By Mike Faden | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
4 Min Read | November 06, 2019 in Cards
To maximize free travel, experts suggest you aim for one cent—or more—in travel value per point.
Traveling off-peak, booking early, and snapping up points bonuses also help maximize travel benefits.
It may be worth combing through all travel credit card perks—and then using them in as many ways as possible.
A key advantage of a travel credit card is that as you spend, you rack up points that you can exchange for travel experiences like free flights, hotel stays and other perks. If you’re like most travelers, you’d like to convert the points you’ve earned into as much travel as possible. Fortunately, there are simple techniques you can use to make your credit card points go further—perhaps helping you swap a local vacation destination for a trip to Hawaii, or upgrade from a humdrum hotel to a palatial resort experience.
Here are seven ways you might consider to get more from your travel credit card points.
One rule of thumb for spending your travel credit card points wisely is to look for the maximum cash value per point. To do this, you simply compare the price that an airline or hotel charges in cash with the number of points you need for the same flight or hotel stay. Experts suggest aiming for at least one cent in travel value per point but estimate that the travel value can reach two cents per point with some cards.1,2
Traveling off-peak is often a good way to get more from your points. One reason is greater choice and availability. On days when there’s high demand, airlines and hotels may limit the availability of award seats, even though many no longer officially impose blackout dates that block you from using credit card points. And with off-peak travel, you may need fewer points for your journey. That’s partly because many airlines are moving away from fixed award pricing, where the number of points required for each flight is fixed and published in advance. Instead, they’re moving towards a dynamic pricing approach in which the number of award points needed to “buy” a ticket may vary continuously based on the current dollar price of the tickets—which in turn is based on factors such as availability.3 So at times when ticket demand is low, award prices may fall and vice versa.
Experts say that booking award flights early is often a good way to get the best deals, as well as the greatest seat availability and choice. Many airlines start opening up award seats roughly 11 months in advance, although they may not release all seats at the same time. The exact schedule varies depending on the airline. So marking your calendar with a reminder to start searching when the airlines start making seats available could help to get more flying miles for your points.
Many travel cards offer one-time or periodic bonuses that can maximize your points and miles. For example, some cards offer initial sign-up bonuses of tens of thousands of points or even more, as long as you spend a threshold amount in the first few months of owning the card. Once you’ve acquired the card, it can pay to stay alert for the offers and deals that appear from time to time. These may include transfer bonuses, which effectively increase the value of your points on specific airlines by letting you exchange them for a larger number of miles in those airlines’ frequent-flyer programs.
To use your credit card points for travel, you need to keep them from expiring. Experts say that’s much easier than it used to be, although it varies depending on the card and the loyalty program. In fact, with a general-purpose travel credit card, the points you accumulate in the card-issuer’s program may never expire as long as you maintain an open account in good standing. With airline and hotel loyalty programs, unused points may still expire after a specific period, but you can avoid losing your balance by topping up the account in various ways, including travel card spending.
Some credit cards entitle you to elite status in hotel, car-rental or other provider programs, which bring valuable perks like free stays, room upgrades and waived booking fees. However, to make sure you get those benefits, you may need to go through a separate enrollment process for each of those programs.
It’s worth combing through each travel credit card’s complete list of perks, because you could uncover minor treasures that can add up to worthwhile travel savings. For example, some cards include free car and baggage insurance, eliminate foreign transaction fees, and provide credits toward ride-share services and airline fees.
Simple techniques can help your travel points credit card take you farther and help you travel in more style. Seeking out the biggest redemption value per point, taking advantage of early and off-peak pricing, capitalizing on points bonuses and exploring all of your card’s benefits are all ways that points experts say can help translate your points into more travel.
1 “Redeeming Credit Card Travel Points: What You Need to Know,” ValuePenguin
2 “What Are Points & Miles Worth? July 2019 Monthly Valuations,” The Points Guy
3 “United MileagePlus’ Dynamic Award Pricing Trend,” One Mile at a Time