An Airline Travel Points Primer

After I posted about free travel a few weeks ago, I got a lot of follow-up questions from friends. I also got a text from a friend saying she just opened her first rewards card and the bonus points are paying for a chunk of her upcoming vacay. Yay!

I know it can be overwhelming to sift through the vast info out there and determine your own plan of attack. It can also be a little intimidating to actually go for it. But trust me, it’s worth it to push past the temporary discomfort. You’ll never, ever regret it. (That is, unless you break the first rule of credit card usage of not paying the balance off every month. That’s a big no-no and will immediately invalidate any benefit. PLEASE don’t do that.)

Okay, so let’s get a little more into the nitty gritty. Scratch that. Let me just give you a simple plan of attack. This is by no means the most optimal route to gathering the most points because the most optimal route is way above my pay grade, skill level, and patience. This is just a plan you can follow if you want to make it easy on yourself.

Since airfare is usually the biggest expense of any trip, let’s start with airline credit cards. They are also super easy and straightforward to use.

1- Choose Where You Want to Go

Whenever possible, minimize layovers!

Who has the time and energy for them? Not me, no way. Yes, often you’ll get cheaper flights if you first stop in Denver on your way to Orlando, but you could be at your Disney hotel by the time you even board your DEN flight. Besides, when you’re paying with points, who cares if the nonstop flight costs more? Start your vacation off on the right foot by just getting to your destination as quickly and conveniently as possible.

**I have not always followed this advice. If I’m flying to/from Europe, sometimes taking a day or two on the East coast is ideal. It breaks up the hours sitting on a plane, helps reduce jet lag, and you get to fit in another city exploration without paying extra for it.**

To minimize layovers and simplify the usage of points, research which airlines fly out of your airport and where they fly nonstop. Simply look up your airport in WIKIPEDIA, scroll down, and you’ll see a nice, neat list. Here’s an example of SLC. Of course, there are other ways to get where you want to go…these are just by far the quickest and easiest ways to get there.

Airlines and destinations

SLC Airline Table

Yes, if you want to use points to go somewhere that isn’t on this list, you can. It will just require a layover and/or airline change. No biggie, just more details to shuffle.

2- Choose Your Airline and Credit Card

Since Salt Lake is a hub for Delta, that is the airline we chose to focus on first. They offer three different SkyMiles rewards credit cards which you and your spouse can each get. Each card comes with a different sign-up bonus, different benefits, and different application fees. These change frequently depending on which promotion they are running.

Rob and I each took turns getting the gold and platinum cards and ended up with a total of 260,000 SkyMiles for a total of $190 in application fees. Those SkyMiles paid for most of our flights over the last few years.

If you own a small business have business expenses, you can ALSO get the SkyMiles business cards ON TOP of the personal cards. WHOA. That’s double the free airfare!!

3- Get Your Free Tickets

Once you’ve met your required spend amount (usually $1,000-$3,000 per card), your bonus points (usually 50,000-70,000 points) will automatically appear in your Delta account online. You can immediately spend, spend, spend!

There are a lot of crazy ways to transfer your points to other airlines in order to get more value out of them, but I am not at that level and like to keep things simple. Just go ahead and start a search for airfare on the Delta website and click “Show Price in Miles” and book whatever works best for you.

Another fun thing to do is watch the SkyMiles Deals page for point redemption sales.

I’ll tell ya, purchasing $5,000 flights for just $68 total in taxes and fees is EXHILARATING! You’ll never go back to paying full price.

4- Repeat with Other Airlines

Once you’ve depleted your Delta SkyMiles points, feel free to keep using the credit card. You’ll continue to earn points, but MUCH slower (1-3 points per dollar spent). If you’re not interested in using the card long term, just cancel it right before the annual fee is charged a year after your open date.

When you’re ready for another big dream trip (or a few smaller dream trips), repeat steps 2 and 3 on another airline.

Happy Journeys!

(If you’re still interested in learning more, I’ll talk about hotel credit cards next time.)

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