Using miles for travel: Plan, Earn, And Spend!

Now that I have been playing the miles/points game for some time now and have spent the past 6+ months learning about all the different programs I have learned one important thing: Have plans for your points/miles. Reward programs change constantly and you need near-term goals (say within 12-18 months) for your points. Opportunities can vanish!

When I first started churning credit card bonuses I was only interested in getting the points and finding a use for them later. This is good since bonuses tend to line up with my redemption needs (at least for now). There is certainly no down side to extra points on hand but there is a limit too it. I now plan on trips and try to earn useful points accordingly!

Why plan? A recent example is British Airways just announced that they will change their frequent flyer program redemption levels. I am so thankful I redeemed my 100,000 bonus miles before this takes effect. My girlfriend and I are going on a trip to Easter Island! With the new redemption levels in November this would no longer be possible with that amount of miles. Dodged a bullet!

Another great example is Delta. My initial vision was to hoard 1 million miles to use on a very long around-the-world trip at some unknown point in the future. Then they changed their redemption levels twice in the past 2 years. I saw the writing on the wall and now earn and burn Delta miles. This takes away a lot of stress and keeps my vacations cheaper!

This has all evolved into my current strategy. I essentially have no choice but to fly Delta for work since I am based in Atlanta. I now switched my spending to a United credit card so I earn United miles for my work/personal spending. This is with 1 goal in mind: diversification. My current goal for Delta and United miles are business class trips to Asia. This brings me the most value from miles earned at this point.

When I hit the milestone I set I then start planning my redemption of the accumulated miles and enjoy the benefits. I find that I plan about 12-18 months in advance so I have time to save money, research where I want to go, and of course find my preferred award seats on the flights. Spending the miles is that fun part of this game!

I am sure my strategy will change again at some point as time goes on. Programs and personal needs/desires change so I will adapt accordingly. Keep in mind that points are great but cash has the most value and flexibility. Mixing the two can give the best overall results for travel and leisure. Be smart and don't leave money (or points!) on the table.