15 Travel Point Perks You Didn’t Know Existed
Miles and points can be a valuable currency, and it's easier to earn them than you may think. Here are the insider secrets to racking them up.
Earn free miles and points for everyday spending
There are more ways than ever before to rack up free miles for doing the things you already do on a daily basis. Are you a frequent Lyft user? If so, link your Delta SkyMiles number with your Lyft account to earn SkyMiles for every dollar you spend with the car service—plus, get bonus miles for drives to or from an airport! Prefer Super Shuttle for your trips to the airport? You can earn miles for each ride you take on it with a variety of airlines, too.
Keep travel goals in mind when applying for credit cards
Before applying for a card, think about where you ultimately want to travel: a Caribbean cruise? Disney World? Hawaii? Then, research the best card for earning the points that will get you there. For example, on Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard, you'll earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months of having the card. Plus, you'll get three miles per dollar spent on Hawaiian Airlines flights, double miles per dollar spent on gas, dining, and grocery stores, and one mile per dollar spent on other purchases. Best of all, Hawaiian Airlines tends to have more award seats from major U.S. cities than other airlines.
Eat your way to a free trip
With the Rewards Network dining program, you don't even have to sign up for a new credit card to start earning points almost everytime you eat out. Register your card—for free!—and you'll start earning a set number of miles with its airline and hotel partners when you pay with your card at participating restaurants in major metropolitan U.S. areas. Pull out a card that earns bonus miles or points, and you'll earn that free trip even faster; with a Chase Sapphire Preferred, you get double the miles at restaurants and with Frontier Airlines World Mastercard from Barclays, you'll get triple points per dollar spent. Find out how credit card reward programs can score you the best vacation ever.
Read the fine print for extra perks
This is one time when the fine print actually benefits you, says Jason Steele, a credit card and travel journalist. Some cards have little-known perks, including a free Priority Pass membership that gives you access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world (read the fine print to see if you can bring a free guest or two); fee waivers for traveler memberships, like AAA; car rental insurance; and compensation for hotels and incidentals during travel delays. While roadtripping, you might want to know where those "adopt a highway" signs came from.
Easier way to elite status
Reach elite status on one airline, and it's possible its competitor may match that status. The same goes for hotel chains, too, according to Reward Expert. Some companies require you to spend a certain amount to take advantage, but others, like Best Western Rewards' Status Match, No Catch program, offer instant status. Another way to get easy upgrades is to apply for credit cards that include a special status like the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card; it instantly makes you a Marriott Rewards Gold Elite member and gives you a credit of up to $300 for purchases at participating hotels and an annual free-night award (worth up to 50,000 points). Plus, you'll earn an impressive six award points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels, three points on travel and dining, and two points on everything else.
Use your points strategically
Many airlines partner with each other or with credit cards, so do your research to figure out how to get your dream trip for fewer points, says Richard Kerr of Award Travel 101. For example, with the American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, you could use your points on Virgin Atlantic or Delta, two airlines that honor each other's award points. However, you'll need fewer points on Virgin Atlantic's frequent flier program to score a Delta business class award ticket. Japan Airlines' mileage program is another favorite of Kerr's because people can transfer credit card points into its program and redeem miles for Air France flights at a cheaper price than through Air France's own program. Here are 16 more ways to make sure you get the cheapest airfare possible.
Don't overlook orphan points
One of the biggest reasons that people choose not to collect miles or points is because they believe they don't travel frequently enough to make use of them. However, even a small number of points can prove valuable to those who know how to use them. For example, points can be transferred between programs via Points.com; note that it will be at a less than favorable conversion rate. You can also redeem orphan points for magazine subscriptions with many airlines.
Look for award discounts
If you're itching to get out of town and aren't picky about your destination, many airlines offer flights to specific cities at a discount. For example, American Airlines regularly updates its list of discounted mileage routes and Delta offers a similar SkyMiles Deals page. You'll also want to check out the best off-season travel deals, according to experts.
Search for award chart sweet spots
While the most common awards are for travel within the United States, you may find flights in other countries for less, making hopping around on a different continent a bargain. For example, it's only 8,000 United miles for a one-way, nonstop flight of less than 800 miles in Europe or South America. Or within Asia, Alaska Airlines partners with Cathay Pacific and Hainan for one-way flights for only 22,500 miles. Heading to Australia? Alaska charges 55,000 miles for one-way, business class flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to the South Pacific—and you can even get a free stopover in Fiji.
Earn rewards when booking independent hotels
You don't have to stay at a hotel chain to start earning miles; book through a site like PointsHound.com, and you'll earn as many as 10,000 miles per booking on its participating airlines, even when staying at a boutique hotel. Or stay at one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and you'll earn Hyatt points, thanks to its new partnership. Plus, you'll get perks, including free breakfast. Check out these 13 things you never knew about online travel sites.
Do good for others
Many airlines, including American, will give you miles when you donate money to a charitable cause. Or send flowers to your mom on her birthday and earn United MileagePlus miles. On top of helping others and making someone's day, these transactions also keep your loyalty program accounts active so that points don't expire. Don't miss these secrets to traveling cheap, according to travel agents.
Look for distance-based award charts
Most airlines offer award charts that require a fixed number of miles for flights taken between cities divided between travel zones. But some airlines like British Airways and All Nippon Airways (ANA) use a distance-based chart. This means there can be some outsized value in some of those redemptions, says Howie Rappaport of AwardWallet. Some of his favorite awards include flying around the world on ANA in economy for 85,000 miles in economy or 125,000 miles in business and taking any British Airways business class flight that is less than 2,000 miles in distance for 20,000 Avios points. Here are more secret travel deals you won't want to pass up.
Choose hotel brands wisely to maximize perks
When you stay at a chain's lower tier property, you can often earn more points than you would at its luxury property. Plus, these points can be redeemed at any of the chain's hotels. For example, Marriott's "Classic Select" hotels, including Fairfield by Marriott, Courtyard by Marriott, and Four Points by Sheraton can pack big value, especially overseas; they require fewer points for free nights, and elite-level members can still take advantage of perks like room upgrades and late checkout. If it's onsite experiences you're after, don't forget that you can use points for spa treatments or discounts on room charges through many loyalty programs, including Marriott Rewards and World of Hyatt. You should also keep an eye out for promotions on your favorite hotel's or airline's social media accounts. The Marriott Rewards #MRPoints program, for example, gives you as many as 750 points just for registering and you can earn as many as 45,000 points per year by participating in its social media campaigns, according to The Points Guy.
Shop online for bonus miles
Most airlines have their own dedicated shopping portals that award bonus miles for purchases made through them; these are free to join and often come with extra bonuses via regular promotions throughout the year. Even better, use United Airlines' MileagePlus X app, and you can double dip. Users earn miles for buying gift cards, which can then be used to make purchases through an airline's shopping portal. Award Wallet explains that airlines take a small commission from merchants, which is why they offer free miles to shoppers as an incentive to use these portals. Don't miss these secrets travel booking companies don't want you to know.