Tips for making points and rewards programs work

This charming town, with brick-lined streets and structures that date back centuries, was founded in the mid-1600s. Set on the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis went on to become a pivotal port for Civil War munitions, then was a fishing city (though, nowadays most of the trawlers have now been replaced by pleasure boats). Today, it's home to the U.S. Naval Academy, and visitors are able to take tours of the vast, Beaux Arts campus, after which a visit to O'Learys Seafood Restaurant for crab cakes is essential.
Meals: $282Drinks (including beer): $38.163-night hotel stay: $244Airfare: $674.66Lake Tahoe might be known as one of the most beautiful winter wonderlands in the U.S., but it’s still beautiful during the fall. Plus, it’s much cheaper than many other popular destinations on this list — especially when it comes to hotel costs.
Slide 1 of 10: Loyalty programs and credit cards with rewards have their own rules, points systems and fine print, and some seem to intentionally be confusing. Perhaps you signed up for a loyalty program at a hotel chain you frequent, but you aren’t sure how to use your points. Maybe you got a credit card with rewards and you have enough miles for a free flight, but then you hit blackout dates. You may start wondering if it’s worth the hassle. Rewards programs can be beneficial, however, if you are willing to spend a little time and employ some tips to get the most out of them.
Slide 2 of 10: Do you live for an upgrade to a ritzier room? Interested in a free flight or the use of the member lounge at the airport? Think about what you want and then do a little online research. ThePointsGuy.com has comprehensive lists of the best rewards programs out there based on what you are looking for. Opting for a simple cash-back credit card or a travel one with no blackout dates or foreign transaction fees may be the smart move for you. There also are credit cards with miles that never expire and that allow you to transfer travel points to other programs, including Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards and the Marriott and Hyatt loyalty programs.
Slide 3 of 10: If you enjoy staying at Marriott hotels, for instance, then it makes sense to be a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, which offers several benefits when you stay at any Starwood hotel. Starwood, Wyndham Rewards and other programs also offer credit cards that earn you bonus points that you can use for travel. If you are a big fan of cruises, then opt for a rewards program from a specific cruise line you enjoy.
Slide 4 of 10: Interested in a co-branded airline credit card? There are many out there with varying points systems and bonuses, but the most important consideration might be where you live. If your local airport is dominated by an airline, such as United in Houston, then that airline’s card is probably your best bet. Other airports, such as O’Hare in Chicago, are served by many major airlines, so you can choose between several cards.
Slide 5 of 10: What will the points get you — cash back, miles, something else? Are there blackout dates? How quickly do points expire? Is there an annual fee for the credit card? What’s the APR? Read all the fine print and decide if the program or card is right for you. It makes sense to have only one or two cards to make it easier to pile up your points. That also will help keep you from charging too much.
Slide 6 of 10: It’s easy to get hooked on the idea of getting something for nothing, but you still are spending money. It’s a transaction, so be smart about it and do the math. If booking a domestic flight will get you heaps of miles toward an overseas flight you have been savoring, then go for it. Always pay off your balance each month to avoid interest charges that could end up negating the rewards you got for your card purchases.
Slide 7 of 10: If you have multiple loyalty accounts and have trouble juggling all the details, try AwardWallet.com. It allows you to add and track your account balances for more than 600 loyalty programs, including American AAdvantage, Amtrak, KLM, Kayak, Hilton and Royal Caribbean. Find out how many points you have and get alerts when points or rewards are about to expire.
Slide 8 of 10: Dining programs are an easy way to double your pleasure because you rack up rewards for paying with a credit card and get points or miles with the dining program when you eat at a participating restaurant. Many major airlines and hotel chains offer dining programs along with their loyalty programs, so snag one that partners with restaurants you enjoy and will actually dine at.
Slide 9 of 10: It doesn’t make sense to go to a retailer’s website if you can earn rewards through an airline or hotel’s shopping portal. Members can scroll through an online mileage mall, such as AAdvantage eShopping mall, and get points or miles for what they spend. Those miles or points can be in addition to the rewards earned for using the credit card. But don't buy something simply because it's there. Ensure your spending is for something you need.
Slide 10 of 10: This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget what you’ve earned, especially if the company isn’t alerting you or you have no idea what you can earn. So, do your research, be organized and use your points. You may have racked up points on a credit card and not be aware that you can get cash back or a nice gift card to Target, L.L. Bean, Macy’s or another favorite store. Redeem those points.

Tips for making points and rewards programs work

Think about what you want

Sign up for programs you actually will use

Think about where you live

Read the fine print

Make sure you are getting a good deal

Keep track of everything

Look into dining programs

Try shopping portals

Use the points

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