How to Travel Using Points

Earn points for your next trip

Fun fact: I traveled for work for over 4 years after college. For much of that time I practically lived in Charlotte, NC even though I was paying rent in another state. What does this have to do with travel planning? Well, I earned a lot of points in that time. Two flights, 4 nights in a hotel, and a 5-day car rental every week adds up. Not to mention all the comped meals that added to my points balance. Those points have paid for a lot of my vacations, and I have continued to earn even though I no longer travel for work. 

There is an entire subculture that exists to learn about travel hacking. I’m not that serious about it, I just enjoy the easy accrual of points and have figured out some simple ways to keep it going. If you’re interested in having your next flight covered, or being able to stay in downtown Amsterdam for free, read on.

Loyalty Programs

The first step is to sign up! Pretty much every airline and hotel chain has a loyalty program. You can sign up for all of them, but I suggest narrowing it down to one of each. One airline, one hotel chain, and one rental car company. Make sure you choose companies that are available in the places you want to go! Many airlines have partners in other countries, so your points will be good with them, also. 

Get Elite Status

Now that you’re signed up, it’s time to make your way to the top of the status scheme. This can be done a few ways, and will vary by brand. There are three main ways to earn points and gain status:

  1. Travel often. If you’re able to do this for work like I used to, then this is the best way to get status quickly. But for most of us it’s not really an option. When you do travel, just make sure that you’re flying and staying with the brands that signed up with.
  2. Get credit cards with these companies. Every major airline and hotel chain has a credit card they offer. Using these gets you some number of points per dollar spent. This is the main way I earn points nowadays, and is very easy. Instead of using cash or debit, I put everything on a card. Then, once a month, I pay it all off. Just make sure you don’t put yourself into credit debt for this, that defeats the whole point.
  3. Buy it. You can actually purchase elite status. I’ve never done this, but it’s an option.

You can also ask. I’m not listing this above as it’s not a guaranteed way to gain status, but you can call customer service and ask to have your status bumped up. If you say you plan to be traveling frequently in the upcoming year, they will be more likely to say yes.

Another perk of having elite status with one company is that it often gives you elite status with a second company. For example, if you have Platinum status with Marriott, it gives you Gold status with Hertz and Silver status with United Airlines. It can pay to work on status for one specific company instead of trying to spread yourself among a few.

Get elite status by earning points
Photo by Greenhouse Cowork on Unsplash

Credit Cards

I mentioned that you can use loyalty credit cards to earn points. You can also use cards that are not affiliated with a travel brand. There are many credit cards available that earn points in general, allowing you to use them for many purposes.

Finding cards with sign-up bonuses can give you a boost when you’re starting out. Be aware that some of the better travel credit cards require a good credit score and come with a higher annual fee. Check that you’ll be spending enough and earning enough points to make this worth it.

Dining Programs

Dining programs allow you to earn when you eat at a participating restaurant. Most major airlines and hotel chains offer dining programs alongside their loyalty programs, you’ll be able to earn the points there as well as on the card you pay with. Choose a program that includes restaurants you already enjoy visiting. It’s free to sign up, so you can register with several to keep your options open. 

Online Shopping Portals

Airlines and hotels have shopping portals. It basically takes you to same retailer site that you normally visit directly, but now you earn points! Add to that the points you get for paying with your credit card, and you’re double dipping again! Besides the airlines and hotels, credit card issuer’s often have these portals as well. 

With the above tips, you’re ready to go! To give you an idea of my setup, I have the Marriott Rewards card and the Capital One Venture card. My loyalty programs are Marriott, American Airlines, and National Car Rental. What’s yours?

Earn points for your next trip
Photo by Khachik Simonian on Unsplash