There is magic in the side hustle. If you're on the path to FI like most of us are, and you're not already making six figures with three rental properties
Earning miles and points from credit cards is the way to save big money on travel. But you'll need “right” card for you.
Be sure you aren't paying unnecessary fees or missing out on benefits. I'm going to show you have to save money when you travel by having the right credit card.
There's more to life than the Sign-Up Bonus
Getting a credit card sign-up bonus is like finding a pot of gold or winning the lottery. It's totally awesome, but the thrill soon dies down when next year's annual fee is due.
When picking the “right” credit card, you need one that will provide more value than a one-time boost to your collection of miles and points. I pay plenty in annual fees for my credit cards, but only when there is a real opportunity to save money on an ongoing basis.
It now costs $30 to check a bag!
You've probably seen the news where all of the major airlines have now raised their baggage fees by 20 percent (from $25 to $30). This is a bit of highway robbery! Thank god my favorite airline, Southwest, still has the decency to offer two free checked bags.
If you're going to fly one of the other carriers, there are three main ways to avoid paying the fee.
- Have Elite Status: No thanks, I'm not spending that much with any airline.
- Fly in Premium Cabin: I'd love to, but even I don't have that many miles.
- Have the airline's credit card: Having their card is like buying elite status.
You do have to be careful though because there's a big difference between airline credit cards. For example, if you're paying less than a $95 annual fee for your card, you probably don't have free checked bags as a benefit.
Free checked bag benefit varies by airline
And not every free checked bag benefit is the same among the airlines' credit cards:
- American Airlines: The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select ($95 annual fee) waives the checked bag fee on one bag each for you and up to four companions on the same domestic itinerary.
- Delta Airlines: The American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card ($95 annual fee) provides a free checked bag for you and up to eight companions on the same domestic itinerary.
- JetBlue Airlines: The Barclays JetBlue Plus ($99 annual fee) offers a free checked bag for you and up to three companions on the same domestic itinerary.
- United Airlines: The Chase United Explorer card ($95 annual fee) has the worst free checked bag benefit. Only you and one companion can get a free checked bag on the same domestic itinerary.
As you can see, the benefits vary widely among the different airlines. Most airlines have multiple versions of their cards as well, so review their benefits and choose wisely based on what is most important to you.
Excuse me, I'm on the list
Waiting in line sucks. I would say it is even more lame when you're getting ready to fly.
With most airline co-branded credit cards, you can get priority boarding ahead of many frequent fliers, even if it is your first time flying on that airline. How cool is that?
Even better is that some premium credit cards offer reimbursement of your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck enrollment fees. If you don't know what these are, you're in for a treat! Instead of waiting in line at security, TSA PreCheck lets you avoid the line, keep your shoes on, and skip the invasive search of your bags. Global Entry makes returning home from an international trip into a two-minute process instead of a 30-minute wait.
Don't pay full price when buying food & drinks in the air
I don't buy many drinks or snacks when I fly, but my kids have different plans for my wallet. Just like at the theme park or professional sporting event, you are a captive audience when flying. And that means that the prices for drinks and food are many times higher than what you'd pay at the grocery or convenience store.
Luckily, cardholders of many airline credit cards can save 20 to 50 percent on food and beverages during the flights. Here are a couple examples:
- American Airlines: The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select offers a 25 percent discount on food and beverages.
- Delta Airlines: The American Express Delta Gold card give a 20 percent discount on food, beverages, and audio headsets.
- JetBlue Airlines: The Barclays JetBlue Plus card gives a 50 percent discount on food and beverages.
- United Airlines: The Chase United Explorer Card offers a 25 percent discount on food, beverages, and in-flight WiFi.
Free night? Yes, please!
It's not just with airlines that you can save a bunch of money if you have the right credit card. With the major hotel chains, you can expect to get a free hotel night just for renewing the credit card or when you spend a little bit of money each year.
True, the hotel reservation isn't completely free. But, if you are going to travel anyway, wouldn't you rather buy your room at a discounted price? Even average rooms can be $200+ a night in most major cities. With my hotel credit cards that offer free nights, I cash them in and save at least 50 percent when comparing the cash price vs. what I'm paying in annual fees.
Free hotel night upon renewal
Here are a few of the credit cards that offer free hotel nights just for paying the annual fee:
- Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card ($89 annual fee): One free night valued up to 40,000 points.
- Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card ($95 annual fee): One free night up to 35,000 points.
- Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card ($95 annual fee): One free Category four hotel stay.
- US Bank Radisson Rewards ($75 annual fee): 40,000 bonus points every year you renew the card, which can be used to book one or several nights, depending upon the hotel's category level.
Free hotel night when you spend
And you'll earn free nights when spending on these credit cards:
- American Express Hilton Ascend ($95 annual fee): One free weekend night that can be used at almost any Hilton property around the world when you spend $15,000 in a calendar year.
- Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card ($95 annual fee): You'll receive an additional free Category four night when you spend $15,000 during your anniversary year.
- US Bank Radisson Rewards ($75 annual fee): Earn up to three free nights each year. Get one free night for every $10,000 you spend in your anniversary year.
Just say No to car rental insurance
Rental car insurance is something that I don't like to pay. The fees are outrageous and the coverage can be limited. Most travel credit cards offer secondary insurance, which means that they'll cover whatever the insurance you have back home doesn't. But there's a better way. Two, actually.
Some premium credit cards offer primary rental car insurance. This means that they'll step in and cover any problems without involving your normal car insurance. Primary rental car insurance is a fantastic benefit, especially if you travel to places with dangerous roads, like when going snowboarding in the mountains.
American Express also offers wonderful rental car insurance at an affordable rate, and it is available on almost all of their credit cards. Instead of paying a daily rate, you'll pay one flat rate of $25 or less that will cover you for rentals periods up to 42 days. The coverage is even available worldwide with a couple of exclusions.
Don't pay Foreign Transaction Fees
Foreign transaction fees are a hidden tax that inflates the price of everything you buy in a foreign currency. If your card is still charging you this fee, it needs to be left at home whenever you travel.
So many credit cards waive the foreign transaction fee as a basic benefit. There is no reason you should be charged this three percent fee when making an international purchase.
Get the right credit card to save even more money
Yes, the credit card you have is probably pretty good. And it might even save you some money and have some cool perks. But are you paying any of these fees above when you travel? If so, it might be time to upgrade or add another credit card to your wallet.
If you are new to the world of travel rewards, everything might seem a little overwhelming at first. You hear people throwing around words like “redemption”, “sweet spot” and “positioning flight”. The terminology travel rewards enthusiasts use might seem like a foreign language at first.
But never fear, you can become a travel rewards expert! Start slowly, take Travel Miles 101 course. The course was created by ChooseFI's own Brad Barrett.
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions every travel rewards beginner should consider when they start to dabble in travel reward.
Where To Start
A good place to start is to apply for Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve credit cards. Because of Chase' strict application rules, I always recommend you start your travel rewards journey with Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards. Ultimate Rewards are the most flexible currency and can be used in many ways to provide free or almost free travel.
You should always have a credit card opening strategy. Avoid applying for cards just because it is being touted as the “best card ever” and don't get distracted by the shiny objects in the form of “increased, limited-time offers” and other buzz words. Lots of credit cards earn rewards that are hard to use or are not as valuable. Keep your eyes on the prize, remember not all points and miles are created equal.
Travel Rewards Cards To Consider
As a beginner, you want to have a stash of travel rewards points that are flexible, easy to use, and provide excellent value, such as Ultimate Rewards points. If you aren't sure yet where you want to travel, or can't travel because of family circumstances etc., that is OK too. Start collecting points by using Chase cards for your everyday spending.
You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards by opening one or more Chase personal and business credit cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card
- Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card
Destination And Optimization
There are a couple of ways to approach this. You can start with a destination in mind, or you can take a stock of points and miles that you have and look for the best ways to use them.
Southwest Companion Pass Possibilities
If you have a family and anticipate traveling a lot to the places that Southwest Airline flies, then pursuing a companion pass might be a good idea. A companion pass allows one passenger to travel for free with a person who travels on a paid or award ticket. It is really one of the greatest deals in the world of travel rewards.
You can earn a Southwest companion pass by opening Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card. If you have a business, you can get Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card. You can't have two personal cards at the same time but you can get a personal and a business card.
Another term you might see being used a lot is “two-player mode”. When both spouses can open the same cards, you can accumulate a good chunk of points. Some credit cards offer bonus points when you refer family and friends. For example, one spouse could open a card, let's say Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and after they have met minimum spending requirements, refer the other spouse. This way you are earning the referral bonus and both spouses are getting the sign up bonus. This will allow you to earn enough points and miles for the whole family!
Actual Travel–Domestic And/Or International
Another important question you need to ask yourself, is “Where do I want to go?” The answer will help you when you are trying to figure out your card opening strategy. As I mentioned above, if you have a lot of domestic travel, and have easy access to Southwest, then getting a Southwest companion pass for you and your family might be a great idea. Keep in mind that Southwest cards are subject to Chase's 5/24 rule.
If you are planning an international trip, you will need airline points or transferable currencies you can transfer to an airline of your choice. AwardHacker is a great resource–plug in your departure and arrival airports and the site will show you the best rates, which airline you can book with, and how many miles you will need for an award ticket.
Related Articles: Travel Rewards Credit Cards FAQs
Living near major airline hubs like New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, etc., means the travel options are open with possibilities. But if you have one or two dominant airlines that serve your home airport, it is good to consider which airlines you will use the easiest and most frequently. For example, United is a major airline where I live; American has some presence, but there are very few Delta flights. In order for me to optimize my dollars, points, and miles; I need to figure out a way to earn points that I can use on United and its partners.
Keep in mind that airlines will sometimes allow partner operated flights for use with travel rewards. And sometimes, it is an even better deal. I don't have to use United miles to fly on United operated flights. I can use partner airlines to book flights on United and partners and sometimes it is even cheaper than booking directly with United!
If, for example, there are no good international options from your home airport, you can get a so called positioning flight to a bigger hub. If you have good options with Southwest, use your companion pass to get yourself and one other person to a hub airport.
Travel Rewards Are For More Than Just Flights
If you prefer to drive rather than fly, then you want enough points to cover your hotel stays. If, at first, you are sticking with cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points, Hyatt is a great chain that offers incredible value. It is very easy to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and you might need just 5,000 points for Hyatt Place or Hyatt House hotels! Lower tier Hyatt hotels are perfect for families because they offer more space and often include free breakfast.
You can also open The World Of Hyatt Credit Card, and note that this card can be opened even if you opened more than five cards in the last 24 months.
If you prefer to stay at Airbnb then you should consider “eraser” cards like Barclaycard Arrival Plus or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. You will book your stay and after the charge has posted you will log in and apply the points to your booking and “erase” the purchase with your points.
The points on these “eraser” cards are worth 1 cent each. I don’t recommend applying for these cards if you are under 5/24 but if your travel plans only include Airbnb stays, this might be a good option.
I hope this helps you get started on your travel rewards journey. Let us know in the comments where you would like to go and which cards you are going to open first.
- How Chase Ultimate Rewards Actually Work
- My Five Biggest Travel Rewards Mistakes And How To Avoid Them
- 077/Travel Rewards/Marla Taner
The FI community isn’t anti-credit cards, they’re anti-credit card debt. If you use credit cards responsibly, the rewards you can gain can earn you free vacations, access to exclusive clubs, or just extra cash.
Today, I’ll break down the difference between the two major reward categories: travel rewards and cash back.
Travel Rewards Vs. Cash Back
What are travel rewards?
Travel rewards are rewards you earn from your travel credit card that you can then use for other travel purchases.
You can earn travel rewards in a number of ways, depending on the kind of credit card you have.
Some credit cards, like the The Platinum Card from American Express, give you travel points on your everyday purchases, while cards like Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, earn you rewards or discounts on any purchases you make for travel.
How to use travel rewards
Travel rewards are typically redeemed for travel purchases such as: flights, hotel stays, rental cars, and baggage fees.
For a better understanding of how travel rewards work, let’s take a look at the card I mentioned above–the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
With the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you get two miles for every $1 you spend. You also get 10 miles for every dollar spent at Hotels.com/venture. That's a big deal!
When you open a new account, you will receive a bonus of 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening the account.
Redeeming Venture Miles is easy too. They offer a “purchase eraser” which means that you can log in to your Capital One account and select travel purchases that you would like to “erase” using your rewards miles. You effectively pay for those purchases with miles rather than cash.
What are cash back rewards?
Cash back rewards are literal cash back on your spending.
Like travel rewards, you can earn cash back rewards in a couple different ways. You can get a cash back rewards card, like the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card, that offers one cash back rate (1.5% to be exact) for all purchases. It also offers a sign up bonus of $200 if you spend $1,000 within the first three months of owning the card.
Or, you could get a card like Chase Freedom which may offer more cash back but with a more complicated rewards program. Chase Freedom offers 5% cash back on select categories that rotate each quarter, up to a quarterly maximum. Plus 1% cash back on every other purchase.
How to use cash back rewards
Cash back rewards are aptly named because you can redeem your rewards for physical cash deposited into your bank account, or you can redeem your cash in a few other ways:
- Towards you credit cards balance
- For gift cards
Which should you use?
The answer, of course, depends on your spending habits and goals. Let’s start by talking about travel rewards.
You should use a travel rewards credit card if you, well, travel a lot.
If you’re looking for a straightforward, easy-to-use card, stick with a travel rewards card that offers rewards on all purchases.
Examples of this type of credit card:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- The Platinum Card(R) from American Express
If you’re looking for a travel rewards card that offers you the most possible rewards, you may want to consider a higher caliber card that offers you rewards when you make travel purchases–these typically offer higher rewards rates.
Our favorite on ChooseFI is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Cash back cards are best for those who want a simple rewards credit card. You don’t have to worry about how your points transfer over and how to use rewards to get the best travel deal.
If you want a straightforward cash back card, look for one that offers the same cash back no matter the purchase.
But, if you don't mind activating your card each quarter and want to get as much cash back as possible, consider a 5% back credit card like the Chase Freedom card mentioned above.
These cards, however, only offer 5% in select categories, like groceries, gas, Amazon.com, etc. So, if you don't spend a lot in those 5% categories, go with one of these cards you might do better with a simple cash back program like the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa Card provides.
A few things to know before applying for travel rewards or cash back credit cards.
You need good credit
For many of these credit cards, you'll need good to excellent credit. So, those on the bottom of the good credit scale, or those with poor credit will need to look for different credit cards (and use them responsibly) to start building credit.
There are annual fees associated with some of these cards
Some of the cash back credit cards, and nearly all of the travel rewards cards mentioned in this article have annual fees.
Typically, those annual fees are $95 a year, with it being waived the first year. For those who travel frequently or earn significant cash back, this fee won't matter much. But, if you can't earn enough in rewards to pay off the fee, these cards may not be worth your time or money.
Some travel rewards programs only apply to one airline
When it comes to travel rewards cards, you'll likely want to avoid airline credit cards.
Airline credit cards are best for those who travel solely through one airline, but since many people no longer do, and with the invent of discount airlines, you can get a better deal with a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Whether or not you get a travel rewards vs cash back credit cards depends if you want an easy-to-use credit card with less rewards or whether you want a card that will earn you the most, but takes a few extra steps.
It also depends, of course, if you travel a lot. If you do, obviously one of the travel rewards credit cards we mentioned will work best for you. If not, go with a cash back credit card.
In this article we will discuss three different kinds of points you can earn by signing up and using different types of travel rewards credit cards:
- Airline points and miles
- Hotel points
- Flexible or transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership rewards and Citi ThankYou points
Airline Rewards Credit Cards
Many airlines and hotel chains have their own co-branded credit cards, such as Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard or United Explorer Card. These cards offer sign up bonus miles that can be used to fly on the airline whose name is on the card as well as its partner airlines.
To book award travel you need to use that airline's website and reward program.
You can't transfer these miles to another airline or to a flexible currency, such as Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards (see below). But that doesn't mean you always have to fly on the airline whose miles you have. You can book flights on airline partners.
For example, United Airlines miles can be used on any Star Alliance partner.
You will have to find the flight availability on United's website first and then book your award ticket. I have booked partner reward flights many times with United miles. For instance, you can fly from Chicago to Europe on Austrian Airlines. Head over to United.com, plug in your destination and travel dates and you will see results for multiple itineraries. Some itineraries will be on United, some will be on Star Alliance partners and some will be a combination of the two.
Some airlines, such as Southwest, don't have partner airlines, so you can only use their points and miles on their own flights.
Knowing which airlines you are likely to fly, and if they have partner airlines, is important when choosing an airline rewards credit card.
Hotel Rewards Credit Cards
If you get a hotel co-branded credit card you will earn points and miles that, with one notable exception, can only be used to book award stays at one hotel chain.
Marriott partnered with Chase to offer Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card. If you've got a sign up bonus from Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card or Marriott Rewards Premier Business Card, you can only use these points at Marriott hotels. You can't transfer the points to another hotel chain and can’t convert them to Ultimate Rewards points.
Marriott's reward program is pretty unique. It's the only hotel program where converting hotel points to airline miles makes sense. Marriott has great airline transfer partners, so you don't have to use the points on hotel stays. You can transfer your points to one of more than 20 airline partners and Marriott will even give you a 5,000 points bonus for transferring your points to a partner airline.
IHG or Hilton
Points from other hotel chains, such as IHG or Hilton, can also be transferred to airlines, however, it is never a good idea to convert them to airline miles. You won't get a good conversion rate and it's better to just use them as intended, on your hotel stays.
Flexible Currency Cards
The best credit cards, in my opinion, are credit cards that earn so-called flexible currency: Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Membership Rewards points.
You can transfer these points to airlines and hotel programs. If you have a good stash of one, or all of these flexible currencies, then the sky is the limit. As far as redemptions, you are limited only by your own imagination.
Ultimate Rewards Points
You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards Points with several Chase personal and business credit cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card
- Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card
Personally, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are my favorite currency. They can be transferred to many airline partners, such as United, Southwest, and many more.
You can also transfer Ultimate Rewards to hotel partners. However, the only hotel partner I would recommend transferring Ultimate Rewards to is Hyatt. Hyatt has a great rewards chart and you can book really amazing hotels without using a ton of points.
Because of Chase's 5/24 rule (you can't have more than five cards opened in the last 24 months), I would recommend you start your travel rewards journey by getting one of Chase's cards. In my opinion, the best card to start with is Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. If you plan on traveling a lot in the next 12 months, then consider Chase Sapphire Reserve. Don't be scared by the high annual fee on the Reserve, the card has lots of great benefits.
Ultimate Rewards travel portal is another great way to use your points. You can book flights and hotels directly on the portal.
If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, your points are worth 1.25 cents each.
If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each.
If you have the Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Ink Business Cash Credit Card or Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card, you'll have to transfer the points from one of these cards to one of the Sapphire cards or to Ink Business Preferred Credit Card before you can use them to book travel.
American Express Membership Rewards
American Express has many cards that earn Membership Rewards points you can use for travel, too many to list here. Membership Rewards are also a great flexible currency. The best way to use Amex Membership Rewards points is to transfer them to airline partners. Usually it is not recommended to transfer these points to hotel partners because of the bad conversion rates.
You can redeem Membership Rewards for flights through American Express travel portal, each point is worth one cent.
It's always a good idea to check if the cash price equivalent will cost you less in points than transferring to a partner. It makes no sense to transfer 30,000 to a partner when you can just buy the ticket through American Express Travel portal for 20,000 points. You will also earn miles if you book directly on the portal.
Amex has some really great airline transfer partners, like Aeroplan, ANA and Virgin Atlantic among others. You can travel far and wide without spending a ton of points if you transfer to partners that offer the best redemptions for international flights.
Membership Rewards are harder to earn that Ultimate Rewards because of “once a lifetime” bonus rule (can only get the sign up bonus once per card) and fewer bonus spend categories.
Citi ThankYou Points
Citi ThankYou Points often get overlooked in our quest to earn Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards points. They can, however, be very useful for certain award redemptions.
You can earn Citi ThankYou Points with the following cards:
- Citi ThankYou Preferred Card
- Citi ThankYou Premier Card
- Citi Prestige Card
- Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students
- AT&T Access Card from Citi
Sign up bonuses on these cards vary, so if you are interested in earning ThankYou Points, wait till a good sign up bonus comes around.
You will get the best value out of your ThankYou points by transferring them to partners. In order to transfer the points to the travel partners you need to have either Citi ThankYou Prestige or Citi ThankYou Premier. You can combine points from lower tier cards with points from higher tier cards and then transfer them to one of the partners.
If you have one of the upper tier Citi cards, you can use ThankYou points to book airfare. Each point is worth 1.25 cents. Some of the best transfer partners include Asia Miles, Avianca, Singapore KrisFlyer and Flying Blue. All of these programs offer great redemption opportunities for domestic and international flights.
Having a good stash of one or more of the transferrable points will give you a lot of flexibility. Because of Chase's 5/24 rules, I always recommend people start their travel rewards journey with Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Ink.
Membership Rewards points are also a great currency to have in your stash of points. Sometimes Amex offers 30% bonus for transferring Membership Rewards points to a certain airline, which makes these points even more valuable.
Citi ThankYou points can also offer great opportunities for travelers, especially when they have transfer bonuses to partner airlines, usually 15% or 30%.
Let us know in the comments which cards you plan to apply for and what are your travel goals. How are you going to use your points? Do you prefer flexible points or airline and hotel miles and points?
If you’re new to earning credit card rewards, you may not have a complete understanding of the ins and outs of rewards points. Today, we’re going to focus on the ins and outs of the Chase Ultimate Rewards points rewards program. Here are the major rules you need to understand to make sure you use your points in the best way possible and to avoid letting your points expire.
How to Earn Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
Not all Chase credit cards earn Ultimate Reward points. If you want to earn Ultimate Rewards points, you’ll need to use one of the following credit cards:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Chase Sapphire (only available by downgrading)
- Chase Freedom
- Chase Freedom Unlimited
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card
- Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
In addition to earning points on your everyday purchases, you can earn a sign up bonus on most of these credit cards if you meet the requirements. You can also earn Ultimate Rewards points by shopping through the Chase online shopping portal.
How Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Expire
Technically, Chase Ultimate Rewards points don’t expire as long as you have a credit card open that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Chase also notes you’ll lose your points if your account is closed due to “program misuse, fraudulent activities, failure to pay, bankruptcy, or other reasons described in the terms of the Rewards Program Agreement.” The problem comes when you close your last card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points. If you still have points remaining, you’ll lose the points if you don’t use them. Rather than give your points away, consider redeeming your points using the redemption options we’ll cover in just a little bit.
If you’re just closing a Chase card you no longer want but still have other Ultimate Rewards earning cards in your household or business, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points from one card to another. In order for the transfer to be legitimate, you need to transfer the points to yourself, a household member, or a business co-owner. Otherwise, Chase may think you’re trying to sell your points, which is against the terms and conditions.
You Can Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Between Cards For Maximum Value
Don’t only consider transferring points because you’re closing a card and want to transfer points to avoid losing them. In fact, transferring points from some Ultimate Rewards earning credit cards to premium Ultimate Rewards earning credit cards can increase your redemption value.
For instance, points redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal are worth 1.5 cents each if you redeem them through a Chase Sapphire Reserve card or 1.25 cents each if you redeem them through a Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. If you’re going to book travel using the Ultimate Rewards portal, you should definitely transfer points from cards like the Chase Freedom to your premium account before booking travel to get maximum value.
You Can Transfer Points to Travel Partners
The same premium credit cards mentioned above offer yet another option to redeem Ultimate Rewards points. Rather than book travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to certain travel partner rewards programs at a 1 point to 1 point ratio. Here are the current travel programs you can transfer points to:
- Aer Lingus AerClub
- British Airways Executive Club
- Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM
- Iberia Plus
- Korean Air SKYPASS
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®
- United MileagePlus®
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- IHG® Rewards Club
- Marriott Rewards®
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®
- World of Hyatt®
Keep in mind, sometimes you’ll get a better value by booking through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal and other times you can find better redemptions through the individual rewards program. Unfortunately, once you transfer points out of Ultimate Rewards, you can’t transfer them back. Make sure you want to transfer points before you pull the trigger.
You Can Cash Out Points If You Have No Other Use for Them
Finally, if you don’t have a premium Ultimate Rewards credit card, you can always redeem your points for cash at a value of a penny per point. If you’re going to close a card that still has a remaining points balance, make sure you cash out any points you have remaining so you don’t give them back to Chase.
Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Are Amazing Once You Understand How to Use Them
Ultimate Rewards points are some of the most valuable credit card rewards points you can earn due to the great flexibility you have to redeem them. If you’re big into travel rewards, you can explore the various points transfer partners to find insane values on a value per point basis.
That said, you can still get great value for your points by using the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, too. Just make sure you use your points on the card that gives you the highest value per point for the cards you have. Finally, never let your points expire by closing a card with a points balance. Cash them out.
Travel rewards and credit cards can be really confusing topics. If you are new to the world of credit cards read on. Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions about travel rewards credit cards.
Q. I don't have any debt, not even a mortgage, and I have a really good income. Why can't I get approved for a credit card?
Not having any debt is fantastic! You clearly are doing something right, you are responsible, live within your means and don't take out loans you don't need. Credit card companies, however, want to see a history of on-time payments, they want to see a credit record. They want to know that if they extended you credit you will be making payments on time. If you've never taken out any loans or had a credit card before, they don't know if you are a good or bad credit risk. They just don't know enough about you.
What you need to do is to build credit and get on the lenders' radar. Don't try to apply for a premium travel rewards credit card like Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Your chances of approval are very low. Start slow with a credit card from your local bank or a credit union, where they know you. Discover credit cards tend to be easier to get for people with no or little credit history.
Another great way to build up your credit score is to be an authorized user on someone else's card. If your family member or a friend you trust has a great credit score and a long credit history, ask them to add you as an authorized user. They don't even need to give you the actual card. Just being associated with them will help build your credit history.
Q. I have a perfect credit score and I don't want to mess it up! Will applying for credit cards ruin my credit score?
OK, we know you are very proud of your score. However, this isn't your college GPA. You might be a perfectionist but you don't need to maintain a perfect 4.0 all the time. Your credit score is a very valuable tool, use it to your advantage! Put that perfect credit score to work! You will get the best mortgage rates, auto loan rates, and the best credit cards with your high score.
Make no mistake, you do need a good credit score to get approved for the travel rewards credit cards. In order to get approved for the best credit card, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve, your score needs to be in the high 700s. These are considered to be two of the best and the most valuable cards on the market right now. So go ahead, apply for one of these and reap the rewards!
Q. My credit score is not that high, what credit cards can I get?
With an imperfect credit score you won't qualify for the best travel rewards credit cards. If your score is lower than 700, it will be hard to get good travel rewards credit cards. That's OK, there are still cards you can get with a mid-range credit score. Check out Discover or Capital One credit cards, they are easier to get for someone with a fair, but not high, credit score.
Start slow, don't get close to your credit limit and pay your bills on time and you'll see your credit score improve quickly. Also see my advice above about being an authorized user on someone else's card.
Q. Will applying for multiple credit cards ruin my credit score?
This is one of the myths that keeps people with good credit from using it to its full advantage. The short answer is no, having multiple credit cards won't negatively affect your score. You might see a slight temporary dip, just a few points, right after applying for a new card, but the effect is very short-lived.
Let's dig a little deeper here. Your credit score is affected by several factors:
- Payment history: do you make your payments on time? Have you ever been late on paying a bill?
- Credit utilization or amount owed. How much do you owe on all of your accounts?
- Length of credit history. How long did you have your accounts and how long since last activity?
- Types of credit used: what kinds of accounts you have, including revolving (credit cards) and installment (auto loans, mortgage, student loans)
- New credit: recent inquiries and newly opened accounts
Payment history is self-explanatory, you need to pay your bills on time. This is self-explanatory–pay your bills on time. Credit utilization is what might be confusing. Having more than one credit card lowers your credit utilization. Let's say you have one credit card with a $4,000 credit limit and you charge $2,000 every month. Your credit utilization is 50%, which is pretty high. If you have two credit cards, each with $4,000 credit limit, and you still charge $2,000 a month, your credit utilization then drops to 25%. Banks see low credit utilization as a good thing, you aren't abusing the credit extended to you.
Length of credit history is important but not as important as payment history and credit utilization. If you have a credit card you've had for a long time, keep it. Just use it occasionally or put a small recurring payment on it, like Netflix or your gym membership.
The last two factors are far less important than the first two. Lenders want to see a good mix of credit, they want to see you are a good risk across the board. Credit inquiries appear on your credit report for a period of time and then fall off. Some banks and credit card issuers pay more attention to newly opened accounts than others.
So as you can see, opening credit cards won't ruin your credit report. If you open and keep a card, it helps with length of credit. Your credit utilization will go down and you will gain length of credit history.
Q. So I've got the card, met minimum spend, and received the bonus. What now? Do I close the card?
Ideally, you should sign up for cards that will provide long term benefits. But either way, you should never close a credit card right after meeting minimum spend and receiving the signup bonus. Look at this from the bank's perspective, they just spent a significant amount of money to acquire you as a customer, so they want to see you use the card for longer than three months. Keep the card for at least a year, who knows, maybe you like the card and the benefits it offers and would want to keep it long term.
Q. My card's first annual fee just posted. What do I do? Keep the card? Close the card?
There are plenty of cards that are worth keeping forever and paying the annual fee. Let's look at some benefits of keeping the card long-term:
- Bonus points on account anniversary: This is a good incentive to keep the card long-term if the value of the bonus points is more than the annual fee
- Bonus hotel nights: Most hotel cards offer a free night after your account anniversary. The World of Hyatt Credit Card, for example, offers a free night in category 1-4 hotels. There are many wonderful Hyatt hotels where you can redeem the free night that are a lot more expensive than the $95 annual fee. I've stayed at a fabulous Park Hyatt Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a category 4 hotel, and the cash price at a time was around $300/night. Think about your travel plans for the next year and see if it makes sense to you.
- Great spending rewards: Some cards have bonus spend categories. If you are going to spend a lot of money in these categories then it might make sense to keep the card. For example, Chase Sapphire Reserve offers bonus points for travel and dining. If you travel a lot or eat out often, you will get great value out of these high annual fee cards.
- Great benefits: Some cards offer benefits such as no foreign transaction fee, travel protection, airport lounge access, and primary car rental insurance.
In short, keep the card if the bonus is more valuable than what you pay for the annual fee.
Q. I've looked at all the benefits of keeping the card long term and decided I don't want to keep the card and want to close it. Will I lose the points and miles I earned with this card?
The short answer is, it depends. If the rewards you earned are airline miles or hotel points, such as United Miles or Marriott points, then no, they are already in your loyalty account. If your rewards are in the form of credit card points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards points then you will need to transfer them to hotel or airline partners, your spouse, or another credit card that earns the same currency.
If you have more than one American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points then your points are safe. If you want to close your only AMEX, you need to spend or transfer them to a partner airline or you will lose the points.
Q. Will closing the card affect my credit score?
It might. If you close a card with a high credit limit it can affect your credit utilization. To mitigate this, consider transferring your credit limit to another card from the same bank and make sure you don't have high balances on other cards. However, if you have other credit cards and have good credit, the effect of closing the card is temporary so don't worry about it too much.
If you are closing your oldest credit card, you will lose the age of credit. Therefore, if you don't have other cards that have been open for a while, consider keeping the card.
Q. What if I downgrade a card with a high annual fee to a no fee card? Will I get the sign up bonus for the new card?
First, consider the benefits of the card with an annual fee. There are many travel rewards cards that are worth keeping just for the benefits alone. Chase Sapphire Reserve has a high annual fee but it comes with awesome benefits, like annual travel credit, travel delay insurance, and Priority Pass airport lounges membership. Well worth it for someone who travels a lot.
If you decide you don't want to keep the card with an annual fee, downgrading it, rather than closing the account might be the best solution. When you downgrade, or exchange a premium card for a card with no annual fee, you are not eligible for a new card member bonus. There's also no application, no credit pull, and no wondering if you will be approved for a new card. For example, you can downgrade Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($95 annual fee after the first year) to Chase Freedom.
When you downgrade, you keep the age of account and your credit limit–two important factors in your credit score.
Q. What is 5/24 rule?
This is one of THE most commonly asked questions. The short of it, you can't get approved for a number of Chase Bank travel rewards credit cards if you have opened more than five cards (with any bank, not just Chase) in the last 24 month. Being an authorized user on someone else's card counts as one of the five slots. The most sought after Chase cards, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve and Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card fall into this category. Other banks have their own application rules, but when people discuss 5/24 they are specifically talking about Chase.
Q. What if I am an authorized user?
Being an authorized user on someone else's card isn't always a bad thing and it doesn't mean you are automatically disqualified from getting the same card under your own name. Just beware of Chase's 5/24 rule (see above). You can ask the bank to remove you as an authorized user from the credit card. You can also ask the bank to remove authorized user account from your credit report. If you hadn't done that before applying for a Chase card and were denied because of 5/24, call and ask them to reconsider your application. Mention that you were just an authorized user and were not responsible for paying the balance.
Q. What if I wasn't auto approved?
The answer will depend on who you ask. Some people would say to call the bank right away to find out why, others say wait. I am, personally, in the wait and see camp. The bank might call you or send you a letter if they need more information. If they feel they had already extended you enough credit, they might ask you to reduce the credit limit on another card. Or your application might still work its way through the system and you will get approved a couple of days later.
If the bank declined your application, they will send you a letter with the reason for their decision and then you can call to find out more details and to plead your case.
Q. Best card to start with?
Because of Chase's 5/24 rule, it is always a good idea to start with one of Chase cards. If you have good credit, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve are the best cards to start with. Which one to get will depend on your travel plans for the next year and your tolerance of high annual fees. If you aren't sure, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a sure bet. It's an excellent card with great benefits, has no annual fee for the first year, and comes with 50,000 Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus after you spend $4000 in the first three months.
Credit cards should not be feared, they are a tool in your path to FI and beyond. Treat them with respect they deserve and you will not be disappointed. Travel rewards credit cards open up a world of possibilities, they can take you and your family to places you thought were out of your reach. You can visit family more often, or you even treat someone who can't afford to travel. Whatever your goals are, there are strategies to make travel more affordable.
If you have a specific question, let me know in the comments. Chime in if you have any advice to offer to someone new to the world of credit cards and travel rewards.
When you've reached financial independence, time is on your side. People with traditional jobs have limited vacation time, so they need to rush through their trips. Financially independent people can “slow travel” and soak up the experience to their heart's content.
Here is my favorite way to see the West Coast in style. Slow traveling on the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle.
Why Traveling By Train Is Best
When you travel, your primary options are to drive, fly, or take a train. If you're a true masochist, long-distance bus rides are also an option.
Who wants to drive?
As a Dad, one of the worst parts about traveling for me is having to drive. Everyone else is playing on their phones and tablets, taking naps whenever they feel like it, and otherwise enjoying the heck out of themselves. Me? I have to stay focused on the road, watch out for cops, and stay awake for hours on end, no matter how boring the scenery. Thank God for Red Bull and podcasts!
Ready for a TSA pat-down?
Flying is also an option when you travel, but it can be expensive when you're traveling as a family. $400 for a plane ticket doesn't sound too bad, except when you're buying tickets for a family of four. Now you're talking $1,600 for a vacation before you've even made it there.
Then mix in the “fun” that is the TSA security process. Take off your shoes. Remove your laptop and tablet. Put all liquids in the bin. Oops, you have the 3.4-ounce size. You're only allowed three ounces. Sorry, put it in the trash.
I love to fly, but it can be a tremendous hassle sometimes.
Train travel is the best way to slow travel
When you travel by train, however, the experience is completely different.
You can get up and walk around whenever you feel like it. There is either a dining car for sit down meals or food you can take back to your seat. Wifi is often available (albeit a bit slow) so you can stream movies or surf the web. Stopping for bathroom breaks is a thing of the past. And, if your family is like mine, having to make a second bathroom break 10 minutes later because your little one “didn't have to go” just minutes prior!
All of those frustrations of driving are eliminated because the train conductor is responsible for getting you from Point A to Point B.
Amtrak Coast Starlight: A Slow Travel Dream Experience
The Amtrak Coast Starlight is my favorite train route. It starts in Los Angeles, California, and winds its way up the California coast and cruises through Portland, Oregon, before ending at the final stop of Seattle, Washington. You can also start in Seattle and follow the trail in reverse.
If you ride the train continuously from start to finish, the journey will take you 35 hours. This route departs daily, so it can fit your schedule with ease.
Along the way, you'll travel along stretches of the Pacific coast, venture past the snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, and experience lush valleys and forests. It is one of the most highly recommended routes that Amtrak offers.
What's The Best Way To Experience The Coast Starlight?
Depending on your timing, you can hop aboard and cruise from Los Angeles in one shot or you can “slow travel” and hop off at interesting destinations. There are 28 stops along the route (including LA and Seattle), so there are plenty of cities to explore along the way.
Here are some of my favorite stops.
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles is known as the City of Angels. There is so much to do and see here, ranging from seeing the stars' handprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, watching the circus acts on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, going shopping on Rodeo Drive, or visiting one of the many regional theme parks.
You can easily spend a day riding roller coasters, watching shows, and meeting the characters at each of them–Disneyland, California Adventure, Knott's Berry Farm, Universal Studios, and Magic Mountain.
For sports fans, there's an opportunity to catch a game no matter what time of year it is. NBA's Lakers and Clippers. Baseball with the Dodgers or Angels. The Ducks and Kings in hockey. And now the Chargers and Rams for football.
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is in the heart of Southern California's wine country. Okay, maybe it's more mid-California than Southern California, but it is a short drive from LA, so we're claiming it as our own.
My wife and I love to visit Santa Barbara and all of the nearby towns to sample the wines. A short walk from the Amtrak station you'll find many tasting rooms of the local wineries, so you won't have to venture far to enjoy the fermented grapes. To soak up the wine, on the way back to the train, stop by Patxi's Pizza for some delicious deep dish pizza.
If you head in the other direction, you'll be at the beach and enjoying the fresh ocean breeze. For the best of both worlds, there's actually a wine tasting room on the pier. The Deep Sea Tasting Room has outdoor seating so you can watch the waves crash on the shore while sipping your favorite varietal.
San Jose, California
During football or hockey season, why not stop and catch a game? The stadiums for the San Francisco 49ers and San Jose Sharks are both relatively new and are easy to get to with the vast network of affordable public transit you'll find in the Bay Area.
If sports isn't your thing, consider a stop at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. It is less than two miles from the Amtrak station. This 5 1/2 acre garden was established in 1927 and features more than 3500 plantings of 189 varieties of roses.
Oakland/San Francisco, California
When you make a stop in Oakland, you can explore this rising city that features the defending NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors, or hop on the BART train to explore San Francisco.
In San Francisco, you can ride the famous cable cars up Powell Street, walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, enjoy clam chowder at Boudin's Bakery at Fisherman's Wharf, sample chocolates at Ghirardelli, or take a tour of Alcatraz Island.
In Sacramento, you can visit the California state capital to see the state legislature in action. A stop at the California State Railroad Museum would be quite “meta” since you're on an Amtrak journey. While visiting the Old Sacramento district, take a break and stop in the River City Saloon for a drink or bite to eat. It's a themed restaurant that takes you back the Gold Rush days. The building was one of the first houses of ill repute in 1861 Sacramento.
If you're a basketball fan like I am, you can see more hoops' action since Sacramento is also home to the NBA's Kings.
Klamath Falls, Oregon
As you enter Oregon, don't miss Klamath Falls. It is known as Oregon's “city of sunshine” and offers a wide array of hiking opportunities. While in Klamath, visit nature on one of the many hikes and trails, such as the Link River Trail and Moore Park. While in town, you should also visit Badger Run Wildlife Rehab to support this noble cause and see all of the animals getting nursed back to health.
Portland, Oregon is one of the major hubs of craft brews. If you're thirsty, there is an abundance of brewery options to sample. The city is very walkable and their public transit system (aka MAX) is very user-friendly.
The food is pretty amazing too! Put your diet on pause and check out VooDoo Donuts. They're so good. When we visit Portland, we always grab at least a dozen to sample.
Consider partial-day or day trips outside of Portland as well. You can visit Mt Hood, which is only 20 miles outside the city, or take in the scenery at Multnomah Falls. Inside the city limits, you can explore Forest Park, with its more than 80 miles of trails across 5200 acres.
Take in the beauty of Portland's parks and gardens as well. The Portland Japanese Garden is a sight to behold. It is said to be one of the most authentic Japanese Gardens outside of Japan. And the International Rose Test Garden has over 10,000 rose bushes with more than 650 varieties represented.
Seattle is the end of the journey, but the fun doesn't stop here. Seattle is a vibrant town with so much to offer. The original Starbucks is located just steps away from Pike Place Market. At Pike Place Market, enjoy some locally sourced fresh fish and watch the fisherman put on a show as they throw huge fish right before your eyes. While you're at Pike Place Market, don't miss the Gum Wall–just don't touch anything.
One of my favorite things to do in Seattle is taking the Underground Tour. It's a historic tour that tells the tale of the original Seattle and how the current city is built atop the old one.
Ready To Start Your Journey?
My family and I rode the Coast Starlight a couple of years ago as part of a longer journey to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. It was such a memorable experience, and we highly recommend it. We didn't stop and get off the train along the way, but I can imagine how awesome of a trip that would have been if we had the time.
Keep in mind that Amtrak does not allow on & off privileges. If you buy a ticket from LA to Seattle and get off in between, you'll need to buy another ticket to continue your journey. The best way to plan the trip is to look at the stops and determine where you'd like to get off and explore, then buy tickets from one destination to the next.
Before you book, sign up for Amtrak's newsletter to receive promo codes for discounted tickets. When I wrote this, there was a promotion to save up to 30% off your train tickets.
Have a great trip. In the comment section below, let us know your favorite Amtrak routes. And share which stops along the way have the best food and entertainment options that readers shouldn’t miss.
Want to read more from Lee? Check out the rest of his articles here.
Travel rewards have allowed me opportunities to visit countries that I've always thought to be beyond my reach. Traveling has become such an integral part of who I am that I can't imagine not traveling, not planning my next trip, not working toward the next award. Travel rewards are one of the pillars of FI and the better we get at this whole rewards thing, the better we are at FI.
I have been interested (ok, fine, obsessed) with travel rewards for a couple of years and I've made my share of mistakes. Some were just total newbie mistakes and some were just me not being diligent enough. The more I got into this hobby, the more apparent it became that I need systems. I needed to optimize the processes to make my life easier and keep better records. Let's look at the mistakes I've made and how you can learn from my experience.
Mistake #1: Missed deadline for meeting minimum spending requirement
About three years ago, my husband and I applied for Citi AAadvantage World Elite MasterCard. At that time, the sign up bonus was 30,000 AA miles and we had three months to meet minimum spend. We had spent $3,000 on my card and received the bonus but we missed the deadline on my husband's card by a just a few days. No amount of pleading with Citi Bank helped and the bonus never posted.
Lesson learned: Keep track of credit card approval dates. The clock starts when you are approved, not when you receive the actual card. Create a spreadsheet and as soon as you are approved write down the date. You can reach out to the credit card via secure message and ask them for the credit card opening date and how long you have to meet minimum spend.
Mistake #2: I closed our Starwood Preferred Guest American Express cards too early
This is actually a two-part mistake. First, I decided to close our SPG Amex cards just a few months after opening them and receiving the sign up bonus. This is a typical rookie mistake. There is no need to rush to close the credit card even if you aren't planning to keep it long term. I hadn't done the proper analysis of all the benefits of SPG Amex card and I didn't know how incredibly valuable SPG points are.
Moreover, it is never a good idea to close the credit card shortly after receiving the sign up bonus. Always wait at least a year until next year's annual fee has posted and then decide if the card's benefits are valuable enough to justify paying the fee. Sometimes the card's benefits are well worth the fee, for example, a free hotel night on the card member anniversary, airline or hotel elite benefits, free checked bags etc.
The second half of this mistake, I transferred SPG points to American Airlines without a concrete redemption in mind. I should have left the points in my SPG account until I was ready to use them. I don't know why I decided I had to transfer the points before closing the card.
Lesson learned: Don't close the card right after receiving the sign up bonus and don't move the hotel/airline points to another partner without having a redemption in mind. Hotel and airline points are now in your account, and even after you close the card you get to keep the points.
Mistake #3: Make sure all your information is current and accurate
My mistake was not checking that my husband's and mine addresses on our respective SPG accounts matched. His account was opened a long time ago and SPG had his office address on file. We had a particular redemption in mind but he didn't have enough points in his account. You can transfer SPG points between spouse's accounts but the addresses have to match. I wanted to transfer some of my points to him, but because our addresses didn't match we had to email SPG copies of our driver's licenses and wait for someone at SPG to approve the transfer. Thankfully, the availability was still there and we were able to accomplish our goals.
Lesson learned: Make sure the reward programs have your current home address and phone number. Update your information if you move.
Mistake #4: Not opening a few cards to pay for large expenses
If you've ever done any major home improvement projects, you know how expensive they can get. Three years ago we decided to remodel our rapidly aging kitchen. We had to buy new everything, new floors, cabinets, appliances, tile and a million other things that you never knew existed. We opened Chase Sapphire Preferred card to take advantage of the sign up bonus and met the minimum spend about five minutes into the project.
I still remember the day when I paid for all the kitchen cabinets with just one card. I will probably remember that day forever. Instead of splitting this one huge purchase among several credit cards and getting multiple sign up bonuses, I only used ONE card. Splitting the purchase would have given us more mileage on our travel rewards cards. For example, you can earn 1.5 points per $1 on purchases of more than $5,000 with the Business Platinum American Express card, and that is on top of very generous sign up bonus.
Lesson learned: Split large expenses, like college tuition, home renovation projects, down payment on a car, or a large business expense, among several cards to take advantage of different cards' benefits and multiple sign up bonuses. In short, optimize your expenses.
Mistake #5: I didn't know I could ask Chase not to count authorized user cards
Most people interested in travel rewards know about Chase's infamous 5/24 rule. You can't be approved for certain cards if you have opened more than five credit cards in the last 24 months. Being an authorized user on someone else's card counts, you don't even have to be the main cardholder. I was aware of the rule; but, I didn't know I could ask Chase to remove the cards I was an authorized user on from my credit report. I also didn't know I could ask them to simply not count the authorized user cards when they were reviewing my application. So when my application for a United Explorer Card was denied, I called the so-called reconsideration line. They informed me that I had opened more than five cards in the last two years. Sadly, I was unprepared and didn't ask them to waive the authorized user cards.
Lesson learned: Beware of the 5/24 rule. Don't be an authorized user on too many cards and know that you can ask the bank to remove the cards from your credit report. If you are denied for a card, do your research and prepare before calling the bank.
I hope you can learn from my mistakes and my experience can help you in your travel rewards journey. Remember that keeping good records and educating yourself about different card application rules is the key to success.
What were some of your biggest mistakes? Let's learn from each other!
Never stayed in an Airbnb? Let me see if I can convince you of the merits of staying with locals in the new home-sharing economy! As both a regular traveler and an Airbnb host here in San Antonio, Texas–I’ve done my fair share of Airbnbing on both sides.
I love that I can still see some of the most expensive cities in the world, but still save for early retirement by using travel rewards and using Airbnb for everything else.
If you’re looking to optimize your savings on your next trip, here’s why I’d recommend you use Airbnb to save on travel:
Customizable Amenities, Half The Price
While staying in a hotel has perks, an Airbnb allows you to live like a local, and eat like one too–which leads to a huge cost savings. Many Airbnbs, whether you’re renting out the whole space or simply a room in a shared home, have ammentities that you would find in a hotel but likely would have to pay extra for.
One of the biggest perks is kitchen access, which means you can eat like a local and save money on food. These cost savings add up if you’re traveling with a family or large group, as you can utilize the kitchen to cut costs. Other amenities might also be included–like access to a pool, gym, or garage.
Related: How To Eat Frugally While Traveling
No matter what you decide with Airbnb, realize every listing is unique. Ensure your house has what you need to be comfortable. While most places provide towels and toiletries, double check that they have what you need.
If you’re sold on a place but don’t see that they have something you need, ask the host before you book to see if they can accommodate you. It’s their job to answer your questions quickly and do their best to be hospitable.
How To Read A Listing Like A Pro
It may take some time to get your sea legs when reading through Airbnb listings. You’ll be dealing with an array of different home types, areas, customs, and of course, the hosts themselves–some of which are more experienced and detailed than others.
After you’ve scanned the listing to ensure it fits your needs, read through the reviews. You may be a bit hesitant to book a shared space if you’ve never shared a home with a stranger before, but the reviews can be telling to help you decide whether to book or skip.
Sharing a space is not as weird as it sounds–especially with more seasoned hosts. But, if you’re looking for a more “hotel like” experience versus staying with a local, your best bet is to book a room or home that is not occupied by the owner, or, a listing that designates a room has a private entry or is separate from the main house.
Deciding Where To Stay
There are a thousand nuances when deciding where you want to stay when you visit a new place. Is there public transportation? Is the area walkable? Will transportation costs outweigh any savings you made by booking a home away from the action? It really depends!
While there are usually ample listings in any city that can be near major attractions, if you’re deciding to stay a little further off the beaten path, have a plan on how you’ll get around. If you are able to drive to your location, what does parking near attractions look like?
Many guests have made the mistake of assuming they’d save on their room by booking with Airbnb only to discover that Uber surcharges eat into their travel budget. If you’re trying to get around during peak hours for a big event (like Mardi Gras or the NCAA Final Four) and can’t take public transportation, factor these costs in.
Before You Book, Read The Fine Print
In addition to amenities, listings also vary in terms of their cancellation policies and add-on fees. Each host has the ability to set their own rates for cleaning fees, the cost of a cancellation and what they could charge if you break the rules. Namely, by sneaking in extra people or smoking in the home.
One thing to note–be honest when you book. If you’re not certain how many people will be joining you, or you think you can change your plans later, not every host can, or will be able to accommodate you.
Book only for dates and a number of people you’re sure about. Remember, you’re not dealing with a large hotel chain. If you flake on your reservation, you may be leaving a small host out in the cold to rebook.
Plan Check-In & Check-Out Times Carefully
You’ll also want to be aware of check-in times and check-out times, as they are different from hotels and vary from host to host. Remember, unlike a hotel which employs a full time cleaning team, your host will be doing the room flipping on their own, or with one or two regular cleaners. That being said, they set their in and out times accordingly, sometimes without any available wiggle room.
If you want to check out late, they may be fully booked and unable to accommodate you. Trying to get in early may mean your room is still occupied and leaving late means the cleaning team may have to ask you to leave.
While a large hotel has room inventory they can toy with, a host does not. While they’ll usually do their best to accommodate, a popular location may mean that you’re sandwiched between other guests and need to honor your reservation’s stated arrival and departure time.
Mix and Match Hotels With Airbnb To Save
Some of my best travel experiences were longer trips that were a mix of hotels and Airbnbs. Upon arrival, I usually stay a hotel since if I’m jet-lagged, the check-in process is relatively standard, even if I don’t speak the local language.
As I get a few days into travel in a new country or place, I love switching to stay at Airbnbs. I get to eat like a local and get personal recommendations for restaurants and shops away from the tourist areas.
If you’re booking with Airbnb, feel free to over-communicate with your host so they can help meet your needs. If you’re planning on simply using the room to crash and would rather skip the pleasantries, they can give you your space.
As a host myself, I love knowing a guest’s expectations so I can either prep some personalized restaurant recommendations, or, give their space and just let them rest upon arrival.
Book “Experiences” With Airbnb
Airbnb now also offers experiences in addition to lodging–where local guides can take you on cheese tasting tours or teach you how to cook local fare. We took advantage of this on our trip to Paris. We got a tour of the city on a golf cart, and ended up in a local bar tasting cheese. We even got a bottle of his favorite wine to take back to our room.
In Barcelona, we took a winery tour with a local in a gorgeous jeep, that ended with a picnic. Our guide had been born and raised in the wine country of Barcelona that mainly produces sparkling wines, cavass, and it was honestly the highlight of our trip!
Airbnb can be a place to crash, a place to live like a local, or a friend you didn’t know you had in a place you’ve never been–the adventure is up to you!