kelly says. “A mileage mall takes you to the website you’re looking for, but you get extra miles for shopping through them, plus the miles from using a mileage-earning card. ... You’re double-dipping. Apple once offered 10 points per dollar through Chase Ultimate Rewards Shopping. Never just shop through a store’s website.” Kelly recommends Evreward (www.EVReward.com); also check out his site’s Beginner’s Guide, which lists online portals.
• Track them: When you have, say, 10 credit cards attached to mileage programs, you need a mileage manager. Kelly uses Award Wallet (awardwallet.com), a free service that tracks mileage balances and alerts you if miles are expiring. Using Miles (usingmiles.com) and Trip It (tripit.com) are similar.
• Jump on it: You cannot spend days pondering deals. “They never last forever, and as exciting and scary as it is to plan a trip to Asia in 20 minutes, the best deals are only offered for a very limited time,” Kelly says. “So, think outside the box.”
• Read the Web: Use social networks to your advantage. Kelly posts error fares or great bonuses regularly, so follow him on Facebook and Twitter and read the comments and community posts on Flyer Talk (www.flyertalk.com). Expert travelers share information and will alert you to a great deal.
• The bottom line: Fall mileage sales and credit cards’ initial bonuses can help you rack up miles quickly. Once you have them, book off-season flights with flexible schedules to ensure good fares. Follow experts like the Points Guy and look for sales. A mile is a terrible thing to waste.