3 steps for getting over 'points paralysis' and starting to use your credit card rewards for travel
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- The rewards you earn with travel credit cards can get you amazing redemptions that otherwise wouldn't be attainable, like first-class flights that would cost thousands of dollars to book with cash.
- But credit card points are only valuable if you use them - and the longer you wait to redeem them, the bigger the chance that they'll lose value due to program devaluations.
- If you're having trouble getting over "points paralysis" and putting your rewards to use, start by researching where your points can take you and decide on a destination.
- Remember that many loyalty programs let you pool your points, so you can work with friends and family to reach a travel goal.
- See Business Insider's list of the best travel rewards credit cards »
You've been saving points for months, charging every bit of spending to your rewards credit card, possibly in hopes of booking a fancy redemption like a first-class flight or a luxury hotel stay. Perhaps you've even scored a big credit card sign-up bonus or two. You've done the work, earned the rewards, and...now what?
If you have a big stash of travel rewards, don't wait too long to redeem them. Airline and hotel loyalty programs periodically "devalue" their rewards currencies, so your points and miles will likely never be worth more than they are now. If you're unsure about how to get started with redeeming your travel rewards, here are some tips to guide you.
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.
Make a plan to redeem your rewards
Ideally, you should set a travel goal before earning credit card rewards so you know roughly how many points or miles you'll need, but better late than never. Once you have a large stash of rewards saved up, start planning ways to redeem them. Look into which rewards programs will offer you the most bang for your buck and transfer your points once you've confirmed award flight or award night availability.
It's especially important to research your options when you're working with transferable credit card points like Amex Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Capital One miles, and Citi ThankYou points. That's because you can transfer these points to a variety of airline and hotel programs, so you may have more than one option for booking the same travel. In that case, you'll want to find the program that requires the fewest points. Having multiple options for booking award travel can also come in handy if one program doesn't have availability for the dates you need.
Most people will settle on a destination and then try to find award space to help them get there. Sometimes it's best to reverse-engineer: Go where the miles take you. If you're flexible, find an airline program with the lowest redemption rates and ample award space and plan your trip accordingly.
When researching award flights, don't just search the airline's website. You won't always find partner availability and sometimes you might come across "phantom" award space. Search for partner award space on the respective partner airline website. So if you have British Airways Avios you want to use for an American Airlines flight, check the American Airlines website for flights.
Once you've spotted seats you want to book, transfer your credit card rewards and call your frequent flyer program's customer service line to redeem your miles.
Earn additional rewards if necessary
You may have a ton of credit card rewards and still find that it's not enough for the trip you want to book. In that case, you'll need to earn additional rewards. Pick up another big credit card sign-up bonus if you're not in a rush to book your travel.
Some of the best credit card sign-up bonuses available now include:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card - Earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months ($95 annual fee)
- United Explorer Card - Earn up to 65,000 miles: 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months, and another 25,000 miles after you spend $10,000 total in the first six months ($95 annual fee that's waived the first year)
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card - Earn 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months ($95 annual fee that's waived the first year)
- The Platinum Card® from American Express - Earn 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first three months ($550 annual fee, as this is a premium card with luxury travel perks like extensive airport lounge access options)
Other options for earning additional travel rewards include utilizing airline and hotel shopping portals, signing up for dining rewards programs, and checking the "Offers" page of your preferred frequent flyer programs to see how you can earn more miles.
If you're hoping to earn more credit card rewards, be sure to use them to maximize category bonuses. After all, why settle for 1 point per dollar on your grocery spending if you can earn 4 points at US supermarkets with the American Express® Gold Card? (The card offers 4x on the first $25,000 spent at US supermarkets each year, then 1x.)
Some banks, including Chase and Barclaycard, have their own shopping portals so you can earn extra points on your online shopping. The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal consistently offers some of the highest payouts at popular online merchants. Do a quick search on Cashback Monitor to find out which rewards portal is offering the most points on any given day.
Pool points with friends for bigger redemption opportunities
Despite your best efforts, there may be times when you fall short of your credit card rewards goal. Luckily, many rewards programs allow you to pool your points with friends or family. Chase allows Ultimate Rewards points transfers between members of the same household.
Citi allows points earned via credit cards like the Citi Premier℠ Card or Citi Prestige® Card to be transferred to other account holders. Cardholders are limited to both sending and receiving a maximum of 100,000 ThankYou points per calendar year. Transferred points expire after 90 days, so only transfer points if you have an immediate use in mind.
Aside from credit card rewards, airline miles and hotel points can also be shared. Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, Radisson Rewards, British Airways, and JetBlue are just a few rewards programs that allow free transfers or pooling of points.
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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.