7 Ways to Get Started Earning Points & Miles for Free Travel

Hey everyone! Lots of new people are reading the blog lately, and I’ve been getting a bunch of questions about some travel hacking basics.

Here are a few notes for everyone who’s just started.

I originally started travel hacking as a means to see the world without spending a lot of money. I didn’t have a lot of money, and I also had a long list of places to go. Over the next decade, I had countless adventures all enabled through the world of miles and points.

I  could have seen the world without ever using Frequent Flyer miles, but it definitely would have been much more expensive, and probably a lot less fun.

Here are seven things you should do to get started.

1. Set a goal.

You don’t want to earn points and miles randomly, at least not at first. You want to connect them to a goal! Choose where you’ll go, so that you can next focus on how to make it happen.

A few options (or choose your own!)

  • First trip to Asia.
    Fly to Thailand to visit temples, elephants, and beaches. Or go to Tokyo for a shopping adventure before taking the bullet train south to the gardens of Kyoto.
  • European exploration. 
    Start in Amsterdam and venture to Brussels and Bruges. Stock up on stroopwaffles and Belgian beer.
  • South American adventure.
    Change hemispheres and go to Argentina, an affordable destination that blends Latin America with Europe. While you’re there, hop the ferry to Montevideo, Uruguay to see a less-visited part of the region.

2. Placeholder your travel dates.

Since you have a goal, why not give it a deadline?

Choose a date that’s not immediate but also not too far into the future. 4-6 months is great. Once you have a destination and a date, now it’s time to make it happen.

3. Decide on your credit card strategy.

If you can only get one card, get either Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Sapphire Preferred – the original and best “one card only” offer. Get a 60,000 points signup bonus, plus another 5,000 points for adding an authorized user.

Sapphire Reserve – new upgraded offer with 50,000 points signup bonus. The annual fee of $450 is not waived the first year (but can be somewhat offset with a $300 travel credit)

4. Earn points and miles.

In addition to credit card bonuses, there are many, many ways to earn points and miles.

You can take surveys. You can take advantage of category bonuses to earn 2x, 3x, or even 5x points on everything you purchase. You can open a savings account and earn miles instead of interest. You can earn miles automatically when dining or with a small amount of effort while shopping.

You can refer your friends to various promos and get paid in points. You can earn points through partner promotions such as Uber & Starwood.

This is an abbreviated list. There are many, many ways to earn points and miles.

5. Plan to work on promotions (if you want).

Special promotions are a great way to earn a lot of points all at once. You don’t always know when a promotion will drop. The common ones are predictable, largely based on season, but the bigger ones appear out of nowhere.

I write about some of the bigger ones here on the blog, but I’m not really a travel blogger. To keep up with the daily (yes, daily) changes in the travel hacking world, join the Travel Hacking Cartel or follow my friends Gary and Ben.

6. Get elite status and then get it matched.

Elite status gets you to the front the line (and sometimes the front of the plane). It gets you free breakfast and the nicest rooms in hotels.

Best of all, these days you don’t always have to travel very often to get and keep elite status. Airlines often provide entry-level status to their co-branded credit cardholders. Hotels usually go even further and provide mid-range status, which may be all you need.

Once you have one status, you can usually get it “matched” by competitors. Airlines will match another airline not in the same alliance, and hotels will match another big hotel chain.

There are various rules and exceptions, of course, and some of it gets a little technical. But the short version is: elite status helps, and it’s not necessarily that difficult to earn.

7. Be ready for change! (but don’t worry too much).

Every year, new opportunities appear and others go away forever. I used to be able to earn points by buying dollar coins from the U.S. Mint at face value, then depositing them at the bank. I did $30,000 worth in a short period of time, but then the government got wise and shut it down.

These days, credit card bonuses have skyrocketed. Instead of schlepping $30,000 in coins (heavy) to the bank in $1,000 batches, I can complete a special promotion and earn 30,000 miles for an hour of work. It’s not difficult to redeem 30,000 miles for $600 or more in airfare, so I’ll take on projects like that whenever they arise.

Short version: the sky isn’t falling, and there’s a lot of good news out there. 🙂 You can still earn hundreds of thousands of miles a year—you just have to know how.


Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6

Subscribe now and you’ll get the best posts of all time.