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Do you want to travel the world for less? The best travel rewards credit cards can help you do it!
Thanks to the magic of rewards points, my family has traveled the world for pennies on the dollar. Over the last five years, we’ve visited over 30 countries and overseas territories – mostly paying for large parts of our travel through credit card rewards.
Whether you’re looking for free flights and hotel stays, upgrades to business class, paid excursions, or free day trips, cashing in credit card points is freaking amazing. If you’ve always wondered how these things work, you’re in luck. Today, we’ll talk about how to leverage credit card rewards to get the best free travel perks.
Using Flexible Rewards Points
If you’re new to traveling with points and miles, the best place to start is by picking up a great flexible rewards credit card. These cards are fantastic because they aren’t just tied to one particular brand. The points you earn are flexible, giving you tons of ways to get the most value from your points.
When it comes to flexible rewards cards, you usually have three options for redeeming your points. First, you can transfer points to participating loyalty programs for things like free flights and hotel stays. You may also be able to redeem your points as a statement credit toward travel expenses with any brand. Finally, many cards give you the option of spending your points on flights, hotels, and more through their “travel portals” (more on that below).
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is an awesome place to start, and it’s almost always the first rewards card we recommend for beginners. This card currently offers a 60,000 point signup bonus to new cardmembers. To put that in perspective, you can use those points to book $750 in travel through the Chase portal. All you need to do is spend $4,000 in the first three months to qualify for the bonus.
Chase points also transfer to over a dozen of the world’s top loyalty programs at a 1:1 ratio. I’m talking about places like Marriott, Hyatt, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and more. Transferring your points to one of these programs can often stretch your points even further!
There are lots of other Chase Sapphire Preferred benefits you’ll also love. When you use the card to pay for a trip, you’ll get important protections like trip interruption/cancellation coverage, primary auto rental insurance, and lost baggage coverage. We’ve actually had to use some of these protections before, and they worked like a charm.
Don’t worry about getting stuck with points you can’t use, either. Although I don’t recommend it, you can always redeem your Chase points for gift cards. You won’t get the same mileage out of them, but the option is there just in case.
Earning Hotel Points
Although flexible rewards cards are great, they aren’t the only rewards credit cards in town.
If you’re in the market for a hotel stay, co-branded hotel credit cards can help you get there. These usually offer loyalty status with some nice perks. You may even get a free night’s stay (or two) each year!
The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express is one that’s a cut above the rest. You’ll earn 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on your card in the first three months. This card has a $450 annual fee, but you’ll score a $250 Hilton Resort statement credit, get a free weekend night stay on your account anniversary each year, and earn 14X Hilton Honors bonus points at certain properties. You also get complimentary Hilton Diamond Status, which can be pretty sweet in its own right.
If the huge annual fee scares you off, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Card is a nice alternative. Every year, you’re gifted with a free one-night hotel stay – which should more than make up for the $95 annual fee. Earning 6X points when you use your card at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels, and 2X points everywhere else, will put you on the fast track to even more free (or reduced) stays.
Don’t forget, you can also combine these cards with points from some of your favorite flexible rewards cards to make your stays even cheaper!
Getting Free Flights
Airfare is often the most expensive part of a trip, especially if you’re traveling with your family. Thankfully, most of the major carriers have co-branded credit cards to help you save.
For example, American Airlines has several cards you can pick from in their lineup. The Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select Card offers a generous signup bonus with a manageable annual fee. These points can even go a long way toward a round-trip ticket to Europe, if that’s something you’re interested in.
If you’re a frequent AA flyer, you might also consider the Citi/AAdvantage Executive Card. Although this card comes with a hefty annual fee, perks like an Admirals Club membership might make the cost worthwhile for you.
Again, don’t forget that you can transfer points from flexible rewards cards to participating airlines! Programs like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards make it easy to transfer points to their partners and cut the cost of your airfare.
Redeeming Points for Cruises, Day Trips, and More
Did you know credit card rewards extend beyond hotels, flights, and cash back? It’s true! You can even book a cruise with rewards if you want.
While using a co-branded cruise line credit card isn’t something I’d typically recommend, using an online travel portal to book your cruise with rewards is! You can even use these portals to book activities, excursions, and other travel-related expenses on any trip you take.
We use travel portals to book day trips and other excursions all the time. In fact, we regularly use our points to book hundreds of dollars in tours and excursions through these portals – and we do it all for free!
As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of traveling on credit card rewards…and why wouldn’t I be? At this point, we’ve saved tens of thousands of dollars on travel simply by using points from our rewards cards!
With that said, it’s important that you go about this the right way. Be sure to pay your credit card balances in full every month, and don’t spend more than you otherwise would just to earn points. Remember, you’re trying to get things for free, not pay extra through interest charges or careless spending.
If you can manage that, using credit card rewards is a great way to see the world for less. Whether you’re just starting out or have been playing the credit card rewards game for a while, we hope this short introduction to travel rewards cards helps you squeeze a little more out of your points.
Do you use credit card rewards for travel? What’s your favorite way to use them? Tell us in the comments below!