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3 steps for getting started with points and miles if your New Year's resolution is to travel more

Sarah Sharkey   

3 steps for getting started with points and miles if your New Year's resolution is to travel more
Edinburgh Scotland

Travel can open new doors and invigorate your life. The downside, of course, is that it can be expensive. Luckily, points and miles can dramatically reduce the price of your trip without cutting out any of the fun experiences - and it's easier to get started than you might think.

My husband and I opened the Chase Sapphire Preferred and used it be pay for our wedding, and we used the rewards to cover our hotels during our honeymoon in Scotland. That's just one of countless ways travel rewards can help you enjoy travel by slashing your out-of-pocket costs.

As we ring in a new year and a new decade, it's the perfect time to find a balance between traveling more without sacrificing your budget. If you've decided to travel more this year, you need to take advantage of points and miles. In fact, doing so should be your 2020 resolution.

Here's how to dive in.

Keep in mind that we're focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It's important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.

Decide where you want to travel

Once you've decided that you want to travel, you'll need to decide where in the world you want to go. Whether you've seen pictures of your ideal vista or been curious to learn more about a specific culture, follow your heart to a few places on the map that interest you.

Before you start your travel rewards adventure, it is a good idea to have some destinations in mind. There are a variety of loyalty programs associated with rewards credit cards, and the best option for you will depend on where you want to go, and the airline options for getting you there.

Pick a rewards card that will help you reach your goals

Once you have an idea of where you want your travels to take you this year, consider opening a travel rewards credit card that earns you points that can get you to your destination. Not only will you earn valuable rewards on your day-to-day spending by using a credit card, but you can also earn an intro bonus of thousands of points or miles if you're a new cardholder.

Read more: The best credit card sign-up offers available now

Make sure to consider the minimum spending requirements that you'll need to score the welcome bonus. Most cards require you to spend at least $3,000 in the first three months from account opening in order to earn the bonus.

If you'd struggle to meet a particular spending requirement based on your level of everyday spending, then make sure to plan a large purchase during the spending requirement timeframe. For example, you could purchase your car insurance or buy a large household item that you need in order to land the welcome bonus. Don't forget that you can offer to cover group meals on your card and ask your friends to pay you back, as well.

Never spend more than you can afford to pay off in the pursuit of earning travel rewards. The only way you'll come out ahead is if you pay off your balances in full to avoid interest rates. If you're not in a position to take advantage of rewards cards, focus on paying down your debt instead - here are some of the best cards for balance transfers and intro APR periods.

Here are some of the best travel rewards credit cards to consider.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

If you're just getting started with travel rewards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great option. It's one of the best picks for those who are new to points and miles thanks to the strong rewards you get in exchange for a relatively modest $95 annual fee.

The welcome bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points - after you spend $4,000 in the first three months - is worth $750 toward travel if you redeem your rewards through Chase. You can also transfer Ultimate Rewards to a travel partner, such as United or Hyatt.

Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card »

Capital One® Venture® Rewards credit card

You can score 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months of opening the Capital One Venture card. Since these points are worth 1 cent each when used to "erase" travel purchases from your statement, that means you'll have at least $500 to spend on travel.

In contrast to many credit card travel rewards available, the Capital One Venture can reimburse your travel expenses directly to your statement. You don't need to book your travel through a specific travel portal in order to redeem these miles - though you can transfer your miles to Capital One airline partners such as Emirates and JetBlue as well.

With this wide range of flexibility, you'll have the option to travel anywhere in the world. Plus, the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, so you won't have to worry about that for 2020.

Click here to learn more about the Capital One Venture card »

American Express® Green Card

Although the American Express Green card has a relatively high annual fee of $150, you can still gain a lot of value from this card. You'll be able to earn a welcome bonus of 30,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 within the first three months of opening the account.

In addition to the welcome bonus, you'll be able to earn 3 points on every dollar spent on travel and at restaurants worldwide. If you plan to make travel a bigger part of your lifestyle, then this could truly come in handy. After all, you want a card that will continue to reward you long after you spend the welcome bonus.

You can use your Membership Rewards points to book flights, hotels, and more through the Amex Travel portal. You might be able to find lower prices on flights around the world through this portal to get you to your dream destination at a lower cost. Your other option for using Amex points for travel is to transfer them to airline and hotel partners - your options including Delta, Marriott, and Virgin Atlantic.

Click here to learn more about the Amex Green card »

Earn the sign-up bonus and keep racking up points

The cards above are just the tip of the iceberg. Wherever you want to go in 2020, there is likely a travel rewards credit card that can take you there.

Travel rewards are amazing. But they can only transform your life if you take action and use the cards that work best for your situation. One key to maximizing your travel rewards points is to hit the minimum spending for welcome bonuses. When you sign up for a new card, make sure to consider the spending requirements. Track your spending to ensure you land the bonus.

Start traveling

Travel rewards open up travel opportunities that may have seemed out of reach before. With careful planning, travel rewards can slash the total cost of your 2020 travels to a minimum. Why wouldn't you take advantage of these amazing rewards to achieve your resolutions this year?

Once you have the points, you simply have to plan to trip to somewhere amazing. Where will you go first?

Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card »

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.