Many credit cards offer a variety of ways to rack up bonus points with daily spending. It’s all about knowing the right card to get that fits into your budget and lifestyle. Travel credit cards in particular tend to carry high annual fees, but they offer cardholders the opportunity to earn points to redeem for rewards.
Reward points offer incentives when consumers make purchases through select categories such as dining, travel, gas, and more. Miles are usually rewarded when making travel-related purchases through a travel credit card or via a loyalty program.
Maybe you’re just getting started learning more about how points can help you travel for cheap – or for free. Or, maybe you’ve been travel hacking using reward points for a while. Where ever you find yourself on the journey to maximum reward points, these top ten tips for reward points travel will help you travel better, and cheaper.
1. Use More Than One Credit Card
For those who travel regularly, it may be helpful to own more than one travel rewards card. People with good credit have more options with less fees.
Travel credit cards overall tend to be competitive, and many will offer welcome bonuses worth $1,000 or more for new eligible card owners.
One of the advantages of having a hotel credit card is the free night offer when the annual fee is paid.
To get the best rewards from a card, there are strategies such as booking day trips rather than a couple shorter days or booking a connecting flight to gain more points and stretch your rewards.
2. Know the Expiration Date
A majority of the programs for larger airlines do not have an expiration date when it comes to utilizing miles and points. However, some of the budget airlines require booking once a year or once every two years to reflect some sort of travel activity.
Other airlines require booking every six months or else travel miles will expire if the member doesn’t redeem rewards. This also goes for hotels that require eligible activity at least once every consecutive 12 to 18 months or the account will be forfeited.
If hotel reward points are about to expire, you can transfer credit card reward points to the hotel to reset the expiration clock.
3. Don’t Carry Previous Balances
Most travel credit cards have high-interest rates, so it’s best not to carry a balance, even for a regular credit card. The amount paid in interest if you carry a balance on the card will outweigh the amount of miles and points earned.
For those unable to pay their credit card balance, they can find themselves paying extremely high rates such as 24% on the interest alone.
If a rewards member racked up 80,000 miles after spending $5,000, the value of the rewards would not be applied if the member is carrying a balance on the card.
4. Be Wary of Buying Miles
It can get costly buying a large amount of miles—such as 30,000 or more—as sometimes the miles cost more than the actual flight.
The amount of miles needed for a free flight depends on the departure and arrival destinations and the choice of airline.
If you ever consider buying airline miles, figure out the amount of miles you would need to cover the flight and if it’s worth it financially. The standard rate for purchasing airline miles is 3.5 cents per mile, but check your specific card and program to see the terms.
There are some programs with fixed values, the option of buying miles at a full price and buying miles in addition to airfare prices.
The only time it would make sense to purchase miles in fixed-value programs is when only a few additional points are needed to redeem and there’s no other way to obtain those points.
5. Familiarize Yourself With Reward Caps
Reward credit cards often offer cash back, points, or miles to encourage cardholder spending, but there’s usually a monthly limit or cap on reward earnings. This limits how much cardholders can earn within that time period.
Earning caps are more popular among cash-back credit cards and point-earning cards. Cardholders with miles-earning cards rarely have caps. Cardholders can reach their earnings cap and still earn rewards. Once cardholders have reached the cap, they are eligible to receive cashback.
6. Know Your Credit Score
Travel reward credit cards can provide a range of benefits such as earning discounted or even free flights and hotel stays. A great or near-excellent credit score is what helps to get the best travel reward cards.
It’s important to know the status of your travel credit card before closing your account. Credit experts suggest keeping the utilization rate low—below 30%—which is a general rule of thumb when it comes to keeping your credit in good shape.
Bonus Tip! If your account is in good standing and you’re considering canceling or closing your card, the credit company may consider reducing or waiving the annual fee rather than see its good-standing customer leave.
7. Research The Best Cards for Rewards
The best travel cards for rewards are the ones that help cardholders earn free flights and complimentary hotel stays. Some other benefits of the best cards include insurance for delayed flights, trip protection, a 10% anniversary bonus, and airport lounge access.
The travel credit cards that allow cardholders to transfer points to airline and hotel loyalty programs are also popular among members. Some cards even allow cardholders to apply points toward statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, and more.
For cardholders, the best benefits will depend on their individual situation and travel tendencies.
If you live near a particular airline hub, frequently travel between two destinations, or love one particular hotel chain, you might be able to find cards with great points programs for your travel style and preferences.
8. Maximize Rewards By Dining Out
Several airlines have dining reward programs that travelers can register for with a credit card or sign up for online. There are mileage dining programs that allow members to earn 100 additional bonus miles for completing a review within 30 days after eating out at each of their participating restaurants.
Restaurants that participate in these programs are hoping this gives diners an incentive to choose their establishment over a competitor once they know the restaurant participates in a rewards program. Some other airlines offer travelers the opportunity to explore restaurants and bars while earning points.
9. Skip Cash While Shopping
Imagine getting money back just for spending. There are credit cards that offer cardholder bonus rewards in certain categories such as dining, travel, or groceries.
Some cards even offer up to 6% cash-back incentives in purchases at U.S. supermarkets.
Merchants who accept payment via credit card have to pay a percentage of the billed amount. The credit card company shares some of the fees with the consumer.
The goal is to encourage people to use their credit cards instead of cash or debit cards. The more consumers use their credit cards, the more merchant fees will be obtained by the credit card company.
10. Signing Up For Newsletters
There are various ways to earn travel points and extra miles, but one of the easiest ways to earn bonus miles is to sign up for a newsletter.
Some of the major commercial carriers offer bonus miles when travelers sign up for their newsletters, which also inform subscribers of new routes, promotions, and flight offers, and the latest reward programs.
This story originally appeared on Hotel Engine and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.