Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards
Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - The Best Cards for Rackings Up Points Fast
When it comes to racking up points for dream trips fast, the credit card you use matters. The best cards offer lucrative sign-up bonuses and accelerated earnings on common purchases. With the right strategy, you can earn hundreds of thousands of points in your first year.
One of the top picks is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This popular card offers 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. That's worth at least $750 in travel redemptions. You'll also earn double points on dining, so if you frequently dine out or order takeout, the points can add up quickly.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is another excellent option. It has a higher annual fee but comes with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus and 3x points on dining and travel. The $300 annual travel credit helps offset the fee, and perks like airport lounge access and Global Entry/TSA Precheck reimbursement provide additional value.
For hotel rewards, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass offers 125,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. Hilton points don't transfer to airlines, but they can be redeemed for free hotel nights starting at just 5,000 points per night. The Surpass card also comes with complimentary Hilton Gold status for more perks.
The Citi Premier card is also worth considering. It offers 60,000 bonus ThankYou points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. ThankYou points transfer to airline partners, and the card earns 3x points on dining, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
No matter which card you choose, be sure to use it for as many purchases as possible. Set up automatic payments for bills and subscriptions to rack up points without thinking about it. Manufactured spending techniques like buying gift cards can help you meet minimum spend requirements faster, but come with risks.
When applying for multiple cards, space out your applications by 2-3 months to avoid denials. Check your credit first and consider lowering credit limits on existing cards. Meeting minimum spend requirements through organic spending is preferable to paying interest or fees.
What else is in this post?
- Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - The Best Cards for Rackings Up Points Fast
- Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Maximizing Sign-Up Bonuses and Spending Bonuses
- Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Transferring Points to Airline and Hotel Loyalty Programs
- Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Using Points for Flights in Premium Cabins
- Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Splurging on Luxury Hotels for Pennies on the Dollar
- Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Strategies for Redeeming Points for High-End Experiences
- Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Stretching Your Points Further with Sweet Spot Redemptions
- Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Avoiding Common Mistakes That Waste Precious Points
Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Maximizing Sign-Up Bonuses and Spending Bonuses
Sign-up bonuses and spending bonuses are where the real points jackpots lie when it comes to credit card rewards. But you have to know how to maximize them to extract every last point.
I once earned over 200,000 points from a single new credit card by combining the sign-up bonus and spending bonus. Here’s how it worked: The card offered 60,000 points for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. On top of that, you got a 50,000 point bonus for spending $15,000 total in the first 6 months.
I put all my regular spending on the card, about $2,000 a month. After 3 months, I had earned the initial 60,000 point bonus. But I still had 9 months left to spend an additional $10,000 and earn the other 50,000 point bonus.
So I got strategic. I pre-paid bills like my insurance premiums that had flexible due dates. I also bought discounted gift cards for grocery stores and other places I frequented regularly. This let me rack up charges without spending any additional money.
Within 2 more months, I had spent the additional $10,000 and earned all 110,000 points from the bonuses. That's enough for a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe or multiple free hotel nights. Not bad for just doing my normal spending!
The key is looking for cards that offer stacked bonuses like this initial spend offer plus an additional tiered bonus. Carefully calculate what you would spend organically within the time limits. Then look for creative ways to bump your spending like pre-paying bills or buying discounted gift cards to fill the rest of the gap.
It also helps to time applications around big planned expenditures like a home remodel, wedding costs, or new appliance purchase. Put these on your new card to help meet the minimum spend. Just don't spend more than you otherwise would just to earn points. Interest and fees negate any rewards you earn.
Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Transferring Points to Airline and Hotel Loyalty Programs
One of the best ways to maximize your credit card rewards is by transferring them to airline and hotel loyalty programs. Rather than redeeming points through the credit card company's travel portal, you can often get even more value by moving them to dedicated travel partners.
For instance, American Express Membership Rewards points transfer to 18 airline and 3 hotel programs. Popular options include Delta SkyMiles, British Airways Executive Club, Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy. The number of points needed for an award flight or hotel night is usually lower than if you booked through Amex Travel.
Chase Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to 13 travel partners, with Hyatt, United MileagePlus, and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards being prime choices. Again, you'll typically get increased value compared to using Ultimate Rewards to book travel directly.
Even Citi ThankYou Rewards has over a dozen transfer partners. Top picks include Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles. The ability to move points to airline programs opens up award availability and lower redemption rates.
Strategic point transfers can help you fly in premium cabins that might be impossible to book with cash fares. For example, Amex points can be moved to Virgin Atlantic to book Delta One business class flights at excellent rates. Or you could transfer Chase points to United to fly long-haul in Polaris business class on great award sales.
On the hotel side, transferring Amex or Chase points to Hyatt, IHG or Marriott allows you to book high-end properties for a fraction of the standard room rates. Hilton points are particularly valuable, with top resorts available from as little as 30,000-50,000 points per night.
The key is being flexible and monitoring award availability. Have a few different airline and hotel partners in mind that suit your preferred redemption goals. Watch for sales or lowered award charts to get the best rates. Set up transfer alerts and be ready to pounce when award space opens up.
Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Using Points for Flights in Premium Cabins
Scoring flights in premium cabins like business and first class used to be the holy grail of points enthusiasts. While premium cabins are now more attainable, flying up front still delivers an unparalleled travel experience. From spacious lie-flat seats to elevated in-flight dining, it's an indulgence worth splurging points on.
Strategic point transfers continue to unlock some of the best premium cabin redemptions. One favorite is using American Express Membership Rewards points for Etihad Apartment and First Class awards. Transfers to Etihad Guest offer access to these ultra-luxurious cabins on flights from Abu Dhabi. The Apartment features a private room with bed, shower, and lounge seating - the pinnacle of aviation opulence. Meanwhile, First Class is fit for royalty with private suites, gourmet dining, and an onboard concierge. Award rates are remarkably reasonable at 115,000 miles each way in First or 170,000 miles each way in The Apartment. For travel bucket lists, it's an iconic redemption.
Avios points are tremendously valuable for certain partner awards too. British Airways may impose outrageous fuel surcharges, but bookings on American Airlines or Japan Airlines using Avios points incur minimal carrier-imposed fees. You can fly on AA's 777-300ER first class product on key North American and Asian routes for just 90,000 Avios points each way.
Meanwhile, Japan Airlines' excellent business class Sky Suites can be booked for just 50,000 Avios points each way between North America and Tokyo. Passing up these sweet spot redemptions means leaving easy premium cabin flights on the table.
Keep an eye out for occasional point sales on premium cabin awards as well. Air France/KLM frequently discounts business class redemptions to Europe booked through its Flying Blue program. United MileagePlus has offered business class point sales to Israel and Australia. Building a balance of transferable points provides the flexibility to pounce when premium cabin promotions roll around.
Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Splurging on Luxury Hotels for Pennies on the Dollar
While flying in style is a predominant focus of many points enthusiasts, let’s not neglect hotel redemptions. After all, your trips aren’t complete without a comfortable place to rest your head. Using points to book luxury hotel stays allows you to experience 5-star properties and opulent suites at a mere fraction of the cash rate. We’re talking pennies on the dollar here.
Let’s crunch some numbers. The Park Hyatt New York regularly charges over $1,000 per night for a standard room. However, you can use just 30,000 World of Hyatt points to book the same room. With Hyatt points valued around 1.7 cents each, that's only $510 worth of points. At some all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara resorts, you'd pay upwards of $600-$700 for an ocean view suite. But 25,000 points a night saves you 90% or more off the bill.
Overwater bungalows in Bora Bora or the Maldives run $1,500-$2,000+ a night - or you can redeem points and cover the taxes. Marriott’s luxurious Edition or W Hotels in prime locations like New York, Beverly Hills or Barcelona often exceed $500-$600 for even basic rooms. But during off-peak times, 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points is enough for a free night redemption.
Let's not leave out Hilton Honors, where amazing luxury awaits. Conrad Bora Bora has overwater villas from 80,000 points per night. Or stay in French Polynesia at the iconic Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa for just 50,000 points. Meanwhile, all-inclusive Hilton resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico like the Conrad Punta de Mita offer rooms from 48,000 points.
Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Strategies for Redeeming Points for High-End Experiences
For the discriminating traveler, redeeming points is not just about free flights and nights. Obtaining high-end experiences is the true aspiration. We're talking exclusive culinary events, private tours, and VIP treatment to indulge your passions. With the right approach, points make these posh pursuits possible.
James leveraged his stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points to fulfill his golf and wine dreams. When the American Express Experiences site offered a round at the famous Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland plus two nights at the Old Course Hotel for 225,000 points, he jumped at the chance. Later, he attended the American Express Invites U.S. Open Food & Wine Experience using Membership Rewards points, enjoying celebrity chef tastings and exclusive access.
Foodies can use the Capital One Dining booking service to snag hard-to-get restaurant reservations. No more futile calling to try and score an elusive table at places like Noma in Copenhagen or Mercat in Florence. Other Capital One Rewards can be redeemed for VIP winery tours in Napa Valley or cooking classes with renowned chefs.
Entertainment seekers can tap into Citi ThankYou Experiences for exclusive sporting events, concerts, and more. Experiential rewards range from luxe boxes at LA Dodgers games to backstage tours in Nashville. Transferring points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club also opens up special events like Grand Prix packages.
When Marriott launched its experiential Fathom cruises, many travelers leveraged Marriott points for these unique sailings. Destinations like the Dominican Republic and Iceland combined enrichment seminars, cultural activities, and scenic excursions. Though Fathom has ceased operations, Marriott still offers periodic redemption options for other exclusive cruise events.
Jessica applied her stash of Capital One miles to arrange a private cooking class in Florence, Italy followed by opera tickets. A river cruise down the Danube and all its sides tours was also booked entirely with points, an ideal way to experience the charm of Europe.
Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Stretching Your Points Further with Sweet Spot Redemptions
Savvy points enthusiasts know that sweet spot redemptions offer the best bang for your buck, stretching your hard-earned rewards even further. By targeting specific partners, cabins or routes, you can maximize the value of your points and miles compared to average redemptions. Sweet spots arise due to quirks in airline and hotel award chart pricing, allowing you to gain outsized value from your points. Finding and taking advantage of sweet spots takes research and flexibility, but leads to epic award travel experiences.
Jennifer loves traveling in Thai Airways business class, which offers exceptional service and food in a quiet cabin. While most Asia Miles redemptions on Thai cost 70,000 miles each way, she discovered a sweet spot routing from Copenhagen to Bangkok through Moscow for only 37,500 miles one-way. The extra leg from Moscow to Copenhagen cost just $100 out of pocket. By mixing partners and taking advantage of the unusual pricing ex-Europe, Jennifer saved 46% on her award ticket price in miles.
When Peter was planning a trip to Japan, he redeemed Chase Ultimate Rewards points for ANA first class from Chicago to Tokyo for just 75,000 miles each way. While some other Star Alliance carriers charged 110,000+ miles for first class awards, ANA's reasonable pricing was a sweet spot he couldn't pass up. Flying in ANA's exceptional first class product for nearly half the miles was a huge win.
Eric used his stash of Capital One miles to book EVA Air business class from Houston to Taipei for 35,000 miles each way, plus minimal taxes and fees. While most Asian carriers would charge at least 60,000 miles for this transpacific business class ticket, EVA's pricing was a bargain. Capital One's transfer bonus gave him an extra 25% more miles, making this sweet spot redemption even sweeter.
Opportunities like fuel dump redemptions can also stretch your points in unexpected ways. This involves taking advantage of error fares where airlines mistakenly sell tickets for just the cost of taxes and fees, sometimes as low as $10-$20. Julia pounced when Iberia had a fuel dump redemption from Madrid to Shanghai. She paid just $19 plus 8,000 British Airways Avios for a $2,000 business class ticket. Keeping tabs on outlets like Secret Flying meant never missing out on these short-lived but lucrative deals.
Exploring the World on Points: How to Book Dream Trips Using Credit Card Rewards - Avoiding Common Mistakes That Waste Precious Points
Earning points through sign-up bonuses and everyday spending takes diligence. Yet many travelers fail to use their points optimally, leaving epic award redemptions on the table. Avoiding mistakes that waste hard-earned points is critical for booking dream trips within your reach.
Carla was excited to use her 150,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points on a first class flight to Japan. She quickly transferred points to United MileagePlus and booked a nonstop from Newark to Tokyo for 110,000 miles each way. Two weeks later, she realized ANA flights booked through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club were just 75,000 miles with negligible fees - she overpaid by 70,000 points! Failing to research sweet spot redemptions cost her enough for another free flight.
Hector fell into the trap of chasing hotel status instead of value. He used Marriott points at 35,000 a night for basic Courtyard and Fairfield hotels just to requalify for Platinum status. Later, he realized he could've booked luxury 5-star Marriott properties in places like Cancun and Paris for the same number of points. A points-first strategy would've secured a more indulgent travel experience.
When Maria's Southwest Companion Pass expired, she failed to wait for renewal bonuses to open back up. Eager to keep the perk, she applied right away using low offers. A month later, increased bonuses were introduced. Had she exhibited some restraint, she could've earned 50,000 more points for the same Companion Pass. Acting too quickly forfeited those extra points.
New travel credit cards seduced Owen into earning bonuses he couldn't use in time. Dabbling in flexible points from Amex, Capital One, Citi and Chase gave great earning power but overwhelmed him with options. Before he could form a redemption plan, hundreds of thousands of orphaned points expired unused. Sticking to 1-2 programs you know inside out prevents waste.