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Booking travel using frequent flyer miles can be both an incredible experience and a very difficult journey – from knowing which points to collect and which credit card to use, to finding award availability and then transferring to a given frequent flyer program, the simple task of booking an award flight can be daunting.

Thankfully, once you understand the basics in regards to transferable bank points programs and know which airlines partner and what the best redemptions are, you’ll be booking award travel in no time.

collect points and travel the world

collect points and travel the world

Collecting Miles & Points: Diversify Your Portfolio

Major transferable bank points programs allow you to collect rewards and then transfer them from the bank program to the airline or hotel program – the beauty is that these are flexible since you can easily transfer to multiple partners, if one airline doesn’t have availability, then another might.

It’s important to diversify your miles and points portfolio when collecting these valuable rewards – make sure you aren’t collecting miles with just one airline (because then when you’ll want to redeem them, there might not be availability with your airline or their partners). There are some airline miles that can’t easily be acquired from a transferable bank points program (like American Airlines AAdvantage miles), but in general, there’s always a way to book a flight on a given airline through one of their airline partners – one of which will most likely be a transfer partner of a major bank program.

Aside from transferable bank points programs, the other valuable rewards currency is Marriott Bonvoy points. You can transfer these points to some 40+ airlines; the catch is that the transfers aren’t instant and as we know, award availability frequently changes so chances are by the time the transfer is complete, your desired flight will no longer be available. Transfers from bank programs to airlines are mostly instant.

Don’t Over-Diversify Your Points Portfolio

While it is important to have a diverse miles portfolio, it is important to note that you also shouldn’t over-diversify your mileage balances. You don’t want to end up with 20 airline accounts and a few thousand points in each one that can’t be combined. The best way to get started is to collect most of your rewards with 2-3 major transferable bank points programs, which include:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Capital One Rewards
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points

Then as a secondary aspect of your portfolio, you might collect airline frequent flyer miles with a few specific airlines – for example, by flying (since miles for flights can only be credited to an airline). You’re able to “top-up” your mileage balance by transferring in from a bank program or from Marriott Bonvoy should you need more miles for an award redemption.

As a third part to your portfolio, you’ll also want to collect hotel frequent guest points for all of your hotel stays. It’s important to note that you’ll only be able to collect hotel rewards if you booked your stay directly with the hotel or chain – third party bookings do not qualify to earn hotel points (however third party flight bookings do earn frequent flyer miles). If you end up needing more hotel points for a redemption stay, most major hotel chains do allow transfers in from a transferable bank points program, however these transfers usually aren’t the best value and instead you should only be using your bank points (and airline miles) for flights.

use your points to fly to amazing events

use your points to fly to amazing events

Modify and Adjust Your Earning Strategy

Every few months you should do an analysis on your earning and redeeming strategy and should modify/adjust it as necessary. If you find that some miles don’t work for you and your travel patterns – that’s ok, and you should switch to others that might work better for you. With miles and points, there isn’t a “one size fits all” – everyone has different travel goals and desires, so each family’s plan is unique and adjustments are necessary until you find the perfect earning and redemption methods for you.

If you’re just starting out with collecting miles and points, start slow – with just one transferable points currency at the beginning, for example. Once you get the hang of it, you can add more cards and more frequent flyer accounts and work your way up. If you’d rather focus on just one points account, that’s fine as well, just make sure the redemption opportunities are plentiful.

All in All

Collecting miles is the easy part once you get started and set up your preferred earning strategy – spread across various transferable bank points programs, airline frequent flyer programs, and hotel frequent guest programs. Definitely have a few accounts with each category of rewards, but also don’t have too many. For example, if you’re flying an airline for the first time and likely won’t fly them much, consider crediting the miles for this flight to one of their partner airlines where you might have a bigger mileage balance, instead of opening up a brand new account.

When it comes to redeeming miles and points, if you’ve properly set up your earning strategy and have a diverse portfolio, you’ll be all set to book most flights around the world using rewards. The one important key message is that you want to always have access to as many airlines as possible – and that can be achieved with a strong and diverse rewards portfolio.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.