I have had enough people ask me how we travel with credit card points, that I thought it was time to FINALLY write it down in a blog post. Travel has always been important to me. It’s some of our favorite family memories, and much more important to me than aquiring things. Even though we have a limited budget, I have made it a priority that our family travels and makes memories. I have been able to do this by utilizing credit card bonuses.
I will tell you which cards we have and which ones are my favorite, but I want to mention a few things first:
- 1.) If you are the type to be tempted to spend more than you have, I would avoid signing up for credit cards. We have A LOT of cards, but none of them carry monthly balances or debt (they are paid off in full each month). Also, we have certain cards for certain expenses, we don’t use all 10 all of the time. We also have everything setup on auto-pay so it doesn’t get too confusing.
- Signing up for a card strictly for a bonus and then cancelling it, is not a good idea. And it can get you banned with certain companies. Also, there’s a myth that if you have a lot of credit cards, you will have bad credit. This simply isn’t true. My husband and I have been using credit cards to travel for 10 years now, and we have always had excellent credit. The more credit cards you have, the more “credit” you own, which equals higher credit scores. The trick is to not carry a balance month to month. Pay them off in full! If you have a card that you don’t use very often, it’s still helping your credit, so closing it is often a bad idea. AGE of credit is also a big deal for your credit. so never close the credit card that you have had the longest, or your age of credit decreases and impacts your score.
- If you are going to own a credit card, it’s essential that you understand credit utilization, as it has one of the largest impacts on your credit score. Credit utilization is how much of your credit you are actually using. You want to always stay under 30% to avoid negative impact on your credit. So if your Credit card has a credit limit of $3,000….never go above $1,000 in charges. This is why having more credit cards has improved our credit scores…Each card increases our credit limit. Also, remember that credit utlization is a combination of all of your cards. So if you have a card with a credit limit of $3,000 and you put $2500 in purchases on it, but you have another credit card that you don’t use that has a limit of $5,000…..you are still under the 30%. Also, if you have multiple credit cards with one bank, you can ask them to spread your credit in different ways. For instance, I have 3 Chase cards, but only one that I use for everything. I asked that most of my credit be on that card, so that my spending limit is higher.
Best Credit Cards for Travel
We currently have over 10 cards, but I will tell you which ones are my favorite specifically for “travel hacking,” AKA getting the best bang for your buck when it comes to using credit card points for travel.
My Favorite Travel Credit Cards
Chase Sapphire: This is hands-down my favorite credit card due to the amount of perks you get back and also how flexible it is.
It says the 60,000 points is equal to $750 towards travel, but we’ve used the points for much more than $750 worth. I’m happy to chat if you want to know some of the ways to make it stretch the furthest, but your biggest bang for your buck is definitely transferring your points to Hyatt. 60,000 points would cover many small stays, or a couple of really high-end resorts. You can also transfer your points directly over to Southwest or other travel partners, or redeem the points in the Chase travel portal. This card also comes with perks for Instacart, Doordash, etc.
Airline or Hotel-Specific Credit Cards
Southwest Credit Cards
We signed up for Southwest because we like having the companion pass (which I’ll have to write about in a whole new post) and deals on certain flights. Delta is for when we prefer non-stop or other routes that are better on Delta. The Southwest credit card is how we are getting our family to Hawaii for an upcoming wedding. It’s the only way we would ever be able to afford to take our kids. We are flying with points and the companion pass. One perk to the recent drama everyone witnessed with Southwest holiday travel, is that the sign-up bonus for their credit card is now higher than it usually is. LOL.
Delta Credit Cards
For Delta, we chose the Delta Platinum for the Priority boarding, free checked bag and annual companion certificate. When considering cards that have annual fees, look for perks that pay for the fee. The companion pass is what made me decide to do this particular card. Also, keep in mind that credit card fees are tax-deductible for your business. Also know that unlike the Southwest companion pass which lets someone fly free EVERY TIME you fly, the Delta companion certificate can only be used once. We are grateful we have both the Delta and Southwest card because we were supposed to fly to San Diego for our anniversary over Christmas. Because of all the cancellations with Southwest, we cancelled our trip and rebooked a couple weeks later with Delta.
Hotel-Branded Credit Cards
For hotel chains, we have Marriott and Hilton because those are the brands we like to use the most. Marriott now has a whole line of airbnb-like properties now which is awesome if you prefer to do home rentals.
We chose the Marriott credit card because we like the hotel chain, but also because the sign-up bonus was awesome for what we needed. They have a card with no fee for 1 free night, and they have a card with a $95 annual fee for 3 free nights. It was a no-brainer to opt for the fee on this card because we are using the free nights for a property in Hawaii that runs over $700-per night! The savings we are getting on this card is incredible. They also gift you silver-elite status and a free night each year on your account anniversary. I love getting hotel status with a credit card, because I don’t ever stay enough nights to acquire status naturally. You can see the benefits of both cards here.
Our other hotel card is the Hilton Aspire. It’s the first card I’ve ever considered with a higher annual fee ($450), but the perks more than pay for it. Just the points alone can get us some nicer properties, but you also get a free night with this credit card. We are using the free night for our anniversary on a really nice resort in the Florida Keys that runs over $800/night. A price we would never justify in normal life, but we will definitely enjoy it if it’s free 🙂
You also get Silver status with the Aspire card which gets you
- $250 Hilton Statement credit on eligible purchases at Hilton resorts. Since we knew we would be staying at a Hilton for our anniversary, this perk made sense. Now we have our meals covered.
- Space-saving upgrades. Getting an upgrade on your room can pay off in huge amounts, especially if you end up getting a suite or penthouse!
- $250 airline fee credit. This ins’t a must-have for us, and didn’t sway me on getting the card, but it should be a nice perk.
- Priority Pass Select: This perk gets access to over 1,200 airport lounges. Which equals free food and drink while you’re waiting for your flight. This will especially pay off if we end up traveling abroad with longer layovers.
The last card that we utilize for travel is the American Express Gold Card. It offers a lot of flexibility like the sapphire, and they pair well together because they have different travel partners. A lot of people use this card to get cheap flights to Europe and other countries. You can also book almost anything in their travel portal, but I find points go further transferring to a hotel or airline directly. I got this one because it earns 4x points on restaurants and grocery stores. Everyone’s gotta eat! If I had to choose one or the other, I would pick the Chase Sapphire every day, but since I was looking for another card with similar flexibility, this was the one.
Also….if you are really looking to utilize sign-up bonuses, you and your spouse can both get the any of these cards rather than getting one card and adding the other person as an authorized user.
Happy to answer any questions you might have about our experiences with any of these cards.