I Booked a Trip to France for $5.60 Using Points, Here’s What I Learned
Like a full time travel coach, I highly recommend getting a credit card that earns you points for travel with every purchase. It’s one of the ways I allow myself to travel so much myself. Over the past four years, I have visited 27 countries on six continents. The points are an integral part of my strategy to continue to travel. The points you earn with everyday spending add up quickly, and reward travel is not only rewarding, it can also help bolster your status with an airline or hotel chain, allowing you to earn upgrades and status that pay off even more.
Pro tip: this strategy is best used if you pay off your credit card balance on time and have no credit card debt.
I like The dot guy as a resource for choosing the best rewards cards. They update their site frequently so you can be sure you’re getting the best deals currently available. For points towards flights, I use my American Express Gold Skymiles and American Express Platinum Skymiles cards. For hotel points, I use a Visa Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® card from Chase.
Here are some of the wonderful deals I’ve gotten over the years with rewards points:
- A one-way ticket from New York to Christchurch, New Zealand for 40,000 points and $26
- A one-way ticket from New York to Paris for 35,000 points and $5.60
- Upgrades to beautiful hotel suites in Montevideo, Uruguay and Johannesburg, South Africa for 7,000 Marriott Points per night
- Ongoing upgrades to Delta Comfort when available
While it’s simple to apply for one of these cards, there are a lot of things to consider before deciding. who cards to request. Here’s what I’ve learned from my own experience using points for travel, and some of the nuances you can expect when using them.
1. Consider your desired destinations
While the rewards themselves, such as new customer bonuses and what it takes to earn them, should be part of your decision-making process, be sure to think about where you intend to travel, especially if it is an international trip. Points can be used worldwide. However, they cannot be used everywhere in the world.
For airlines, the key is knowing which partner airlines your preferred airline works with. You can simply Google “XXX partner airlines” where “XXX” is the name of your preferred airline. Here are examples of Delta, American airlinesand United Airlines’ the partners.
At this point, you are researching which airline has partners in most places you think you want to go. It may take some time for your mileage to accumulate and you cannot transfer it between airlines. So I recommend that you make sure you choose the carrier that offers you the most potential.
When I went to Vietnam, I was able to fly in Asia on partner airlines for 12,000 to 15,000 points per flight. In Europe, I got a business class seat from Portugal to Scotland for 25,000 points. I have flown with points from Cape Town, South Africa, Portugal and from Cartagena, Colombia to El Calafate, Argentina. Using dots can literally help you see the world.
2. Know where your card is accepted
Outside of America, I’ve noticed that Visa is often more widely accepted than American Express. This is disappointing because American Express offers excellent customer service and protection. Unfortunately, they charge merchants higher fees because of everything they offer. These higher fees often discourage merchants from accepting American Express in their establishment.
Pro tip: Due to the high likelihood of traveling to places where American Express is not accepted, make sure that at least one of your rewards cards is a Visa or Mastercard. If you intend to travel abroad, it goes without saying that you should also look for a card with 0 international transaction fees.
3. Find out what rewards you get in addition to free travel
The ongoing rewards are what make these cards even more valuable. Between my points and flying with Delta or partner airlines every time I travel, I’m a Medallion Member. That gets me two free checked bags. These days, it’s liquid gold. Not only does my flight almost suck, but I’m relieved that I don’t have to add expensive baggage fees. Often two checked bags on an international flight can cost upwards of $100, so that’s a huge plus for me. I also get a free companion ticket every year, and sometimes a $100 eCredit towards the purchase of a future flight.
My Marriott points get me free rooms and using my credit card for purchases gets me free stay rewards. And, as a loyal member, I often receive room upgrades. As a full-time traveler who often stays in places on a budget, when I use my Marriott loyalty points, it’s like hitting the jackpot for part of my stay.
I just used some of my Marriott rewards to stay in Singapore at Duxton Reserve, a fabulous property. Extremely luxurious, quiet, great location and free. Singapore is outrageously expensive, so having the free nights saved me a ton of money for my stay there. Rather than staying in a hostel, I was able to stay in a nice hotel and relax.
4. Find the point value
Each airline and each hotel has its own reward system. You should consider how many points you need for a free flight or a free hotel stay. Also, do you get one point per dollar, or more? It’s important to think about how quickly you can expect a free flight or hotel stay.
In other words, if you need 20,000 points for a free hotel stay and you get 1 point per dollar, you’ll have to spend $20,000 to get the reward. If, however, you get 3 points for every dollar, those expenses drop to just under $7,000. There are normally promotions throughout the year, not just for new members, which will allow you to accumulate points faster. Pay attention to those. They usually offer extra points for groceries and refueling. Sign up for the promotions you use most often to quickly build up your miles/points base.
Another advantage may be the way you are treated by partner airlines. Above I suggested you find out who they are. I’ve found, time and time again, that when I use my Delta Points on a partner airline, I not only get free checked bags, but I’m also allowed to reserve a preferred seat, which is normally something for which you pay extra.
5. Compare required points by booking in advance
The more flexible you can be with your trip, the fewer points you’ll likely use to do so. For example, my trip to France used 35,000 points, reserved 3 months in advance. If I had booked last minute, I might have paid 100,000 or 150,000 points for the same seat in economy class.
Also look at the blackout dates. Each airline handles this differently, but Delta, for example, may increase the points required for a destination if it’s a holiday or weekend. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often cheaper in dollars and points for domestic and international journeys. Other airlines may not have seats with points on a holiday.
When looking for flights, the best thing to do is choose ‘flexible dates’ if you have that option, then check the airline’s fare calendar, which will show you a roughly 30-day disposition of all fares. , allowing you to choose the cheapest.
That flight from Cartagena to El Calafate, Argentina that I wrote about taught me another lesson. Some routes have limited weekly or even monthly flights. I found out that the flight I wanted was only available three times a month. Using the monthly calendar to search for my flight, I was able to see these three options.
If I had only searched for specific days, I would have thought it was impossible to book this route with points. So part of using points is making sure you research your desired route in different ways (weekly, monthly, direct, with layovers, etc.) to understand all of your options.
6. Member Rewards or Travel Rewards
A final consideration is whether you prefer to accumulate points with, say, American Express and then transfer them to a specific airline or hotel at the time of travel. The advantage of this strategy is, in theory, that you can then benefit from any airline and any hotel, and increase the likelihood of getting a great travel deal just about anywhere you travel. . In other words, you have more airline and hotel options than if you put all your points into one airline or hotel chain. You can also use member rewards for gift cards, and sometimes cash can be just as useful as points.
However, when you factor in the time it takes to transfer points, which may mean losing an available flight or hotel reward, and whether or not this strategy earns you customer loyalty rewards (upgrades , free luggage, etc.), it might be less appealing.
On the other hand, when you put all your points into a specific airline or hotel chain, you have a higher chance of getting those loyalty rewards. However, as I mentioned, you will be limited to their partner networks. Also, if you ever decide you’re unhappy with an airline or hotel chain, you can’t transfer your points with them to another carrier.
Membership rewards and points should absolutely be part of your strategy to save money on travel. Deciding which strategy and cards to use requires research, good credit, consideration of long-term goals with points, and an idea of where you want to go.
Want to know more about reward travel? Read My husband and I have 21 separate airline and hotel credit cards between us, here’s why.