So earlier this week I wrote about a cool tool on Southwest’s website for checking how many points or “miles” it takes to get somewhere. I am by no means a points master; you can find plenty of other writers explaining “the game” and how to work the system. This isn’t one of those posts. This is about making the system work for me without a lot of extra effort on my part.
The Way it Works
First I checked out some of those web sites that explain “the game” (okay, actually I fell down a rabbit hole for several days during a slow summer week at work). By reading what these people who play the system full time had to say, I had a few epiphanies. While frequent flyer programs are designed for those who, well, fly frequently, there are many other ways to earn points on stuff I already do. The key to making the system work, especially for someone like me, is to look for opportunities to rack up points on everyday stuff.
The second key is to find out how many points you have, and on which programs, and whether or not they will expire. Keeping points from expiring is crucial since most programs zero you out after a year or two of inactivity. I discovered a website called Award Wallet that more or less keeps track of stuff like that for me.
How to Get Started
For me, the first step was to compare credit cards and sign up for one with a good rewards program. After some research I ended up with the Alaska Airlines card. There are many people I know that do not use credit cards and instead use debit or cash, which is fine, but makes it hard to earn rewards using this passive method. I am very traditional in my credit card use: I only spend as much money as I can cover with what’s in my checking account, and I pay the balance in full every month. As a result I am never charged interest and only have to pay the annual fee in order to use the mileage plan benefit.
To choose your loyalty program card, pretend to plan a few trips to locations you want to visit frequently and see what carrier goes there commonly. You can also keep airline partnerships in mind, like seeing what carriers are in the One World or Sky Team alliances. Alaska is different—it isn’t part of one of those alliances but instead points can be earned and spent through a really diverse bunch of airlines, which (combined with the fact they are a west-coast heavy hitter) is why I signed up with them.
How to Earn Points
Using the credit card is the easiest way I earn my points. For each dollar I spend, I earn a mile. Some airline cards are more complicated than others, with bonus points on things like groceries, gas, and such. Mine is really straightforward—one point per dollar except if I book a flight, hotel, or car through the airline website, in which case I get three points per dollar.
Turning this into a true hobby, I dove into the points program’s website and looked for more opportunities to earn points on things I already do. What I discovered is a shopping portal that lets me multiply my points-per-dollar when online shopping at certain stores, like Sephora, Backcountry, Apple, etc. We’ve lately gotten into hiking and camping, and I have taken advantage of getting 10x points for Backcountry.com on a couple occasions. I still prefer doing most of my shopping in store, but when I can get point multipliers on not-cheap purchases I take advantage of it.
Another way I earn miles is by taking consumer opinion surveys. When I’m watching TV or something passive, I can earn survey “dollars” that I can cash in for Alaska Airline points. When I’m really proactive on the survey field, I can earn about 500 points per month. I got burnt out on them for a while but I’ve started filling them out again lately and am about to cash out for 1,000 points.
If I’m worried that my points are about to expire, I make sure to take some kind of action to keep them “fresh” like at least one purchase, or one survey cash-out, or even donating points to another user will keep the rest of your points from expiring.
As far as booking, my husband and I have only used points once. Doug was going to see the Boston Red Sox with his grandfather—a “bucket list” type of trip, and we flew him one way on American Airlines points we had earned during our Europe trip last summer, and only had to pay for a one-way return from Boston. It was nice that we were able to reduce the cost of that trip significantly but still make it happen. I’m reaching good momentum on my Alaska points (I can see an amazing getaway in my future) and I’m putting my current effort into Southwest points so I can go to Los Cabos or something within the year.
Have you dipped your toe in the point world yet? It has become a fun and mostly passive side hobby for me. Discovering the mile rewards shopping portal was such a game-changer!
This post was not sponsored by anybody and does not contain affiliate links. Stock photos in this image from PicJumbo.com.