I've gotten so many questions about this and interest in learning more about traveling with points. If aiming to travel with rewards points sounds overwhelming and a little scary, you aren't alone. There are a lot of ways to earn points and maximize them, but this post will detail how we've been able to go to several amazing destinations recently primarily by using points.
The first step (and the scariest step for some) is to find a credit card that rewards you for the purchases you already make. This can be scary if you don't already have a credit card and there are high annual fees associated with some of the best cards. Don't let this scare you away. I recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve card when you are first starting out and here's why.
Last year, we went on a bucket list trip to Greece and used points from this card to cover all but $30 of our flights. I applied for the card in January before our trip. At the time, there was a 100K point bonus after spending $4,000 in three months. We put all of our purchases on this card that we could until we earned the bonus. When you book travel through the Chase Ultimate rewards portal, your points are worth 1.5X more. So, my 100K points were worth $1,500 towards flights. The bonus is currently 50K points or $750 towards travel, which is still a great value.
Another perk of this card is an annual $300 travel credit. This means that the first time you book a hotel or flight on your card, you are automatically refunded up to $300. This can be spread out across multiple purchases. For example, you can book a $100 per night hotel and a month later book a $200 flight to get your $300. Or, you can book a $450 flight and get refunded $300, so you only pay the remaining $150. With this feature, we had $1,800 to use towards our flights to Greece without making any additional purchases.
The annual fee of $450 may seem like a lot at first glance, but when you factor in the savings from points, it makes sense for us. You also get a Priority Pass for free entry into supported airport lounges (one of my favorite perks) and free Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check. If you frequently travel out of the country, I highly recommend getting Global Entry for expedited re-entry into the United States. This also includes TSA Pre-Check. It involves a lengthy application and in-person interview, but it is worth it if you go out of the country once or more per year. You also get 3X the points on any travel and dining charges. For example, if you book a hotel for a week for $1,000, you get 3,000 points on your next statement.
You can also transfer your points to Chase partners. After you get the hang of earning points, you can start to maximize them by determining if it makes more sense to transfer them to another loyalty program. Chase supports 1:1 transfer to the below programs.
Aer Lingus AerClub
British Airways Executive Club
Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM
Korean Air SKYPASS
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
IHG® Rewards Club
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®
World of Hyatt®
If you aren't sure what this means, don't worry, I didn't either. Let's say that a United flight requires 25,000 miles. In the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal and on Google flights, the flight costs $500. You can transfer 25,000 points to United and the $500 flight only requires $375 worth of your points. Make sure to pay attention to any additional fees added by the airline and do the math to make sure it's worth it.
I will say that it can be time consuming to research all of this to figure out your best options, but if you are willing to put the time in, you can save money. This service is also included in our luxe package if you'd prefer us to do the research for you.
Once you've gotten more comfortable with earning and maximizing points, there are a lot of other great options out there. Here are two other cards on our radar and why:
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card: With an annual fee less than $150, this card gets you halfway to earning the Southwest Companion Pass (your companion flies free for the next year). Be sure to do your research on timing on this to maximize the benefit.
American Express Platinum Card: There's a steep annual fee of $550, but you get $200 in Uber credits, $200 in airline fee credits and 60K points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months. As perks, you also get free entry into the Centurion airport lounges (this is so worth it if you frequently travel through airports with these), other American Express lounges, Delta Sky Club if flying Delta and the Priority Pass lounges. You also get automatic elite status with SPG and Hilton.
I hope this helps you the right card for your travel needs to start earning points. Happy adventuring!
Note: Always do your research before applying for any credit card as benefits can change at any time.
For more travel inspiration, visit sanaratravels.com/blog.