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I get a lot of emails that start something like:

“We want to take our dream trip in summer 2015 to _______. What type of miles should we be collecting?”

While I admire that level of planning, there is a preliminary question. How far in advance should you start collecting miles for a dream trip?

There’s actually a simple answer to how far in advance you should start collecting miles.

How far in advance should you start collecting miles? Does the answer depend on location?

For the US-based airlines, you can book awards up to 11 months (331-337 days) in advance.

The best award space is not always available 11 months out, but I always say that if you know when and where you want to go, you should at least start looking 11 months out to give yourself the best chance to book the trip.

If award space is open 11 months out, get it. If not, monitor the flights you want until space does open.

Since miles posting from credit cards don’t post until your statement closes, and you really want the miles ready when the award schedule opens, you should give yourself a buffer of one month. For your dream trip, you want to have your miles ready to be used 12 months in advance.

If you want the miles 12 months in advance, you need to work backwards from there to see when you need to apply for credit cards.

Most credit cards have a minimum spending requirement to unlock their lucrative sign up bonuses. You need to consider how many cards you need to open to get the miles you need, which cards, and how long it will take to meet those cards’ spending requirements. (Or ask me through the Free Credit Card Consultation Form.)

Having to get more cards and being a low spender on credit cards will require you to start collecting miles earlier for your dream trip.

Why not just start collecting now for your dream trip that’s three years away?

So much could change that you could be charging off 100 mph toward your goal and have it turn out you were going the wrong way–collecting the wrong miles.

The miles you’re collecting could be gutted in value by an award chart devaluation or the imposition of fuel surcharges on your contemplated award. Or an airline’s partners could change, making another type of mile a surer bet to get the award you want.

In a constantly changing landscape, you want to minimize the amount of time between when you implement your miles-collecting plan and when you book your award.

What if I’m three years away from my goal trip? Should I avoid collecting miles at all?

Of course not. Getting miles back on all your purchases is such a great deal that you definitely want to participate, but you need to be extra careful with a far-off goal. You need to collect very flexible miles that can’t be devalued very much or collect miles for another intermediate goal.

Recap

No matter where your dream trip is, you should start collecting miles  so that you finish collecting the miles you need 12 months before you want to take your trip.

If you are planning before that time frame, grab a versatile card whose points are very unlikely to be devalued significantly, so that your early start is not pointless.

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 75,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months, 5x points on travel booked through the Chase Travel Portal and 3x points on restaurants, streaming services, and online groceries (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs), this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!


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