I’ve seen it time and time again.
Your friends do it.
You see them doing it and enjoying it!
And you get curious.
Playing the miles game is addicting and catching. It spreads through families and groups of friends fast.
But once you get over that initial hurdle the one where you see other people enjoying extravagant vacations for free, and think it’s not possible for you there are still a few more things you need to start flying for free yourself:
- A goal
- Your credit score
- Your spending patterns
- An application plan
Step 1: A Goal
This is the easy part.
Dream big! Where have you always wanted to go? Tahiti? A whirlwind tour of Europe’s major capitals?
You might have started to research miles because you already know where you want to go. If so, you’re all set. Now you need
Step 2: Knowledge
Not only about points and miles, but also about where you want to go. Who flies to your destination? Are they a good airline? Do they have partners with whom you can accrue miles?
Our service, launching later this year, will do all of this for you when you plug in your destination. But for now, start by using your favorite flight search engine to see who flies there, and then check the airlines website. Do you need miles with that airline to book awards, or can you also book with partners or points earned by other credit card programs? Our program reviews show you all the partners for each airline.
Step 3: Your Credit Score
One of the fastest and easiest ways to rack up miles or points is with credit card sign-up bonuses. But the cards with the best bonuses only go to people whom credit card companies trust to spend a lot of money.
You can get your credit history free from the big credit bureaus once a year, but they don’t always include your FICO score, which is what is used to judge your creditworthiness when extending credit. You can get your score for free using CreditKarma.com.
If your score is 700-plus, you’re pretty much all set. If your credit score is lower than that, you may still be able to get some cards, though they’ll have lower sign-on bonuses.
Step 4: Your Spending Habits
Without an accurate picture of your spending habits, it’s impossible to plan how long it will take you to reach the points or miles you will need for your travel goal, or to even know if you’ll meet the minimum spend to get the huge bonuses that come with reward credit cards.
If you currently do most of your spending with one bank account and its associated cards, you can just take a quick peek at your statement to know what’s feasible.
Otherwise, try linking your accounts to Mint.com, which is also great for tracking spend on award credit cards to get a full picture of your cash, credit and debit spending from all accounts in one place.
Step 5: An Application Plan
You’ve got a goal all ready. You know where you want to go. This is the part where you figure out how to get there.
You need to map out how you’re going to get the points or miles that will get you there, so that you don’t just apply for any credit card offer that comes up just the ones that will get you where you want to go.
For instance, while Chase points are great because they’re transferable, they only transfer to a very small number of airlines. So if you want to go somewhere that you need American Airlines or Delta (or their partners) to reach, you’ll be out of luck, because the only major domestic airline Chase transfers to is United.
Go back to step 2, where we figured out how to get to your dream destination. Check your credit score and spending habits against the cards available to earn miles for those flights, and start applying and accumulating.
You’re on your way! Good luck. Happy flying.