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Since JohnnyJet gets new readers every day, I thought I would write a quick guide for beginners to the world of rewards travel.
Know Your Credit Score
If you plan on applying for any travel rewards credit cards, then you should know and monitor you credit score. It’s that simple. There are plenty of free sites like Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and even some credit cards that let you see your credit score for free, but I pay for a full service through Wells Fargo where I can monitor all three bureaus and keep a tally of my inquiries.
You should also know what factors go into your credit score.
Understanding your credit score and the impact a new credit card application or closing has on it is very important. You don’t want to play around with your credit.
Also, if you can’t manage your credit card spending, you shouldn’t apply for any travel rewards credit cards at all. It’s that simple.
But if you know your credit score, and it’s in good condition, you can leverage it for insane travel through rewards miles and points.
Have a Goal
If you’re just starting out, make sure you have a specific goal that you’re working towards. This helps you know which miles and points to earn. Also, it’s easy for some to become focused on earning, earning, earning, but then they feel some sort of guilt about using their hard-earned miles or points. Nonsense!
You should be redeeming your points, because they don’t earn any interest in your accounts. Don’t be a points hoarder! There’s always going to be an upcoming devaluation, so earn & burn, baby.
When my wife and I started out, we wanted to go to Europe, specifically Italy (Jordan had seen “Under the Tuscan Sun” a few too many times). So I started researching what miles I needed to get there. Two credit card applications later, we had our airfare covered. I couldn’t believe it.
Know What Travel Cards to Apply For
My favorite type of rewards points are transferrable points, which simply means points that you can transfer out to travel partners. Transferrable points give you more flexibility because of the multiple travel transfer partner options, and because they can be redeemed at a higher value than fixed value points.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred out to travel partners. One of those partners is United Airlines. Once you transfer your points out to United, you can book a round-trip ticket to Europe for only 60,000 miles in economy. This is easily worth $1,500. If you were to use fixed value points for this flight, from say, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, you would have to have 150,000 points. No thanks!
Fixed value points can serve a purpose, and I do collect them. But for beginners who want to travel internationally and/or in business/first class, it’s important that you start earning transferrable points, or airline miles, first. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Points can all be transferred out to multiple travel partners. Here’s the best standard personal card from each program:
- Ultimate Rewards: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Membership Rewards: Platinum Card® from American Express
- Thank You Points: Citi Premier℠ Card
It’s also worth noting that it’s currently a little harder to get approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, so it should be the first card you apply for.
- Best American Express Credit Cards
- Chase Sapphire Preferred vs Capital One Venture
- Best Citi Credit Cards
Read, Read, Read
Once you’ve decided to do this, you might as well dive in. There are a ton of resources online about how to earn and redeem miles & points to get the most value. Use the google search feature on our website to search past articles, so you can learn to travel like you never thought you could before.
An example of something that can be difficult for new readers to understand is alliances, but understanding alliances opens up the possibilities even more. Here’s the quick explanation: If you have miles in an airline’s loyalty program, then you can use those miles for any airline that’s a partner or is in that same alliance. The Star Alliance and oneworld Alliance offer the most value. For example, if you have any British Airways Avios (UR transfer partners) you can fly American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and any other partner airline with your Avios miles.
Also, understanding each program’s routing rules, fees, and award charts will help you get the most out of your miles.
Don’t be intimidated if it all sounds daunting. You can easily book most award flights on the major airline’s websites, but diving in a little deeper will reap you even greater rewards. For example, even though I used American Airlines miles to book Cathay Pacific first-class flights, I didn’t search for award availability on the AA website. I searched the British Airways website for Cathay Pacific award flights. Once I found the award availability I was looking for, I then called AA at 1-800-882-8880 and spoon-fed them the flights.
This hobby can be extremely rewarding. But don’t get started before knowing your credit score. Only consider this if you can manage your credit card spending. After that, it’s as simple as picking a goal, learning the cards to apply for, and finding ways to maximize your points. Trust me, your efforts will be well spent!
- American Express Gold Credit Card Review
- Best Rewards Portal Comparison
- Best Places To Get A Free Credit Score Check
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.