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9 Tools to Help You Use Your Airline Miles

9 Tools to Help You Use Your Airline Miles

Earning frequent flyer miles is one of the easiest ways to get super cheap or almost free travel. Whether you’ve been racking up the miles from flying, credit card bonuses, or e-shopping or dining programs, there are many great resources for learning about the best deals and ways to earn tons of miles. But that’s only half the battle. After getting them you have to learn how get the most from them and there are some helpful resources out there to help you maximize your miles and book award flights. Here are nine of the best air miles booking tools:

1. ITA Matrix Software

The ITA Matrix is one of the best places to start looking for award tickets. You can’t book directly through the website, but with the information you gather from the ITA Matrix, you can book the itinerary you want through the airline’s award program. The ITA Matrix starts off like any other flight search engine website, but once you get the hang of it, you can create more sophisticated searches like specific number of connections, airlines you want to exclude in the search, the length of your connection, etc. Once you find the flight schedules you like, write down the flight numbers, the connection times and the name of the airlines. The next step would be to call the airline to make the award reservation using the information you found.

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2. Great Circle Mapper

Some awards charts are distance-based, so knowing the number of miles you plan to fly is important. The Great Circle Mapper is an excellent tool to help you figure out the total miles that will be flown per segment. This way you can visualize which destinations you may need to modify or eliminate based on the cost of the awards.

3. Award Chart Comparison

Not all mileage programs are created equally, and to know how far airline miles can take you will you help you figure out which miles to focus on earning. The Award Chart Comparisons provide a great visual to compare how far miles from each major airline’s mileage program will take you, whether it’s for First Class or Economy. For example, for one airline it may cost 60,000 miles to fly to Europe from North America, whereas with another it may cost 80,000 miles. This way you can determine where you may want to fly, spending the least amount of miles.

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4. Wikipedia

It may or may not surprise you that Wikipedia made the list of top award-booking resources. Wikipedia serves as a tool that provides information on where airlines have their hubs, what airlines are within the routing network, and who they have codeshare agreements with. This all is useful for creating stopovers or connections through specific destinations and maximizing your award experience. To find the information, just look up the specific airline on the Wikipedia search bar and click the link on the “Destinations” section.

5. Award Mapper

Beyond the world of airline miles, there are hotel awards for free nightly stays. If you’ve been racking up points for stays at different properties, but don’t have the time or patience to look for award nights at every single possible property, Award Mapper will help you get it done all at once. Award Mapper uses Google Maps by locating the property and the amount of points you need for an award night. Miles and Points blog, DoverTime goes into detail on how to book a free night using Award Mapper.

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6. Google

The almost obvious solution to any question is to “Google it” and the same holds true for award booking. Create a Google search between two destinations you plan to depart from and arrive at, then after you get search results switch over to the “Flights” tab. You’ll receive a schedule at the cash value, but it’s a quick way to see what flights are available, flight numbers, days of the week the flight departs, and departure and arrival times.

7. Mile.Biz

Mile.Biz is useful for planning and comparing the amount of miles required for specific routes and airlines. This is a unique feature because other tools don’t specify the amount of miles that are required to book an award. The biggest drawback is that is does not take into account situations when you use miles to book awards on partner airlines.

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8. KVS Tool

If you are airline code savvy and are willing to spend $35 to $75 for a yearly membership, the KVS Tool offers very sophisticated and detailed award information. The KVS Tools shows visa information, award availability and routing information for Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam.

9. ANA’s Mileage Plan

The ANA Mileage Plan award booking site is a great resource for finding Star Alliance award availability, which isn’t always easy to locate for the 29 airlines. Typically, if you’re looking for Star Alliance availability, you would look for awards on United Airlines’ site, but United doesn’t always publish all of its availability. ANA’s site is free, but you do have to create an account to find results for partner airlines. You wouldn’t make your award reservation through the ANA website if you’re using United miles. You would use the website to collect flight information, then call United’s reservation line to finalize your itinerary.

Featured photo credit: Angelo Cueva via flickr.com

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Published on May 7, 2019

How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

When it comes to stocks, I bet you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Everyone who’s not a financial expert has been there. I’ve been there. But, time is passing and you need to be crystal clear with how you’re investing for your retirement.

Otherwise, it’s back to work until you can afford not to. So, how can you invest for retirement when you’re not a financial expert?

You take the time to learn the fundamentals well. If you do, you can grow your wealth and retire happy. The best part is that you don’t need to be a financial expert to make smart investment decisions.

Here’s how to invest for retirement the smart and stress-free way:

1. Know Clearly Why You Invest

Odds are you already know why should invest for retirement.

But, maybe you know the wrong reasons. It’s time you get clear on why you’d like to retire. Here are some questions to help you get started:

  • Will you spend more time with your family?
  • What does retirement mean to you?
  • Are you looking to launch that business you’ve been holding off for years?

Everyone wants to retire but not for the same reasons. Once you’re clear for why retirement is important for you, you’ll focus on making it happen.

Investing in the stock market allows you to take advantage of compound interest.[1] All this means is that your money earns money on top of its interest. A reason why investment in the stock market is one of the best ways to plan for retirement.

2. Figure out When to Invest

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”– Chinese Proverb

It’s true if you’d had started investing when you were 10 years old, you’d have a lot more money than you do today.

The reality is that most people don’t start investing until it’s too late. So, if you’re currently waiting for the perfect time to start an investment, it would be today. Open your calendar and block out 2 to 3 hours to choose how you’ll invest for retirement.

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A quick way to get a snapshot of where you stand is to use Personal Capital. Input all your personal information and spend some time setting your retirement goals. Once completed, you’ll know where you stand with your retirement.

Having a savings account for retirement isn’t planning for retirement. Why? Your money loses value when you factor in US inflation.[2]

3. Evaluate Your Risk Tolerance to Create the Perfect Portfolio

Investing your money well depends on your emotions.

Why?

Because when the market drops most people panic and withdraw their money. On average, the US stock market yields an annual 6% to 7% ROI (return on your investment.) But, this won’t happen if you’re worried about short-term loses.

Before you invest your next dollar, know your risk tolerance.[3] Your risk tolerance determines the number of risky and safe investments you’d have.

Regardless of your investing style, you need to view investing for retirement as a long term game. Know that some years you’ll lose money but recoup this in the long-term.

Avoid watching market-related new. Also, create a double authentication to log in your investment account. This way you’re less likely to withdraw your money.

4. Open a Reliable Retirement Account

Depending on your circumstance, you may need to open a new brokerage account. This is the account is where you’ll invest your money.

If you’re currently working for a company, odds are that they offer a 410K investing account. If so, here’s where you’ll invest most of your money. The only problem with this is that you’re limited to the stock options that are available.

You do have the option to open a separate IRA (individual retirement account.) Here are some of the best brokers:

  1. Vanguard
  2. TD Ameritrade
  3. Charles Schwab

5. Challenge Yourself to Invest Consistently

Committing to invest for retirement is hard, but continuing to do so is harder.

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Once you’ve started investment for your retirement, you run at risk from stopping. Often you’ll want to contribute less, so you’d have more money in your pocket.

That’s why it’s important that you create a budget that allows you to invest each month. If you’re working for a company, you can set a percentage for the amount you’d like to contribute each month. Most people by default contribute 1% but aim to contribute 10% to 15%.

Be the judge for how much you can afford to contribute after covering important expenses. To stay motivated, use Personal Capital to view your net worth.

A benefit to contributing money to your retirement account is not taxed. For example, if you earn $100 and invest 10%, you’d contribute $10, then get taxed on the remaining $90. As of 2019, the most you’re able to contribute towards your 401K is 19K but this can change.

6. Consider Where to Invest Your Money

The most common way to invest your money is in stocks, but it’s not the only way. Here are other ways to invest:

Robo Advisors

Robo-advisors[4] are fancy algorithms that’ll choose the best investments for you. Sites like Wealthfront make it easy for first-time investors to invest their money. You’d input information about yourself and set your risk tolerance.

Then, set your monthly contribution amount and your robo-advisor would do the rest. Robo-advisors charge a fee to manage your money, but less than regular advisors.

Bonds

Think of bonds as “IOUs” to whomever you buy them from.

Essentially, you’re lending money and charging interest. Like stocks, not all bonds are equal. Some will be riskier than others depending on their rating.

Here are the different types of bond categories:[5]

  1. Treasury bonds
  2. Government bonds
  3. Corporate bonds
  4. Foreign bonds
  5. Mortgage-backed bonds
  6. Municipal bonds

Mutual Funds

Picture a group of people dumping all their money in a jar that’s managed by a professional. This is how mutual funds work. The fund manager manages the money looking to earn capital gains (interest.)

One of the best types of mutual funds is index funds. Since these funds don’t try to beat the market and instead follow it, they need less research. Because of this they often charge the lowest fees and yield the best long-term results.

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Real Estate

Yes, buying a home is an investment when done correctly.

Imagine buying a home and using it as a rental property. After repairing it, you receive a monthly surplus check of $100 to $200.

This may not sound like a lot, but repeat this process enough times and you’d earn a large amount of passive income. That’s why real estate is one of the best investments to not only retire but become wealthy.

But, it requires a lot of money to start and you should expect losing money along the way as you learn the process.

Savings Accounts

Your money can still grow in a savings account. Nowadays most online banks offer a 2% annual return. Although the average inflation is higher your money will be available when you need it.

7. Master Disincline to Dodge Short Success

Investing for retirement is a long-term strategy. That’s why you need to master delayed gratification. All this means is delaying short-term pleasure for something bigger in the future. Research shows that those who have delayed gratification are more successful.[6]

So how can you master delayed gratification?

By building your discipline.

Think back to what retirement means to you. A clear purpose will help you avoid withdrawing your money during a market downturn. It’ll help you contribute more towards retirement when you’d want to waste it instead.

Your journey towards retirement will be long, so reward yourself along the way. Choose a reward that’s relevant and meaningful, so that you reinforce positive behavior. For example, after contributing more towards retirement, treat yourself to dinner.

8. Aggressively Invest on This One Investment

I’ve mentioned several types of investments but haven’t covered the most important one.

It sounds cliche but here’s why you’re your best investment towards retirement. The more you know, the more money you’ll be able to make. The more good habits you adopt, the more secure your retirement will be.

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More importantly, investing in yourself is an investment that no one can take away. There’s no market downturn nor tragic circumstance that’ll wipe your knowledge and experience.

But, how can you invest yourself?

Reading books, blogs, and anything that’ll help you learn new topics daily. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks on your commute to/from work.

Save money to buy courses and hire coaches. I used to believe hiring coaches was a waste of money when I could learn the subject alone.

But, coaches see your blind spots and hold you accountable. Hiring the right coach will help you achieve your goals faster than you would’ve alone.

Retire Happy with Excess Money

The key to a secure financial future doesn’t only belong to financial experts.

It’s possible for you and I. What if you were able to retire earlier than most people and weren’t a financial planner? What if you were able to focus on what you enjoy doing the most while your money was working hard for you?

I know this sounds impossible now, but the truth is you’re capable of taking charge of your retirement. I’m not a financial expert but I’ve learned how to invest my money by reading books and learning from others.

Investing your money is scary. So start small and invest a small amount of your money with a robo-advisor. Feel your money drop and rise for a month or two. Then, invest more and keep this up until you’re aggressively saving for retirement.

One day, you’ll wake up with a net worth you’re proud of – confident about your retirement. You now know a few strategies you can use to invest in your retirement. Will you take action to retire happy?

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Featured photo credit: Matthew Bennett via unsplash.com

Reference

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