12 Travel and Credit Card Tips for Greater Value and Enjoyment (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, we provided Part 1 of this two part series.  These are additional suggestions on how you can optimize travel and other rewards, as you spend money.

We hope these can help you to create some wonderful travel and other experiences with your family and friends.

Consider these various tips and ideas.  If they make sense with your lifestyle, travel or spending habits, implement them.

7. Be strategic about using credit cards that pay significant quarterly bonus percentages.

  •  Pay attention to quarterly bonuses and remember to register each quarter to activate them.
      • Credit cards such as Discover and Chase Freedom offer quarterly bonus categories, which are worth paying attention to. They vary and you must register online each quarter. These are often 5% rewards on spending in certain categories you likely spend anyway, such as gas, restaurants, home improvement stores, movies, Amazon or department stores.
      • Keys: you need to register quarterly and keep track of what the card is offering in each incentive category each quarter. The extra effort should be worthwhile.
  • Costco branded credit cards have always had good cash back reward percentages. Costco is switching from American Express to Citi / Visa effective June 20th. The new Costco Citi Visa will offer 4% rewards on gas purchases and 3% rewards on restaurants and travel purchases, such as airfare, hotels and car rentals. If you shop at Costco, these are great reward incentives.
  • You should strategically decide how you want to spend and decide if you want to earn cash back for certain purchases, and reward points for future use for other items. For example, you may want to use a Costco card for gas purchases to get 4% cash back, but use a hotel branded credit card for many other purchases, to accumulate points for use on a specific trip or destination.
8. Join hotel reward programs and get their branded credit card.  Just do it. I did this a few years ago, for the chains I frequent the most and it has been very worthwhile. The benefits can be significant.
  • My wife and I planned a trip for next fall and the hotel will be free for 5 nights, as we are redeeming points which I accumulated with hotel stays and purchases on their credit card. Between the 4 nights I’m using points and the 5th night they give for free when redeeming points, I expect that the return should be very significant, far above the typical 1% on many cash back reward programs.
  • For many hotel and airline cards, you can accumulate points and perks much faster through your spending then through actual stays or travel, especially if you reach elite status levels. (See more on this in #3 in Part 1 of this post).

9. For longer stays, consider paying for a premium credit card which provides the 4th night for free on a 4 night stay. As discussed in the prior post, Citi Prestige and Amex Platinum credit cards provide this perk, which can easily pay for the card many times over, depending on your travels. If you are planning a stay for 4 or more nights at least once in a year, particularly to an expensive location, getting one of these cards should be seriously considered. I have not obtained one of these cards yet, but it is next on my list.

  • These cards would be optimal if you plan to travel to a major city for 4 or more nights or to a resort in high season. Think New York City, San Francisco or places like Grand Cayman or southern Florida resorts in the winter.
10. Pay attention to bonus point offers for obtaining new credit cards.  Monitoring bonus offers, which you can do by following websites such as www.thepointsguy.com, can pay off.
  • Just applying and getting certain credit cards can get you free travel, at no cost.
  • I recently got a Starwood hotel credit card for free, with enough bonus reward points that will provide at least $1,000 in room value, depending on when and where I stay.
  • Be selective about how many new cards you apply for within a 3-6 month time frame and what bank the credit cards are from. You should not apply for too many at once and not have too many from the same bank or financial institution.

11. Consider your everyday spending and how to charge it.

  • First, take advantage of high reward categories and cards that offer quarterly bonuses (see item 7 above).
  • Then, determine which cards would be best for airfare, hotels, restaurants and car rentals. Each credit card can be different, offering 1X, 2X or 3X points, depending on the credit card and their definition.
  • Next determine how to optimize your spending on all the other things you charge, which generally don’t fit into the “bonus” categories, so you can try to earn above the standard 1% on that spending.
  • I recommend learning about Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program, which is available via their Chase Sapphire Preferred and certain Chase business credit cards.
    • With Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can earn an extra 20-25% benefit by linking Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited credit cards to Ultimate Rewards credit cards and then book travel or transfer points through Ultimate Rewards.
      • Before I was fully aware of this extra benefit, I previously cashed in Chase Ultimate Rewards points for 1:1 cash back. With the Ultimate Rewards travel benefit, I could have gotten a 25% increased benefit. Don’t cash in Ultimate Rewards for cash, use them for various travel benefits with many different travel partners.
    • With certain Chase business credit cards, there are even more categories which provide 5% bonuses, beyond those typically mentioned in #7 above.

12. Watch redemption values, especially with airlines

  • When redeeming points, it pays to carefully monitor the values, especially for airline travel. I could not believe the fluctuations in points needed when planning a trip, as the points would change by 10-20,000 points from one day to the next, both up and down. It can be risky, but it can make sense to watch the movements over a week or so before you redeem airline points, especially if your travel is months away and the plane is not full. I saved over 10,000 points on a redemption on Delta by monitoring this closely.

Additional reminder: Get TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. See item 1 in my first post. With the recent warnings about really long airport security lines, everyone should get TSA PreCheck. If you are flying, as the ads used to say, don’t leave home without it!

I truly hope these ideas get you thinking about how you spend and travel, as well as how you can maximize the benefits which are available, if you know and use the right strategies. Just as investing can be complicated, we try to simplify that for you.

If you have other tips and thoughts or opinions about this blog post, I would love to hear them. Please let me know what you think, at bwasserman@wassermanwealth.com.

Disclosure: I use some of the above credit cards and am a member of some of the hotel loyalty programs mentioned. I have not been compensated for any of these comments. They are based on my own experiences, opinions and research, with special mention to www.thepointsguy.com, which I highly recommend. There are many credit cards, hotel chains and airline reward programs, all with varying benefits.  The purpose of this post is to make you aware of the potential uses, not to recommend any specific product or company.


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