Close to a reward? How to scrounge up those last few points

You sit down to search award flights, poised to book your dream trip, when you get hit with an unpleasant surprise: you’re a few points short of a ticket.

“This is a common problem, and I’ve faced it myself many times,” says Jason Steele, a credit card and travel journalist and frequent rewards traveler.

But don’t worry — coming up slightly short on rewards doesn’t mean your travel dreams are dashed. In fact, you can scrounge up those last few points or miles pretty quickly without having to purchase the points.

Here are eight last-minute strategies for gathering up the extra points you need to book a ticket with rewards:

1. Double check your points stash

You might be sitting on enough points to get you to your goal. Remember, some programs, including Membership Rewards program from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner), Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Starwood Preferred Guest, allow you to transfer points. So check to see if you have spare points sitting in one of these programs that could be directed toward your flight, Steele recommends. For example, the Starwood program has more than 30 partners and even gives you 5,000 bonus points when you transfer 20,000 points into airline miles. Keep in mind that transfers can happen instantly or take a week or so, depending on the program, Steele points out.

“Topping off your account with a transfer is a great way to get those extra points,” he says.

2. Go shopping through an online portal

Most card issuers, frequent-flier programs and hotel programs have online portals you can use to turbocharge your earnings from purchases.

“You can get between two and 20 points per dollar spent,” Steele says, adding that retailers that tend to earn high profit margins are more likely to offer a higher number of points per dollar.

So you might be able to get to your goal quickly by going through the portal for a planned purchase, or even sending someone an impromptu gift.

“It might be cheaper to get your Mom $30 worth of flowers and get 300 points than to pay the airline for those miles,” Steele says.

3. Get a little help from your friends

Don’t have enough shopping to do to rack up the needed points? Your friends might, says travel writer Ketki Sharangpani who writes the travel blog Dotted Globe. When she’s a few thousand points shy of the 50,000 that will get her two domestic round-trip tickets, she asks trusted friends if she can make their purchases on her card.

“When I’m close to hitting a milestone, I put out a couple of feelers,” she says. Though her friends have their own cards and want to earn points too, they’re usually good sports about occasionally letting her order clothes or electronics they had planned to buy and transferring the payment to her online.

“I just put in their address instead of mine and they get it right away,” she says.

4. Give someone else a little credit

Some credit cards offer a few thousand bonus points if you add an authorized user to your account. That can be a way to land those extra points you need if, for example, you had planned to add your spouse or your college-age kid to your card anyway. However, carefully consider the pros and cons of adding an authorized user and get the other person’s permission first, of course, to keep both your credit and your relationship on good terms.

5. Refer your way to a bonus

There’s yet another way your loved ones can help get you to your goal. Chances are good that your credit card has a refer-a-friend program through which you can easily and quickly snag an extra 5,000 or even 10,000 points if you can enlist a pal who wants a new credit card and sign-up bonus. For example, Chase has a Refer-a-Friend website that offers cardholders a unique referral link to send to friends. Check with your card issuers to see if they offer referral bonuses, and make sure to follow the referral process rules to ensure that you score the bonus, writes Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of The Points Guy.

6. Shift your spending

Of course, you want to avoid spending money you wouldn’t otherwise spend just to get extra points. So rather than splurging on, say, a new TV, consider prepaying bills you know you’ll owe in the future. For example, you could pay next month’s electric bill or your next six months of car insurance on your credit card to earn extra points now, Steele says. Another option is to go to a physical store and purchase a gift card for a store where you regularly purchase household staples, or just stock up on items that never go bad.

“Since I have a toddler, I buy diapers,” Sharangpani says.

7. Eat your way to earnings

Many airlines offer dining rewards programs, and you earn extra miles by registering a credit card (any card) and then using it to pay at a participating restaurant. Essentially, registering your cards for dining programs allows you to double dip. If you weren’t a member before, a dining program can be an especially great way to turn your love of food into quick points with a bonus. For example, the American Airlines AAdvantage Dining program allows you to earn miles for every dollar spent plus up to 3,000 bonus points for spending your first $25, then eating at participating restaurants three more times in your first 30 days after joining.

8. Ask for a gift of points

Got a special occasion coming up? If you have a friend or family member in your targeted program, consider asking for points for your birthday or a holiday. Your loved one might have to pay a small fee to transfer the points or miles, depending on the program, but it likely will cost them less than a birthday cake and they won’t have to rack their brains to come up with the perfect present.

Finally, if you’re really, really close and you want to book immediately, you can always just ask your travel program, says David Slotnick, travel blogger at The City Miler.

For example, he once lacked less than 100 miles for a flight to Scotland.

“I called the airline and said, ‘I’m 75 miles short for this trip, and I really need the miles.’ I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask,” he says. “They were really nice and just dropped them into my account.”

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