If you like the information here, could you join the programs through my links, or send me an email to refer you?  It won’t cost you a thing and I get some points or cash for my effort.  Thanks!

I had been meaning for ages to create a resource shopping portals and other sources of free and nearly free cash and points, since I am officially an
eggspert on them. 

You don’t get a lot of something for nothing (and it isn’t really nothing, it’s your time) but it can add up.

Value your time.  I love doing this as a hobby.  The rate of return won’t be high enough for some people to justify the work.  All the same, one year I redeemed a business class ticket from NYC to Saint Petersburg on British Airways, a coach ticket to Toronto on a reduced miles award, 4 nights at the Radisson and two at the Renaissance in St. Petersburg, $125 in Marriott gift certificates, the next year a coach ticket to Southern California on jetBlue, and the next a business class ticket to London and Barcelona on British Airways and tickets to Palm Springs, San Francisco and Toronto, as well as gift certificates and money for rebates, surveys and cash back totalling about $2,000.  Not a bad hobby.

To really work the system, compound your offers:  You might want to buy an airline ticket on Delta.  A few portals have Delta as a reward.  American Express Business cards – including my Starwood business card, offer a 3% discount on Delta tickets.  (The Amex Delta Business card offers 5% off.)

So a $500 ticket on Delta nets you whatever miles you get for the Delta flight, plus the 500 Starpoints for the purchase and a $15 discount (or 1000 Skymiles if you had the Delta business card), plus whatever you got for purchasing through the portal. It adds up.

A while back, I received an offer from Hilton for 5,000 Skymiles to join Delta’s program. A little research turned up a Delta offer running at the same time to get up to a 25,000 mile bonus for using Delta’s miles partners – and I could get 5,000 for using 5 of them.  So I got a Delta American Express card (with a 17,500 mile initial bonus and the annual fee waived for the first year).  Then I made a transaction for 100 points on, a 500 mile e-reward redemption (that I needed to make anyway before the currency expired), a purchase at Skymiles mall, and ate one lunch using Skymiles Dining.  Voila, another 5,000 miles.  Total miles earnings, about 28,000.  Total outlay – $30 for the office paper I had to buy anyway and $6 for lunch. US Airways also runs a lucrative yearly "Grand Slam" partner promotion.

The biggest (non-flying or non-hotel) source for rewards is credit card spending, particularly taking advantage of large bonuses for getting the card. Right now, the cards I use most are the CitiForward and Hilton American Express. CitiForward pays in Citi's proprietary Thank You points.  Each is worth about a cent, and CitiForward pays 5% back on restaurant and music store (including spend. The Hilton Hhonors American Express gives six Hilton points to the dollar on groceries, gas and drugstores. I've redeemed Thank You points for several airline tickets; I haven't yet redeemed Hilton points.

Over the years my earning patterns have changed. Once I concentrated on miles, or reward flights. When flying now, status matters more to me and miles have become less valuable; I need paid rather than reward flights to maintain status.

There are rewards programs where you earn points -such as Thank You points - that are not allied to an airline or hotel, but are used to buy airline tickets or other merchandise. The advantage is that inventory is far more available than award tickets and you can “double dip” the ticket; it still earns miles and importantly status in the program of the airline you fly. The disadvantage is these programs are not a good deal for the holy grail of reward travel, long haul business class flights. But for economy travel or hotels, it's attractive.

Don’t give up entirely on airline frequent flier programs.  I use the Thank You program to buy domestic economy tickets and the airlines programs for either high-value long haul or cost-effective short flight awards such as cross-border US-Canada flights that are disproportionately expensive.

Final reminders - Points, miles and cashback credits are very unstable currencies. They can be devalued with little or no notice or even rendered worthless by a company going out of business suddenly. Also, miles are only good if you can use them.  I value Delta  miles less than American’s and certainly Starwood Starpoints, because Delta is much stingier with reward inventory.  Keep that in mind – I won’t make a large cash outlay (say, for an annual fee credit card) to accumulate Delta miles, but I probably would for Starpoints.

Page last updated March 23, 2012