Have you ever traveled to your dream destinations without reaching for your wallet or spending a dime? We want to introduce you to the magical world of traveling with credit card rewards and all the perks you can get, even halfway around the globe! In this article, we will give you expert tips on booking flights and hotels, navigating blackout dates, and how you can even use your points for some unique travel experiences. Get ready to dive into the world of credit card rewards—travel style!

Before we dive into how to get as much of your trip covered with points as possible, we suggest you check out our article on credit card rewards! Whether you choose a credit card with cash back, points, miles, or another reward type, you’ll be laughing and earning all while using your card. If you want free trips around the world, free cash, or points to use toward a variety of other purchases, you’ll learn everything you need to know in this article.

Flights can be a significant expense during traveling, so knowing how to maximize your travel rewards is extremely important! Below are some tips you need to know when booking flights to your favorite destinations:

These are the best times to book award flights:

  • ​​Calendar Openings: Airlines typically release award seats—seats you can book with your reward miles—around 330-365 days in advance when the booking calendar opens. This is usually the best time to book, especially for popular destinations.1
  • 3-6 Months Before Departure: For non-peak travel periods, booking 3-6 months in advance can offer you more options and availability than at other times of the year.1
  • Last Minute: Airlines often release unsold seats as award tickets just days before departure, particularly for premium cabins.1 Keeping an eye on seat sales at all times can save you some hard-earned cash—and get you in for a last-minute trip!

You can even use fare alerts and award booking tools to help keep you on top of things:

  • Tools like ExpertFlyer and AwardHacker can help monitor award availability and alert you when seats open up. Additionally, setting up fare alerts on websites like Google Flights or Hopper can notify you of price drops and available awards.1

Here are some surefire ways you can navigate blackout dates with ease:

  • Flexibility: Being flexible with travel dates significantly increases your chances of finding available award seats. Aim for off-peak travel times to peak your chances of getting the flight you want!
  • Alternative Routes: Consider flying to nearby airports or taking less direct routes to bypass blackout dates. For example, flying into a secondary airport or taking a connecting flight can help avoid blackout restrictions.1
  • Flexible Dates: Booking platforms that offer flexible date search options can reveal more availability.1
Closeup image of a woman holding and showing credit cards

Understanding airline alliances and transfer partners is essential in maximizing your point value—you could be leaving points behind!

  • Airline Alliances: Leveraging alliances like Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam allows you to use points from one airline to book flights on partner airlines, increasing your flight options and potential value.
  • Transfer Partners: Many credit card programs, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, allow you to transfer points to a variety of airline partners. This can often provide better value than booking directly through the credit card’s travel portal​.1

Stopovers and open-jaw tickets are other things you can leverage to get the most out of your travel points. Let’s explore exactly how these can benefit you:

  • Stopovers: Some airlines allow you to include a stopover (a stay of over 24 hours in a connecting city) in your award booking at no additional points cost, effectively giving you two trips for the price of one.
  • Open-Jaw Tickets: These tickets allow you to fly into one city and out of another, which can be especially useful for multi-destination trips and maximizing the value of your points​​.1
Guest taking room key card from front desk staff, receiving access to accommodation upon his arrival at tropical hotel. Male tourist finishing check in process at reception lobby. Handheld shot.

The next most important factor in traveling is where you will stay! We could argue that this is the second most significant expense when traveling—which is why it’s on our list.

  • Evaluating top hotel rewards programs: When selecting a hotel loyalty program, consider the rewards rate—how much value you get back for every dollar spent. For instance, Wyndham Rewards offers about $12 back in rewards for every $100 spent, making it a high-value option compared to others like Hilton, which provides about $5 for the same expenditure​.2
  • Benefits of elite status and how to achieve it: Everyone wants to be elite—especially when it comes to credit card rewards! Achieving elite status can significantly enhance your benefits. Programs like Marriott Bonvoy are notable for offering the easiest path to Lifetime Platinum status because of their widespread international presence and reliable recognition of member status.3 Additionally, many loyalty programs offer “shortcuts” to achieving elite status, such as status matches, fast-track options, and elite nights earned through credit card spending or promotions​.3
  • Finding availability and understanding redemption rates: Award availability can vary significantly between hotel chains. Programs like World of Hyatt are appreciated for their transparent award charts, which help with planning. Generally, the redemption rate, or how many points are needed for a free night, is crucial to understand to maximize your points​.2
  • Strategies for free nights and upgrades: Leveraging milestone bonuses can be a smart strategy. For instance, after a certain number of nights, you might be eligible for perks like suite upgrades or even free nights. Programs like Hyatt and Marriott offer hefty milestone rewards once you hit different tiers of nights stayed.3
  • Using points vs. cash bookings: Deciding whether to use points or pay with cash often depends on the value of the points in question. For example, Hyatt points are valued significantly higher than some other programs, making using points particularly advantageous during promotions or at high-value redemption options.2
  • Leveraging promotions and bonus points offers: Look out for promotions that offer enhanced earning opportunities, such as bonus points on stays or double elite night credits. These promotions can accelerate your earning and redemption opportunities, making it easier to achieve elite status or book award nights​.3
  • Find programs that offer experiential redemptions: Credit card programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards offer options to redeem points for various tours and activities, providing a unique way to enjoy travel experiences beyond the usual flight and hotel bookings. For instance, World of Hyatt FIND Experiences allows you to use points for exclusive activities, giving you a value of about 1.4 cents per point, which is quite decent considering the uniqueness of the experiences available.4
  • Best practices for booking tours, excursions, and other experiences: When booking these activities, using the dedicated rewards portals provided by the credit card issuers is best. These portals often list available activities at your destination, allowing you to book directly using your points. Keep in mind that while using points might provide a fun experience, the value per point can vary, so it’s wise to compare the cash price and the points required before booking to ensure you’re getting good value.4
  • Maximizing value through strategic transfers: Transferring the value of your credit card points to airline or hotel partners can be a strategic move. Programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards offer increased flexibility by allowing point transfers to various partners. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to partners where they might be redeemed for even more valuable travel experiences, such as first-class flights or luxury hotel stays.4,5

    Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred offer good redemption options through the Chase Travel Portal, where points can be worth more when used for travel bookings. The portal enhances the value of points by 25% when booking travel—this can significantly expand your options for using points!4

These strategies enable savvy travelers to use their credit card points for savings and unlock memorable and unique travel experiences. By understanding the details of each rewards program and staying up to date about the best ways to utilize points, you can significantly enhance your travel experiences using the benefits offered by your credit cards.

Ready to pack your bags and jet off without breaking the bank? Congratulations, you’ve just unlocked the secrets to transforming credit card points into real-world adventures! From cozy corner cafes in Paris to sun-soaked beaches in Bali, your dream destinations are now within reach, thanks to savvy strategies with your trusty plastic companion. So, keep these tips bookmarked, your credit cards ready, and your eyes on the prize—because your next big adventure is just a point redemption away. Here’s to traveling smarter, not harder, and making those globe-trotting dreams a delightful reality!