With the right strategies, you can maximize your travel rewards and earn points and miles for your dream vacation without spending a fortune.
In this beginner-friendly guide, we’ll reveal effective methods to accumulate points and miles, covering not only common tactics like credit card signup bonuses and optimizing spending but, also underutilized approaches such as referrals and cash-back shopping.
#1. Credit Card Signup Bonuses
At the top of the list for earning points are credit card signup bonuses, which are also known as welcome offers. With the right card, you can potentially book two first-class international tickets just by earning the signup bonus.
To qualify for a signup bonus, you’ll typically need to meet a spending threshold on the card within a specified time frame. For instance, you might receive a bonus after spending $3,000 within the first three months of opening the account.
The spending requirement and time frame differ from card to card, so do your research.
As a personal rule of thumb, my wife and I always ensure that at least one of us is working towards a signup bonus. This approach leads us to apply for approximately four cards per year — one business and one personal card each during every 12-month period.
By adopting this strategy, we can enjoy two trips per year that cost us little to nothing, while still maintaining a solid credit profile.
When people ask me about my favorite card for beginners, in most cases, it’s the Chase Sapphire Preferred. While there may be more substantial signup bonuses available at times, or while you may have specific travel goals that could change which card is ideal in your particular case, it’s hard to go wrong with the Sapphire Preferred.
Get started with our easy-to-follow guide on the best credit cards for new travel hackers to find the right card for you. We’ve teamed up with CardRatings to bring you the latest information on credit card signup bonuses. Their list of top travel credit cards not only provides each card’s current signup bonus, but also includes recommended credit scores and other helpful details to help you pick the perfect card for your needs.
#2. Optimizing Your Spending Through Bonus Categories
Maximizing points through bonus categories is another key tactic for earning points. Many credit cards offer bonus rewards for specific purchases, such as travel or dining. Using the right card for each purchase can help you accumulate points faster.
For example, if you spend $36,000 a year on credit cards and are able to earn on average 2 points per dollar spent, you’ll accumulate 72,000 reward points.
And this is without taking into account signup bonuses!
To learn more, check out our guides on booking airfare with points and booking hotels with points.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers 2X points on travel and dining, doubling the points earned compared to a standard 1X rewards rate. You can boost your points balance by strategically using cards with bonus categories.
Pro Tip: The Chase Trifecta is an effective bonus category strategy, combining the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards to maximize points earned across different spending categories.
To optimize your bonus category spending:
- Analyze your spending habits to identify where you spend the most money.
- Research cards that offer bonus rewards in relevant categories.
- Use the appropriate card for each purchase to maximize rewards.
- Track your spending and rewards to ensure you’re earning the bonus rewards as expected.
#3. Use Shopping Portals
Shopping portals are a simple yet powerful way to earn additional points and miles on your online purchases.
While the most popular shopping portals are known for giving cash-back on purchases, many credit card issuers, airlines and hotels have their own shopping portals that enable you to earn points and miles at popular online stores.
As a personal example, British Airways once offered a limited-time promotion where you could earn 12X points at Apple.com. By using the shopping portal to buy a Macbook, I earned enough points for a one-way domestic business-class flight.
Rakuten is another excellent shopping portal option, especially if you use American Express Membership Rewards points. You can transfer your Rakuten cash-back earnings to American Express Membership Rewards at a rate of $0.01 per point.
#4. Maximize Points Earning While Booking Travel
Frequent travelers can optimize their rewards by taking advantage of various loyalty programs offered by airlines and hotels.
- Airlines: Choose a preferred airline and join their frequent flier program. By consistently flying with that airline, you can accumulate miles with every trip. Make sure to provide your frequent flier number when booking flights to ensure you earn the rewards.
- Hotels: Similarly, select a preferred hotel chain and sign up for their loyalty program. Each time you stay at one of their properties, you’ll earn points toward future bookings and qualify for other perks, like room upgrades.
For those who frequently travel for work, this strategy can lead to hundreds of thousands of points annually.
However, if you only book a few trips per year with rewards, the potential to accumulate points or earn great perks through this method is limited. Regardless, it’s essential to be strategic about booking travel to maximize your rewards earnings.
#5. Refer Friends and Family to Credit Cards
Referring friends and family to credit cards can be a rewarding way to earn additional points or miles, as many card issuers offer bonuses for successful referrals.
The major card issuers with referral programs are:
- American Express. American Express often allows its cardholders to refer friends or family to their card products. A significant advantage of the American Express referral program is that you can refer someone to any American Express card, even if you don’t have that specific card.
- Chase. Chase has a “Refer-a-Friend” program for some credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Freedom Unlimited. Unlike American Express, Chase generally allows you to refer others only to the specific card you hold.
- Capital One. Capital One’s referral program allows some eligible cardholders to share a personal referral link with friends. The bonus amount depends on the specific card and you can only refer to cards you currently hold.
One effective strategy for couples is to refer your spouse to a card you already have and vice versa. This way, both of you can benefit from the sign-up bonuses, and the referrer can earn extra points from the referral.
#6. Running a Business
Business credit cards often have some of the most lucrative signup bonuses, making them an essential part of beginner travel hacking.
Many people overlook these cards, thinking they don’t have a “real” business, but you don’t need a large or traditional business to qualify. Even small ventures, like part-time freelancing, selling items on eBay, or renting out a spare room on Airbnb can qualify you for a business credit card.
In the past, I earned a few thousand dollars a year from freelancing, which was enough to qualify me for some business credit cards. In that case, I listed myself as a sole proprietor, used my social security number, and correctly listed my income.
Beyond the great bonuses, other benefits of business cards you shouldn’t ignore are:
- Separate expenses. Using a business card helps keep your personal and business expenses separate, making accounting and tax preparation easier.
- Tax breaks. With a business card, you can take advantage of tax breaks for business-related expenses, potentially saving money. This includes credit card annual fees.
- Additional bonus categories. Business cards often have bonus spending categories tailored to common business expenses, such as office supplies, advertising or shipping, which can help you earn points faster.
#7. Earning Points with Bonus Transfers
Bonus transfers can be a powerful tool for beginner travel hackers to reach their rewards goals quickly. Many credit card issuers and loyalty programs offer periodic promotions, where you can transfer your points or miles to partner programs with a bonus, often ranging from 10% to 50% extra.
Transferring points to partners is generally best when you have a specific redemption in mind. Transferring points without a clear goal can lead to devalued points or difficulty using them later.
#8. Limited-Time Offers
Limited-time offers are another excellent opportunity for beginner travel hackers to earn more points and miles. These offers can include promotions for adding authorized users, spending at specific merchants, or completing other one-time tasks.
Like transfer partners, you’ll want to stay informed by signing up for the credit card issuer or loyalty program email list.
#9. Buying Points
Buying points can make sense when you have a specific redemption in mind.
To determine the value of the points you’re considering buying, visit The Points Guy’s valuations.
Using TPG valuations as a baseline can help you determine if a deal is worth it or not.
For example, if you can buy Wyndham points for 0.8 cents each and the TPG valuation is 1.1 cents, it’s a solid deal. However, TPG valuations are an average, and you need to consider the specific use of the points you’re buying.
If you can determine the value of the points based on your own redemption plans, you may find even greater value. For instance, if you spend $1,000 buying Wyndham points and use them to save $2,000 on a specific trip, the purchase is even more worthwhile.
The best time to buy points is during a sale. Many loyalty programs periodically offer discounts or bonuses on purchased points.
Earning Travel Points FAQs
A beginner can earn points and miles by following these steps:
1. Apply for a travel rewards credit card with a generous sign-up bonus.
2. Maximize points earned by strategically using cards with bonus categories.
3. Use shopping portals to earn extra rewards for online purchases.
4. Take advantage of loyalty programs offered by airlines and hotels.
5. Refer friends and family to credit cards for referral bonuses.
6. Apply for business credit cards if eligible.
7. Utilize bonus transfer promotions when available.
8. Watch out for limited-time offers and promotions.
9. Purchase points during a promotional period.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is often recommended as the best credit card for beginners to start earning travel rewards due to its flexible points redemption options and valuable sign-up bonus. However, the best card for you may vary based on your travel goals and spending habits. See our guide on the best credit cards for beginner travel hackers to learn more.
No, you don’t need a large business to qualify for a business credit card. Small-scale business activities, such as part-time freelancing, online selling through platforms like Facebook Marketplace, or offering short-term rentals, can make you eligible for a business credit card. Of course, be honest on your application.
Points-Powered Adventures Await
Unlocking multiple free trips per year is within your reach by mastering the points and miles game. By implementing the beginner-friendly strategies shared in this guide, you’ll effectively accumulate rewards and transform them into unforgettable travel experiences.
As you continue exploring our “Travel Hacking 101: Beginner’s Guide to Free Flights & Hotels” series, you’ll unlock even more secrets to maximizing your travel rewards, including advanced strategies and tips tailored to your unique travel goals.
Next in the series is The Beginner’s Guide to Choosing a Travel Rewards Credit Card.