8 tips for getting the most from your travel rewards credit cards


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Six years ago, Taylor Whetstone, a 32-year-old nurse practitioner from Columbus, Ohio, started using a credit card to pay for gas because her employer would reimburse her for work-related driving. While the free gas was a nice work benefit, Whetstone was more excited by another unexpected perk – the travel rewards points she was racking up in the process. 

Since then, Whetstone and her husband Cory have used travel rewards points to go to such far-flung places as Aspen, Colo., the Bahamas, Thailand, Greece and Amsterdam. “We don’t have any children yet, so we are trying to get the travel out the way,” she says. “Travel rewards help us do that.”

The key, Whetstone says, is understanding how to match the credit card rewards programs to your lifestyle and leverage the rewards you have. Once you check out the top offers, here’s how you can make them work. 


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1. Match the card to your everyday purchases

The more you use your credit card, the more rewards you’ll earn. For that reason, make sure to choose a card that rewards you for making the purchases you already make. Some rewards credit cards also offer bonus points for certain types of purchases at different times of the year, so keeping track of the bonus offers is a must. “I’ll get an email that says I can get three times the rewards on gas this month and I just have to remember, ‘I’m going to use that card only for gas this month,’” Whetstone says.

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2. Use complementary cards

One card may not fit all of your travel needs. For example, a branded card such as the United Explorer Card or other airline credit card may be ideal if you always fly with a certain domestic airline or have a favorite hotel chain for long weekend trips, while a general travel rewards card such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Card may be better if you’re simply looking great last-minute deals. If you do a lot of international travel, carry a rewards card in your arsenal that charges no foreign transaction fees, Whetstone advises. Some cards are even ideal for local travel, letting you rack up free Uber rides. 

Don’t overlook cashback cards, either. While not specifically for travel, experts indicate in December 2019 that you can get a 1% to 6% return on your purchase after cashback dollars are redeemed, making the newest luggage or travel accessory that much more affordable.

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3. Leverage your program’s partnerships

A good rewards program doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Look for one that lets you transfer points to other programs and partners. For example, if you think you’ll be traveling to Asia, American Express’s Membership Rewards program lets you transfer and use your points within Asia Miles’ network. Also, look for a program that has an alliance of airlines that fly to places on your travel list and accepts your points. For example, Star Alliance is made up of 26 airlines including United, Air Canada and Air New Zealand.

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4. Don’t just seek points, seek status

Points can get you free travel, but elite status can give you an experience to remember. Elite status is a distinction given by airlines or hotels that gets you access to other perks such as free checked bags, preferred seating and hotel room upgrades. Typically you earn status by traveling a minimum number of miles or staying in a hotel a minimum number of nights. However, the right travel rewards card can help you circumvent those steps by automatically giving you complimentary status just for having the card.

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5. Take advantage of sign-up bonuses

Some cards will offer you bonus points when you first apply for the card and charge a certain amount of money on it. For example, Bank of America’s Travel Rewards credit card offers 25,000 bonus points after you make $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days.

If you’re already planning a major purchase, doing so using a new travel rewards card could get you a once-in-a-lifetime trip in the process. Likewise, you might also score a trip out of transferring debt — as long as you make a plan to pay off the debt as soon as possible. Whetstone once transferred debt from another credit card to a new travel rewards card with a promotional 0% APR, promising herself she wouldn’t use the card again after the trip.

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6. Consider booking through your card’s travel portal

Some travel rewards credit cards have their own portals where you can book flights directly, and often your rewards will go further when you do so. For example, if you have a Chase travel rewards card, you can get 25% to 50% more for your points by booking through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Whetstone found that her rewards were at times worth as much as three times more when she booked directly through the portal. 

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7. Be flexible with your travel plans

Every flight won’t be eligible for rewards points so being a flexible traveler definitely matters, Whetstone says. Also, if you’re open to longer layover times, frequent transfers and less popular flights you will likely find even more options. The Whetstones recently cashed in rewards and booked a total of five different flights to travel to Iceland, London and then back to the United States. “We did it for under $2,000, so it was definitely worth it,” she says.

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8. Don’t let the annual fee fool you

Some of the most generous travel rewards cards come with hefty annual fees. Instead of being turned off by the fee, look closer to see if the card can enhance your travel experience and if the benefits outweigh the cost. For example, the card may come with such perks as travel credits and priority lounges, which may make the fee worthwhile for a frequent traveler.

Finding the right travel rewards credit card can save you a pretty penny if you live a jet-setting lifestyle. However, paying your balances on time and avoiding debt is critical to having a healthy relationship with your credit cards, Whetstone warns. “Just be responsible with paying them.”

This article was produced by LendingTree.com for syndication on MediaFeed.org.

Image Credit: Deposit Photos.