August 4, 2023
Points Power-Up: Maximizing Credit Card Rewards for Travel
Picture this: you are sipping on a glass of wine while you sit in an oversized armchair in an airport lounge. You are enjoying a nice view of planes taking off and landing on the tarmac as you wait in anticipation of an overhead announcement informing you it is time to make your way to your first-class seat on board an international flight to (insert your dream destination here). Oh, and did I mention, all of this comes at no added out-of-pocket cost to you? Is this sounding too good to be true? What if I told you it’s not? With a little bit of knowledge and effort, you too can cash in on your accumulated credit card points in the form of travel rewards to maximize your next travel experience.
When it comes to credit cards, there are many different types of cards you can carry, some of which include standard cards, travel cards, cashback cards and store specific credit cards. For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing primarily on travel cards. While everyone loves receiving cash back, whether in the form of a pre-paid debit card, gift card, statement credit or personalized check, one of the most underutilized and misused benefits when it comes to credit card rewards is cashing in on travel.
Everyone who spends using a credit card that offers rewards is actively accumulating points based on dollars spent. While accumulating points is the first step toward obtaining rewards, it is equally as important to know how to wisely redeem your points. Fortunately, as rewards credit cards have increased in popularity, resources dedicated to educating individuals on how to maximize every reward point that they have worked so hard to accumulate have become more widely available. There are many websites that offer the ability to analyze the best utilization of points, as well as individual experts, such as Brian Kelly, known as “The Points Guy,” and Chris Hutchins, host of the podcast “All the Hacks.” Taking it to the next level, there are also premium website memberships available for purchase, such as Point.me and MaxMyPoint, which are used to find the best deals on flights and hotel stays, based on your specified search criteria.
For example, in a recent interview, Chris Hitchins, the host of “All the Hacks,” said that when using reward points, it is always better to book airline tickets and hotel stays directly through the airline or hotel rather than through your credit card’s provided travel reward portal or search engine. You do not need an airline or hotel specific credit card for this benefit. Many generic travel cards, such as the travel cards offered through Chase and American Express, allow you to transfer points to their travel partners (and periodically offer point bonuses to do so). In the same interview mentioned above, Chris discusses a vacation he took with his wife and two kids to Europe flying business class. The total cost of the round trip flights totaled 420,000 points. Chris explains that if he chose to redeem those 420,000 points for cash back rather than travel, he would have received roughly $4,000 cash back. If he booked directly through the credit card’s travel portal, he would have received roughly $6,000 worth of travel. Instead Chris chose to transfer his 420,000 points to a travel partner, which allowed him to purchase four round trip tickets in business class (valued at approximately $7,000 per ticket). In this example, Chris opted to take his points further by obtaining approximately $28,000 worth of travel rewards instead of $4,000 cash back. Though it may not always happen to the same scale as it did for Chris and his family, putting in a little extra work can go along way to maximizing the benefits of utilizing points for travel.
I would be remiss if I did not at least mention that it is no secret that some experience apprehension at the mere mention of the phrase “credit card.” Credit cards have been known to cause trouble for individuals when used inappropriately. Their misuse or careless handling can lead to financial distress and a downward spiral into debt. While using credit cards requires discipline, responsible use of credit cards provides numerous benefits including improved financial flexibility, increased purchasing power and enhanced creditworthiness. Along with the benefits listed above, one of the most grossly underutilized benefits of using credit cards is the redemption of rewards. According to a recent creditcards.com survey, 23% of rewards cardholders have not redeemed any rewards over the past year. With the information provided in this article, I hope you find yourself empowered to ensure you are not part of the 23% of consumers letting their hard-earned rewards go to waste.