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Tips for making the most of airline credit card points

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January 28, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Are you getting the most out of your airline rewards points and miles? Do you find them expiring before you use them? A jet setter of the world has some tips for maximizing your airline points.

Brian Kelly is a former business travel road warrior who now runs the website ThePointsGuy.com, in which he shares some of his insider travel secrets.

Kelly says that even though he earns lots of miles with his constant travel, most of his points come from credit cards and he recommends three: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and American Express Membership Rewards. The real value of these programs, he said, is that members can transfers their points to several other partners that include airlines and hotels.

"I used 60,000 of my Chase points, which I pretty much got from a single credit card sign-up bonus, and I booked a one-way flight in Singapore Airlines for Newark (N.J.) to Singapore. It was a $6,000 flight and the only out-of-pocket expense was $2.50," Kelly says.

Trying to use points to get free or discounted travel can be time consuming and often frustrating. Kelly suggests being flexible with your dates.

"The more flexible you are the better value you're going to get from your miles and points," he says.

Do you worry about your miles expiring? You can prevent that with this tip.

"Every 18 months, because that's generally the expiration date, buy a single item or dine at a single restaurant, and your miles are safe," he said.

Unfortunately, upgrading with points isn't what it used to be.

"Airlines have really scaled back the upgrade programs. Now, almost every airline has big co-pays, so even if you buy the cheapest coach fare, it may not even be upgradeable. On Delta, they actually make you buy almost full-fare coach, which might be even more expensive than the cheapest business class."

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