Best ways to earn final points that get you a free flight
Short a few points for that holiday trip home? Here's how to get them
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com
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Dear Cashing In,
trying to top off my miles in time to get a free ticket to visit my family for
the holidays. Any tips for multiplying miles via credit card? I have an
Explorer and a Chase Sapphire. -- Jason
way to pile up points is to apply for a new credit card and take advantage of
the sign-up bonus but for this discussion, let's stick with the cards you have.
One way to multiply points and miles is to take advantage of the shopping
you'll be doing to get ready for that holiday visit. If you're comfortable
shopping online, you have a distinct advantage.
you start shopping, however, it might be wise to price out your flight in terms
of points versus miles. If
your airfare turns out to be a relatively cheap domestic round-trip, it may
make more sense to pay for it with the Ultimate Reward points earned on your Chase
Sapphire. The program's primary U.S.-based partner airlines are United and
Southwest. I'm assuming, given your choice of cards, you're a MileagePlus
speaking, the cheaper the flight, the less value you get for frequent flier
miles and the more you get with generic miles or travel rewards (such as the ones Sapphire
offers). If you have the Sapphire Preferred card, you can get 20 percent off if
you redeem your Ultimate Reward points for airfare or other travel, meaning a
$350 fare will cost 28,000 points (350 x 100 = 35,000 less 20 percent). Assuming the
holiday rush cuts down on available award seats on United, you're likely to get
pushed to a higher tier with your United miles, which could mean spending
40,000 miles or more on a domestic fare instead of 25,000.
you decide to aim for covering airfare with points or miles, the first thing
you should do is get into the habit of logging into that loyalty program's website
before making purchases.
say you want to buy your mom a cashmere sweater and your dad a power drill for
Christmas. Instead of ordering them directly from a retail website, go over to
the MileagePlus shopping
first. Right now, you can get two United miles per dollar spent at Sears and
Nordstroms, which means that clicking over to their sites via MileagePlus earns
you the double miles you usually get by using your Explorer on United purchases.
wait. Just to make sure that's the best deal available for the rewards as well
as the spend, plug the retail sites you've been looking at into evreward.com. If you search there
for Sears, you'll discover you can also get five Ultimate Reward points per
dollar spent at Sears. If you buy that drill at Home Depot, you'll get two
miles per dollar on United or three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar. As for
Mom's sweater, it looks like you can get either two United miles per dollar or five
Ultimate Rewards points per dollar if you buy it at Macy's. As an added bonus, evreward
shows discount coupons for all these purchases along with the reward deals -- codes
for $10 off a $100 purchase at Home Depot, $15 off $100 purchases at Sears, 10
percent off and free shipping at Macy's.
you had all your eggs in the United basket, I'd advise you to save time and
just download its shopping toolbar. Like many loyalty programs, MileagePlus
offers a toolbar you can install to automatically track any purchases you make
that qualify for miles. Once you install it, United miles accrue automatically,
so you don't have to remember to log into the MileagePlus shopping portal
first. By installing a toolbar, however, you're limited to earning points
through that program -- which means you can't take advantage of the (often
superior) Ultimate Rewards deals.
the very least, you should download the United toolbar just to claim a 1,000-mile bonus it is offering if
you use it on a search by Oct. 31, 2012. (You
can always uninstall the toolbar after that.)
And best of luck, to you and everyone else, on getting home for
the holidays -- while spending as little on travel as possible.
See related: Cheap ways to keep flier miles active
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Published: October 30, 2012
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