As we approached the 20th anniversary of our wedding, my wife informed me that she wanted to go to London for our anniversary (though I don’t remember her mentioning whether or not she wanted me there with her). I started researching the least expensive methods of intercontinental travel and asked advice from people who had been to Europe several times. Their advice was that the cheapest way to travel to Europe is by using credit card reward points.
I had been using credit card cash back rewards programs for years, but as I started researching travel reward points, I realized I had been doing credit card reward programs all wrong. Cash back is often the worst available benefit of credit card reward programs (other than no reward at all). I’d also been leaving bonus rewards on the table for far too long.
A big caveat to any credit card reward strategy is that you need to pay off the card in full every month and avoid any interest charges. If you are carrying a balance on your card(s), you are losing all the “free” benefits of the reward program by the interest that you pay on the card. Don’t carry a balance on your credit cards!
Each major credit card issuer has their own travel rewards program, for example:
- American Express Membership Rewards
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Citibank ThankYou Rewards
- Capital One Rewards
Each credit card reward program partners with various airline and hotel chain rewards programs to provide some pretty great value. If there’s a particular airline or hotel chain that makes most sense for you to travel with, then you’ll probably want to select a credit card reward program that partners with your preferred airline or hotel chain. For example, American Express Membership Rewards partners with Delta SkyMiles and Hilton Honors (among others). Chase Ultimate Rewards partners with United MileagePlus and World of Hyatt (among others). Both Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards partner with Marriott Bonvoy.
But you don’t have to have frequent flyer status to earn free travel rewards. You can earn points that can be redeemed for travel just by using a credit card that is connected to those travel programs. Additionally, you can often get a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points or more (valued at $2,000 by some industry experts) just by getting a particular credit card and spending a certain amount in the first month or so of holding the card.
After doing my research, it looked like United would give us the most cost-effective method of earning a free trip to Europe, so I jumped into the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. I currently have the following Chase business cards:
Most cards will earn at least 1% of your credit card spending toward rewards. These cards also provide certain categories in which they provide larger benefits. For example, I earn at a 3% rate on the Preferred card for any travel expenses paid. With the Cash card, I earn 5% back for any office supply store purchases. I use the Unlimited card for purchases that are not covered by any special categories since it earns 1.5% on all purchases (better than the 1% from the other options).
In addition to earning points for the expenses I pay with those cards, I also got significant bonus points when I first opened each card. And because I have the Preferred card, I can combine all those points into a single location for maximum travel purchasing power.
Think the Chase Business Ink cards and Ultimate Rewards program might be good for you? You can click on this link to apply for one (or more). And if you use this link, it will add a bit to my Ultimate Rewards point balance, too.
And, don’t forget – don’t carry a balance on your credit cards!