Right from the get-go, I must say that Brandon and I have not yet mastered how to use travel points. We have certainly researched and read up but it didn’t really quite live up to the hype when we first tried it out for ourselves.
Honestly, it was mostly grounded in the weight of managing our student loans and really having nothing to do with travel at all, that we hesitated for so long to take out a credit card for travel expenses. Especially because for so long, I got great budget deals and have many experiences under my belt that didn’t include any travel points–I had a system that worked and I was good!
When we decided to get married and purchase a house all in the same year, and when you know you are going to be spending the most money you’ve ever spent, it was important for us to have a way to reward ourselves for all of the hard work we knew we would be putting into these decisions–that reward was a great honeymoon!
Having a strategy that we stuck to was the key to making sure we would have our dream honeymoon. This was the perfect chance to spread our wings and try to use travel points. I want to fill you in on what we chose to do so that you may be able to see for yourself where we went wrong and if you are heading down the same road.
And not to fear! You won’t be leaving this post feeling like you have a whole bunch of “what not to dos” without some great ways to get started off on the right foot because we have Alex from The Lavorato Lens here to set us all straight! With her AMAZING insight, you will be well on your way to travel points heaven much faster than Brandon and I so start getting excited because it is worth getting excited about!
If picking a travel card alone was intimidating to you, we are right there with you.
It is difficult to look at all of the travel cards out there, with different rewards built in, and see what will work best for you–especially if you are expecting that it is never as good as it sounds.
While that notion was in the back of our mind, we didn’t stop ourselves from getting excited about choosing the Capital One Venture Card.
When we signed up, it had a bonus that included an additional 10,000 miles if you spend $3,000.00+ within the first three months of receiving the card. We knew we would be spending that much so it seemed great to us!
We signed up as a joint account
Any purchases made on the card, like $30.00 at the gas station, directly turned into 30 miles. We didn’t use the card for everyday purchases though, only for the major deposits for our wedding which seemed to result in much larger amounts of miles–we also made sure that any deposits that were charged were paid in full for the next month so that we were staying in good credit as well as building our miles.
However, as the year and a half of purchases came to an end, it was time to really get down to what we were working with as far as travel miles.
In speaking with many different people about their interpretations of travel miles and how it actually translates into usable cash towards, flights, for example, I think it’s important to break this down even if it seems like a no-brainer:
Say you have just gotten your travel card and you spent $3,000.00 on purchases to get that 10,000-mile bonus. You have 13,000 miles and you are super excited and want to take a weekend trip right away…before you go thinking you can fly 13,000 miles away or that it equals $13,000.00 worth of flights, move the decimal over two places and now you can see what you’ve really got to work with (with no additional bonus options for this card, by the way).
13,000 miles = $130.00 in cash or rewards. Which can be great for a weekend away! Not some major international flight, though. We were somewhere in the middle of the spending range for our wedding and some household remodeling so we thought we would at least be able to buy one of our international flights for our honeymoon.
When we crunched the numbers, it just didn’t make sense. It was very much a tough realization that we would have to restrategize and work off of our usual method for booking–luckily, we had always planned to take our honeymoon a few months after our wedding so we still had plenty of time.
Instead of letting it get the best of us, we opted for a spontaneous mini-moon with friends that would take place right after the wedding. It was much closer to home and allowed us to make great use of the points we acquired.
We were satisfied and enjoying the newlywed phase, but we couldn’t help but keep looking back to try and understand what we might have done wrong when it came to our travel miles.
Even though we had done our research, Alex can shed some light on how we could have made better choices to optimize our usage starting with choosing a better card:
“Without going into the nitty-gritty, The Chase Freedom remains one of my favorite cards because of the lucrative 5% cash-back bonus. What makes the Chase system great is that you can either redeem for cash (statement credit) or once you have built up your credit enough (750+), you can apply for one of their travel cards like the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve.
This opens up the Ultimate Rewards (UR) bank, that you can then transfer to any one of Chase’s partners, many of which are a 1:1 transfer option, the best, in my opinion being United Airlines.
While the statement credit option is tempting, I implore you to not do that if the end goal is travel.
The Freedom offers quarterly rotating categories for the 5% cash back bonus and usually tries to match them to the season.
What I mean by this is that for Q2 or Q3, it will usually be gas and dining (summer travel), Q4 is usually something around shopping for the holidays (this year it is department stores). So, if I spend $200 on gas during one of these quarters, that’s $10 in statement credit.
On the other hand, the way that Chase does their points, [that comes out to] 1,000 points. To go a little further in this math, which I’m really not great at, a round trip ticket from the east coast to Europe is usually around 65K miles (United), versus $1,300.
By simply placing all of your regular spending between the Chase Freedom and the Sapphire, you can quickly build up to that 65k needed for a round trip.
You can do this strategically, as well. Know you’ll have a big spend coming up? About to buy a new car, replace your roof, or even just about to take a vacation? Now’s the time to open one of these cards.
The standard offer for opening a Freedom is 15,000 points when you spend $500 in the first 3 months, and for the Sapphire, it is 50,000 points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months.
If you have ever seen an offer that’s higher than that, take it. On top of that, if you refer a friend (or your husband, child, etc.), the minute they make their first purchase, you get another 10,000 points.
So, it’s better to not have a joint account on rewards cards. I’ll say that again. Do not sign up for a joint account on rewards cards because you can refer each other and get bonus points for that. These cards are the gift that keeps on giving.”
Right off the bat, you can see the difference in the available rewards options. Chase allows you to build your points faster and with more bonus options that are constantly creating an incentive for smart spending–not just spending to spend!
It is a fantastic point to not have a joint account and to potentially double your points by working together to use your cards. It truly never crossed our minds! We often think that joint means more organized and keeping us on the same page, but this is an element that Brandon and I have implemented right away and it is completely working and worth it!
Another element we missed was by only using the card for big purchases.
Instead of tracking and making use of every purchase, we were limiting ourselves and losing out on points that we were spending money on anyway!
Alex and her husband instead, “are very diligent about putting all of [their] expenses on credit cards, and even more so, ensuring [they] are paying for everything on the right card.”
“I typically don’t rotate cards out of my wallet,” she says, “because I might always have a reason to use one. I use my AmEx if I’m paying for airfare, the Sapphire for dining and travel (unless the Freedom’s quarterly bonus is dining), and I use the Freedom for whatever it’s quarterly bonus is.”
You can certainly remain organized with your spending and create a plan for your travels. Don’t make our mistakes of:
Choosing a card that doesn’t offer enough incentive for your spending and travel needs.
Signing up for a card jointly without being able to take advantage of signing up bonuses.
Only using a card for specific purchases instead of maximizing the overall value of points you can be earning.
I highly recommend heading over to the Chase website and researching for yourself what can work for you because once you find your way through the maze, the benefits–especially in relation to international flying–are remarkable!
Alex says, “Because we took advantage of sign-up bonuses, referrals, and paying attention to how we are using our cards, my husband and I have been able to bank enough points to take one international trip every year for the last three years.
We’ve been to Europe (flight path: CLT –> FCO, BUD –> CLT), Southeast Asia (flight path: CLT –> CNX –> BKK – free flight to BKK using the Explorer Perk, HAN –> CLT) and our upcoming trip to Peru, which will also be our first time flying First Class (CLT –> LIM, LIM –> CLT). All of these were booked on award miles through transferring UR to United.”
It is important to know that flight booking through rewards and points is different from booking through a website or directly through an airline and it is fairly straightforward once you sign on to the portal.
Alex points out that, “We always use United because they have the best international redemption. It cost 65K RT to go to Europe ($1,300 value), 75K RT to go to Southeast Asia ($2,200+ value), and 75K RT to go to Peru ($2,000+ value).”
“If you want to book through any airline, you’d have to go through the portal, and often times the ratio isn’t as good as if you transferred the points directly to the carrier (like transferring UR to United miles)
British Airways (Executive Club)
Air France/KLM (Flying Blue)
Korean Air (SkyPass)
Singapore Airlines (KrisFlyer)
Southwest Airlines (Rapid Rewards)
Virgin Atlantic (Flying Club)
Are the airlines that Chase lets you transfer 1:1.”
We are so grateful to Alex for sharing her amazing insight and knowledge! This is a topic that can be quite complicated and quite frankly, a pain!
We have implemented so many of her tips already and it has completely changed the way we are planning our future trips.
“Giving you a full look inside [her] wallet:
Oh yeah, and the Bank of America 1-2-3 card! To completely round this out, my husband has pretty much the same set, but he has the Freedom Unlimited and the Sapphire Reserve, instead of the Preferred. Like I said, die-hard Chase fans!”
You can find more tips and tricks that we use to travel by on our website! We would like to thank Alex again for stopping by! How do you strategize and use your travel points? Have you found an awesome method that works for you? Did you have a similar experience to Brandon and I or are you a points boss like Alex? Share your story with us! We would love to hear from you!
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