black / girl / abroad

Racking up miles for travel

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Ok, I’m not going to claim to be a professional on this, but I do have useful tips just based on experience. The airline industry is turning into a fast food chain. That’s the best way I have to put it — they used to be a 5 star restaurant and now they are an upscale chain restaurant but give it 5 years and they’re going to be McDonald’s. Only a few airlines will manage to hold on to their old status but they are clamping down on the benefits of flying with them, and those benefits can only be gained in one of two ways — fly with them a ridiculous amount or spend more for mediocre tickets. And often if you do the former as a loyal member, even a business class flyer who flies with them regularly, you are finding your benefits being stripped away slowly.

If you live in the US, airlines want to spend the least amount of their money on you while getting you to spend as much of yours as they can. What this means is it’s become cutthroat. The points offers and mileage programs are slowly and methodically cutting out benefits, and tiering the majority of the benefits to those who spend ridiculous amounts of money with them. Which equals business travellers and rich people who don’t mind dropping $10K to fly business class from the US to Europe, for example.

But one of the best ways you can rack up the points you need to help you work against (or around) these systems is via a credit card. We’ll talk through a couple options below.

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The airline credit card

You shouldn’t get an airline credit card — like a Delta or United credit card — unless you intend to invest the majority of your travel with that airline and you are committed. But that’s often really not worth it and over the long term you may end up losing out by paying higher fares just to stick with your airline when there’s a better fare or route somewhere else.

I speak from experience — I was loyal to United, and then one day they broke their mileage program to the point that I blacklisted them for travel. (I may use them again, but only if they outvalue other ticket searches by cost and benefit, which is really a pipe dream at this point).

But I still hold the United Mileage Plus card, because it gave 2:1 points and it came with bonus miles (50K or something) when I joined, and I’ve had it over 10 years. So now my credit line is nice and solid and to throw that away and start over is lame. But I do not even use the card any more; I hold onto it purely for two things: because I own it, I get automatic base level membership status, and the credit line (which affects my US credit score).

For the points I do have with United, I can’t really spend them, because they have restricted them to the point that I can’t use them in the way I used to be able to use them, voiding the whole value of having their card in the first place. You used to be able to buy an economy class ticket outright, then use your points to upgrade to whatever class of seat. You can’t do that anymore, and I hate flying United unless I am in a better class of seat.

Most of us little people can’t really afford to be a frequent traveller. So, if your company sends you on travel a lot — great, get an airline card, in fact, get MORE than one. Take advantage of their bonus points and then close them if you like. I’m not giving you financial advice but let’s just say that there’s nothing wrong with getting the points and then walking away from the card, because, honestly, the airline doesn’t even care about you. Every woman for herself.

The blog I linked above is a great resource for learning about new promotions and how to game the system in your favor. Note that the Points Guy dude earns money when you click on those links (I don’t).

Other cards

I’m actually starting to lean toward the non-airline card going forward, including business credit cards. If you’re a landlord and you have renters, you run a business. If you have work you do that is not a hobby that earns regular income, you have a business, and you can easily apply for a line of credit separately from your individual credit line. They will still verify the credit history of the person opening up the account, but the line of credit is for your business, and this opens up your access to different types of credit cards. Some of the points offerings can be great, and it can be easier to 1) rack up the points and 2) spend them with any airline without the drama that the airline cards themselves will put you through.

They also often include other travel services on which you can use points, or you can do things like cash in your points at their partner online shopping malls (buy a BOSE stereo, for example, for 100K points or whatnot). My goal is travel, and my assumption is if you are travelling enough to earn that many points you probably want to keep spending your points on more travel and upgrades, versus buying materials goods you could easily buy in regular stores.

Cards to check out

So there’s a new card on the business block everyone is talking about: Chase Ink. There are a couple of versions of it, so do your research. I have the Plus, because I wanted the bonus points, and because the earnings potential is linked heavily to the work I do and how I run my business. That means I earn points for linking up my phone and internet bill charges to the card, versus paying them outright with cash. On top of which, there are no foreign transaction fees — which is critical when I travel. There is nothing more annoying than paying processing fees like you’re the merchant when you buy anything at all (even when taking cash out of the ATM) when you travel abroad.

My backup card is the Mileage Plus Credit Card, which I’m not even going to link to because it isn’t worthy of your time. I played around with getting the Delta but meh. I don’t want to get caught up in more airline-specific stupidity.

So my other default earnings card is the Starwood Amex — which the Points Guy likes, but he prefers a newer card, the Chase Sapphire, now. I’m too lazy to be switching around my cards and my United card is already a Chase card and I have the Ink for business, so, I don’t think it’s worth it to go get that one. Your mileage may vary. Punny!

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