Understanding how to save money on everyday items and activities is something we can all take advantage of throughout the year, but many of us will be planning summer vacations and other trips that will require an airplane to get there. With airline tickets increasing in price and frequent flyer miles now being awarded based on the price of a ticket rather than the distance traveled, it becomes difficult to determine how to best use the award miles we have, understand when to use them (or if we should use them), and which credit cards provide the best value for accumulating reward points or cash back.
To help unravel the do's and don'ts on this matter, I teamed up with Jason Steele, credit card rewards expert, to provide a 7-point cheat-sheet for travelers to easily determine when to use their miles, how to accumulate additional miles faster, and the ideal ways to find the best price on airline tickets if it makes more sense to buy your ticket with money rather than points:
1. Use credit cards that earn a transferable currency. Examples are Chase Ultimate Reward Points, Amex Membership Reward Points, and CitiBank ThankYou Points. This way you're not stuck with points/miles in just one program.
2. Use your credit card banks travel portal. You can even redeem the points through the banks travel portal directly (Chase, Amex, Capital One), instead of transferring them to a airline/hotel program. Another way to get value especially when saver awards aren't available.
3. Consolidate personal and business points. Many banks have personal and business versions of the same cards that allow you to consolidate miles/points together in the same account to increase your point count.
4. Airlines can release saver award tickets at any time, so remember to check often to see if award tickets are now available or use a service that monitors award inventory for you (such as ExpertFlyer Flight Alerts)
5. For the cheapest flights, book as far in advance as possible or within a few days of departure. Also use services that monitor prices and give predictions on when they might go lower. Yapta, FairFly, and Hopper are examples. Options Away is a useful service for holding reservations for days or weeks.
6. If you travel with a family or another large group, if your travel plans are inflexible, or if you have to travel during the holidays, then you might want to forgo traditional airline miles and use a credit card that offers miles that can be redeemed for any travel reservation. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus offers double miles on all purchases, and each mile is worth one cent towards travel reservations This way, you don't have to find award availability and use your miles to book any flight you want.
7. Consider business credit cards, which can offer fantastic rewards. You can qualify for a business credit card based on any type of business you have, even if you haven't incorporated. So even if you earn money babysitting, dog walking, or selling things on Ebay, you can apply for great credit cards like the Chase Ink Plus, which offers 5x rewards on office supplies and telecommunications purchases.
Chris is the President and Co-Founder of ExpertFlyer.com, a service that helps travelers get out of the "Middle Seat" by providing in-depth flight info and alerts when Awards and Upgrades are available.