We are all about making travel as affordable as possible and credit card points have helped us do that. It's not terribly difficult, but it does require some research and explaining.
CREDIT CARD POINTS
Introducing guest blogger... my husband. He knows all the tips and tricks for taking advantage of these credit cards. I mean, he has spreadsheets of data dedicated to figuring this out. He is legit.
So without further adieu - take it away!
Hey, I'm Jon- spreadsheet extraordinaire. A quick word about credit cards in general before I talk about how we use points to help book travel. Credit card points can be an amazing way to
earn rewards, travel, see the world, etc., but ONLY if you use them correctly. The reason credit cards give out rewards is because they pull in more money in interest than they give out in rewards, so do NOT use credit card points if you can't pay off 100% of every purchase, every month.
Otherwise, you will lose money and be worse off, and NOBODY wants that.
Ok, so assuming you are doing it right, there are a lot of levels of credit card rewards. You can go all out and have a constant rotation of new cards to earn sign-on bonuses. This gets you the most points, but takes the most effort and can potentially impact your credit score. There are plenty of websites that can walk you through those strategies (nerdwallet is a good place to start!). Slightly less crazy is to try to capture the best overall reward percentage - you don't get sign-up bonuses as often, but you maximize your reward value for your normal spending (we tend to jump between this and the all-out crazy above...perhaps we will share our personal strategies in a
later post). Finally, if you ARE using a credit card, you should make SURE you are getting at least some rewards. If you are using a card that is tied to a small bank or credit union, you may not be getting any rewards at all, and that is a travesty!
So when we knew we were moving over to the UK, we had to make a few changes to our normal credit card strategy. For one, we had to narrow our card choice to only those that don't charge a foreign transaction fee. No sense earning a 2% reward, but paying a 3% fee on every purchase... Also, we wanted to choose a card with really good travel rewards, given that we will both be DOING a lot more travel, and looking to use point for even more travel. After doing a lot of research, we decided to go with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. It has a high annual fee ($450...ouch!), but you get $300 in cash back on travel (that's 100% cash back on your first $300 spent on airline tickets, rail tickets, rental cars, hotels, etc.), and a BUNCH of really valuable other rewards (which have already saved us hundreds of dollars) and perks. For example, you get entrance to lounges at most major airports (free food and drinks and a quiet place to relax while waiting for flights), and they reimburse membership in TSA pre-check or Global Entry, which saves SOOOO much time at the airport.
One other perk is that the list of "extras" that most credit cards come with is very tailored to travel. If a flight is cancelled on you, the card will pay for your hotel and food. If a trip is cancelled due to medical emergencies, they will reimburse you any non-refunded expenses (they paid us back $1200 for flights that we had to cancel when our 5-year-old was on mandated quarantine for Covid exposure). They provide rental car insurance, which is super handy when you live abroad, don't have a car, and don't have a home vehicle insurance policy that will cover you when you rent a car. We actually used that rental policy to reimburse a $500 fee a car company tried to charge for a tiny scratch that mysteriously appeared on the car after we dropped it off (that paid for the ENTIRE annual fee right there!).
But the main reason to get the card is to earn and use points. The card earns 3 points per dollar spent on any travel related purchase (which includes restaurants, hotels, flights, tube fair, ride share, etc.), and 1 point per dollar on everything else. We are able to put a lot of our day-to-day purchases on the card normally, but moving over here brought with it TONS of big expenses (many of them travel expenses) that really ramped up our reward points. Then the Chase redemption system gives you ~1.5 cents per point when you redeem the points, so it is a pretty good and competitive card, even if you aren't living abroad and traveling like crazy.
The Chase redemption system is also super easy to use - you can search for
flights and hotels and book them right on the system with just a couple of clicks. They also have a much easier process for cancellations and refunds than most airlines (trust me....we have USED that with all the COVID-cancelled trips during the pandemic!). In general, the cost in points is directly proportional to the actual cost of the tickets, so you don't have to worry about paying a flat 25k points for any round trip no matter how many dollars that trip may cost. They will also let you transfer points 1:1 to a lot of major airline and hotel rewards systems, so you can frequently get crazy good deals by booking a flight or especially hotel room that is on super-sale for points through Hilton rewards or British Airways rewards, etc. That last big perk is an expert trick that we haven't fully explored, but I have read online about people booking a week at a resort for
insanely few points... Also (if you want to get really nerdy), all of these rewards are non-taxable, so you can book travel using a resource (point) that you will never have to pay taxes on, regardless of where in the world you pay taxes. Nice!