When Should You Start Earning Miles for a Trip?

When Should You Start Earning Miles for a Trip?

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Trip planning can be strenuous, even when going for (nearly) free. With miles and points, there is some foresight thats involved. Mainly: what miles do I need to get where I want to go?

So you can just apply for a card, earn the bonus, and then figure out where you want to go–but what if that currency won’t give you the best bang for your mile? Even worse, it’s not the right currency!

Planning and organization can go a long way, especially with the new rules for churning AMEX and Chase have recently instituted. Planning and organization of applying for a certain card to take a specific trip will help you minimize extraneous points that you currently may not have any use for.

Day 1

  • Apply for a credit card [preferably a card that has flexible travel partners]
    • Approval
    • Denied
    • Pending
  • Call to reconsider the application if denied or pending, get approved the same day

Day 7 – 10

  • Receive new card and begin spending the required amount for the sign-up bonus

Day 10 – 30

  • Continue spending the required amount for the sign-up bonus
  • Statement closes on Day 30

Day 31

  • Continue spending if not finished spending in previous statement period

Day 60

  • Statement closes, showing points will be earned in this period

Day 70

  • Points post to your account
  • Begin searching for award flights

This, of course, is a fictitious scenario (and fastest scenario) and it could take more than 50-60 days to reach the required spend, or it can go much quicker. You can have applied for an been approved for several cards and you will get to spending for some of the bonuses in your second or third month. Or, there’s a delay in receiving your card, or you are searching for flights and none exist.

[Need miles right away? Be sure to read this post and the bonuses that post fastest.]

So how long will it take?!

Let’s play it safe and say it will take 70-90 or 90-120 days, that’s anywhere from 3 – 4 months to actually have miles that are usable. Then you need to start searching for your flights. Some routes have availability year round, 2-3 months out, 6-7 months out, or 11-12 months out.

Do your research.

Here are the steps I take before opening up new cards to earn a sign up bonus:

  1. Determine where I want to go.
  2. Which airlines fly there?
  3. What miles do I need/how many of them?
  4. Over the period of 1 -2 weeks, conduct dummy award searches to see availability trends. 
  5. Apply for the card that will earn me enough miles to get me to where I want to go (and how I want to get there–coach, business, first).

(4) Conduct 1-2 weeks of award search to see availability trends. 

For me, this is the most important step.

You should not let availability drive where you want to go, but you do need to have enough miles and have the right miles. Once those are planned, you can then research availability trends.

(You can review a Crash Course in Award Booking here.)

Here’s a chart on which airline search engines return results where you can start your research. Some require signing in, but those accounts are free.

Airline Search Engine Alliance Best for Finding Availability On… Need to Sign in? Easy Calendar Search?
British Airways OneWorld Japanese Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, LAN, Qatar Yes No
Qantas OneWorld Cathay Pacific, Emirates, SriLankan Yes Yes
United Star Alliance Full listing here No Somewhat
Aeroplan/Air Canada Star Alliance Complicated itineraries Yes Somewhat
Singapore Star Alliance Singapore Yes Somewhat
Delta Sky Team Virgin Atlantic, Aeroflot, Aeromexico, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Garuda Indonesia, Korean Air, Virgin Australia No Yes
Air France Sky Team Delta, Air France, KLM Alitalia Yes Yes
Korean Air Sky Team Korean Air [First Class] No Yes
American OneWorld American, British, Air Berlin, Qantas, Finnair, Royal Jordanian, Iberia No Yes
jetBlue Non-alliance Southwest No No
Southwest Non-alliance Southwest No Yes
Alaska Airlines Non-alliance Emirates No Yes


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