How to Pay for Your Entire Vacation in Credit Card Points
The minute temps start to warm is the same time we get the urge to put our out-of-office responder on. But, ugh, travel—especially during peak season—is pricey. That’s why we caught up with Emily McNutt, an editor for The Points Guy, to find out ways to get creative and pay for the trip entirely in points versus cash.
Choose the Right Credit Card to Earn Points
The fastest way to accumulate points is, duh, with a credit card. But the trick to maximizing the points you earn is to select a card with a hefty sign-up bonus. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers 50,000 bonus points to new applicants who spend $4,000 in the first three months. Just be sure you weigh the perks against the costs. (The Chase Sapphire Reserve requires that you shell out an annual fee of $450—$300 of which is reimbursable when you spend it on travel—which means, most likely, the benefits still outweigh the fee.)
Pay Attention to Exactly Where You Can Use the Points
Before you open up a co-branded credit card—a Delta Am Ex, for example—do your homework to find out exactly where the points can be applied. Here’s why: Say you’re saving up points for a trip only to find out that you’re limited to one airline or, worse, that the point currency varies between airline partners. Find out before enrolling who the airline and hotel partners are and, also, what the point ratio is for transferring and spending points between them.
Always (Always) Compare and Contrast the Actual Costs
Bottom line: Sometimes “free” isn’t less expensive. Case in point: London travel is notorious for its high fuel charges and surcharges, which points don’t cover. This means that, depending on the time of travel, you could end up shelling out 30,000 points on the airfare only to learn you still have to pay $900 in taxes. Knowing the cost breakdown before you book travel with points will help you decide if the deal you’re getting really is a bargain. (If the total cost of the flight is $1,100, you’re only saving $200, which might not be the best use of points.)
Stay Flexible With Your Travel Dates
If you want to get the most bang for your non-monetary buck, staying open to different date ranges is the best way to get better value on the points you use. A couple of tricks: Flying tends to be cheaper midweek versus the weekend, which is why it’s a great time to use your points. In addition, more “saver” seats are available. (These are the seats that are cheaper, but have less availability.)
Be Ready to Book Far in Advance
Airlines release their schedule 365 days out. If you’re interested in a high-demand route and only spending points, be prepared to log on exactly one year out to get the best options on airfare and hotels.
Rack Up Extra Points Using Airline Shopping Portals
An often forgotten but credit card-approved way to accumulate extra points is simple: Go shopping. Airline affiliated online shopping portals—like American Airlines Advantage—connect you to mainstream retailers like J.Crew and Apple, but allow you to earn points and miles for every $1 spent.
Don’t Just Spend Your Points on Airfare and Hotels
Sure, in most cases, this is where your points get maxed out, but some programs—like Starwood Preferred Guest—allow you to apply your points to experiences, too. For example, a U.S. Open Tennis Package that you can pay for in points or one-of-a-kind dining experiences at Michelin-rated restaurants. Not bad.