Top ten strategies for rewards credit card pros

Happy couple walking hand in hand at the airport

Do you ever scroll through Instagram and wonder “How can these people afford to travel so much?” Actually, it’s a pretty safe assumption that quite a few travel aficionados are also rewards credit card pros who spend points (instead of cash) on travel.

Don’t despair. You too can reap these kinds of rewards by implementing the right rewards card strategies. Here are ten tips for leveraging your cards and becoming a pro.

The ten doors that open to rewards

1. Don’t be afraid of credit

Credit can be your friend if you use it the right way. Don’t be afraid to use your card to pay for everything – as long as you don’t overspend. 

How: Create a responsible spending budget and stick to it. Pay everything you can with your card and track your spending. Some banks will even let you pay your mortgage with a credit card. 

Why it works: You’ll rack up travel points fast, especially with cards like the Citi Premier℠ Card that offers 3x points on travel and 2x points on dining and entertainment.

2. Good balance is no balance

Avoid expensive interest by paying off your card in full every month.

How: Set a payment-due reminder through your credit card’s online dashboard. If it’s easier to remember a certain date, ask your card issuer to change your due date. 

Why it works: You’ll avoid interest and late fees when you pay the total balance of your card on time.

3. Know your travel style

Are you loyal to one travel company, or are you flexible? You can narrow down your card options once you know your preferences.

How: You can earn free travel for American Airlines with the Citi Aadvantage Card and Hilton stays with the Hilton Honors American Express, to name a couple. If you prefer travel partner flexibility, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capitol One Venture cards top the list.

Why it works: Planning your travel preference ahead of time makes it easier to redeem your desired rewards.

4. Go sign-up bonus hunting

A number of credit cards offer some really juicy travel perks at sign up. When approved, you can earn enough travel rewards points for a plane ticket (or two).

How: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Citi Premier℠ Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card currently offer a whopping 60,000 rewards points when you sign up. Remember, you’ll have to spend a certain amount over the first few months before you see the points.

Why it works: You’ll earn enough points for a free international ticket just by signing up and spending a certain amount in the first months.

5. Jump through the travel portal

Some issuers, like Capital One (through Venture Rewards), American Express (through American Express Travel) and Chase (through Ultimate Rewards) have their own rewards portals where you can book travel using cash or points.

How: Login to your card’s travel portal through its website and look for the best deals. If you get stuck, you can call for help from a travel specialist.

Why it works: You can combine points and cash if you don’t have enough points to cover the whole trip.

6. If there’s no travel portal, get there via discount travel site

Some of the most popular discount travel sites offer their own card. Signing up and spending with one is a great way to get the best deals.

How: Sign up for a card from your favorite travel website like:

Why it works: Points are usually redeemed for an amount of a flight or hotel stay. The cheaper the trip, the fewer points you’ll need. You’re also likely to earn more points for future travel through discount travel site cards, like five points per dollar spent on eligible Priceline.com purchases with a Priceline Rewards™ Visa® Card.

7. Get creative with your travel bookings

When it’s time to redeem your hard-earned miles, getting creative can help you book your trip for a great deal.

How: Look for travel during the offseason. When using points to redeem flights, booking two one way segments may be cheaper points-wise than a round trip ticket.  And consider departures from nearby airports.

Why it works: Flexibility with your dates and airport can save you thousands of points. 

8. Pay for business travel with your personal card and ask to get reimbursed

Rack up travel points faster using your card to pay for business travel. Most travel rewards cards double or triple your points when you’re paying for travel, dining and entertainment.

How: Check with your company to see if business expense reimbursement is allowed. Ask how long it would take to get reimbursed to make sure you can pay the trip off in full by the due date.

Why it works: You’ll earn more rewards faster as long as your employer reimburses you before your credit card balance is due.

9. Add an authorized user

Pool your spending with someone you trust to earn more points.

How: Add a spouse or family member to your account by requesting a card for them. Their spending will also earn you rewards. Be sure they’re responsible – you’ll be liable for their card purchases if they aren’t.

Why it works: You’ll earn reward points faster when you spend as a team. 

10. Refer friends and family 

Some cards offer bonus points when you refer friends or family to sign up for a rewards credit card.

How: When you refer a friend, you bring the card provider new business. If your friend is approved, you’ll receive a thank you bonus. Current referral bonuses:

American Express, Discover and Capital One also have referral bonuses. Login to your account for more info.

Why it works: Referrals are a win-win situation. You’ll earn points and will have a travel rewards buddy to book your next free trip with.

Final pro tip

When you leverage your travel rewards card like a pro, you can travel like a boss. It’s not hard to earn points – watch for the best travel reward card sign-up bonus offers, spend wisely, always pay your card off on time and look for the best travel deals when redeeming. Do so consistently, and you can build your credit while taking your dream trip.