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 when you understand how to maximize Credit Card and Airline points. Not only can these dreams become a reality but you can do it for FREE.
People refer to this as Travel Hacks but in reality, it is just understanding the value of your credit cards. Both Credit Card companies and Airlines love when you don’t maximize or use their points properly. If you are going to use a credit card, let the credit card work for you.
You need to decide what is the most important thing you want:
Or if you are like me, you want it ALL.
CREDIT CARDS 101
Understand the current credit cards you have in your wallet.
Every credit card is different and every credit card reward program is different. There are cards that reward you with cash back and there are cards that reward you with points.
(Note: The latter will typically also let you pay off your bill with points. If you are strapped with cash, this is a great tool. However, if you can pay off your credit card, I will highly discourage you to use this perk as you are not getting the same value for cash back as you would with using points to earn free travel)
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. Having extra credit cards isn’t a bad thing (assuming you are paying it off monthly) but you won’t earn points fast enough. The perfect combination is to have about 3 credit cards to cover all of your needs.
Use the Right Card for the Right Purchase. Not every card gives you the same amount of points. Even the same card doesn’t give you the same amount of points. Be sure to understand what you earn with all of your cards. Cards tend to reward gas, grocery stores, dining, air travel, and hotel travel differently. Like Airlines & Hotels, it pays to be loyal. Using one card will earn you points faster. But sometimes, being loyal means being loyal to multiple cards at once.
HOTELS & AIRLINES 101
There are a few rules to follow:
Rule #1: The most important rule is to be loyal. Find a brand and stick with it. Staying loyal to one brand will help you accumulate points faster. Strive to follow this rule for 90% of your travel.
Rule #2: Book Direct. Don’t be tempted by those 3rd party websites. They may have cheaper rates but you always have more flexibility and privileges as well as the ability to earn more points when booking direct. It may be a little more in price, but it will save and benefit you more in the long run.
Rule #3: Choose the right brand
For hotels, your two best bets are Marriott or Hilton. Both are great options and their Branded credit cards are great to help you succeed.
Aside from point earning, the Marriott Bonvoy comes with perks like free rooms or pathways to get a status quicker. The Hilton Amex is one of my favorite credit cards because it gives you their top tier status along with tons of other great perks like airfare credit and resort credit.
For airlines, you can use a branded card but an overall a General Travel Credit card is typically better. The American Express Platinum is a great travel card because you can earn 5X points on Flights and those points can 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. Airlines and Hotels all typically have a branded credit card which will earn you more points and status quicker. Typically Hotel Credit Cards are more favorable than Airline Credit Cards.
For example, the Marriott Bonvoy will earn you 14x points or the Hilton Amex will earn you 17x points per dollar. Airlines will have free baggage or other perks as well on top of using their cards but a good travel card like the American Express Platinum is always a good choice for booking flights.