There are no words to describe just how excited I am to share this post with y’all! Cara is my friend and co-worker and I’ve always admired how much she and her husband travel (seriously, goals). It won’t come as a surprise that they often get asked “how do you do it?!” and I had the same questions.
I had no idea you could save so much on travel this way and I’ve been so inspired by their strategic approach – so I asked Cara to share a post about how they travel and which cards have the most benefits!
You may have seen Cara on my IG stories before – I often share her account when she’s traveling and we did our first-ever round of BBG together. We are also both really tall so we love sharing clothing finds for us taller gals. Here we go!
I’m currently 10 hours into a 14-hour flight as I’m writing this (and wide-awake despite any attempts to fall asleep so far). My husband, Austin, and I started the day laid back on comfy couches with lattes and breakfast at The Centurion Lounge at Bush Intercontinental Airport and are now on a direct flight from Houston to Tokyo. And guess what? We didn’t pay for these flights. We also didn’t pay for the lattes this morning either. We used points and credit card benefits, which is what Veronika asked me to share with you all.
Opening credit cards can be a bit daunting. What card do you choose? How about that annual fee? Can I meet the minimum spend? These are all questions we asked ourselves before opening any new card. Because travel is a major priority for us right now, we chose based on that alone. We’ve done a lot of research on credit cards, so I wanted to provide you with some high-level details and resources to help you start traveling more on points.
Before I discuss the credit cards themselves, I wanted to share how completely easy this is. One of the best benefits of each of these cards are the sign-up bonuses! Upon signing up for a new credit card, you are required to spend X amount, within X months, to receive X points. They all vary and I will outline this in more detail below, but it’s the fastest and easiest way to acquire a large sum of points that can directly impact you travel potential.
Additionally, it’s about knowing where you’re spending and using the right card that will provide you with the most points. For example, if you have more than one credit card and you’re dining out, one card may provide 3x the points vs. another card that is 1x the points vs. your debit card at 0x the points. And if you’re using your debit card, you’re missing out on so many opportunities for points…and points buy plane tickets! Knowing where you can maximize your point potential is important because those points can quickly add up over time on purchases you’re already making every day.
It’s important to know that depending on the credit card, the points are tied to different points or miles programs, such as Southwest Rapid Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. These reward programs do not all have the same value or flexibility. For example, as you accrue points on Southwest you are limited to purchasing flights only on Southwest Airlines through the Southwest Rapid Rewards portal. Chase has the Ultimate Rewards portal to purchase airline tickets, hotels, excursions, etc. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can also be transferred to other airline or hotel rewards programs for varying redemption values. American Express Membership Rewards has similar features.
I want to provide you with some high-level details on 6 different credit cards, so if you are interested in traveling on points you have the information to get started! Here are some of my personal favorites:
- Southwest Airlines: We fly southwest often to see family all over the U.S. and Southwest’s Chase credit cards have provided us a lot of opportunity to fly across the country on points. Not to mention several international trips too! We also have the Companion Pass, which has been an incredible benefit. Companion Pass allows you to pick someone who will fly free on every flight you take. Also, any airline that has no-change fees and two free checked bags is a favorite of mine. Not to mention, if you book a flight and you later see the price (or the price in points) has decreased after purchasing, they will credit you the difference.
Overall, Southwest credit cards are some of the best when it comes to travel, especially domestically. Typically, the sign-up bonus varies from one Southwest card to another. For example, here’s a common sign-up bonus we’ve seen for Southwest: Spend $3,000 over 3 months and receive a 50,000 point sign-up bonus. However, right now Southwest is running a unique sign-up special that includes Companion Pass for all new cardholders right now. So, if you are reading this post after February 11, 2019, when the special ends, visit their website for more up-to-date information on sign-up bonuses or shoot me a message on Instagram and I can help you. Here’s a high-level breakdown of each card:
- Points bonus: For a limited time, Southwest is offering the Companion Pass and 30,000 points to new cardholders after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Offer ends 2/11/19 and will be valid through 12/31/19. Your annual fee will be applied to first bill.
- Annual Fee: $69 (This amount does not count toward $4,000 spend.)
- Anniversary points: 3,000
- [Side note: Anniversary points are the points Southwest gives you when you pay your card’s annual fee each year. So, next year, when it comes time to pay $69, Southwest tries to provide you an equivalent amount in points, which would be 3,000 in this case. Benefits like these can help you weigh whether or not an annual fee is worth it.]
- Anniversary points: 3,000
- Plus charges 3% on foreign transaction fees. If you’re planning more international travel, the Premier or Priority may be better options for you.
- 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per dollar on all other general purchases.
- Annual Fee: $99 (This amount does not count toward $4,000 spend.)
- Anniversary points: 6,000
- No foreign transaction fees.
- Annual Fee: $149 (This amount does not count toward $4,000 minimum spend.)
- Anniversary points: 7,500
- $75 Southwest annual travel credit each year.
- 4 upgraded boardings every year (when available).
- 20 percent back on in flight food and beverage purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees.
If you think you’ll take more than 2-3 trips before 12/31/19, the Companion Pass sign-up bonus is a great deal opportunity. We used Companion Pass last year and my husband flew free with me to Colorado, Belize, Turks and Caicos and Mexico! If you don’t think you’ll travel often, wait until the special ends and they offer more points (without the Companion Pass) or consider one of the cards listed below. Finally, there is a different way to receive the Companion Pass for a longer period of time by signing up for 2 cards and reaching 110,000 points. If you’re interested in learning more, click here for additional information.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred: This 50,000 point sign-up bonus can go a long way! And to top it off, you have a $0 into annual fee with this card.
- Points bonus: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Annual Fee: $0 intro annual fee for the first year, after that $95.
- 2x the points on travel and dining and 1x the points on general purchases.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- 50,000 points are worth 25 percent more when booking through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal on the Preferred card. They approximate the points are worth $625 toward travel (flights, rental cars, hotels).
If you are interested in signing up for Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can also visit their website or my referral link. (If you sign up using the referral link, I am awarded a small amount of points as a bonus.)
These next two come with a hefty annual fee, but if you travel often, the benefits play a large role in the increased price. I’ll break this down for you…
- Chase Sapphire Reserve:
- Points bonus: 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Annual Fee: $450 (This amount does not count toward $4,000 spend.)
- 3x the points on travel and dining.
- $300 annual travel credit that can be used on plane tickets, car rental, etc.
- 50,000 points are worth 50 percent more (compared to 25 percent on Preferred) when booking through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal on the Reserve card. They approximate the points are worth $750 toward travel (flights, rental cars, hotels).
- Complimentary Priority Pass membership to over 1,000 airport lounges after enrollment. (We love this benefit! Airport lounges offer great food, drinks and even a shower.)
- Global entry or TSA Pre-Check $100 credit. (Another amazing benefit if you don’t already have Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check.)
$450 isn’t cheap, but with a $300 travel credit and $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check, among other benefits, it’s not going to waste. If choosing between Reserve vs. Preferred I encourage you to weigh the benefits and how/if you plan to use them. If you don’t see yourself using the benefits, go with Preferred for the same points (and without the annual fee).
- American Express Platinum: This card is really meant for avid travelers with their high annual fee.
- Points bonus: Currently 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months. Can be up to 100,000 points depending on available offers.
- Annual Fee: $550 (This amount does not count toward $5,000 spend.)
- Up to $200 in annual Uber credits. $15 for U.S. rides each month plus a bonus $20 in December.
- 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. 5x points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com. 1X points on other purchases.
- Access to 1,200 lounges across 130 countries.
- Global entry or TSA Pre-Check credit.
- Select one qualifying airline and receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year when incidental fees, such as checked bags and in-flight refreshments, are charged by the airline to your Platinum Card from American Express Account. In some cases this can be used for airline gift cards.
- Earn up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card.
If you are interested in signing up for American Express Platinum, you can do so by visiting their website or my referral link. (If you sign up using the referral link, I am awarded a small amount of points as a bonus.)
These cards provide many benefits if you’re interested in traveling and beyond. I’ve outlined an “at-a-glance” look, however each card also has other benefits and specifics I didn’t get into that you may want to keep in mind. Here are a few websites and blogs I recommend reading should you want to learn more:
The Points Guy
I hope this was helpful to you and if you have any questions, I’m more than happy to answer. Send me a message on Instagram and tell me where you hope to travel to next. ☺
Safe travels, friends!