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The Ultimate Guide to Points Travel

You’ve most likely seen pictures and videos of luxury travel from the first class airplane suites to the overwater villas. These expensive dreams can be a reality and FREE when you understand how to maximize Credit Card points with Airline and Hotel loyalty programs.




People refer to points travel as "travel hacking" but it is simply just understanding the value of earning and using points! There are many ways to redeem travel with credit cards but not all of them pose the same value for you as a traveler. It is important to know and understand how to maximize their value.


MAKE A STRATEGY


Decide what you want to redeem your points for! Do you want free hotels or free airfare. Do you just want to go from A to B or do you want to have an expensive flight that you wouldn't purchase typically?


Free Hotel Rooms ($200-400) or Free Luxury Hotel Rooms ($500+)


Free Airfare (Economy) or Free Luxury Airfare (Business Class + First Class)


Flexibility with points allows you to do earn and use both.



CREDIT CARDS 101


Understand the current credit cards you have in your wallet and learn what might be better to have.


Every credit card and reward program is different. There are cards that reward you with cash back, airline miles, hotel points, or Credit Card points like American Express Membership Rewards. The latter gives you the most flexibility because you can transfer points to hotel or airline loyalty programs.


Cash Back - this is great for instant relief but will not help you get free travel. Additionally, cash back is typically the worst redemption rate for your points. For example, you can use 80,000 AMEX points to give yourself $800 off your bill or you can use those same amount of points for well over $2,000+ in travel. NEVER use cash back if you are trying to utilize points travel.


Hotel Credit Cards - there are many different hotel co branded credit cards that will earn you hotel loyalty points. For example, the Hilton Amex doesn't earn American Express Membership Rewards but rather Hilton Honors points to redeem for free hotel stays.


Airline Credit Cards - most major airlines offer co branded credit cards that will earn you miles or points with their loyalty programs. For example, American Airlines has a card which will give you AA points to redeem for free travel.


Membership Rewards - The AMEX gold card or platinum card earn AMEX MR points. Chase has similar cards in their program. Credit Card points like this are the MOST flexible as you can use these points in multiple ways like getting cash back, gift cards, or booking travel. These are the WORST ways to redeem and use those points.


Instead, you should transfer the points to Award Partner Members. For example, you can book a flight on AMEX with 1point per dollar. For a $1,000 flight you will need to use 100,000 AMEX MR points. A better option would be to transfer points to an airline loyalty program. You may be able to get that same flight for 50,000 points! See my Transfer Partner blog for more details about this.



CREDIT CARDS IN YOUR WALLET


Don’t be afraid to open multiple credit cards. Many people have probably warned you about this but having a few credit cards can actually benefit you and give you more flexibility. You should only open multiple cards if you are going to maximize their benefits and offset their annual fees.


Not every card earns the same amount of points per dollar so there are times when you want to use one card over another. Some cards earn more points for Dining & Super Markets and some earn more points for Travel like Hotels, Airlines, or Gas.


Know the earning potential for all of your cards so you can maximize your value!





HOTELS & AIRLINES 101


There are a few rules to know and follow:


Rule #1: The most important rule is to be LOYAL. Staying loyal to one brand will help you accumulate points faster for redeeming travel as well as a loyalty status. Many airlines or hotels have their own statuses which reward their loyal customers. Sticking with one brand helps you rack up miles or hotel stays faster for future travel redemption. There are occasions where you may not stick with a brand if a flight or hotel fare is significantly more expensive than another.

Rule #2: Book Direct. Don’t be tempted by 3rd party websites. They may have cheaper rates but you always have more flexibility and privileges when booking direct. You will have more options for changing a flight when you book direct vs a 3rd party website. Some hotels may even not honor your status if you aren't booking directly with their website.


Rule #3: Choose the right brand. There are tons of brands out there so be sure to pick one that you can use to benefit your travel needs.


PICKING THE RIGHT HOTEL

There are many different hotel brands but the biggest brands are Marriott or Hilton. Both of these brands have Co-Branded credit cards which help you earn loyalty points and status quicker! These cards also come with sign up bonuses (to help you get free travel quicker) as well as yearly perks!


For example, the Marriott Bonvoy comes with perks like free rooms or pathways to get a status quicker. The Hilton Aspire Amex for example gives you their top tier status instantly as well as perks like resort and airfare credits!


PICKING THE RIGHT AIRLINE

Airlines also offer co- branded cards. These can be great as they help you get status quicker for free upgrades or offer perks like free wifi, drinks, or baggage allowances. A General Travel Credit card like The American Express Platinum is a great travel card because you can earn 5X points on Flights which can then be transferred to multiple different airlines reward programs.


Picking the right airline to be loyal is important. If you don’t need any frills and you only want to score free flights in economy, consider booking a budget friendly airline like Southwest Airlines. They have great cancellation policies and the best flexibility out of any airline. They even allow 2 free checked bags per person which can be $100 per person on other airlines round trip. They don’t always have direct flights but they do have a great network of destinations including some of the best flights to Hawaii and inter island Hawaii travel!


If you want the ability to have premium seats and upgrades, consider being loyal to one of the bigger airlines at your home airport. If you are from a city where an airline has a Hub, you will most likely stick with that airline (i.e. American Airlines with Philadelphia or Delta Airlines with Atlanta). Some bigger airports like LA have multiple airlines calling LAX their hub so you have more options which can be good or bad! Remember, loyalty is the biggest key to your success.


Rule #4: Use the right Card. You can book a hotel with the AMEX Platinum and earn 5X points or you can book with a co-branded loyalty card and earn more points. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy will earn you 14x points or the Hilton Amex will earn you 17x points per dollar.






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