Have you ever heard someone say “Vacation was amazing and even better we flew on points” or “We got an amazing ocean view suite at the resort using points”? What the heck? How do you get one of these free vacations using these magical things called points?
Let’s cut through the noise and break down the magical world of credit card reward points for you.
Impatient? Skip the reading and jump straight to a list of the Best Travel Credit Cards.
First, it’s important to understand whether or not a rewards credit card is right for you.
Is a rewards credit card right for you?
A rewards credit card may not be right for you if:
- You often carry a balance on an existing credit card or you’re not confident you can be disciplined to pay off your credit card every month.
- No vacation or other reward is worth having credit card debt. Travel miles or points are only valuable if they are a free bonus. If you do not pay off your card every month, credit card debt can cost you hundreds of dollars. That’s not worth free travel points.
- Your credit score needs work.
- Many reward credit cards require good credit scores. If your credit needs some work, focus on fixing your credit and building good payment history before trying to open another credit card.
How do you earn points or miles with reward credit cards?
There are two primary ways you will earn points that you can use toward travel and vacations.
1. Intro Bonuses
An intro Bonus is a bonus lump sum of points you will earn when you open a new card and reach an initial purchase limit. For example, 40,000 points after you spend $500 on your new card.
These bonuses are great ways to quickly earn a free flight or hotel stay. Double check the terms and conditions for each Intro Bonus offer and be sure you will meet the spending requirement.
2. Points earned when you use your card
The standard way to earn points is based on purchases made with your card. For each purchase, you will earn a defined number of points or miles. What you want to look for here is what type of multipliers each card may offer based on the type of spending.
For example, some cards will give you 2X or 3X the number of points for dining purchases or other types of spending. Try to pick a card that will match your current spending habits to maximize the number of points you will earn each month.
Types of Reward Credit Cards
There are lots of different credit cards available, but travel reward cards mostly fall into one of these three categories.
Points or Travel Reward Cards
General points or travel reward cards are not associated with a specific airline or hotel. They’re typically offered directly by companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Discover, or American Express. These cards allow you to earn general points that can be applied to a wide variety of travel and other purchases.
A points or travel reward card is a good option if you want to keep your travel plans flexible and give yourself the option to shop around between airlines and hotels. Take a look at each card’s point scores for different purchase types. For example, some cards will award 3X or more points for purchases made at restaurants. If you like to eat out often, these could be great cards to help you maximize your rewards.
Tip Yourself Pick: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
This is a great flexible travel rewards card. Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
There’s also a great bonus point offer available right now.
See All Cards: Get Reward Card Offers
Airline Reward Cards
Most major airlines will offer a branded reward credit card. These cards will earn you miles or points for that specific airline. They also will typically come with other perks such as free checked bags or early boarding. If you have a favorite airline or know you almost always find the best deals on say Southwest for the vacation spots you like to visit, an Airline specific credit card can be a great deal.
Tip Yourself Pick: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
It’s hard to beat southwest when it comes to great flight savings. Earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
See Options: Get Airline Card Offers
Hotel Reward Cards
Large hotel chains such as Hilton and Marriott offer branded reward credit cards. These cards will earn you hotel points for free nights and room upgrades. One of the best benefits of hotel-specific cards are the large point multipliers you will earn on purchases made at those hotels. So if you travel for work and often stay at a specific hotel brand, a rewards card for that brand can be a fast way to earn free vacations.
Tip Yourself Pick: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Earn points to use at both Starwood and Mariott Hotels. You get 6 points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG® and Marriott Rewards® hotels and 2 points on all other eligible purchases. There’s also an amazing bonus signup offer available right now.
See Options: Get Hotel Card Offers
Which card is right for you?
In the end, there are pros and cons to every type of credit card. Which one is right for you depends on how you want to spend points you earn and your personal spending habits.
General reward credit cards are frequently the best choice when you want to keep your options open. They also typically offer reward options beyond just travel. The flexibility is a great way to ensure you always find a great way to spend your reward points by not being locked into a specific airline or hotel.
Hotel and Airline Cards are a great option when you know how you want to spend your points or if you frequently travel for work on a common airline or stay at a common hotel. Purchases made with airline and hotel cards at those airlines or hotels earn points super fast. So when you know you’re going to always go with your favorite brand, a specific airline or hotel card may be right for you.
Still Not sure what’s best for you?
Take a look at at all available card offers. You can search through all available offers and pull the deals that work best for you.
See Options: Get All Card Offers
Some of the links included in this article are from our sponsors. Read our disclosure policy.