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Little Known Travel Points Tips & Tricks

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I’m back with Jay Peay, my favorite credit card points and travel expert who taught us how to maximize our credit card points and fly free with airline miles. This time, he’s sharing some of his best tips that very few people know about and even fewer actually take advantage of. Get ready to learn how to take your points game to the next level. How fabulously frugal! If you want to make room in your spending for more travel, see how we can work together on that here.

If you have any questions for Jay, don’t hesitate to reach out via email or comment below and we’ll get your questions answered. Enjoy!

I can never find award availability for what I want…what do you suggest?

Remember, the trick to traditional programs is the award needs to be “available.” So for many people, especially those flying domestically, a 2% cash back card may just be about the same value with no headaches.

However, if you want to keep playing the points game, here are tips:

  • Put flights on hold! American lets you put flights on hold for 5 days no questions asked. Korean Air allows holds for months. Not all airlines allow it, but take advantage of those that do.
  • Be open minded about connections. For those in NYC, we’re spoiled in that we have three airports and nonstop flights to just about anywhere in the world. Say you want to go to London. Don’t just search JFK-LHR. Consider JFK-Paris, or JFK-Frankfurt with onward connections to London. It’s a free flight, and its not that much out of the way.
  • Think about “offline” partners. American is part of Oneworld, but only a handful of partners are bookable online. Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines are not bookable on AA.com so if you search JFK-HKG you will only be shown available connections on “AA metal” (that is, AA operated flights) via Chicago or Dallas or LA. You can search Cathay and JAL on ba.com (British Airways) — if its available there, it should be bookable by phone with AA. Since these flights are not booked as easily, there’s an argument to be made that they are more readily available.
  • Know your change policies. While United and Delta charge high cancel fees, most programs have liberal policies for changes and cancellations. Cancelling flights booked with British Airways points (“Avios”) will cost you just the tax ($6 domestically). AA will let you change flights as long as you keep the routing the same. So if you book JFK-LAX-HKG on AA, you can change to JFK-HKG on Cathay without a fee. You can also upgrade to the next cabin for just the difference in miles, no fee. It can be useful to book, say JFK-LAX-HKG (maybe even in coach?) if its available, book the rest of your trip (return flight, hotels etc) and then later change to JFK-HKG (in business or first) if it opens up. Keep improving your awards. Alaska has flexibility outside 60 days. Singapore charges a modest fee.
  • Keep checking. Keep checking all the way up to departure. Cathay is known to release first class seats within a week of departure, for example.

What’s your #1 tip for people interested in maximizing their points?

Set your travel goals up front and figure out what it takes to get there. For example, if you want to save on domestic flights, you might have a different strategy than if you are eyeing a business class trip to Southeast Asia. Or maybe status on a specific airline is your goal.

Also, keep it simple at first. There a ton of travel point blogs out there and some get into complicated strategies. Don’t be overwhelmed, and don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. The bloggers may travel around the world all year long, but most people don’t take more than a couple trips per year. Take your time.

One more tip: stay organized! If you really get into this, you’ll be juggling open credit cards with annual fees that may need to be cancelled when appropriate; bills will need to be paid on time. Don’t get lazy, pay attention — or don’t get in over your head.

If you were to help me revamp my points life, where would we start?

First we’d make sure you can afford to play this game, i.e. you can’t carry any credit card debt, you must be in a position to pay off your monthly credit card purchases, and you need good credit. If you carry a balance on any cards, you’d save more money paying off your balance than earning miles and points.

Next step would be to set a goal, and take a look at what options there are to get there.

What other benefits do top credit cards offer that I should know about?

Don’t forget about other benefits many credit cards offer. Most credit cards cover car rental damage waivers, lost/damage to purchases made with the card in the first 90 days, or extend the warranty of products an additional year. The Citi Prestige card offers “event protection” in case you can’t attend a concert you bought tickets to (or if you lost the tickets). There are great benefits out there that very few people take advantage of. Be sure to read the “benefit guides” that most people throw out…

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