If you spend much time around the blogs and message boards, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world may spin off its axis if you don’t dedicate half your life to collecting credit card bonuses, gift cards, and running every bottle of aspirin you buy through an online shopping portal of some sort. These are, of course, great ways to earn miles and points that can enable you to travel for “free” or at prices you can afford. They can also consume your life if you let them. Don’t.

There is a cost to all these “free” things. There’s the cost of time, the cost of not focusing on other priorities, and for far too many I fear, the cost of the debt you are at risk for getting yourself into if you don’t have the discipline to say no. Backing away doesn’t mean quitting. It means taking a step back, evaluating where you are with your miles and points goals, and making sure you are ready for the next play in the game. Being ready in my opinion means this:

  • No credit card/consumer debt beyond your mortgage (I’ll even grant you a car payment too, but I haven’t had one since 1998)
  • Some cash in the bank for a rainy day
  • Cash flow for paying your bills on time
  • The discipline to say no

If any one of these is missing, I would stand down on any new credit cards, funny money techniques, or anything else other than fixing what I need to fix to be ready to get back in. Not all that long ago a confluence of events came together that caused me to take a break from the miles and points “game” and focus on repairing my savings account. I’m not quite where I want to be yet, but I’m getting close. I’ve got enough miles for my immediate and mid-term travel needs, and I fly enough on business alone to maintain some level of elite status. I don’t need to jump at the first bonus offer that comes along, and I’ve been focusing on that discipline to say “no” during my “time off” as well.

In the end, all the points in the world matter little if you’d be unable to make your next mortgage payment if your paycheck gets lost enroute to your bank account. Focus on the things that matter, stay informed, stay disciplined, and you can win at miles and points. And it’s OK to sit out for a few plays if you need to.

-MJ, September 30, 2014