So you understand your travel hacking basics, and you have a plan? Now what? Apply for your first card and then…
Manage Your Accounts
- Once you have several cards open, staying on top of your accounts becomes essential, so begin with your first card. Utilize Award Wallet to keep track of all your loyalty programs and accounts (remember, some cards give you status at hotels, which can be recognized by hotels in other families, a “status challenge”). Set calendar reminders to remind you of payment due dates and card annual renewal dates. Utilize pre populated spreadsheets or create your own.
- Be sure to take advantage of all benefits. Review your card site and information to see what’s included with your card. Some items may require additional action on your part. Request Priority Pass lounge card, get TSA precheck/global entry reimbursement, utilize monthly shopping discounts/links (For example, we just used these for Christmas shopping and were able to combine them with Ebates and coupon codes!). Don’t leave a benefit behind!
- Understand all the earned benefits and when they expire. Some cards have an annual travel credit you’ll need to use within 12 months or before January. Make sure you use or transfer points prior to closing the card if you aren’t keeping it for another year.
- Organize your cards not in use in a card wallet to ensure they are around when needed.
Cash In and Travel
- The best part! With our points and credits and statuses we have: used airport lounges, tsa precheck reimbursement, global entry reimbursement, room upgrades (Hilton Dubai, JW Marriott Jaipur, Hilton Salalah, Holiday Inn Phuket, Holiday Inn Dead Sea, Marriott Petra, Intercontinental Amman, etc.), free breakfasts, hotel lounge access (free drinks and food), airline upgrade reimbursements, free flights, free hotel stays, free airport meals, rental car upgrades, delayed baggage cost reimbursements, rental car insurance. I’m excited to share a few upcoming award trips soon with more details on how we made each one happen.
- When planning to cash in awards, look into transferable point programs to take advantage of all your points. For example, one of us transferred Chase Ultimate rewards points to the other through the Chase Travel Portal to book a free round trip flight to Egypt.
- Look for the option to redeem your points through the card’s travel portal for a better return on your points. For example, Chase Ink Business Preferred points usage through the portal gives 1.25 for every point.
- Understand the airline alliances (One World, Star Alliance, etc.) to use points to book with different airlines. Ex: American Airline miles can potentially have a greater redemption value with partner airline Qatar.
- Combine free night certificates with point nights for a longer stay.
- Maximize airline redemption sweet spots. For example, British Airways points can give you short haul flights for a fraction of the points of other airlines, whereas American Airlines may be the better redemption for US to Europe.
- Continue to work through cards as you reach the bonus, redeeming them for the next desired trip. You can either plan a trip and find cards to meet it, or use your card benefits to determine where you travel.
- As discussed previously, cost/benefit analysis when annual fee comes again.
- Keep in mind rules like Chase’s 5/24 rule (see part 1).
- Keep up to date with the latest changes, benefits, and available cards. This hobby requires frequent reading.
- Active Duty military have especially great flexibility with the lack of annual fees on many cards. High value reward cards are great options.
Obviously, this is just a very basic overview. Other helpful sites: The Points Guy, Frequent Miler, Travel is Free, Derp Report (military specific)
Planning to apply for an American Express card? Please consider using my referral link. We both get a bonus!
If this post helped you, please share my budget travel tips with a friend.