Matt Kepnes first caught the travel bug in Costa Rica, eventually quitting his job and traveling around the world for 18 months in 2006. So if there is anyone one to take advice from for frequent flyer miles it’s someone like Matt Kepnes that travels for a living. Although his path was not always clear, his story is a verifiable success thanks in part to his eponymous travel website Nomadic Matt. To date, the millennial has published 5 books, recently launched his own tour group of Europe and boasts a huge online following, all the while continuing to circumnavigate the globe. Here are his tips on racking up miles, gaining elite status on airlines and seeing the world along the way.
Kepnes’ number one tip for stockpiling miles? Use travel rewards cards. The travel hacker buys almost everything on a travel credit card.
“Regardless of whether or not I have a credit card, I am still going to go food shopping,” explains Kepnes. “Why not get food plus free flights?”
He recommends signing up for airline newsletters so you can snag extra miles through promotions, deals and contests. Also, keep an eye out for signing bonuses, as many cards will offer between 50,000 – 100,000 miles just for signing up. Make sure to read the fine print as the idea is to save money, not spend it.
“You shouldn’t sign up for a card just to get miles if it is going to require you to spend extra money. You don’t want to go into debt for a free flight,” cautions Kepnes.
One of his favorite travel credit cards? The Chase CCF +% Sapphire Preferred card. It is flexible, offering a range of travel partners and the ability to transfer points to both hotels and airlines, depending on your needs. He also likes the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express AXP -0.52% because the points transfer to airlines on a one-to-one basis and can be used for hotels. The card also offers a 20% bonus when you convert your 20,000 points into miles. However, the Starwood Preferred Guest card does come with one big caveat: users must spend 5,000 dollars within the first 6 months in order to redeem points.
In general, Kepnes’ rule of thumb is to stick to a travel credit card that has a spending requirement less than $1,000 and an annual fee below $100.
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Aside from earning points from travel credit cards, the tried and true method of earning miles is by flying. If you travel a lot, the key is to fly one airline consistently. This will help you earn elite status faster, rather then spreading your miles out across different programs.
Although Kepnes thinks that American Airlines has the best rewards program, he says the most important thing when picking a frequent flyer program is to look at your individual needs.
“Join the program for the airline that you are going to fly the most, is the most convenient and has the most options for you,” says Kepnes. “If you live in Chicago, what is the best airline for you? Probably United. If you live in Atlanta, what is the best airline for you? Delta.”
If you are flying enough, it can be more cost-effective to buy a ticket for a little bit more money on your preferred airline rather then a cheaper ticket on an out-of-network airline.
However, if you don’t travel a lot, don’t worry about being loyal to one airline. Use a discount site like Kayak or Vayama to shop around for tickets.
“If you are family going to Florida twice a year, you should still earn miles for that flight but there is no reason to pay a premium just to try to get elite qualifying status,” says Kepnes. “You are better off getting an airline credit card which offers some of the benefits of those statuses like a free checked bag or expedited boarding.”
Since it takes awhile for miles to expire, activate an account no matter how infrequently you fly.
Kepnes’ travel no-no? Hoarding miles to retain elite status.
“Airlines constantly devalue their point systems and increase the number of points needed for redemption,” says Kepnes. “You shouldn’t hoard.”
If you are frequent flyer, you will regain your elite status quickly. If you only fly once or twice a year, the perks of elite status are not as important. It is smarter to cash in your miles once you have enough for a flight.
Kepnes best-haul that was totally free? London to Hong Kong, Business Class. It goes to show that it in the long run, it pays to track miles and accrue points. You never know where it will get you.