6 things no one tells you about earning points and miles

I can still remember the adrenaline coursing through my veins
while I waited for Chase to finish processing my application for
the
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
, my first real travel rewards
card. I didn’t know it at the time, but my life was forever
changed when the “congratulations, you’ve been approved”
message popped up on my screen. I was officially an award traveler,
and the world was about to get a lot smaller.

Since that day I’ve earned and redeemed over 5 million points
and miles. I’ve
flown first class with some of the world’s best airlines
and

stayed in some of the most expensive hotel suites and villas on the
planet
. I’ve also had my fair share of
mistakes, disappointments, and stressful situations
. Here are 6
things no one tells you about points and miles that I’ve learned
along the way.

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In This Post Your 5/24 slots will be gone in the blink of an eye
Thanks to one early mistake, my Chase Trifecta is still missing a key piece (Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)Thanks
to one early mistake, my Chase
Trifecta
is still missing a key piece (Photo by John Gribben
for The Points Guy)

When you’re new to the world of points and miles, and perhaps
new to credit cards entirely, it can be easy to look at Chase’s
5/24 rule
and assume it doesn’t apply to you. The rule says
that you’ll automatically be rejected when applying for Chase
cards if you’ve opened five or more cards across all issuers in
the last 24 months (excluding most business cards). I can tell you
this: those five slots will go quicker than you can possibly
imagine.

It took me just four months to use up my five slots, and from
that point on I was locked out of applying for more Chase cards.
While that’s certainly on the fast side, many people will blow
through their five slots in the first 10-15 months. What this means
is that early on, you can’t afford to deviate and apply for
non-Chase cards, no matter how tempting the offer. I made that
mistake by opening a Citi college card, and to this day that
decision still haunts me.
I still haven’t been able to slow down enough to get approved
for
a Chase Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, which tops my
wishlist thanks to its 100,000-point bonus after spending $15,000
in the first 3 months.

Related:
The best ways to use your Chase 5/24 slots

Analysis paralysis is real — and can cost you your dream vacation

At the beginning, it might take you months or even a year to
save up all the points you need for your dream vacation. When
you’ve put in so much time and work to build up your points
balance, redeeming them for anything less than perfection can be
difficult. Analysis paralysis is quite real, and while you’re
debating whether to fly EVA
business class
or
United Polaris
, both awards may well disappear. I know too many
people who’ve let a Maldivian vacation slip through their hands
because they were holding out for the St. Regis, even though the W,
JW Marriott and Westin all had plentiful award availability.

Related:
6 reasons to pick the W Maldives over The St.
Regis

I’m certainly not advocating that you redeem your points
randomly without paying attention to the value you’re getting,
but know when to settle for good (or even great) instead of chasing
after the elusive perfect redemption. If you’ve never flown in a
premium cabin before, maybe settle for business class instead of
first class. Book the second or third nicest hotel in the city if
the first one doesn’t have award availability. At the end of the
day, it’s hard to go wrong getting a free luxury vacation. A
friend of mine once put it quite well: “The least valuable point
is the one you never redeem.”

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)While most people would consider the St. Regis to be
the most luxurious property in the Maldives, I found that I enjoyed
my stay at the W much more. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg / The Points
Guy)You’ll become the travel agent for your friends and family

When I started opening dozens of credit cards during my
sophomore year of college, most of my friends thought I was crazy.
Some thought I was a criminal. Even my dad, who’d leveraged
travel rewards throughout his long career as a lawyer, didn’t
understand when I explained that I had enough points to fly around
the world in first class several times over.

Expect some confusion and resistance when you try and explain
your new hobby to friends and family. But once that wears off,
expect to be bombarded with requests every time they need help
booking travel. Hopefully you can teach them a thing or two about
the world of points and miles and even
rack up a few credit card referral bonuses
in the process to
reward you for your time. But one thing’s for sure: once your
friends start to see the incredible trips you’re taking for free,
they’re going to want a piece of the action.

Don’t get caught up chasing elite status

Credit card rewards are the great equalizer. Anyone with a good
enough credit score can earn points and
book a $20,000 first class ticket for free
, no matter how much
money is in their bank account or how often they travel. But beware
the siren song of elite status.

Of course everyone wants to be treated like a valued elite
member, to say nothing of the perks like complimentary upgrades,
bonus points and free food and drink that come with status. There
are plenty of ways you can use credit cards to qualify for status
faster, but these programs are well designed so that only frequent
travelers (and in many cases high spenders) qualify.

Related: The
best credit cards to jumpstart elite status in
2020

During college, I was blindly loyal to American Airlines which
operated nearly a dozen daily flights between Chicago (ORD) where I
was in school, and my hometown of DC. AA offered competitive fares,
not always the cheapest but usually very reasonable, and I would
receive an upgrade to first class roughly one out of every ten
flights I took. But in order to lock in that marginally better
treatment, I spent hundreds of dollars making sure I only flew
American, even if the routing was less convenient or the ticket was
more expensive. I had to spend a minimum of $3,000 every year to
maintain my lowly AAdvantage Gold status, but once you get on the
elite status hamster wheel, it’s quite addicting and thus hard to
get off.

This is especially difficult if you primarily use miles to book
your flights, as you don’t earn elite qualifying miles on award
tickets. That’s why I gave up on earning airline elite status a
few years ago (despite
flying over 100,000 miles a year
) and instead focused my
efforts on maintaining my Marriott Titanium elite status. The good
news is that Marriott, like most hotel chains, counts award nights
towards your status qualification.

Getting upgraded to a suite with
a bathtub in the bedroom is a pretty fun feeling, but these perks
are reserved for frequent travelers who are able to qualify for
elite status. Photo by Ethan Steinberg / The Points GuyEarning
points is easy, redeeming them takes work

When you read a TPG flight review, we focus heavily on the
actual experience of the flight. What you don’t always see is the
painstaking work it takes to find that one elusive award seat and
book it. Anyone with a good enough credit score can open new cards
and rack up miles, but knowing where to search for award space and
which programs offer the cheapest rates take some serious
effort.

Related: From
newbie to advanced: 5 ways to up your mileage redemption
game

As award travel has exploded in popularity, airlines have
devalued their award charts and restricted the number of first and
business class seats they make available for award bookings. In
addition, frequent flyer programs with confusing IT systems take an
advanced degree and a wealth of patience to navigate. As TPG
loyalty and engagement editor Richard Kerr so aptly said:
Complexity
is an everpresent devaluation
.”

At the same time, you have airlines like American Airlines
making it easier to book partner awards online. This means that
many people might end up booking Qatar
Qsuites, the world’s best business class product
, without
even knowing what a gem they stumbled on. When you add this all up,
you’re forced to face the fact that just because you have enough
points, doesn’t mean you’ll get to fly the
airline/route/cabin/plane you want.

Which leads me to my final point.

You won’t get anywhere without a bit of flexibility

Back in college I moonlighted as an award booking consultant,
helping people figure out how to use their points and miles to book
the trips they wanted. I had clients come to me insisting on
finding nonstop business class awards to Australia for their family
of four in December, as well as award space at the Park Hyatt
Sydney. Nothing else would work for them, they refused to budge. Of
course you’d be lucky to find one business class award seat to
Australia during peak times, but more likely than not you’d need
to route through Asia to get it. Without flexibility, you’ll get
nowhere.

This means you need to decide what matters most to you: the
dates, the destination, or the airline/class of service. When I
planned my monthlong vacation over Chinese New Year this year, I
built the entire trip around the one day of the month that had
two
Etihad Apartment awards from Seoul (ICN) to Abu Dhabi (AUH
). I
had a vague idea of where else I wanted to go on the trip, but I
didn’t care what order we made our stops in and I had a lot of
flexibility with the destinations themselves.

If you’re traveling on a fixed schedule (around school breaks,
for example), don’t expect to find multiple business class awards
for your entire family. And if you insist on flying in business
class, you might have to change your destination to one that’s
less popular at that time of year. Points and miles open up a whole
new world of travel, but there are limits to what you can do with
them. Being realistic with yourself from the start will lead to
less frustration and more high-quality redemptions.

Bottom line

The award travel community is a lovely cult family of people
who’ve figured out how to travel like billionaires for pennies on
the dollar just by optimizing their use of credit cards. I’ve
made some lifelong friends through award travel, and had
experiences I never would’ve dreamed of (let alone be able to
afford) without points and miles. If you’re new to the world of
points and miles you have an exciting road ahead of you, but a
little bit of patience and flexibility will go quite a long
way.

Photo courtesy of Four Seasons.

Source: FS – All-Travel destinations-News2
6 things no one tells you about earning points and
miles