There are a lot of travel credit cards out there, and it’s easy to earn a lot of miles to get hundreds, even thousands of dollars in travel savings. But it’s easy to get really frustrated with miles. Seats may not be available on the days you want to travel. There may be surprise fees, or simply it takes too long to earn enough miles to get an award ticket.
Nothing free comes without work, but one of the biggest reasons you can get tripped up is not thinking about where you want to go first.
Asking “where do I want to go?” is the most important step in avoiding hassles with travel rewards.
Sure, almost every mile program says it can get you anywhere, but the best mile credit cards for getting to Florida can be very different than the best ones for getting to Paris.
Not all miles are created equal. Some airlines and mile programs are geared for domestic flyers, but are terrible for getting you enjoyable world travel. Others are really helpful for first class seats to Asia, but will take you much longer than other cards to earn a reward to Orlando.
How can you choose? Here are some tips:
1. Domestic travel:
Stay away from traditional airline miles. These miles are geared to people who want to save up a lot of miles for big international trips. So unless you have miles in an airline account to top up with a card, stick with a ‘no hassle’ bank points program like the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card (no fee, 1.5% back on all spend) or the Barclaycard Arrival (2% back on all spend). You can use your points on any flight at any time. Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America’s cards are also all good values for domestic flights if they fly where you want to go. With new airline fees popping up seemingly quite often, it can be nice to find ways to save like this!
This is where the best traditional airline miles can shine. United MileagePlus is great for getting to Europe thanks to all of its partners including Lufthansa, Swiss, and Air Canada. You have a really good shot at getting an award ticket for 60,000 miles here. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a good option. It earns points you can transfer directly into your United miles account, but also gives you the option of transferring to other airlines like British Airways as well. If you’re after the big business class seat, American Airlines miles are the way to go, and consider a big bonus on the AAdvantage credit card to get you started.
3. Mexico, and the Caribbean:
Think no hassle points again here. It’s hard to get great value with traditional airline miles to beach destinations because so many people want rewards. The mileage prices to beach destinations are inflated and you’ll get bigger travel savings faster as a frequent spender via a bank points card like the Barclaycard Arrival, Capital One Venture Double Miles, or BankAmericard Travel Rewards.
Tickets to Asia can be incredibly expensive, and you’ll want to save up traditional airline miles for these. American has some really good deals thanks to its partners Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. If you plan ahead it’s easy to get a seat for around 50,000 miles.
5. South America:
United miles are the best for places in the north part of South America like Peru and Colombia thanks to its partners Avianca and Copa. So consider a United credit card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred. To southern South America people traditionally consider American Airlines miles, but they are getting stingy with rewards down there. Consider United miles here as well.
There’s no easier way to get to Australia than Qantas via American Airlines miles earned from an American Airlines credit card. Qantas has lots of flights with good availability at 75,000 miles roundtrip, which can save you almost $2,000 in typical airfare down there. If you insist on business class, be ready to pony up and look elsewhere. Delta is actually a better choice with its partner Virgin Australia out of Los Angeles for 160,000 miles.
As with all things mile and point related there are a lot of nuances. But these guidelines will get you pointed in the right direction and avoid the pitfall of earning the wrong miles for the job.