If you like being rewarded for your efforts, then you’ll enjoy the miles and points world. Even for minimal effort, you’ll reap rewards!

Below are the basic steps to maximize earning, redeeming, and tracking rewards.

Step 1 – Identify How and Where You Spend Money

You can’t begin to earn rewards without identifying all your spending habits. Everyone spends on different things. Do your spending categories include: groceries, gas, restaurants, movies, hotels, or clothing? It’s likely you have other categories besides the ones I mentioned. Maybe you shop at certain retailers more than others. That makes a difference, too.

Estimate how much you spend in each category and stores throughout the month or a year. The more specific you are about your spending, the more you will maximize earning miles and points.

Step 2 – Sign Up for Loyalty Programs

Once you have identified your spending habits and frequently shopped at stores, sign up for all the loyalty programs related to your spending. For instance, in the travel category that would mean the loyalty programs of airlines, hotels and car rental programs. Most programs are free to sign up for.

Step 3 – Tracking Loyalty Accounts

It can be challenging to keep track of all those loyalty accounts! There are many ways to keep track. I prefer to keep things simple so I use Award Wallet. Award Wallet is a popular tool that keeps track of loyalty account balances. Award Wallet provides reminders, such as points expiration notifications. Whether you use a spreadsheet or a manager such as Award Wallet, the idea is to stay organized.

Step 4 – Know Your Credit Score and Use Credit Responsibly

Knowing your credit score is important whether or not you participate in earning miles and points. Your score is even more important because credit card sign-up bonuses are one of the most lucrative ways to earn miles and points rewards. You want to be able to qualify for the best credit cards.

How your credit score is calculated is a whole other topic. However, paying your credit card bills on time and in full each month is the most important factor when calculating credit scores. Paying your balance in full each month is essential. Otherwise, any miles and points rewards you earn will be cancelled out by the interest you have to pay on the balance owed.

Step 5 – Find the Right Credit Card(s)

Be sure to learn about the different types of credit card reward options. Combine these reward options with the spending habits you identified in Step 1. This is how you’ll determine which credit card(s) to sign up for.

Maybe the best credit cards for you will be airline, business, cash back, hotel or a card that earns transferable points. You don’t know until you take a close look at both your spending and the credit card options.

Here are reviews you can read to learn about the different credit cards and which ones are best for YOU!

Step 6 – Have a Spending Strategy

Use your credit card(s) as frequently as possible. In other words, use as little cash as possible. The idea is to earn as many points and miles as possible for the things you’re already spending money on.

When I first started accruing miles and points I would get embarrassed at pulling out a credit card for a low priced item. I imagined people noticed and would think to themselves, “Can’t she afford a $.99 item?” But as I saw my miles and points rewards balances grow, I became quite comfortable putting every cent I spent on a credit card. These days if I see someone spending cash I want to rush up to them and tell them about miles and points!

Step 7 – Set a Goal

Always set a goal! What do you want to use your rewards for? Maybe it’s an airline flight. Maybe it’s using your cash back stash for tickets to Disneyland. Every goal is right if it’s a goal that gets you excited. Having a goal coupled with a specific strategy will keep you focused on growing your points and miles balances. Remember, the more specific the goal the better.

Step 8 – Cash Out and Take That Reward

The end result of the first seven steps is the reward! And that reward comes when you take your miles and points and redeem them. Loyalty programs are constantly changing. Therefore, having a purpose for your miles and points keeps you earning and USING your rewards.

There are people who do great on the earning side of the equation, but then they hoard their miles and points. I prefer to, as the saying goes, earn and burn my miles and points.

If you’re using a cash back strategy then this advice may not apply to you. You can use your cash back whenever you need to. For those of us who accrue miles and points, it’s a good idea to accept the idea that loyalty programs do devalue over time.

If you’ve got the reward goal picked, and the miles and points accrued, I say “go for it and redeem those miles and points!

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