Points & Miles 101: Creating Your Travel Bucket List

Today, I’m going to offer the single best piece of advice yet in my Points & Miles 101 series and it has absolutely nothing to do with points and miles! Additionally, I’m giving my readers some homework or at least permission to take a few minutes out of their day to think about the following:

I want everyone reading this to construct a travel bucket list – that is a list of at least 5 places you want to visit in your lifetime (feel free to share yours in the comments below!). 

Sounds simple enough but I know you’re thinking why – what does this have to do with points & miles? Before we get to that, let’s take a look at some sample bucket list items, including some of mine.

These all sound great with one major problem – all of these places are really freaking expensive!! I would love to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef just as much as anyone but between flights and hotels alone it could easily cost $2,000 to $3,000 a person just to get there! I’m not made of that kind of money but I do have an easy solution – points and miles (c’mon you all saw that coming!)

Points and miles can allow you to experience trips that would otherwise be impossible for most people. The reason I think this is the most important piece of advice I’ve given yet is by writing down or creating your travel goals, it’s going to make you more interested and inclined to partake in the points and miles game. If I told you 150,000 miles and 100,000 hotel points later you could travel somewhere, that sounds fine and all but without a set goal in mind, you might not appreciate the value of those points and miles.

But if I told you two years and several credit cards later, you could be on your way to Bali, that sounds a hell of a lot better. In fact, I’d be willing to bet your going to work harder and become more involved in this game to take advantage of not only earning miles for that trip but all your future travel goals. And trust me once you get that one big free trip, you’re going to want more.

There is a reason most people consider some of these “bucket list trips” as once in a lifetime – they really are expensive and most people would be lucky to do this once in a lifetime. However, points and miles could allow you to do most, if not all of these trips for almost nothing! 

P.S. Even if your travel bucket list doesn’t have crazy, exotic goals on them, it doesn’t mean points and miles can’t help you. If your bucket list includes going to Disney or driving the Pacific Coast Highway, let points and miles take care of the flights and hotels for you!

Points & Miles 101: Who Should & Shouldn’t “Travel Hack”?

I like to think of travel hacking as a game – one I’m consistently winning at.  The best part about this “game” is that almost everyone can play and there are no losers – you all can win. You don’t need to be a financial savant or some airline insider to play the game. If you spend money (yes), have a credit card/ability to open one (yup), and have a desire to travel cheaper (obviously), then travel hacking is for you!

The above sentence seems trivially easy but its the truth. Small changes to your everyday spending and having the right credit cards can make a world of difference. For example, let’s say you spend an average of $1,000 a month (outside of a mortgage/rent payment) but you only spend $800 of that on your credit card and the remaining $200 is split between cash and your debit card. Assuming you have a 1% cash back rewards credit card , over 3 months you will have earned $24 cash back for your spending.

Instead, let’s say you opened the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card (it offers double points on all travel and dining expenses) and for opening it, they will give you a bonus of 45,000 points for spending $3,000 in 3 months. Assuming your spending remains the same but all of it goes on your new credit card, over 3 months you will have earned over 48,000 points! That’s basically two free flights or 3-4 nights free at a hotel. Even after the initial signup bonus, if you spend a lot on dining and travel (and for most of us this is our biggest expense), you’ve doubled your rewards compared to your old credit card.

Now, I’m going to drop a little bit of bad news – below is a list of those who should refrain from this game, at least right now.

  1. If you’re about to apply for a mortgage or car loan. Banks will not want to see a lot of recent inquiries for credit (even if your credit score still remains high). It’s best to get the mortgage/loan first, then dive right in. Literally the day after our mortgage closed, I applied for 4 credit cards.
  2. Your credit score is below 680. Most Americans have a credit score above this but if you do not, I would suggest focusing on raising your credit score first to a safe level.
  3. You plan to carry a balance on these credit cards. The interest rate on these rewards credit cards are a lot higher then other credit cards and any rewards you might earn will be offset by the interest and fees you will pay.
  4. You cannot control your spending with a new credit card. The point of this game is to earn more rewards based on your current spending habits. Spending more to earn more rewards doesn’t make sense.

I’m not going to lie – to master this game, it will require a fair amount of dedication to learn and read more about this on your own. But for a few free trips, you don’t need to be a travel hacking expert – you just need to know which credit cards to open, which miles to collect and then how to use them effectively. For those who want those benefits without the work, I suggest my consulting services and award booking services.

All you need is a desire to stop paying for travel and you will make this game work for you.

Points & Miles 101: Introduction

*This is the beginning of a series of tips and other information geared towards beginners in the points and miles world. It will also contain some good personal finance tips that are applicable to everyone. There is no set order to this series but all posts will be tagged with “Points and Miles 101” so you can quickly search all the posts in this series.*

This might sound strange but I view points and miles as a form of currency just like the US Dollar, British Pound, or Indian Rupee. It’s kind of true – the most common and by far the most valuable use of points is towards free travel – I can “buy” a roundtrip flight to San Francisco for 25,000 miles. That’s not the only use though – did you know you could use or exchange them for merchandise, concerts/shows, sporting events, memorabilia, and more, including selling them for cash? Now points and miles obviously can’t replace good old cash but if you have any desire to travel, they are a valuable currency to hold in your (virtual) wallet.

The reason I recommend having a collection of points and miles is for travel experiences that might otherwise be impossible paying cash. And this is something that effects all levels of society to some extent (unless your in the 1%, then you can stop reading). It’s not hard to picture a struggling family that hasn’t take a family trip in 5 years due to financial struggles but would kill for a weekend beach getaway. Or how about a middle to upper class couple who wants to honeymoon in Bora Bora but can’t afford the $20-$30k price tag. This is where points and miles can make a big difference.

As we go through this series, you will see how simply it can be to rack up hundreds of thousands of points and miles at little to no cost. You’re going to be kicking yourself once you see how affordable travel can be – I know I was before I got involved! The days of complaining travel is too expensive IS OVER. Traveling can be a truly amazing experience and if you have even the littlest bit of desire to travel, you owe it yourself to find a solution to make your travel dreams a reality. And I propose that solution, is with points and miles.