Top 10 Credit Card Travel Hacks
Travel hacking is a term some people use to describe how award travel enthusiasts use points and miles to receive travel reservations for nearly no cost. Most often, this involves earning and spending credit card rewards.
And while the number of people interested in award travel has risen in recent years, there’s a brand-new resurgence as tens of millions of Americans eagerly plan their first post-pandemic vacations. Although there’s an almost inexhaustible supply of information about how to earn and spend travel rewards, here are the top 10 credit card travel hacks:
1. New account bonuses. There’s no easier way to get started as an award traveler than to apply for a new credit card or two. Some of the top travel rewards cards now offer over 100,000 or more points or miles toward your next trip.
2. Promotional offers. Credit card companies make money when you make purchases, as a percentage of each sale goes towards merchant fees. And to entice you to use their cards, many card issuers will offer spending bonuses. You may receive them in your email inbox or even in the mail, but it’s vital that you pay attention to these valuable offers. Typically, you’ll have to register for these promotions, but it’s not uncommon to receive 5x points or miles for common purchases such as gas, groceries or dining.
3. Online shopping malls. Many airlines and hotels offer ways to earn additional miles by utilizing their online malls. Basically, you sign into your account online, and click through one of the retailers, and you’ll receive additional points and miles for each purchase. For example, the United Airlines MileagePlus Shopping site currently offers miles for purchases made from retailers like The Home Depot, Kohl’s, Macy’s and Apple. And once you sign-up for a site like this, you can expect regular emails announcing bonus offers for purchases from featured retailers.
4. Dining bonuses. Similar to online shopping malls, there are airline and hotel dining programs that allow you to earn extra points and miles when you go out to eat. The way these programs work is that you register your credit card, and then you automatically receive bonus points or miles when you use your card to pay for a meal at a featured restaurant. And like the mileage shopping malls, you can expect to receive regular promotional offers once you’re registered. Alaska Airlines, American, Marriott, Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, Spirit, United, Hilton and IHG all offer dining rewards programs.
5. Retention bonuses. One of the main costs of using credit cards for award travel is the annual fee. Most award travel cards have an annual fee of around $95, but some premium cards have fees of several hundreds of dollars. The fees may have you thinking of canceling the card. But before you cancel your card, it makes sense to see if there’s a retention bonus available. These are offers of points, miles or sometimes even dollars that are designed to convince you to keep your card. To access these offers, simply call your credit card issuer and ask about them.
6. The Southwest Companion Pass. Southwest already has the most traveler friendly policies, including no change fees and two free checked bags. But if you can earn their Companion Pass, you can enjoy a free companion ticket on all of your flights. To earn the pass, you need to earn 135,000 Rapid Rewards points in a single calendar year. You don’t need to redeem them for the pass, just earn them. You can still redeem the points for award flights. But this can easily be done, in whole or in part, by earning the new account bonuses for Southwest Airlines consumer or small business credit cards. Passes are good until the end of the next calendar year that they are earned, so if you earn your pass at the beginning of the year, you’ll receive nearly two years’ worth of benefits.
7. Free airport meals. If you have a Priority Pass Select card from the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, then you’ll receive a $28 credit per person, for up to three people, at 50 different airport restaurants around the world. Visit the Trail Head BBQ Bar in Seattle, Bobby Van’s Steakhouse in New York-JFK or one of seven different restaurants in Sydney Australia's airport.
8. Amex offers. Log into your American Express account and view each of your credit cards, and you’ll find an extensive list of offers from featured merchants. These deals offer you statement credits or bonus points.
9. Free airport security upgrades. Many cards offer to reimburse you for up to $100 for the application fee for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. And the Platinum Card® from American Express, a Credit Cards House advertiser, now includes $189 of annual credits towards the CLEAR program (enrollment required; see rates and fees).
10. Free hotel status. Nearly every hotel credit card offers you free elite status that can offer you room upgrades, late checkouts and more. The American Express Platinum even includes Gold status with Marriott and Hilton hotels.
Editorial Note: The information related to Chase Sapphire Reserve® was collected by Credit Cards House and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this product/card. Product details may vary. Please see issuer website for current information. Credit Cards House does not receive commission for this product.
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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.