- It’s possible to drastically reduce travel costs (or even go on a trip for free) by utilizing the points and miles programs that credit card issuers offer for free.
- I’ve saved thousands of dollars in savings just by strategically racking up bonus points and sign-up bonuses on rewards credit cards — all without spending more money than I normally do.
- Rewards from your normal, daily spending could pay for a round-trip flight to Paris and then some.
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Let me put it bluntly: If you’re not using credit card points to travel, you’re leaving money on the table. Lots of money.
Whether you’re a frequent traveler living the jet-set life or someone who stares longingly at pictures of the Eiffel Tower, saving your spare change for the big trip, the right credit card points strategy can cover most of what you’d spend on flights and hotels. You could even embark on an international adventure at virtually no cost.
All that’s required are some minor lifestyle changes in terms of how you spend your money.
In order to accrue all the points you’ll need, start implementing the below strategies a full year ahead of when you want to go on your trip. Even if you don’t have a specific destination in mind yet, you can start to build up your points balance so you have them on hand when you figure out where you want to go.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It’s important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.
Get those points
There are three things you need to do in order to build up a massive reserve of credit card points.
Apply for credit cards that offer sign-up bonuses
Many credit cards offer massive welcome bonuses if you spend a certain amount in the first three months of opening the account. This is especially true of all the credit cards designed for travelers.
If you open a World of Hyatt Credit Card, for example, you can get 25,000 World of Hyatt Points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months of opening the card. And if you spend $6,000 total within the first six months from account opening, you’ll get another 25,000 bonus points.
Pro tip: Don’t just choose a card that offers lots of bonus points. Research all the different card options out there. If you prefer staying at Sheraton or Westin hotels more than Hyatts, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card would be a great credit card to sign up for. However, if points-spending freedom and flexibility is what you prefer, Chase cards in general are a great option because Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to several airline and hotel point programs, without any loss of value.
Shift all your spending to credit cards
To make sure you reach those minimum spending requirements to earn credit card sign-up bonuses, shift all your normal spending onto your new credit cards. In addition to daily expenses like groceries and meals out, consider charging cell phone bills, gym membership fees and other recurring charges on your new credit card.
Very important: Do not got over your usual budget in order to hit the minimum spending requirement! Going into debt and paying interest on your credit card charges completely negates any savings that points will offer.
Strategize your spending to maximize bonus points
Not only do most credit cards offer a new cardholder bonus; many will also multiply your points per dollar in specific categories.
The American Express® Gold Card earns 4x Amex points at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 spent each year (then 1x). If you want to get the most rewards out of your gas purchases, the Citi Premier℠ Card gives you 3 points for every dollar at the pump.
Research every credit card you sign up for and pay attention to where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Then always use that card specifically for those purchases. Make sure to check out our ranking of the best rewards credit cards that earn bonus points and cash back on a variety of categories.
Put your points to use
Once you’ve started making these money moves, before long you’ll have a stockpile of points spread out over your various accounts. That trip to Paris could only set you back 100,000 AAdvantage miles on American Airlines or its airline partners. And the Park Hyatt could cost 30,000 Hyatt points instead of 765 euros per night.
Over the course of one year utilizing these strategies, I amassed over 300,000 points, spread out over Chase, Hyatt, AAdvantage (American Airlines), and Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan.
I was able to use points to cover a five-night stay at the Miraval Resort in Arizona and relax like I haven’t in years. And I still have plenty of rewards left over to fully or partially fund weekend getaways, or book flights without stressing about how much it’s costing.
Maximize those points
As the saying goes, “Friends who travel together, stay together.”
And it’s also true that friends who accrue points together travel together. The absolute best way to make the most of your points and miles is to travel with friends who are also building credit card points wealth, so you can split the costs of lodging. That trip to Miraval would have cost me $4,000 in cash solo, but with my friend, my share of the stay was only 130,000 points.
For significant others, family, and friends you feel super comfortable with, there’s also the option of adding each other as authorized users on your credit cards. Issuers often reward points for adding authorized users, but even when they don’t, you’ll increase your points-earning potential.