After doing some mileage program research, I decided to go with the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card a few years ago. There is an annual fee, but it’s minimal and you more than make up for it if you use the card wisely and take advantage of its benefits!
Generally, the way it works is that you build “miles” according to how much you’re spending and what you’re buying. Every dollar is equivalent to at least one mile, though shopping at certain places earns you more. For instance, Nordstrom is typically at least 4 miles to the dollar. FTD is another favorite of mine – a $100 bouquet of flowers can earn you thousands of miles! I send flowers to everyone for the most random occasions (it’s a win-win)! 😉 Magazines.com is another huge one; a magazine subscription can earn you ridiculous amounts of miles, and I’m an avid Cosmo reader so this one’s huge for me; I get the US, Italy, and UK versions delivered to my apartment.
When you actually travel, you earn not only on the ticket price but also on the distance flown. It’s great!
Once you’ve accumulated points and are ready to book, it’s important to keep in mind that “miles earned” is not equivalent to “miles you want to fly.” In other words, if you’re trying to go from NYC to Rome, you’ll unfortunately need more than ~4,300 miles (which makes sense considering you can accumulate that many from one bouquet of flowers alone!). Instead, a one-way ticket from NYC to Rome is 30,000 miles (round-trip is 60,000). Domestic flights are way less!
Using the United MileagePlus card, I’ve managed to have almost every other flight completely paid for in miles. In other words, zero dollars. When I do spend on flights, I spend hours looking for deals – I try different combinations of airports (out of Newark but back into JFK, for instance) and dates. I credit my psych background for these incredibly valuable research skills B), and I spend on average $600 for round-trip flights to Europe when I pay out of pocket.
It’s safe to say that miles are more valuable than money for me at this point in my life, and I’m not even ashamed to admit it. ❤