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 purchased for 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 your 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 ultimately want for your future adventures.
Do you want to earn free hotels or do you want to earn free airfare?
Do you want the world's best airlines and resorts or just free flights and accommodations?
Or, do you want ultimate flexibility and want all of those options?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself now to make sure you have the best and right credit cards for what you want. Your future Points Travel starts with what is in your wallet now.
CREDIT CARDS 101
There are tons of different credit cards and reward programs available.
You can earn cash back, airline miles, hotel points, or membership points like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards. The latter gives you the most flexibility because you can transfer AMEX or Chase points to multiple transfer Hotels or Airline partners.
Cash Back - this is great for instant relief but will not help you earn 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 the same amount of points to book $2,000+ in travel. The Rule of Thumb is to 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 loyalty points for spending. For example, the Hilton Amex doesn't earn American Express Membership Rewards but rather Hilton Honors points which can be used to redeem for free hotel stays.
Airline Credit Cards - most major airlines offer co branded credit cards that will earn you airline miles or points with their loyalty programs. For example, American Airlines has a card which will give you AA Miles to redeem for free travel on their airline.
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 points in multiple ways including cash back, gift cards, or booking travel directly through their AMEX or Chase travel platforms. These are actually the WORST ways to redeem and use those points.
Instead, maximize the value of your points and TRANSFER YOUR POINTS to Award Partner Members. For example, you can book a flight on AMEX in AMEX Travel at 1 point per cent. To book a $1,000 flight on Singapore Airlines you will need to use 100,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points. You can get the same flight for way less points by transferring AMEX points to their transfer partner Singapore Airlines and booking directly. You may be able to get that same flight for 50,000 points or even less! Plus, AMEX has special offers throughout the year where you can earn 30% bonuses when transferring to partners!
CREDIT CARDS IN YOUR WALLET
Don’t be afraid to open multiple credit cards or even close existing cards that you don't use or need.
Most good travel credit cards have Annual Fees. For example, the American Express Platinum has a $695 fee and the American Express Gold has a $200 Fee. However, you can easily offset those fees by their annual perks (i.e. free Food credits, Airline Credits, UBER Credits, etc..). As long as you are getting close or offsetting the fee, it is okay to have multiple cards!
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 Purchases at Hotels, Airlines, or Gas. Know the earning potential for all of your cards so you know when to use each card!
It is always best practice to use the card that will earn you the most. The only time you will not follow that is if you are trying to top off your account for future travel. If you know you need a few more American Express Membership Rewards Points, then use that card for everything so you can book your trip quicker!
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 and earning loyalty status.
There are occasions where you may not want to stick with one brand (i.e. a flight or hotel fare is significantly more expensive) but sometimes it benefits you in the long run to spend a little more now to help you out in the future.
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. For example, you may not be able to make changes to an itinerary or you won't accrue loyalty bonuses.
Rule #3: Choose the BEST brand that fits your needs and wants. 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 plus 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 also 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.
NOW GO OUT AND EARN SOME OF THE WORLD'S BEST TRAVEL FOR FREE