Credit card rewards can allow you to take a great vacation for nearly no cost as an award traveler. And it's actually easier to earn award travel with your credit card than it is through paid travel.
But it's not that simple. There are many types or travel reward credit cards, and each card offers several types of rewards. In fact, it's so complex that there are travel rewards experts like myself that have made a career out of learning about these credit cards and sharing their knowledge. So allow me to show you how to travel like a credit card points professional.
While most Americans will belong to several loyalty programs for airlines and hotel programs, the key to utilizing these rewards like a pro is to organize this information and consolidate it in one place. Fortunately, there are services that allow you to view all of your program logins and balances in one place. In addition to travel providers, these services can also keep track of your credit card rewards. This way, you know exactly where you stand with each program.
Although some people dream of booking an award flight to an exotic destination in international first class, others just want to travel a few hundred miles in economy class to visit their family for the holidays. Aspiring award travelers need to first set a realistic goal, and then pursue the best strategy to achieve it. For example, someone interested in a business or first class international award flight will want to narrow down their possible destinations, and then earn miles in a program that not only offers flights there, but allocates a reasonable number of award seats at the lowest mileage levels. So it actually makes sense to perform some award searches while you are dreaming of travel, before you commit to a strategy to earn the necessary points or miles.
When searching for award tickets, you may discover that it's nearly impossible to find several reasonably priced award seats to some destinations during the peak seasons or the holidays. For these goals, it's often best to look away from airline miles and towards credit cards that offer more fixed value rewards that can be used to book any flight. Credit cards such as the Capital One Venture Rewards and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus offer their own proprietary "miles" that can be redeemed for statement credits towards any travel purchase. Using these credit cards will often make more sense than earning airline miles that can be difficult or impossible to use in some circumstances. Also, it's important to consider hotel reward credit cards, as they can offer tremendous value because the hotels typically have far fewer restrictions than airline programs.
Making travel bearable
Beyond merely getting you to your destination, the right credit card can make the trip far more comfortable and less costly. For example, most airline credit cards now include perks such as a free checked bag, priority boarding, and discounts on in-flight food and entertainment. Furthermore, premium credit cards such as the American Express Platinum and Citi Prestige offer airline fee credits and will reimburse you for the $100 Global Entry application fee. The Global Entry program allows international travelers to skip the line when entering the United States, and offers domestic travelers access to the TSA's Pre-Check program, which allows you to keep your shoes on and your liquids and laptops packed. Having this membership may be the single most important thing you can do to reduce the hassle of travel.
Finally, some credit cards will offer elite qualifying miles that will help you reach the next level of status and become eligible for upgrades. Additionally, most hotel cards offer customers elite status which can provide perks such as room upgrades, late checkouts, and even free breakfast.
When you take the time to explore the benefits offered by travel reward credit cards, you too can enjoy convenient and inexpensive award travel, just like a points pro.
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