Luke Sims – 10xTravel Contributor
Hey there, newbie points/miles enthusiast.
Welcome to a world where flying to Vegas for a weekend can be cheaper than taking a taxi downtown. Feel like Don Draper yet?
Whether you are a rookie to the game or a seasoned veteran ready to crown thyself as “Travel Guru of House Lannister” (if you’re not watching Game of Thrones, you should be), you are probably making a few mistakes that could be limiting you from the full potential of this glorious game.
Today, I’m going to share with you some of the most common beginner mistakes in the world of points and miles. Maybe then, you can shed your newbie label and become the master you were born to be (cue Star Wars theme song).
1) Assuming all points/miles have the same value
The most common mistake made in the points and miles world is the assumption that 2 points is always better than 1.
If Card A offers 2 points per dollar spent and Card B only offers 1, Card A must be better, right?
(If you subscribe to this logic please email me right away. I will gladly give you 2 pesos for every dollar you have).
What’s important here is the total value of the points you are earning, not the number, and that can be determined with a quick calculation that we in the points world refer to as “Value per mile”
Simply take the value of what your miles will get you and divide by the total miles needed to get said value, and voila! You have calculated the value per mile.
So for example, if you need to redeem 40,000 miles to book a $2,000 flight, your value per mile would be ($2,000/40,000=) 5 cents per mile.
This thinking is also very common when looking at credit card sign-up bonuses. Bigger is not always better.
Make sure to do the math and don’t fall for the marketing gimmicks.
2) Failure to diversify your points stash
Ah, yes. We call this “first miles love”.
You cash in your hard earned miles for your first free flight, love it, and spend way too much time trying to earn more of those same kind of miles (while ignoring other potentially better options).
Of course I can’t blame you. You’re simply “throwing what you know”, as the kids say these days.
But falling into this trap will severely limit your cheap travel potential.
Don’t fall in love with the first girl you kiss junior year of high school! Always be playing the field (wait, are we talking about love or cheap travel?).
There are other awesome points/miles opportunities all over the place.
(Note: I married the first girl I kissed junior year of high school, so I guess it works out sometimes.)
3) Shop first, save later
Always be earning. Say it with me, “always be earning.” Again!
That’s the mindset I would encourage you to take when it comes to earning points and miles.
You see, many people fall into what I call the “shop first, save later” trap. Meaning they start looking at trips they want to take before earning the required points to book said trips.
Which is a bit like looking at new houses before saving money for a down payment. Regardless of what you find, you’re probably not going to be able to save enough to buy it before someone else does.
The same is true in the world of points and miles.
Each month, you should be adding to your points/miles accounts. Taking advantage of the points/miles earning opportunities that we show you so you’re ready when the time comes.
That way, when you’re sick of your roommates and need a weekend getaway, you have the points to book that Vegas flight and get the hell out of there.
4) Overthinking the Small Stuff
Picture this. You’re in line at Starbucks about to get your morning coffee.
You finally reach the register, place your order, and pull out your wallet to pay.
All of a sudden, panic sets in. Do I pay with Card A? Earn double points with card B? Help!
To which my answer would be, it doesn’t matter!
You can spend hours sweating the small stuff, trying to make sure you optimize your spending to avoid missing out on any lost points.
But, unless you’re buying coffee for the entire office it really doesn’t matter. Just relax and focus on what really matters (that first sip of coffee, of course).
5) Letting valuable points and miles expire
I’ve got some good news and some bad news, which do you want first?
Bad news: your points/miles can expire.
Good news: if you pay a zombie’s level of attention, your points will never expire.
Most beginners fall into one of these two categories: you earn your bonus and never pay attention to the account again, or you nervously check your points/miles account thinking your points are going to expire after a week (like that moldy milk in your fridge).
Whichever is you, stop. Here is the most important thing to know:
Most US based rewards program points/miles expire after 18 months of no activity.
“No activity” being the key part of that sentence. Which means zero points earned and zero points redeemed.
That means that every time you earn or redeem a single point your 18-month clock starts over. Giving you more time to avoid the dreaded “your points are about to expire” email.
RELAX. Your points aren’t going anywhere.
So, forget your “newbie” label.
If you can conquer these 5 common beginner mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to the big leagues – where traveling the world for next to nothing is more than just a dream.