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A lot of people have asked me how I travel so cheaply, and the answer in a lot of cases, is: traveling with credit card reward points.
I love a good side hustle, and if opening credit cards to meet bonus spend amounts is a way to get me from point A to point B for free, you better be sure I’m gonna do the hell out of it.
Using this method to build points and continually “churn” (open and close cards) is something that you might need a good credit score to do. And you want to be able to pay off your card every month so you’re not incurring debt and interest fees. That defeats the purpose of acquiring these points.
There are some people who learn how to hack points charts and spends for a living, but I feel like I am a JV player in the realm of traveling with credit card rewards points.
Kudos to all those who figure out the full game, though! You’re my heroes!
For example, I knew that we’d be racking up big bills spending for our wedding, so I opened two new credit cards and put most of the wedding spending on them to meet the reward bonus threshold. That seemed like a pretty low-hanging way to get a massive amount of credit card reward points to spend for travel.
Why not get rewarded for paying for a wedding?!
Note: I do not get any cash commission from telling you about these cards. But I am linking to my “refer a friend” links below. If you click on them and apply for a card, I will get some points, so I thank ye in advance for that! But mostly I just want to share the cards that I use and value the most.
I wanted to walk you guys through the cards I have right now and why I carry each one for traveling with credit card reward points, even though some of them have some steep annual fees. In my opinion, these credit cards typically offer amazing sign up bonuses (often 50,000 – 100,000 reward points) and are well worth consideration for your next travel credit card.
This card is for travelers! I’m just gonna say it–the annual fee is $450. Yeah, its high but hear me out. Look at all the stuff you get for owning this card:
-$300 reimbursement of travel expenses annually
-3x points on dining and travel
-No foreign transaction fees
-Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit
-Lounge Access with Priority Pass
-Boss travel insurance that covers lost baggage, trip delays/interruption, and car rentals
-Purchase protection and extended warranty on purchases
Here are some real life examples of me using this card when things have gone awry just this year:
-I hurt my leg in Costa Rica and had to fly back early. Chase reimbursed me $300 of airline change fees and a day trip I had to cancel as part of their travel insurance.
-An actual human person answered quickly every time I called about my injury and case
-Norwegian broke my suitcase and Chase reimbursed me the $50 it cost to check my bag with them
-I always rent cars with this card since it has excellent collision coverage
-I love lounge access. This is the first year I’ve used an airport lounge and I can’t go back to waiting for flights huddled over a lukewarm cup of airport coffee ever again!
Was that enough to convince you to apply for this card? Unfortunately I don’t get any referral points for this card (booo), but if this card looks like a good fit for you, apply! As of this posting you get 50,000 bonus points (worth $750) when you spend $4,000 in the first three months.
Another excellent Chase product is the Marriott Rewards card! The current bonus is 75,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months of opening this card. This card also has super solid benefits and is my “everyday” card for things like groceries, gas, online shopping, cat condos, etc.
Benefits of the Marriott card I love:
-6x points for every $1 spent at over 6,700 participating Marriott Rewards® and SPG® hotels
-2x points on everything else (like cat condos)
-A free night award per year
-Automatic Silver Elite status (perks like late checkout, free WiFi, no blackout dates)
-$95 annual fee (much more reasonable, and you can easily recoup this cost with your one free night)
Ok, this is where things get real. American Express Platinum is probably my most “adult” card, and it comes with some grown-up benefits (and fees).
This card makes me feel like a fancy person who jaunts around the globe and orders fine wine with dinner. Here are some of the perks you get with this card:
-First of all, it came in some swank packaging with a piece of actual wood that you can display your new card on (yes, I am serious). It was so cool. A+ for making me feel special.
-The annual fee is $550 (now you know my secret shame–credit card annual fees). But hear me out! I believe you get all of that money back in perks.
-5X Membership Rewards® points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel
-Access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection
-Up to $200 annually for Uber rides
-Select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 per calendar year in statement credits when incidental fees are charged by the airline (I selected Spirit Air so I can select seats and bags)
-Access to the Global Dining Collection
-Premium Global Assist® Hotline: when you travel more than 100 miles from home, they will provide you with 24/7 medical, legal, financial, or other select emergency coordination and assistance services
-Global entry or TSA Pre-Check reimbursement (maybe if you use the Chase Sapphire Reserve for one and this card for the other you’ll be covered)
If this sounds like the card for you, apply online now. There’s a bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in three months.
Even though I am ranking the Chase Hyatt card last today, it’s actually the card I’ve owned the longest out of any of these four credit cards. This is another $95 annual fee card, but since you get a free night at a Hyatt once a year, I think it more than offsets the cost. Here are some other perks:
-Earn 40,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Plus, an additional 20,000 Bonus Points after you spend $6,000 total on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening.
-4 Bonus Points per $1 spent on purchases at all Hyatt hotels.
-2 Bonus Points per $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, local transit and commuting as well as fitness club and gym memberships.
-1 Bonus Point per $1 spent on purchases anywhere else you use your card. Points don’t expire as long as your World of Hyatt Credit Card is open.
-1 free hotel night per year
-No foreign transaction fees
If you love Hyatt hotels, I would definitely recommend this card. We’ve stayed at some amazing hotels in California, Costa Rica, and Florida for free thanks to this little gem! Apply here.
My way of tracking which card to use on various purchases for traveling with credit card reward points is so basic. Sometime I feel like I should really be more organized more with counting and accruing points. But I literally keep a list in my phone of each card and the amount of points I get with each spend. Then I do my best to review this list before purchases and use the “best” card for every purchase. I guess whatever works, right?
My traveling with credit card reward points “phone list” looks like this:
Chase Sapphire Reserve:
3x points on travel
3x points on restaurants
Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
Earn 6 points per $1 spent at participating Marriott Rewards® and SPG® hotels
Earn 2 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
Earn 3 Bonus Points for every $1 spent with your Hyatt Credit Card at all Hyatt hotels and resorts
Earn 2 Bonus Points for every $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline and at car rental agencies
Earn 1 Bonus Point for every $1 spent on purchases elsewhere
5x points on hotels and flights booked thru their Amex portal
Sign up for each frequent flier program so you get a member number. This is important because as you accrue points you want to link the points to your account right away.
So RIGHT NOW make sure you’re signed up for the basic 5 frequent flyer programs:
Did you know each airline has a shopping portal where you can accrue points faster? It’s a great way to maximize your spending. You can shop like normal and accrue points from their additional bonuses.
For example, in the United shopping portal, you can earn 3 miles per dollar at Macy’s, when usually it is 1 point in the store. If you’re going to be shopping online anyway, check out the shopping portals for United, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and others before you buy directly from an online retailer.
One perk of traveling with credit card reward points is that you don’t have to use all of the points at, say, a Marriott or Hyatt. You can transfer points to a wide variety of partners to redeem for flights, car rentals, cruises, and more.
Often, there will be point bonuses for transferring points from a credit card to a certain brand. For example, there was just an offer to transfer Amex points to JetBlue with a 40% bonus. I know we will be using JetBlue in the near future, so I went ahead and transferred some points to take advantage of the bonus!
When you book with American Express directly through their book travel options, you earn 5x points on that trip. Yes, it means paying with cash for a trip, but you earn 5x more to put towards future travel!
If you found this article about traveling with credit card reward points interesting, you should definitely check out some of these travel points hacking pros. They are bringing their A-game to traveling with credit card rewards points and are my points heroes. I never consider opening a new card without reading their latest advice and articles.
If this article about traveling with credit card reward points helped you at all, please comment below or give my a wave on Instagram! I love hearing from you guys and knowing I am helping you make decisions.
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