We started using credit cards for travel rewards last year and have booked a handful of trips on points. Here’s our personal credit card strategy, the cards we chose, and the trips we took! This post includes affiliate links, and any card offers mentioned may change in time.
Our Credit Card Strategy For Travel Rewards
If you’re following along with this blog, you know we started opening credit cards with the intention of accumulating points to spend on travel at the beginning of 2021. I kept hearing about travel rewards or “travel hacking” on the financial podcasts I love, and I started – very slowly – to learn the ropes. I put my 1% cash back bank card in a drawer and have moved on to much more lucrative cards.
If you’re brand new to travel rewards with credit card points, READ THIS POST FIRST: How To Travel Using Credit Card Points! It has the 101 basics and how to get started.
The “Perfect” Card Path
Some people will tell you that the “perfect” path depends on current offers, which is why it’s hard to nail down an ideal one. This is definitely true, but I also think you can determine a pretty good general path and insert any cards that have best current offers whenever you need to.
The “perfect” path also depends on your travel goals, what cards you already have, and where you live. That said, most experts recommend starting with Chase points (read why in my first post) and then branching out to other point “currencies” from there.
Whether you have a business (loosely defined), and if you’re solo or a couple also affects the order you might choose.
All of the above reasons are why I think examples of how real people have applied for cards and accumulated points are helpful!
Stay Organized With Travel Freely
Once you get a few cards open, you’ll need a good card organizer. You can use a spreadsheet, but that requires a certain amount of responsibility to remember to update it. I use the Travel Freely card organizer to keep track of my cards, dates, fees, and points. The app also tells you when it’s time to get a new card and any current best offers going on. It’s an all-in-one card hub that I highly recommend!
Real Card Strategy Articles
The Travel Freely blog has written a few great articles on credit card strategy with actual examples of the order people have applied for cards. When I was getting started, I found these super helpful because we all need more real life examples, right?!
Check out the credit card strategy posts here:
- Solo Beginner Credit Card Strategy (225,000 points)
- Beginner with Business Credit Card Strategy (400,000 points)
- Couples Credit Card Strategy (600,000 points)
I found these articles so helpful to walk through the timeline and card order that I wanted to share our own credit card strategy and path with all of you.
Beginners: If the thought of getting 10 cards in a year or two is overwhelming, just start with one! One great travel card is better than your 1% bank card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card are both great starter travel cards.
Our Credit Card Strategy
Personal Credit Cards
You will see our pace has been quite slow. We’ve basically gotten a new card when we’ve had a good reason to or there was a good promo or SUB (aka, sign-up bonus) going on. My whole attitude throughout has been “don’t rush,” and so while we technically could have gotten more points faster, our pace has seemed manageable.
February 2021: Kath gets Chase Sapphire Preferred
SUB was 60k points plus $60 in free Peloton credits and a DoorDash pass for the year. Also new to 2022 is a $50 hotel credit.
April 2021: Thomas gets Chase Sapphire Preferred
SUB was 80k points (wish I had waited!) plus the same as the above.
August 2021: Kath gets Chase Freedom Flex
SUB was 20k points, BUT, they had a promo for 5x points on groceries for the first year, so we’ve put all groceries on that for a bonus of 60k points on a max of $12k in groceries. Total points = 80k plus more from flex categories.
March 2022: Kath gets Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
This card had an incredible 100k point SUB AND a bonus $200 on a vacation rental AND $300 travel credit in the portal. These meant after the $395 annual fee I came out $100 ahead. Plus a free Priority Pass membership.
June 2022: Thomas gets Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (the regular one)
SUB was 75k points. This card is basically just like the Venture X above but is slightly less premium. I might downgrade my X to this one when the annual fee is due, depending on what’s going on at the time.
Total points from sign up bonuses = ~400,000 (plus more from spending!)
Business Credit Cards
As previously mentioned, with two businesses you can more than double the points you’re eligible for! Thomas has a big spender business (they buy lots of lumber and building materials and supplies) and I have a small business (I’m buying Beautycounter samples, digital subscriptions, and internet hosting.)
A big spending business will obviously earn you more points just with spending, but remember it’s the sign-up bonuses that are the focus, so even a small business who can hit the minimums can make this work.
Cards We Have
- Ink Business Preferred (Thomas)
- Ink Business Cash (both)
- Ink Business Unlimited (both, and Thomas got an extra bonus on this)
- You can see we have many more to come!
Total points from sign up bonuses = ~500,000 (plus more from spending!)
Total Points Total = 1,000,000+
Spending Points: The Trips We’ve Taken
The way we have spent our points was not the Very Best Way. I value simplicity and ease over squeezing every last redemption dollar out of my strategy, so there are times when I just booked travel within Chase and called it a day rather than researching and using Chase transfer partners. I’m OK with that decision because I know we can always earn more points! Thinking about the perfect transfer partner, especially with flights, stresses me out. So I just kept it simple and booked travel in Chase or Capital One.
August 2021: Durham Hip + Modern Hotel
Thomas and I stayed for a night at the Unscripted Hotel.
- Points: 17,000
- Value: $232
January 2022: Winter Getaway To Miami Beach
We stayed at the Nautilus by Arlo for three nights that I booked through Chase. (We used vouchers from cancelled 2020 flights to fly there so no points were spent on flights.)
- Points: 165,000
- Value: $2,071
March 2022: Staycation at the Swanky Quirk Hotel
Mazen and I stayed at the Quirk for the night. I transferred 15k points to Hyatt and booked it there. (Unfortunately The Quirk is no longer a Hyatt partner.)
- Points: 15,000
- Value: $250
March 2022: Group Birthday Celebration at Primland Resort
This trip wasn’t booked with points, but noting here that we put it on the new Cap One Venture X card and I got a $200 credit for booking a “vacation rental.” I was pleased this counted for that!!
April 2022: Williamsburg Hotel
My mother-in-law and I had planned to stay together for one night for a wedding shower, but at the last minute I couldn’t go. She went without me!
- Points: 19,000
- Value: $242
June 2022: Family Fun Summer Trip to The Homestead
If you know a thing or two about travel rewards, you’re going to cringe at the redemption value here, but we booked this trip last minute as a treat for the boys, and it was worth every penny we didn’t actually spend! We knew going in this wasn’t a great value, but because we had the points, we just thought: use them now while we can! We also charged all of our food to our room, and I used the Cap One travel eraser to erase that charge with points, so there is even more value in this trip!
- Points: 123,000
- Value: $1,543
- Used Chase Sapphire $50 hotel credit
- Used ~$400 worth of points to erase food
August 2022: New Orleans
Mazen and I have a trip to NOLA booked! I used points for one flight and used the $300 Cap One travel credit for the other.
- Points: 37,000 + $300 credit
- Value: $750
December 2022: Celebrating our 40th Birthdays / 5 Year Wedding Anniversary
We cashed in a BUNCH of points and are going somewhere really fun and tropical just the two of us!! Any guesses!?
Future Trip: Disney
We can’t decide when we want to go to Disney and if we want to use points (which you can at the Swan or Dolphin hotels) or stay in a Disney resort. Read more on how to do Disney on points here! We will definitely use points for the flights, and will probably go for the Southwest cards for that.
Total Value: More than $10k!
As you can see, the small amount of work to track cards has paid off for us in a major way!!
I think it’s also wise to remember that you don’t have to travel hack forever. You can also be smarter than us and just use points on flights (the best value) and pay cash for hotels.
You also don’t have to book huge vacations to make this worth your while – a friend of mine has a son in travel soccer and has to book a lot of one-nighters at hotels for his tournaments. Since opening a few cards, she’s been able to book those hotels on points. Start small and learn the ins and outs and work your way up (or don’t!).
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