Honestly, there is nothing like getting to travel for free, and rewards points are a great way to do that! It’s almost like a separate form of currency, and it’s even kind of fun learning how to “play the game” of earning them. Getting something at a significant discount or for free is always exciting! I can use my points to get a free plane ticket, a free rental car, a free night in a hotel, and take advantage of the free perks like a complimentary Priority Pass or TSA Precheck & Global Entry. There are so many different ways to earn rewards points for future travel experiences, and I really recommend signing up for at least a few of them. Let’s talk about my four top tips for earning rewards points and using them to travel the world!
Tip #1: Stop Using Your Debit Card!
When you use a debit card, you are spending your money without getting anything in return; that money is just going away forever. Instead, you should open up a Travel Rewards credit card!
If you’re American, you should get the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. I’ve had it for over three years, and in my opinion, it’s still the best travel points card on the market. It continues to impress! There’s also the American Express cards, among others. (If you’re not from the States, there are other travel rewards cards out there, so please contact your bank and find the best one for you.) You can check out where I’ve ranked my favorite travel rewards cards HERE.
Regardless of which card you choose to get, they’ll usually give you some kind of minimum spending bonus. For example, maybe you’ll get 70,000 points if you spend $5000 within the first three months. Then you can turn around and redeem those points for flights/hotels, which equals about two thousand dollars worth of credit! It’s almost like a game, and it’s definitely worth playing.
I know some people who really benefited from opening up different credit cards, but be careful—if you open too many within a short period of time, it can hurt your overall credit score!
Tip #2: Never Forget Your Payments
This is the absolute number one rule when it comes to credit cards: never, ever forget to pay your monthly bills. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with compound interest, and then you’re going to be wasting money instead of saving money.
If you’re able to make sure your balance is at zero after every month on your credit card, then you will be able to enjoy all of these incredible points benefits! The credit card companies assume you won’t pay your bills at the end of every month, and they make money off of you on the interest. If you stay on top of the game by paying your bills in full at the end of every month, it’s really the best way to capitalize on these points and miles.
Tip #3: Join Airline Alliance Programs
Make sure you join the airline alliance programs! These are:
- Star Alliance (United is their leading US airline)
- Oneworld (American Airlines is their leading US airline.)
- SkyTeam (Delta is their leading US airline.)
Each of these Airline Alliances has a dozen or more airlines they’ve partnered with. Basically, you can create an account with one airline, then all the points and benefits that you earn can be transferred across ALL airlines in the same network.
For each of the three Airline Alliance programs, you should make an account with whichever airline that you’re flying most in that system. For example, if you are from the US, you could create accounts with United (for Star Alliance), American Airlines (for Oneworld), and Delta (for SkyTeam). If you’re from Germany, you could make an account on Lufthansa (Star Alliance), British Airways (Oneworld), and AirEuropa (SkyTeam). Then any points you earn on each airline will transfer through their respective alliances!
In my opinion, Star Alliance is the best. There are so many different airlines included in Star Alliance, and I’ve found it to be the perfect program for maximizing my rewards. Some of my favorite airlines in Star Alliance are Air Canada, Air China, Ana Air, Avianca, Egypt Air, Eva Air, Thai Air, South African Airlines, and Turkish Airlines. I fly Turkish Airlines all the time, and I get crazy benefits because I’m using my United points for it.
Tip #4: Only Use Your Points When It’s Cheaper
Another important thing to remember is you never want to spend more money in redeemed points/miles than you would just spend otherwise by using your credit card. For example, you might look up a flight, and it’s $1000 cash, but it’s $2000 worth of points. In that situation, it’s better to use your credit card to pay for it in order to earn more miles and better status.
In all these airline alliances, your status progresses from silver to gold, to platinum, and so on. From gold status onwards, you get crazy perks like:
- more lounge access all around the world
- free checked bags
- free upgrades to business or first class
You want to increase in status with the airline, so choose carefully! Sometimes it’s worth redeeming your points, but sometimes it’s wiser to use your card to earn more points and redeem them at a different time.
Tip #5: Join Hotel Rewards Programs
For hotels, it’s a little bit different and not as clear-cut as flight alliances. No hotel alliance systems exist, so you can’t use your Marriott points to stay at a Hilton and vice versa—they are all independent. Because of that, you need to get separate accounts for Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, and the other big players in the game.
Don’t forget to use your rewards number every single time you stay in one of the properties around the world! Just like with the airlines, you can work your way up in status with hotel chains. The higher you get in status, the better perks—from free bottles of water and snacks in your room to free room upgrades or free nights.
Bonus: How Do Your Credit Card Rewards Points Actually Work?
Let’s talk about how those credit card rewards points work. As an example, we can talk about the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card (the one I have and the one that I recommend the most!)
First off, you’re going to pay an annual fee of $450+. If you travel a lot, that fee will pay for itself in perks alone, not to mention the points you earn. Here are some of the benefits of the card:
- Benefit #1: $300 Travel Credit
You can use this credit for any kind of hotel, flight, Uber ride, etc.
- Benefit #2: No delivery fee on Doordash
Every time you order food from Doordash using this card, they will waive the delivery fee.
- Benefit #3: Lyft Pink Membership
50% off all taxi rides through Lyft.
- Benefit #4: The Priority Pass
In case you missed it when I talked about the Priority Pass in (this article), it is a total gamechanger for international travel! You get unlimited access to over a thousand airport lounges around the world for free, which is a big deal and will definitely save you a bunch of money on food and drinks while traveling. Sometimes these lounges even have massages, showers, or five-course meals—all for free! Now I can’t imagine traveling without my Priority Pass benefits.
- Benefit #5: Free Global Entry/TSA PreCheck
This card covers the application fees for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. Not only will this save you hundreds of dollars, but it will save you so much time! These programs are the best way to skip the lines while traveling in and out of the United States. (More info on that HERE.)
- Benefit #6: Exclusive Access
Access to different lounges, booths at events, primary rental car insurance, trip cancelation/delay coverage (if your flight is canceled or over 7 hours late), and help if your baggage is lost or stolen.
- Benefit #7: Three Times the Points
You will earn 3x the points on every penny you spend on travel and dining worldwide. If you’re using these cards for travel and dining, you’re really capitalizing on the point system!
You can redeem these points and use them as cash for a number of partners across the flights, hotels, and rental car companies. Chase has a search engine where you can search for your flight and immediately book it using your points!
I wish I had known more about rewards points when I first started traveling; I missed out on a lot of potential perks and rewards at the beginning (which is why I’m so passionate about helping you!) The points really add up quickly if you travel a lot, so just keep going! If you need more info about travel rewards credit cards and their perks, I have a whole article ranking my favorites HERE.
Let me know in the comments if anything I shared helped you!