Miles make keeping a New Year’s resolution related to travel very easy. The key is to come up with a strategy that you execute almost automatically and to start today.
If you come up with the right plan, then in a few months, you can take a dream vacation anywhere in the world at a price you can afford.
- Set the right goal. What does the purpose of frequent flyer miles say about when and where you should use them to go?
- Identify the right miles and get the right rewards card. I can help you with my award booking experience.
- Earn the miles. This is automatic after you’ve completed the previous step.
- Book the trip.
1. Set the Right Goal
What Are Frequent Flyer Miles (and What That Means for Your Goal)
Frequent flyer miles are a marketing device to keep customers loyal to an airline by giving them seats on flights that the airline thinks would otherwise go unsold.
This fact needs to be the basis of your planning. You need to pick a destination and time frame when Saver award seats will be available, and that means picking a time/place combination that is not at the peak of its high season.
For instance, don’t make your goal to fly Business Class from Los Angeles to London in July. Make it Los Angeles to Lima in July or Los Angeles to London in April.
Peak time/place trips are possible with miles. For instance, I went to Australia last January with miles. But they’re much more difficult. For that reason, I recommend making your New Year’s Resolution’s trip goal a time/place combination that is not super peak.
If you are unsure of how difficult a trip will be to book with miles, ask in the comments. Or perform an award search for the trip right now on united.com.
What If Your Dream Trip is a Peak Trip?
If your kids only have the summers off from school, and you really want to go to Paris, or if you have to see the New Year’s fireworks over Sydney Harbour, you still have options.
Some peak trips can be booked with frequent flyer miles if you know when the airline will release award seats (often 11 months out or in the last week before departure for high-demand flights). You can even hire an expert through my Award Booking Service to book your difficult trip.
Or you can eschew airline frequent flyer miles and earn bank points for your trip, which are good for any flight on any airline with no blackouts. My favorite card that earns these points is the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases with 40,000 bonus points ($444 in free travel) after spending $1k in the first three months.
Also see my comparison table of the sign up bonuses, category bonuses, other perks, and fees associated with all the cards in the bank point category: Comparison Table of Fixed-Value Bank-Point Cards
2. Identify the right miles and get the right rewards card.
Once you’ve picked your trip, it’s time to figure out the right miles to earn, which tells us the best rewards card to get.
I’ve already talked a little about bank point cards. They are often ideal for economy travel, especially during peak-demand periods or domestically. Once you have enough points, and this depends on the cash price of the ticket you want, you can pick any flights on any airlines you want with no blackouts.
But for business class travel, first class travel, and some international economy travel, traditional airline frequent flyer miles are best.
If you’ve never collected any miles, I’d say to start with United miles if you want to travel to Hawaii, Europe, Africa, Asia, or Australia. Start with American miles for Central America, South America, the Middle East, and India or if you want to fly a specific American Airlines partner like Cathay Pacific or Qantas.
For more specific suggestions of the miles you should collect and which rewards card is best to get those miles, ask in the comments (including where you are, where you’re going, when, and what cabin) or fill out my Free Credit Card Consultation form.
3. Earn the Miles
This is the most automatic step. If you figured out the miles you need and got the right card, you just need to put all your day-to-day spending on the card to reach the minimum spending requirement to unlock the card’s sign up bonus.
4. Book the Trip (and Take It!)
Once all the miles or bank points you need have posted to your account, it’s time to book your award. If you’ve selected a goal trip that will have plenty of award space as I suggested in part 1, this part will be easy.
If you have a tough award to book, hire a pro.
With your airfare taken care of, you can restart this process to try to earn free hotel nights for the trip. (I always book airfare first because airfare awards are scarcer than hotel awards.) Or you can use my Cheapskate Guide to Lodging to limit your lodging costs.
This is a complete system to make and keep a New Year’s travel resolution. What I like the most about it is that most of the work (maybe an hour’s worth) can be done right now when you’re still in the resolution spirit. Pick out a trip you want to take, figure out the miles or points you’ll need to take it, and apply for the right rewards card today.
Meet the minimum spending requirement on that card automatically with the spending you normally do.
Then in a few months, book the trip or hire someone else to book it for you.
Forget about wasting unused gym memberships or cutting out dessert! In 2014, make travel the resolution you keep by putting in a little time today.