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Maximize Your Travel Rewards With These Tips

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You might think the best way to earn travel rewards like airline miles or hotel points is by flying or staying in hotels, but you'd be wrong. These days, the fastest way to rack up rewards is by getting a travel credit card, using it wisely and making the most of its benefits.

To earn travel rewards, you should think about the kinds of points or miles you need and then find a credit card that will help you earn even more of them with everyday spending. After that, keep a few simple steps in mind to maximize your rewards.

1. Sign Up for Travel Rewards

It's fast and free to sign up for pretty much any airline frequent-flier program and hotel points program. You usually only need to enter your name and email address to do so. Simply by signing up, you'll be ready to earn miles when you fly or points when you stay at hotels. You will also automatically be registered for email deals and promotions that can earn you even more rewards and score you big discounts on travel.

2. Pick the Right Program

The next step is deciding which rewards programs will be most useful to you.

  • Airline miles: Do you want airline miles you can redeem for free flights? If so, is there a certain airline or group of airline partners you fly the most? Focus your flight activity on one or two airlines that you use most frequently so you can rack up miles with them when traveling.
  • Hotel points: Would you get use out of hotel points that you can put toward free stays? Do you usually stay at one company's hotel brands more than the others? The major hotel chains include dozens of brands now and have thousands of hotels around the world. For example, Marriott includes 30 brands, such as Sheraton, Westin and Courtyard, while Hilton has nearly 20, including Embassy Suites and DoubleTree. When planning travel, try to concentrate your stays with the brands of one company or another so you can more quickly earn points with a main loyalty program.
  • Transferable points: Some travel rewards credit cards earn points you can transfer to different airline and hotel partners. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns Ultimate Rewards points you can convert into miles with 10 airline partners, including JetBlue, Southwest and United, plus three hotel partners, including Hyatt and Marriott. The Platinum Card® from American Express earns Membership Rewards points that transfer to 19 airline partners, including Delta and Hawaiian Airlines, as well as hotels such as Hilton and Marriott.
    Transferable points are a great choice for folks who are not loyal to a single airline or hotel chain. Because you can send your points to the frequent-flier or hotel program you want to use, you don't have to spend years flying or staying with a single company to earn free reward travel.
  • Cash back points: On the other hand, you might prefer a simple cash back rewards program where your spending gets you a solid rate of return. For instance, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card earns 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases. Miles are worth 1 cent each when you redeem them for travel or as credits to "erase" eligible travel purchases from your statement using Capital One's Purchase Eraser tool within 90 days of the date the they're posted to your account. This effectively allows you to get up to 2% back on all your spending, when redeemed for travel, without having to master an airline mileage or hotel points program to use your points.

3. Get a Travel Rewards Credit Card

Once you home in on the right type of rewards program for your needs, it's time to think about getting a credit card from that program. Travel rewards credit cards are the single best way to earn a lot of points or miles quickly without even having to travel. Here are some of the most important reasons to open one.

Earn an Intro Bonus

An intro bonus is usually an offer of thousands of points or miles you can earn when you open a new credit card account. Because they can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars in travel, intro bonuses are usually the fastest way to rack up rewards in a short amount of time.

Simply opening your account isn't enough to trigger an intro bonus—there are usually some spending requirements involved. For example, if you're approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you have a shot at earning 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points—but only if you spend $4,000 or more on card purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. If you don't hit that number, you don't get the bonus points.

As you think about the travel credit cards you want to open, be sure you can meet any spending requirements mentioned on the application, and that doing so is worth it to you for the bonus points you will earn.

Get Valuable Perks

In addition to earning a big point or mile bonus, there are a few other great reasons to open a travel rewards credit card. Many offer valuable perks when traveling, such as free checked bags and priority boarding with an airline credit card, or room upgrades and free drinks or snacks during stays with a hotel credit card. Travel rewards cards also sometimes come with money-saving benefits like trip delay protection or refunds on select purchases, such as the $100 Global Entry application fee or the $85 fee to apply for TSA Precheck. So think beyond the bonus to whether you will keep getting value from a rewards credit card and its benefits year after year.

Look for Great Credit Card Offers

Here are some of the travel credit cards that currently offer good intro bonuses.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards, but these points can also be transferred to the loyalty programs of 10 partner airlines and three hotel chains for free flights or nights. The card's annual fee is $95.
  • Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 100,000 miles when you spend $20,000 within the first 12 months (or you can earn 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel). The annual fee is $95.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card: For a limited time, this card is offering 100,000 bonus points to new cardholders who spend $5,000 on purchases within 3 months of account opening. That's enough for two nights at most Marriott hotels around the world, including brands like Westin and Sheraton. The annual fee is $95 per year.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: Earn up to 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. The annual fee is $99.
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: This card from our partner is currently offering 50,000 American Airlines bonus miles after making $2,500 in purchases within 3 months of account opening—that could be enough for two round-trip domestic award tickets in economy, depending on where you go. The annual fee is $99, waived for first 12 months.

For more information on travel credit cards and to see current offers, you can pull up personalized options through Experian CreditMatchTM.

4. Put Expenses on Your Travel Rewards Credit Card

After you apply for a travel rewards credit card and earn its sign-up or intro bonus, you can boost your points even more by charging travel and other purchases on it. Many travel credit cards even earn bonus points on spending at places such as supermarkets and gas stations.

Earning on Everyday Spending

One of the best perks of travel rewards credit cards is that they earn points or miles on everyday spending. When you use a travel credit card to buy something, you usually earn a point or mile per dollar spent. Before you know it, you might have earned enough points or miles for a free trip just by spending money on things you would anyway.

Just be sure you can pay off your balance on time and in full every month. That way, you'll avoid late fees and interest on balances, which are expensive and could wipe out any value you get from the points you earn with your card.

Travel and Other Bonus Categories

If you open a credit card with a particular airline, it will usually earn multiple miles per dollar on any purchase you make with that airline, including tickets. Even better news: Travel rewards cards now earn multiple points per dollar on all kinds of purchases, such as dining, hotel bookings, transportation and more. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card is one of the best options to use for hotel stays since it earns 6 points per dollar at thousands of Marriott hotels. But it also earns 3 points per dollar at eligible U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with passenger airlines, so you can rack up bonus points throughout your travel experience.

5. Other Ways to Earn Travel Rewards

Beyond simply spending every single dollar on a travel credit card, there are plenty of other ways to boost your earning with rewards programs.

  • Online shopping portals: Many U.S. airlines have online shopping portals. For example, American Airlines' portal is called AAdvantage eShopping. These are basically online malls with links to major retailers like Target, Apple and Best Buy among hundreds of others. When you log in to the online portal with your frequent-flier number and click through to a particular store's website to make a purchase, you can earn anywhere from 1 to 30 bonus miles per dollar spent on top of what you would normally earn just for using your credit card.
  • Dining rewards: Many airlines and hotels partner with the Dining Rewards Network. Just look for the sign-up page on your main airline or hotel loyalty program's website. Register with your loyalty number and a rewards credit card. Then, when you dine out at any of the thousands of participating restaurants and use your linked card to pay, you will automatically earn additional points or miles per dollar on your tab.
  • Promotions and partners: Airlines regularly offer their frequent fliers bonus miles for everything from flying new routes to signing up for a newsletter or replying to a specific tweet. Hotels post seasonal promotions that reward their members for things like staying at a particular brand within the company or for booking stays of two nights or more. Be sure to read the emails you get from your travel rewards programs to make sure you're not missing out on the opportunity to earn bonus points and miles.

Get Ready for Takeoff

It's easier than ever to earn travel rewards worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars these days. Just by signing up for airline and hotel loyalty programs, you'll be ready to start earning as soon as you fly or stay. Opening and using a travel rewards credit card is another great way to earn rewards since many offer sign-up bonuses worth hundreds of dollars in free travel, the ability to earn bonus miles on everyday spending and valuable benefits that you can put to use when you travel. Think about the kinds of travel rewards you want, sign up for a credit card with those programs, and start earning. You'll be booking free travel before you know it.

All information about the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card have been collected by Experian and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards. Offer details may be outdated.