As an avid traveler for the last decade, I am constantly been scolded by other travelers for not taking advantage of credit card companies that give you miles with purchase. I have several friends who go on “free” trips because of the points they were able to accumulate over the year.
Currently I don’t have a single credit card because I don’t trust myself to responsibly pay the bill in full every month. But after a year of not traveling (thanks COVID) I’m damn near ready to go on a monthly vacation everyday for the rest of my life to make up for it, and I’m contemplating getting a credit card to do so. But first, I have a lot of questions.
How do you get points?
The concept is actually pretty simple: sign up for a credit card that has a travel rewards programs and then use said credit card as your primary source of payment. Eventually, points and miles will rack up and you can redeem them for plan tickets or hotel stays instead of paying with cash.
Types of Travel Rewards
There are three main types of travel rewards: airline miles, hotel points, and transferrable points.
It’s important to note that airline miles are specific to each airline. In other words, you can’t use your Southwest credit at JetBlue. Basically, you sign up for an airline’s frequent flyer program and each time you buy a flight, input your airline specific account number and points will be added to your account. Many airlines also have co-branded credit cards that will earn you frequent flyer miles with each purchase as well.
Based on my own research and word of mouth, the below are the best airline mile programs to go with.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: Ideal for traveling within the West Coast.
American Airlines: Good for last-minute bookings and European travel.
Air France: Tons of monthly discounts.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: Good availability and economy experience.
Similar to airline mileage points, most hotels have their own loyalty program. You earn points by staying at the hotel or with the hotel’s credit card. Some notable ones are: Hilton Honors, Marriott Bonvoy, Best Western Rewards and World of Hyatt.
Transferrable points are the best of both worlds. They are flexible and allow you to redeem points for gift cards, cash back and airline miles. Great examples are the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the American Express Platinum Business Card. The downside is that these cards usually charge you a hefty annual fee.
How many points do you need?
I always like to know the full story before committing to something. And knowing how many points I actually need to rack up, helps me make the decision to commit or not. Unfortunately, there is no universal number and it will totally depend on the program you chose. Generally speaking though, most programs give you one point per dollar spent.
With vaccine passports likely rolling out soon, now is the time to do your research so you can get the travel bug out of your system.
Photo via Coworkaholic