I have flown Emirates First Class, I’ve booked round-trip economy flights, transatlantic flights… I’ve booked week-long rental cars for a dream road trip on the East Coast of the USA —
all for “free” using credit card points.
I’ve even booked Business Class from Cape Town, South Africa to New York with Meyer, and our dog, Bailey — all using travel reward credit card points that I earned through my regular spending.
Let me tell you this: travel reward credit card points are a GAME CHANGER.
While they might seem extremely mysterious and almost too good to be true, I’m going to break down specific examples of when I’ve redeemed points, how I did it, and how much it saved me.
And, in the case that you are already using travel reward credit cards, I’ll give you some insight into my personal favorites!
Here’s how I travel the world for free (using credit card points!).
How I Racked Up Over 1,000,000 Points
First things first, I have 5 travel reward credit cards.
Yes, that may seem like a lot, but they all serve a slightly different purpose and I’m getting the most bang for my buck. Or in this case, the most points for different purchases.
Here’s what’s in my wallet:
Again, I use ALL of them, but for different reasons!
I use my credit cards whenever, and I mean WHENEVER possible. You can pay your taxes, car insurance and put everyday expenses on your credit card.
You also want to pay attention to where reward credit cards earn bonus points.
For example, the AMEX Gold card earns 4x points per dollar spent on groceries and dining out—that’s better than my Chase Sapphire credit card, so I’ll always reach for my AMEX when indulging…or at Trader Joe’s.
Whenever you’re booking travel, you should also use whichever credit card gives the best point per dollar spent bonus.
Which Travel Reward Credit Card is Best?
I predominantly use my Chase Cards because Chase has some of the best redemption values and travel partners.
If you’re just starting out or don’t have a Chase Sapphire Card in your arsenal, get the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card with the bonus while you can!
For every dollar that you spend on travel and dining, you will earn 2 points. The travel category defined by Chase is much broader than you think and offers a lot of flexibility, making it easy to earn points.
Along with airline tickets, hotels, and car rentals, you’ll also get two points for every dollar you spend on bus tickets, taxis, limos, toll bridges, parking lots, and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft (yes, Uber counts!).
Plus, you’ll earn 1 point per dollar on ALL other purchases!
When it comes to dining, you can earn points at fast food outlets, Michelin-rated restaurants, and everything in between. You can also earn bonus points at select bars and food delivery services.
This is the BEST bonus in history — you can currently earn 100,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months.
If you already have a Chase Sapphire card, my second recommendation would be the AMEX Gold Card.
And not that this is a big deal, but I personally have the Rose Gold card and it’s very pretty. 😉
My #2 Card Recommendation
(Behind Chase Sapphire Preferred)
The Amex Gold (or Rose Gold) Card has great perks for groceries, eating out, and dining. It’s got a great 60,000 bonus, plus you get the Amex gold perks.
While it does have a $250 annual fee, you get a really good dollar return on food!
There are also a ton of cash bonuses.
While the point system for the Gold Card from American Express is what initially drew me to it, there are quite a number of other benefits that you can, well, benefit from!
Annual Dining Credit: You get up to $120 dining credits per year—which come at $10 monthly statement credits when you use your Gold Card at participating restaurants. Make sure to enroll via the Amex website to snag this perk!
Uber Cash: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
Baggage Insurance: Cross your fingers this doesn’t happen, but if your suitcase is lost, stolen, or damaged and you paid for the ticket with your Amex Gold, you can get up to $1,250 in coverage for your carry-on, and up to $500 for checked luggage.
The Hotel Collection: You’ll also receive a $100 credit toward dining, the spa, and other fun activities at the resort. (I really like this!!)
Essentially, if you can make sure to take advantage of those dining and airline credits, you’ll almost offset the annual fee. Which, if you think about the other perks you can get, it seems like a steal to me.
Oh, and there are no foreign transaction fees—which is a biggie for me!
This is a great card if you’re a foodie like me. You get 4x the points on groceries, dining out, and even coffee!
Booking Free Flights Using Points
Here are some examples of how I’ve used travel reward credit cards to earn points that I redeem for free flights, hotels, and car rentals.
While I did have to make purchases to accrue points, these are the everyday purchases that I’d be making regardless of points — we’re talking groceries, gas, eating at restaurants, and everything in between.
International Long-Haul First Class
Emirates First Class Dubai to Los Angeles
Points Redeemed: 47,250 Skywards Miles
For this flight, I was already booked on Emirates Business. I love flying Emirates or Qatar because you can get a really good Business Class flight deal a lot of the time.
I also hold status with these airlines from flying with them so frequently, that I can often get upgraded.
In this case, I was already booked on Emirates Business Class from Dubai to Los Angeles. When I logged in to check for an upgrade, there was a limited-time, reduced-rate upgrade.
As a note, this is one of the LONGEST flights in the world — it clocks in at about 15 hours and the upgrade was only 20,000 points.
It was the pinnacle of boujie flights…but my goodness, was it lovely (and in my opinion, worth it. Treat yourself, right?)
When I say my flight was incredible, I mean INCREDIBLE. It exceeded my expectations and then some. Here is my review of Emirates A380 First Class Flight from Dubai to LA!
Emirates is a Capital One Partner, so I used my Capital One Venture points, transferred them to Emirates, and was able to book the First Class flight.
I took a shower at 40,000 feet, ate caviar, and drank Dom Perignon…all for free!
This was one of my best use of points and that was an incredible value. It wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t use my Capital One Venture Card.
International Long-Haul Business Class
United Polaris Cape Town to Newark
Points Redeemed: 165,500 Points + $49.75 USD
When I was based in Cape Town, I got very familiar with the different routes available…and wouldn’t you know, it’s not super easy to fly directly to Cape Town from California.
Normally, it takes about 25 hours to travel from the West Coast of the US to Cape Town.
Before they launched the United Polaris Business Class flight that goes from Newark to Cape Town, it would take me THREE flights to get from California to Cape Town.
At the time, the only flight to South Africa was from Atlanta to Johannesburg. So I would have to take 3 flights to get home (California to Atlanta, Atlanta to Johannesburg, Johannesburg to Cape Town).
It was a serious long-haul travel day(s) and I was exhausted every time I did it.
So, when United launched their brand-new Polaris Business Class, it became my go-to flight when I was bi-coastal.
Since this was such a long flight and I wanted to upgrade, this was always a fantastic use of points.
And then the pandemic hit. Before the world turned upside down at the beginning of March 2020, Meyer and I booked 2 Business Class seats from Cape Town to San Diego (connecting in Newark).
We were leaving Cape Town to come to the US and bringing our entire lives with us, including our dog, Bailey. Note: At the time, ESA (Emotional Support Animals) were still recognized.
I would have paid any amount of points to get my family to the US safely. Because we were bringing an ESA — we had to fly on a US airline. I also knew we wanted to book Business Class to be comfortable since it’s such a long-haul flight.
While this is the most amount of points I’ve ever spent on a flight, it was 100% worth it for this situation. And, it didn’t cost me a penny.
Domestic Transcontinental Business Class
JetBlue Mint JFK to San Diego
Points Redeemed: 62,627 Points
I have an upcoming flight where I’m flying from JFK (New York) to San Diego. JetBlue Mint has one of the best Business Class offerings in the domestic US.
While this was pretty hefty in terms of how many points I spent (62,000) — the value was definitely there. The flight would have cost me around $1,000, but I didn’t spend a penny because I used points.
This was with Chase points!
International Multi-City Economy Round-Trip
Delta Economy San Diego > Athens, Barcelona > San Diego
Points Redeemed: 67,787 Points
As a note, your points go a lot further if you fly Economy (just as a flight is always less expensive if you fly Economy instead of Business Class).
I recently booked an upcoming multi-city trip to Europe where I’m flying from San Diego to Athens, and then Barcelona to San Diego for just 67,000 points.
That’s just about the same “price” in points as my one-way Business Class flight from New York to San Diego.
This is on Delta with Chase points.
This was a really good deal. The round-trip flights were around $1,000 dollars, which means that 67 points is equal to about a dollar. While that might seem minimal, it truly adds up!
If the opportunity presents itself, I typically will pay cash to upgrade OR use points to upgrade. In this case, the point value to book Business Class was astronomical and I’m more than happy to fly Economy.
If I have the choice, I would prefer business because of how much I travel (I’m not a princess, I swear!)
But when you’ve flown over 1 million air miles and spent over 3000 hours in planes, being comfortable is my preferred method of travel. Plus, I’m always down for a good deal!
International EU Economy
Iberia Economy Athens, Greece to Palma, Mallorca
Points Redeemed: 21,500 Points + $62.24
I used to have a British Airways Avios Reward Credit Card. While I canceled it when I moved to Cape Town (as the flights no longer made sense), this card was amazing as I was flying British Airways A LOT.
At the time, one of the few direct flights to Europe from San Diego was to London. I was able to transfer British Airways Avios points to Iberia to book domestic flights within Spain for an upcoming trip.
Booking Free Rental Cars with Points
Because of the pandemic, renting a car right now is INSANE. There are a lot of people traveling domestically, so when I went to book a car for an East Coast road trip, it was going to be over $100 per day.
I decided to look into using my points and it turns out the point value was better than what I would have spent in cash.
Points Redeemed: 51,214 Points
RITZ-CARLTON MILLENIA SINGAPORE
Consider the Sign-Up Bonus Points
So many cards out there offer INCREDIBLE bonus points if you spend a certain amount in the first few months.
Consider what your normal spending habits are and compare that with what the offer is.
For example, some cards require you to spend $4,000 in the first three months to earn 60,000 bonus points. If you’re already swiping a credit or debit card for $1,500 each month, you’ll easily meet the minimum.
I would not recommend spending wildly just to get bonus points, but if you’re already paying for groceries, gas, transportation, and other things and can easily meet the minimum spending requirement…
Why not earn points on them?
A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least $.01 per point value.
When Am I Getting Good Value for Points?
I don’t always book using points because it is a great value—even though I do always try!
However, it’s entirely up to you. For me, the whole “point” of points is to not spend money.
At the end of the day, it’s personal. As I described above, booking our flights from Cape Town to the USA was the most important use of points I’ve ever used.
Everything else I’ve ever booked has been for leisure.
It wasn’t necessarily the best point per dollar value but my upgrade from Business to First Class for Emirates was the best deal where the point was worth a significant amount of money.
Flexibility is key for getting really good deals, especially with points.
Sometimes you’ll also find limited windows in which your points are worth more (or less). Keep in mind that reward flights aren’t offered every day or on every flight, so being flexible with your dates is necessary.
New to Travel Rewards Credit Cards?
If you’re new to the travel rewards credit card space, definitely check out my beginner’s guide to get a better grasp on things. I know it may seem confusing at first, but there are so many ways to make points work for you!
If you’re looking for a new card, check out the best travel reward credit cards that I recommend.
It’s important to not treat a credit card like play money — only spend what you are capable of paying off each month.
Interest rates are where “travel hacking” loses its value.
The most important factor of strategic and responsible earning is to ALWAYS pay off your credit card each month.
I have never spent a single dollar on interest. Earn those points but use those cards wisely.
Have you ever booked a getaway with credit card points? Do you have a preferred card?
Or are you still confused about how to get the most bang for your buck?
Let me know in the comments below!