How I Use Credit Card Points for Free Travel
Okay, here comes the Beautiful Mind-level of insanity for planning out a trip:
- Amex Platinum is my main card. Many people say that Chase UR points are more valuable, but for the bookings we use, it just works out that Amex MR points are better.
- Amex Gold is for food purchasing
- Chase Sapphire Reserve is for when Amex isn’t accepted
- Chase Ink Preferred is for business purchases, and those UR points are transferred to Sapphire
Normally I use United or Delta points first, but if I don’t have a ton of those, I book flights with my Sapphire card and UR points. For additional taxes and fees on reward/”free” flights, I use my Sapphire card so that I have travel insurance on the flight.
This is where all of my Amex points come into play. I prefer using Amex for hotels because of the Fine Hotels and Resorts, but if I can’t use that, Marriott is a direct transfer partner with Amex.
Rental cars go through Sapphire because of the additional insurance and travel protection. Any other amenities, if they fall under travel, go to Amex because of the 5x points, though I will use up my $300 Chase credit first.
Couldn’t I travel way more if I used points to book economy?
Yep, most definitely. However, I don’t have the ability to travel more than we do now to make that valuable in my eyes since we have to get pet sitters for the cats and board the dog. I would love to be more jet-setty but we have too many other obligations to make it happen, so we choose instead to upgrade whenever we do make it out of the house.
Is all of this actually worth the time, effort, and yearly fees?
To me, yes. As an example: I just booked a first-class flight for our 10 year wedding anniversary to Japan. Normal costs for that flight alone would be ~$30k, but I ended up using points to pay for the flight and was only out $500 in taxes and fees.
Yeah, but you also spend money on things while you travel, so is this still worth the extra cost?
This is a totally fair point. I still have to pay for things to do, food, etc. With that said, in most cases, we’re traveling for a reason (conferences are my biggest one) rather than just getting away for a weekend, so these trips have to happen anyhow, we just upgrade the travel as a perk. And as I do have to spend money on these necessities, the fact that I have cards which maximize those purchases by giving extra points works out in my favor.
What’s your credit like?
Right now, I’m at 752 +/- a few points due to monthly fluctuations.
Don’t all of these cards affect your score?
Honestly, all you’ll think I’m wrong but…no. My credit score has increased since I’ve started due to the amount of credit I have available to me, which balances out the hard pulls. I pay off all of my cards monthly, and I don’t close card accounts if I can avoid it. In most cases, I’m able to downgrade a card to a $0 annual fee version, thereby saving me the loss of available credit.
How did you learn all of this?
The world of “churning” and award travel is vast and knowledgeable, and I tried to learn all I could and ask questions to travel blogs and subreddits. If you do want to start doing this, though, I strongly advise you have discipline when getting into this, because it’s way too easy to buy things you don’t need and rack up debt for the sake of hitting minimum purchase requirements for bonus points. If you have trouble keeping control of your spending, I don’t recommend this as a hobby.
What card should I start with?
I recommend starting with a Chase Sapphire card (either Preferred or Reserve, your call for which is best for you) since Visa is accepted in way more places than American Express. However, start with an end goal in mind and work your way back to see what cards would be the most advantageous to you. Keep in mind the rules of the game, and that Chase is very stringent with denying credit to those who dive in too much, too quickly.
One more thing: I recommend getting RFID-blocking card sleeves, especially when you travel. It helps limit your exposure to fraud. Totally up to you, it’s just something I use (these are the ones, and I prefer the sleeves with the wider openings) to make me feel more secure.
That's it! That's how I use credit card points for free travel.