Having your dream vacation can be expensive—but who says it has to be.
It has never been easier to have a nice vacation for an even nicer price. Credit card rewards allow you to gain points and more for vacation travel. However, it is important to understand how credit card rewards work to get the best deals. Here are five easy ways to get your credit cards working for you, so you can put work on hold and have the vacation you’ve always dreamed of.
Work that sign-up bonus
In 2016, we signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card, which offered a 100,000-point bonus for signing up and spending a certain amount in the first few months. We both got our own cards, instead of just getting one card and adding a user—which enabled us to rack up 200,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points right off the bat.
While that bonus is currently down to 50,000, there are still several great options for getting tons of bonus points. But, make sure you find the right card for you—so you’re not just spending to get points. (Read more here for how to make the most of credit card sign-up bonus offers.)
Put as much as possible on one card
For the past few years, we put everything we could on those Chase cards, so we’d get the big bonus and then collect more points toward a big trip. Of course, you shouldn’t be racking up credit card debt along the way, as that will hurt you in the long run.
So, use your card for those regular purchases you’ve got in your budget and can pay off every month—groceries, gas, your cell phone, internet bills and utilities if possible. (We are even able to put our daycare expenses on our card.) That way, you can rack up points for everyday things you’d be buying anyway. Make sure you pay attention to things that make your rewards less valuable like interest rates (if you do carry any balance), credit card fees, or transaction/ processing fees—sometimes companies will charge a processing fee to use a card because they’re paying the fee.
Do your research
For our big trip, we spent a lot of time searching the Singapore Airlines website to find potential target dates when we could get the best deal with points. Many airlines and rewards programs have different points levels. Also, depending on the airline and whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally you’ll likely have some fees to redeem your airline miles. This can cost a few dollars to a few hundred depending on the airline and the distance of the trip.
Make sure you also look at any perks offered with your rewards programs, so you get the most out of them. If you or the person you’re traveling with is a frequent traveler, you may have a certain status with a hotel. We got to enjoy my husband’s Platinum Elite status with Marriott Rewards since he travels a lot for work. At the JW Marriott in Singapore, this included a delicious $US 73 breakfast buffet at their restaurant, Beach Road Kitchen. Not too shabby.
And, plan around the perks. For instance, not all Marriotts have an executive lounge, so we picked the JW Marriott in Singapore for most nights, which cost a few more points but had an Executive Lounge with free afternoon tea, and evening hors-d’oeuvres and cocktails. We did stay one night at the less luxurious Marriott Courtyard because of their infinity pool!
If you’re traveling with a partner, look at your total rewards points for both of your accounts. For our trip, we used a combination of Delta SkyMiles, Chase Ultimate Rewards (converted into KrisFlyer points), Marriott Rewards, and SPG Starpoints.
If you travel at all, make sure you’re signed up for loyalty programs for hotels and airlines that you commonly use. The more you can use one, the better. It also worked out well for us that Starwood and Marriott recently merged, since we had points with both and could transfer between the two rewards programs.
Enjoy the ride
Now, you get to reap the rewards. One of the coolest experiences on our trip was flying first class on Singapore Airlines. You start with Dom Perignon or Krug champagne before takeoff, and you basically have your own cubby to sit in, which later the amazing flight attendants help you make into a lay-flat bed. My first flight after this one in coach was a jolt back to reality!
Cover photo by Kim Hudson