ICYMI, the Credit Card Nerd recently interviewed me for his weekly podcast (here’s a link). He invited me on the show to share my credit card points journey and describe how we were able to fly around the world in business class. I had a blast, and we could have seriously talked all day about points and redemptions. Luckily for you, we limited our discussion to 60 minutes.
I watched a few of his previous interviews so I would know what to expect going in, and it was interesting to see the different ways people use credit card points to their own personal advantage. I’m often focused on my own strategy as an infrequent flyer, but there are a variety approaches.
Here are four quick takeaways:
1. There are so many ways to earn points
Some people travel for work every week, so they naturally accumulate airline and hotel loyalty points. Others have a business that buys tens of thousands of dollars each month, which earns them an absurd amount of points to fund luxury travel experiences.
Then there’s us, who use credit card sign ups and strategic spending to maximize our points. Even without the ability to earn points through work, anybody can easily start accumulating points. It’s not just for frequent travelers or business owners – the points game is for everyone.
2. There are so many ways to redeem points
But by no means do you have to plan a crazy trip around the world to find value in credit card points. Maybe you’d rather take multiple trips in economy class than spending all of your points on a business class redemption. Maybe using points to pay for hotels would be a better use than searching for airline award space. And maybe funding a week-long family trip to Disney World would be more rewarding than going to the other side of the world. Whatever your travel goal is, credit card points can make it possible.
3. The points game is constantly changing
September 1, 2015 is when I signed up for my first round of credit cards and started playing the game. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how much the points game has changed in the past three years. From the Chase 5/24 rule, to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, to the SPG/Marriott merger, the landscape is so different compared to when I dove head first into unlocking the potential of credit card points. Banks are offering more rewarding cards than ever, but they are also placing more restrictions on who can earn the sign-up bonuses for each card. The days of credit card “churning” (signing up for a credit card, earning the sign-up bonus, then canceling the card) are over.
But there’s still a ton of value in using credit card points, and banks continue to see their credit card currencies as important tools to incentivize customers. Yes, banks discovered that some of their offerings were probably overly generous (like earning the Companion Pass with two credit card sign-ups). And yes, many frequent flyer programs will devalue their award chart and require more points/miles for redemptions. But J.P. Morgan just made a record $8.32 billion in profit from April-June, so I don’t think they’ll be dropping their Ultimate Rewards points program anytime soon.
4. Why didn’t I start this sooner?
I ask myself this at least once a week. And it hurts my soul knowing how many credit card points I missed out on because I was content with using my USAA cash-back credit card. Or (gasp) a debit card. How many more trips could we have gone on had we started earning credit card points in 2010?
Obviously, there are times when you shouldn’t sign up for travel rewards credit cards. You’ll need to avoid opening new lines of credit while you’re in the process of buying a home. And banks may be extra stringent if you are applying for a credit card in the middle of a move or change of address.
But the bottom line is this: the sooner you start earning credit card points, the sooner you too can take your own vacation of a lifetime.