Three Simple Things You Can Do Right Now For More Points And Miles

126-2696_IMG

Daniel, At 10 Months, On His First Plane Ride To Utah.  He Earned Miles On This Flight And Has Been Earning Miles Ever Since!

 Can you answer yes to the following questions?

Are you taking cash out of your wallet on a regular basis?  

Are you paying bills out of your bank accounts?

Is any member of your family not getting credit for their flights?  

If you did answer yes to any of the above, I would like to offer three suggestions.  I bet that after you read them, you can take away at least one thing that can help you earn additional points and miles.  The changes are easy to make!

1. Stop Using Cash

An easy way to earn additional points and miles is to stop using cash.  It doesn’t matter where I am or how little a charge is, if I can use a credit card to pay, I do so.  Even if I am just getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks or a pack of gum at a convenience store, I am breaking out the plastic.  Not only will I earn additional rewards paying by credit card, but others will be “rewarded” as well.  Using a credit card will usually move things along more quickly at the register.  Places often require just a swipe and no signature, especially when the amount of the charge is minimal.  Counting out change takes time!

There are instances, however, where smaller establishments will require a minimum charge to use a credit card.  As long as this minimum is $10 or less, it is in the merchant’s legal right to do so.  A 2010 federal law authorized retailers and other businesses to require up to a $10 minimum for purchases using a credit card.  Those signs that you see on cash registers are legit.  When I find myself in these situations, I will often buy extra items like 5 bottles of Bai 5 water or gluten free Tates cookies (it never ends well when I buy the cookies).

Other times, merchants may require a minimum greater than $10.  Legally, they really can’t, but I do not make a fuss.  Personally, I will not likely return to those establishments unless I know I will definitely be spending enough to use a card.  My dry cleaner is a good example.  You must spend a minimum of $15 to use a credit card.  I will not bring any clothes to the cleaner until I know it will cost more than $15  (not a difficult feat with a spouse who dresses for work and 2 kids in the Bar/Bat Mitzvah circuit).

2. Switch Your Bills To Be Paid By A Credit Card

My second suggestion may take some phone calls on your part, but it will be worth it.  Figure out which bills you are paying out of your bank account and see if they can be switched to be paid via credit card.

A few expenses that I would recommend looking into would be utilities, cable, gym dues, ez pass, and medical bills.  Go through your bank statements and see what other expenses you can find.

On a larger scale, make sure you are paying for all of your kids’ activities with a card.  Do your kids attend religious school?  Does the temple/church take payment by credit card? For those of you who are lucky enough to have kids that need braces, ask your orthodontist if they take credit cards.  If your kids go to camp (day or sleep away), inquire as to whether you can pay this hefty bill by card.  Our camp lets us pay tuition by credit card over a period of about 10 months.

At this point, I want to mention that occasionally, there will be an additional fee associated with using a credit card.  With a little extra work on your part, you can figure out if the fee is worth it.  Let’s have a look at the following question I received from one of my readers…

I have the Chase Sapphire and have been using it for most everything these days to rack up those points.  I started using it to pay my bills, hence my question.  I went to charge my Con Ed bill and they told me there is a $3 fee for using my credit card.  Normally I wouldn’t want to pay the fee, but when I thought about it, I was wondering, is there a way to figure out if the fee is small enough to make getting the points worth it? Or is it never worth it? “

Unfortunately, my response was not simple.  It actually depends on how much your electric bills are, and which points you will accumulate when you pay the bill by credit card.  You need to weigh the $3 fee against the value of the points you earn by paying the bill with a card.  If the value of the points/miles you earn for your monthly electric bill is greater than the $3 fee, then it is worth it to use a credit card.  To do an analysis  such as this, you need to know what a given point or mile is worth.   Many sites offer point and mile valuations.  (Soon I will have my own valuations as well).

Although my husband Rob may think I have no regard for our electricity usage, nor even know what our monthly bill may be, I would guess for some, it is worth it to use a card despite a $3 fee.  For example, many value the Chase Ultimate Rewards points (mentioned in the question above) at 2.1 cents per point.  In this case, your monthly electric bill would need to be $143 or more for it to be worth it to use your Chase Sapphire Preferred card.  (143 points X .021 = 3.003, you earn 1 point per $1 on your electric bill with your Sapphire)

Hmmm college….as my oldest son is only in 8th grade, I am temporarily lacking knowledge about paying for college tuition.  From the little that I have heard, some schools take credit cards, some don’t.  Some charge a fee to use cards, some don’t.  If you are someone in the midst of paying for school, definitely research the school’s credit card policies before you write your tuition checks.  I can imagine that the potential here for points and miles is very lucrative!

In general, I would love to gather more information about schools and what payment methods they take.  Some of you have reached out to me with questions about the best card to use for your college tuition.  I will be better able to make recommendations with a little more knowledge.  Feel free to email me at Cindy@ThePointsMom.com to share your school’s payment policies.

3.  Get Each Family Member Their Own Frequent Flier Accounts

To me, this was always a no brainer.  However, recently a friend told me that she just flew JetBlue without even getting credit for her flight.  Even more troubling, only her husband out of her family of four, had a JetBlue frequent flier number.  Huh?  I guess everyone does not think like me.  :-)

When you fly on paid flights, every member of your family should get credit for their flight.  My son Daniel earned his first miles on United at 10 months old when we took him on a ski trip to Utah.  We brought my mother with us to babysit.  She earned her United miles on the flight too.

For most airline programs, there is no minimum age to become a member.  Many programs allow you to sign-up online.  It is a very simple task to do before your next flight.  However, as I touched upon in my last newsletter, I’ll Have The Blue Chips, you need to monitor your kids’ frequent flier accounts so that their miles do not expire due to inactivity.

Kids likely have activity in their accounts only when they fly.  Unless they are flying often on the same airline, the balances in kids’ accounts creep up slowly and never amount to a balance that you can actually use to book a flight.  These miles that sit unused are at risk to expire.

Every airline’s expiration policies differ.  With some programs, expiration is not an issue.  For example, Delta SkyMiles never expire.   Air Canada Aeroplan makes exceptions for minors.  Young Aeroplan members are exempt from the 12 month expiration policy until they are 18.  Other airlines offer programs where you can accumulate points and pool them together in a family account.  JetBlue offers family pooling.  British Airways offers Household Accounts.

For those programs that do not have any safeguards in place against expiration, there are other ways to avoid miles from expiring.  I have found that airlines will start reminding you a few months prior that your miles are expiring and they will recommend  “qualifying activities” that you can do to prevent this.  These activities will usually require some sort of mileage withdrawal.  For example, sometimes transfers and donations will count as qualifying activity.  Other times you may need to make a small purchase with your miles.

When my kids American AAdvantage miles were due to expire, I shopped through Magazines For Miles.   This program, through American AAdvantage, allowed me to use a little bit of my kids’ miles for annual magazine subscriptions.  In each of my 3 kids accounts, I redeemed about 400-600 miles per magazine subscription.  Needless to say, I ordered travel magazines.

Once there is a qualifying activity in a frequent flier account,  the expiration clock starts again.  The balance of their miles remains until a new date looms.

Now that you have finished reading, I bet that you are not already doing everything that I have suggested above.  These are easy changes to make.  Believe me, I will offer riskier and more aggressive strategies in the future for maximizing points and miles.  For now, I would try some of these to start and see how you do.  :-)