Earning Points for the Occasional Traveler

Recently I came across a post on one of the travel Facebook groups I follow. The person was frustrated because the card they selected and had been earning points on for five years did not have airfare transfer partners that flew from her home/preferred airport. While I could write a post about how researching beforehand could have helped, I also know the frustration of trying to book things through a travel portal/third party vendor (like non-co-branded cards make you do).

What I've noticed over the years is there's a big difference between co-branded and non-co-branded cards in terms of ease of redemption. And for the occasional traveler, the person who makes a couple trips a year for, say, maybe visiting family who live across the country, redeeming through a portal can be super frustrating. In fact, I know people who prefer to be brand loyal simply for ease of redemption.

Side note: I play the points game well, and use only co-branded cards. Yes, both my wife and I have non-branded credit cards, but they're our emergency/legacy cards (we've had them for a long time, so canceling them is not good credit-wise, and they have no fees, so no biggie). We've wrung maximum value out of each co-branded card multiple times and had fabulous redemptions without any hassles of transferring or going through portals (which are often via third parties, and can turn into a headache if something goes wrong along the way).

I know people who have non-co-branded cards and don't utilize them, or get frustrated with them, or just find the transferable component difficult to learn, so they stop caring about earning points. But I also know people who have transferable points cards and absolutely love them. Of course, there are step-by-step guides online to help, but it takes time to learn the transferable points system. Whereas with a co-branded card, redemption is pretty straightforward: earn points on a Hyatt card, redeem points for Hyatt stays.

When I chat with people about playing the points game, I suggest they really look at their travel habits/lifestyle/desires and go from there:

  1. What do you want to get out of having a points/miles card? Free hotel stays...free checked bags...cash back...credits for gym membership...free shipping?
  2. What benefits are important to you? When traveling, do you like free breakfast? Or maybe room upgrades? Maybe you only want to fly first class? At home, do you value reimbursement for Uber rides or food delivery services? Free lattes?
  3. Why are those things important to you?

My points/miles focus centers on travel benefits. But these vary from person to person. For example, someone who takes a couple trips per year to visit family on the other side of the country will likely have different earning patterns than the person who wants to save up their points for a luxury vacation every four or five years. And both of those peoples' earning strategies will be different than the "road warrior" who travels a few times each week for business. Each scenario requires a different points-earning strategy.

So, identifying your (travel) needs and wants can help you decide if you need to downgrade a transferable card you already have to a no-fee version (or upgrade to a higher-end card), or if you might want to look into a co-branded card.

Like, if you fly several times a year, maybe a co-branded airline card would be good (especially if you and people who travel with you check bags frequently). In that case, look into cards of airlines that fly from your home/preferred airport, and/or to where you usually travel. Or, if you travel a lot and always find yourself staying in a specific hotel chain more than the others, consider a hotel card which comes with its own set of perks, some of which you might value a lot.

If, on the other hand, you like to just find the cheapest flight and/or best lodging deal, then a transferrable, non-co-branded card is likely a good choice. These also have their own perks and, depending on your travel habits/likes and lifestyle, may offer some great value.

I'm a firm believers that you only need a couple of well-selected cards to play the points game well. I'm brand loyal to a couple companies and have leveraged points for stays around the world in hotels we wouldn't have dreamed of when we first began traveling, and usually fly business & first class when we do. All on points/miles.

And the nice thing is, we haven't changed our spending habits...just our normal everyday spending -- coupled with knowledge of how to earn maximum points for our purchases -- allows us to travel a couple times a year and have either our hotels paid for or (business or first class) airfare paid for on those trips. Or sometimes both, depending on the redemptions we find.

Bottom line: success in the points game comes from deciding what perks/benefits are important to you and then building a points-earning strategy around that. Playing the points game without a clear sense of what you want to get out of it leaves a lot of people with credit cards they didn't really need, or cards which are not being utilized as well as they could/should be, meaning any annual fees are just being wasted.

#CreditCard #Points #CobrandedCards #TransferablePoints #Travel #TravelHack #FirstTimeTraveler #PointsNewbie

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