I’m getting ready to set out on another big trip in a couple of weeks, and while planning, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to maximize my credit card rewards on this journey.
If you missed my original post back in 2016, I’m a novice travel hacker. Meaning, I look for shortcuts on how to save money for travel. I adore traveling, and it fills me up the way few things do, but because I’m self-employed, I’ve gotta watch the costs. Well, I guess most of us have to watch our dollars, don’t we?
If that’s you too, consider looking into travel hacking. You don’t have to do it to the degree that I do, and I certainly don’t do it to the degree that many others do either, but a few tips can take you a long way—literally.
Most often, we we talk about travel hacking, we’re talking about using credit card rewards. Depending on your relationship (or baggage) with credit cards, you may have some resistance to this technique. I get that. It took more research on my part to fully understand this method as well.
But the gist is that opening multiple credit cards will not damage your credit score. It’s the misuse of credit cards that damages your score. So, keep that in mind.
So, with this method, you’ll open the credit card, meet the minimum spend requirement, use the rewards, and then likely cancel the card. The spend requirement is how much you need to spend in order to get the bonus points or rewards. For example, spend $3,000 in the first three months to get 50,000 points. Make sense?
Before I start talking about my favorite credit card reward cards right now, let me reiterate that there are many other ways to save on travel. In this previous post, I outline several others that may be of interest to you. Or you may also chose to employ a couple of different methods as I do.
One other caveat: There are LOTS of different reward cards available, but I’m only talking about the ones I’ve used. I don’t feel good about recommending any that I have no personal knowledge of. There are also plenty of others that I have used but are not included here. These are my current favs. Additionally, there are other current credit cards that I have at the moment, but they do not have good bonus offers right now, so they aren’t included here either.
I think this was my first travel rewards card, and it’s still my favorite. The points are so flexible, the point values are very fair, and when you book through their site, you save even more money! I love this card, and it’s the one I always recommend.
- Use the points for airlines, hotels, car rentals, cruises, AND activities. I’ve actually redeemed all of these, except for the cruise.
- No annual fee for the first year.
- Zero foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 points transfer (Meaning, if I transfer to a partner airline, 1 point with either program is the same. This is definitely not always the case!)
- Click the link for the full list of benefits.
This has been a great card the past couple of years. The point values are very reasonable, and the $95 fee is waived for the first year.
- Free night with the anniversary of the card
- Free Wifi during your hotel stays, AND free BOINGO hotspot access worldwide. This is often helpful in airports and places that would otherwise make you pay for access.
- There are a lot of options for transferring points to other programs, if needed.
- This card also has zero foreign transaction fees, and it’s the one I took to England, Scotland, and Ireland this year.
- Click the link above for more benefits.
A quick disclaimer, though, that Marriott now owns Starwood, so that may change some things. I’m not sure what everything will look like when the programs are fully integrated, but so far, it’s been a great card. The plus is that you will, obviously, have more hotels available to use your points!
This is a very popular card among many of my friends, and I can see why. (Besides the fact that Delta is headquartered here in ATL!) You can currently get a 70,000 point bonus, which is great. I just paid 9,500 miles for a New York to Atlanta ticket, as an example.
- Get a companion certificate each year. This is the reason some of my friends have it, so that they can travel cheaper with their spouse.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- First checked bag free.
- Discounted Delta Sky Club lounge access. (These things are a God send on long layovers!)
- Priority boarding.
- Click the link for the full list of benefits.
This is sort of a new card for me. I used to have the Hilton Honors card when it was under Chase, but it just got bought by AMEX, so I’ve only had the new card for a couple of months. The current reward bonus is 150,000 points! I think they’re trying to get people on board now since this card is still hot off the presses.
- 6x or 3x for eligible purchases, which is fantastic
- Complimentary Gold status
- No foreign transaction fees
- 10 Priority Pass lounge visits (sort of like Delta lounges) – I’m excited to use a couple of these on my next trip!
- Click the link for full benefits.
Side benefit: AMEX cards, like Delta, Hilton, and SPG above, has the best dashboard for looking at account details, benefits, and rewards. It may seem like a strange thing to bring up, but some account dashboards just make it hard to find what you need. The AMEX one is so easy to use.
Quick tips for using rewards cards:
Like I said above, I recommend doing your research to fully get your questions answered, but in general, here are a few tips that will help you on this journey.
- Whatever credit card you’ve had the longest, no matter what type of card—keep it open. This will keep a record of your credit history while you’re switching out rewards cards, and show how responsible you are with credit. Never close this card.
- Start with one one card and see how it goes. You’ll learn by doing.
- Put your fixed expenses on your card only. For me, that means things like my rent, health insurance, car insurance, etc. Some people put all of their expenses on their card, and that may work for you. I personally prefer just putting my fixed expenses on my credit cards, especially when I’m trying to make the initial spend. I’m no financial wiz, and it’s just easier for me to track and plan.
- Ditching the cards after you use the rewards is up to you. I weigh what the renewal benefits are versus what the renewal fees are, and things like that. Some cards I get rid of immediately after using the bonus points, and some I don’t.
- People often seek out airline cards first, which is understandable, but it really depends on what your travel needs are. Several nights in a hotel can often cost more than a flight, so keep that in mind.
- One of the more difficult aspects of choosing cards is understanding point values. They vary wildly! For example, one of my least favorite cards was the AMEX Gold. It seemed great to get almost 100,000 points (this was a few years ago), but when I tried to redeem, I realized how little the points actually got me. My friend and I attended a conference in Chicago, which is what I wanted to use them for, but when all was said and done, we had to stay well outside of the city because the points didn’t go very far. So, when possible, it’s good idea to try and research how far the points will actually stretch.
Questions? Let me know.
PS: Don’t forget to check out my original post on travel hacking to learn more about using credit card rewards and other ways I save on travel.
PPS: Traveling solo? I’ve got you covered there, too. Take a look at this post.
(Note: several links are affiliate links. But I only ever recommend what I like and use.)