Collecting Miles and Points Doesn’t Have to be Overwhelming: A Quick Start Guide for the Hesitant

Collecting miles and points for free travel can seem utterly overwhelming. But it need not. In this post we’ll explore a basic two card strategy to jump start your mile and points endeavors.

So, I absolutely love sharing travel hacking techniques with friends, family, co-workers, the family dog–anyone and everyone with an interest, expressed or implied. It’s a blast. I cheer on others’ successes whatever the scope.

Some learn the basics then go on to Big Wins that impress and delight me. Hooray! Others I know are attracted to near-free travel using points but wonder, “Is this really for me? Isn’t it too complicated?” If that’s you, it’s OK. You’re not the first, nor will you be the last, to perhaps declare, prematurely, that “getting into points” is insurmountable or infeasible. It’s not.



There’s a way to get started without drowning in a wash of complexity, responsibility, and perplexity: what I call the Chase Two Card Strategy. Ultimately it’s advisable that you visit the START HERE section of the blog–and read its posts if you’ve not already. For now, we’ll skip that content to get you rocking and rolling with points straight away.

Card 1: Chase Ultimate Rewards Points (for your first credit card)

Chase Bank’s points are called Ultimate Rewards (UR). They can be redeemed through Chase’s own travel portal (now powered by Expedia) or transferred to a variety of valuable airline and hotel transfer partners. With this strategy, you’ll first apply for a Chase card offering UR points as a Welcome Bonus. We like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. A typical offer is 40 to 50K UR points for spending $3,000 to $4,000 in the first three months of your account opening. Lately, chase has been waiving the $95 annual fee for the first year. At the time of this writing, the offer is 50K for $4,000 in qualifying purchases. Earn the bonus and you start with 50K UR points.



Card 2: Apply for a Chase Transfer Partner Credit Card

Pick among one of Chase’s airline or hotel transfer partners offering its own “co-branded” credit card, apply for that card, earn its bonus, then transfer the UR points into that partner’s loyalty program. Although UR points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, some points, and thus point transfers, are more valuable than others–a topic for another post.

Suffice it to say that my wife and I highly value United Mileage Plus miles for international flights (with Southwest being a close second, for domestic travel) and Hyatt for hotel stays (although we like IHG as well). All of the above transfer partners and more have corresponding Chase credit cards you can apply for. Incidentally, if you’re getting just getting into points, you’ll likely want your first four cards to be Chase. That’s due to what’s known as the Chase 5/24 rule (google it if you like, but skip for now).



Voila

So that’s what I call the Chase two card strategy: getting both a Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card and a Chase transfer partner credit card to jump start your mile or points balance. Then booking travel awards you value.  We like to put everyday purchases on our Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) cards and transfer to partners only when needed. This provides maximum flexibility. The CSP is known as The Swiss Army Knife of Credit Cards not without good reason.

Here’s a list of airline transfer partners, current at the time of this writing (some of which offer their own credit cards):

And here’s a list of hotel transfer partners, current at the time of this writing (all but Ritz-Carlton offer their own credit cards):

Love, Marriage, and Ultimate Rewards Points

Upping the complexity slightly, married folk can do wondrous things. One superpower of Chase Sapphire cards is that you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points fee-free to a spouse. Some good strategies for spouses would be:

  1. Each spouse gets a Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) card like, say, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, earning the Welcome Bonus
  2. Both spouses apply for a credit card from a single Chase UR transfer partner
  3. Then, either:
    1. Spouse “B” transfers her Chase UR points to Spouse “A’s” account. At the current Welcome Bonus, that’s 100K total in UR points (50K + 50K). Spouse “A” then transfers UR points to the transfer partner and books reward travel for both. Or:
    2. Each spouse transfers UR points to a single transfer partner and independently redeems a reward like airfare.



That’s a bit skinny. Let’s flesh it out with an example. Both spouses apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, earning the Welcome Bonus of 50K each. Both spouses then apply for the Chase United credit card. While historically on the low side (offers have been as high as 70K for this card), each spouse earns the United Mileage Plus Welcome Bonus of 40K each. Taken together there’s a potential for each spouse having 90K United Mileage Plus miles (50K + 40K) if all UR points were transferred.

Versailles outside of Paris, thanks to United Mileage Plus miles and Chase Ultimate Rewards
Versailles outside of Paris, thanks to United Mileage Plus miles and Chase Ultimate Rewards

While award redemption charts change, and there are different classes of United award flights requiring different amounts of miles (“Saver” awards cost less), my wife and I have consistently been able to book Economy Class seats from the U.S. to Europe for 60K United Mileage Plus miles (round-trip). We’ve used United miles to get to Rome twice, Paris twice, and Hawaii twice (with Hawaii costing around 45K United miles per person roundtrip). Typically we do so in the off-seasons of September/October or May–great times to be in both Europe and Hawaii both cost and crowd-wise. Not to mention there are more Saver awards during less popular travel times, saving you miles.

Rome, the Coliseum, courtesy of United Mileage Plus miles and Chase Ultimate Rewards
Rome, the Coliseum, courtesy of United Mileage Plus miles and Chase Ultimate Rewards

Two and Done?

So, we’ve seen that applying for two Chase cards can get you up and running. Some will want to continue to put all everyday purchases on the Chase card earning Ultimate Rewards. Forever. And that’s fine. But that gets you only so far, so many times, unless you’re a high income earner and have oodles of spend. For example, will you really put 25K per year on a card to earn, say, one round-trip domestic flight? We don’t.



The true power of points is when you push further, grabbing multiple Welcome Bonuses from a variety of miles and points cards on the market, apply for the same cards more than once, etc. We’ll explore how to take things further, and the distances involved, with future posts. For now, Two and Done–the Chase two-card strategy–is all you need to proceed from interested bystander to active participant. Happy travels.

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