Beginner’s Guide: How to Travel with Points

I get asked A LOT how I am able to travel so much. As I’ve shared openly before, it’s not all luxury and glamour when travelling, and it can be expensive. However, I have a few secret hacks in my back pocket that have helped me revolutionize my travel planning AND do it for less.

  1. I have an ongoing, automated travel fund set up (that I don’t EVER notice is saving money for me.)
  2. I use my favorite hotel booking hack to book hotels for WAY less.
  3. I have a credit card that gives me points I redeem for travel.

The first two I covered in earlier posts (tap to read them), but #3 is what I want to share with you guys today! I know that the world of credit card miles and points can be confusing and overwhelming. But don’t worry! I’m going to break down my experience in a super simple way that will have you confident in deciding if a travel rewards card is right for you!

Before we dive in, as always, this post may contain affiliate links.

Read Also: Redeeming Miles for Business Class Tickets

Overview of How Credit Card Points and Miles Work

If you’re JUST learning about this whole world of points and miles, you may not even be sure what they are, or how to get them. It’s pretty simple. You sign up for a credit card*, and when you use it to make purchases, you earn ‘points’ (sometimes called miles). Every card earns you points at a different rate, and sometimes it depends on the spending category (more on that later). You can also earn sign-up bonuses. These are additional points given to you after you get the card and/or complete a qualifying activity.

Example: 

Card A gives you 1 point per dollar spent, with a sign-up bonus of 25,000 points if you spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months. They also offer 2 points per dollar on gas and restaurant purchases.

Assuming you get this card and your spending in the first three months might looks like this:

$500 Gas = 1,000 points

$1,000 Restaurants = 2,000 points

$500 Groceries = 500 points

$500 Travel = 500 points

$500 Misc = 500 points

Total spend: $3,000 = 29,500 points

How? Points from spending (some of which were at double rate), PLUS the sign-up bonus.

Choosing the Right Rewards Credit Card

If you plan on using a credit card to maximize and use points and miles for travel, there are several things to consider.

  • Annual fee, if any
  • Extras/Membership perks
  • Point/Miles earning rate and/or bonus categories
  • Sign-up bonus

If you know you spend a LOT of money on dining out, it may make sense to look for a card that offers bonus points on restaurants. I have a card for my business and one of the largest expenses every year is shipping/postage costs. Therefore, I chose a card that rewarded me with 4x points on postage purchases.

I will share my favorite cards that I personally use as we continue!

My Favorite Cards

American Express Everyday Card

One of the first cards I used to seriously rack up some points, and the card that eventually got me hooked on AmEx in general. The card offers some real perks!

  • 1 membership reward point per dollar spent
  • Sign up bonus (varies, click link to see most recent. Usually 10,000+ points)
  • $0 annual fee the first year, then $95/year
  • 20% bonus points on all spending for any billing cycle with 20 or more purchase transactions on your card

I ALWAYS use this card more than 20 times during a billing cycle. It’s easy to do, especially when you hook it up to automatic payments, etc. I also scored the sign-up bonus (15,000 points when I signed up almost three years ago). The annual fee is low for a rewards card, and unlike AmEx charge cards, you can carry a balance if needed.

I used this card almost exclusively for the first year I was in business and without even trying I racked up some serious points. American Express points are called ‘Membership Rewards Points’ and have some serious weight to them.

Why? Two words: Transfer Partners. More on that later.

American Express Business Gold Card

After using and loving my AmEx Everyday card for over two years, I recently upgraded and opened a business gold card. The details of this review will be specific to the business card, but they are almost identical for the personal gold card, in case you aren’t looking for a business credit card.

  • $250 annual fee
  • 25% points back when you book airfare using points
  • Pay over time on purchases over $100
  • Travel Accident Insurance
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Global Assist Hotline
  • Sign-up Bonus (usually larger than the everyday card, for me it was about 35,000 points)
  • 4x points on 2 categories where you spend most

As I mentioned, one of our two categories is always shipping, but the other can change depending on what you spend on most.

The hefty sign up bonus and 4x points on our top spend categories made this card worth it. In less than three months with the gold card, including the bonuses, I was able to rack up an additional 65,000 membership rewards points.

For reference (because I know you’re thinking ‘but what does that GET me?’), I recently transferred 135,000 AmEx membership rewards points to Flying Blue (the Air France / KLM loyalty program) at a 1:1 ratio, and redeemed them for a round-trip, non-stop business class flight from Los Angeles to Paris. The retail on that flight alone was nearly $6,000.

So imagine that I have just accumulated almost half that again in the last 3 months. *cues vacation planning mode*

Using American Express Membership Rewards Points:

Like I mentioned before, one of the best benefits to accumulating AmEx points is that you can transfer them to their transfer partners. Unlike some cards, like co-branded airline cards where points only work on one airline or network, these work with dozens of reward programs.

Here are just a FEW of the transfer partners you can use your points with:

  • Hilton
  • Choice Hotels
  • Air Canada
  • Delta
  • Air France
  • KLM
  • AeroMexico
  • Virgin America
  • Jet Blue

Transferring points is as easy as:

  1. Create a loyalty account (free and fast) with the partner brand
  2. Log into AmEx rewards site
  3. Select transfer partner and points to transfer
  4. Confirm transfer (make sure to note transfer times, some are instant, others take a little longer)
  5. See points in transfer partner program and use to book

Important to note: AmEx Membership Rewards Points can be used for a LOT OF THINGS, not just travel. I’m focusing on travel for the purpose of this post, but you can also redeem your points for gift cards, Amazon shopping, statement credits, and charity.

So What Can I Get with those Points?

Using the example above of roughly 60,000 membership rewards points, here are some options you could redeem them for*:

  • Business class between San Francisco and Newark on United
  • Business class to Brussels from the US
  • Upper class to Europe on Virgin
  • Business class to Morocco on Royal Air Maroc
  • Business class to Hawaii on United

*These examples (and many others) were found HERE thanks to Upgraded Points.

Other cards I have but don’t use as much:

American Airlines / Citi Bank World Mastercard

  • First checked bag on AA flights is free
  • Discounted in-flight purchases

Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • Priority Pass Lounge Access (however this is becoming increasingly unreliable with overcrowding of lounges)
  • $450 annual fee

 

I hope that you have found this breakdown helpful! I know that when I was first exploring the world of points and miles, I was overwhelmed!

Do you have a favorite reward program or credit card? Tell us about it in the comments !

Want to save this idea for later? Pin it to your TRAVEL board!

*This post shares my personal experience and opinion. This is not a substitute for financial advice, nor am I representing, partnering with, or endorsing any specific cards. Using credit cards is at your own risk and should be done responsibly.
Callie Richards

I'm Callie, a Southern California based body-positive fashion and travel blogger who helps women discover style and travel that FITS their bodies and their lifestyles so they can live their best, most authentic lives! I test and then share the products and experiences that respect diversity and inclusiveness so that you can shop and travel with confidence without all the research!

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