First-Class Getaway: Maximizing Your Miles and Points

By Angelina Aucello

Most smart travelers know the value of frequent flyer miles, hotel points, and credit card rewards. Maximizing your loyalty programs and redeeming them wisely can be the gateway to traveling luxuriously to breathtaking destinations that may otherwise be out of reach. Miles and points really are a currency, but that doesn’t go to say that all programs are created equally.

On top of it all, one of the most attractive benefits of leveraging miles and points correctly is the great sense of freedom that comes along with knowing that it’s possible to travel comfortably to almost any destination in the world without remorse. The possibilities are infinite; however, the key to becoming an expert and truly getting the most out of your points and miles is understanding a few basic strategies that you can fully integrate into your daily lifestyle going forward.

Change How You’re Redeeming Already

The truth is that most airline, hotel, and credit card reward programs are designed to steer the consumer into redeeming at the lowest value possible, often at one cent per point (sometimes even less!). If you play your cards right, you can double, triple, or in some cases tenfold the value of your points.

First and foremost, stop redeeming points for cash-back, statement credits, gift cards or worst of all, merchandise.  Instead, focus on travel redemptions by transferring the points directly into the hotel and airline transfer partner programs, as needed.

As a specific example, why redeem 10,000 valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, or Citi ThankYou points for a measly $100 statement credit, when you could transfer 7,500 of those same points into British Airways Avios to book a last-minute flight between New York and Miami on American Airlines (which may have a steep selling price as it is)?

Think Outside the Box

Redeeming your points and miles in some of the most lucrative ways does require a bit of skill and some out-of-the-box thinking. One of the best ways to start is to familiarize yourself with airline alliance partners, transfer options for hotel points, and credit card travel transfer partners.

For example, many people overlook an insanely lucrative perk of Starwood points. At first glance, one can easily assume you can only redeem Starpoints for nights at Starwood-branded hotels (such as St. Regis and W), but the all-time best value of Starpoints is when you convert them into airline miles.

For every 20,000 Starwood points you convert 1:1 into an airline’s program of your choosing, you get a 5,000-mile bonus, so 20,000 Starpoints equals 25,000 airline miles. And if you truly understand the power of redeeming miles on partner airlines, you can really go the extra mile with incredible redemptions like redeeming 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles (from the starting point of 40,000 Starpoints) for a 16-hour business class flight on Cathay Pacific between New York and Hong Kong, often costing thousands of dollars one way!

Buying Points Sometimes May Be a Good Idea

Many programs will often sell their points with generous and enticing bonus offers (such as Hilton’s 100 percent bonus on purchased points). Buying miles and points is usually not recommended, generally speaking, unless of course you have an immediate redemption idea in mind. In some cases, buying points may be the golden ticket to huge savings on ultra-luxurious travel.

For example, let’s say you’re looking at a villa at the Conrad Maldives, which frequently prices at $1,000+ per night during peak season. Under the Hilton Honors loyalty program, a free night for that same villa costs 95,000 points per night. If you purchase Hilton points at the selling rate of 0.5 cents per point, it’s like paying just $475 a night, and that’s not even factoring in elite status benefits, such as the fifth night free on award stays, for even more savings.

Bottom Line

Consider the journey into the miles and points world as an investment, not only as a financial one, but also as an investment in individual happiness. It does require some effort to truly understand expert strategies, but once the knowledge is there, you’ll stretch your points and miles further and enjoy all of the luxuries and rewards the programs have to offer.

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