Credit cards – and their associated sign-up bonuses – when used strategically can greatly reduce your travel expenses.
The specifics of how to make this happen do require some time and effort to learn, but can be easily mastered by anyone with a decent grasp on finances, a respectable FICO score, and a desire to save big on travel costs.
You can get the basics by reading Financially Savvy Travel’s Miles and Points Introductory Series.
For those who already understand the basics of the Miles and Points hobby, below are some of the recently introduced (or in some cases re-introduced) credit cards that may help you achieve your travel goals.
Sign-Up Bonus: 60,000 Hyatt points – 40,000 after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of account opening and 20,000 after spending a total of $6,000 within the first 6 months of account opening.
- 4 Hyatt points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels
- 2 Hyatt points per dollar spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, local transit and commuting as well as fitness club and gym memberships
- 1 Hyatt point on all other purchases
- Receive one free night at any Category 1–4 Hyatt hotel or resort every year after your cardmember anniversary
- World of Hyatt Discoverist status (complimentary premium Internet, bottle of water daily and 2:00 p.m. late checkout)
- 5 qualifying night credits towards your next tier status every year
- 2 additional qualifying night credits toward your next tier status every time you spend $5,000 on your card
Annual Fee: $95
This card is a slight upgrade from the previous Hyatt card in that it provides 1 additional Hyatt point on Hyatt hotel spend, and includes a few unique bonus spend categories. For major Miles and Points players, this card allows for the purchase of higher tier Hyatt status levels via credit card spend. Although, for most, those spend levels are too great to make this a valuable benefit.
The biggest benefit? The 60,000 Hyatt point sign-up bonus, followed closely by the annual free Hyatt night.
Hyatt’s award chart, in my opinion, still provides the best “bang-for-your-points” when compared to other hotel loyalty programs. Hyatt House and Hyatt Place free nights begin at only 5,000 points and the award chart tops out at 30,000 points per night at the highest tier Hyatt properties.
The card’s sign-up bonus alone will give you 2 free nights at the most exclusive properties Hyatt has to offer. And many more free nights if a more moderate, yet still extremely nice, Hyatt hotel is your choice.
Hyatt is my preferred hotel chain, always providing a top-notch experience whether my stay is in a Hyatt Place or the more exclusive Park Hyatt hotels. This chain rarely disappoints.
Sign-up Bonus: 40,000 Rapid Rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. While this card is new, a higher sign-up bonus is regularly seen on the other Southwest credit cards, and will likely be seen on this card, as well. Wait for a larger bonus if possible.
- 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest Airlines purchases
- 1 point on all other purchases
- Receive 7,500 bonus points after your cardmember anniversary
- $75 Southwest annual travel credit
- Four Upgraded Boardings per year when available
- 20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies
Annual Fee: $149
This newer Southwest Airlines credit card joins its sibling cards – the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus and Premier – in Chase’s Southwest Airlines credit card lineup.
The primary difference – aside from its higher annual fee – is the benefits it provides to regular Southwest flyers. The $75 annual travel credit more than makes up for the higher annual fee all by itself. Add in the upgraded boardings and 7,500 bonus points each year on your cardmember anniversary, and it’s easy to see this card stands above the other two.
As with most airline co-brand credit cards, though, it’s not the best card to put your everyday spend on. There are other Chase Ultimate Rewards earning cards that provide a better bonus spend return on your everyday expenditures, and whose UR points can be transferred on a 1:1 basis to Southwest Airlines – and many other travel partners – if you so choose.
The only benefit to putting spend on a Southwest Airlines card is to reach Companion Pass status, something an Ultimate Rewards points transfer will not do. However, for most, reaching that 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points threshold would be a challenge via regular credit card spend alone.
As mentioned in the sign-up bonus section, I’d wait for a higher sign-up bonus – at least 50,000 Rapid Rewards points – before applying. And, if you don’t have plans to purchase paid travel on Southwest, give one of the other two Southwest credit cards a serious look before jumping on this one.
Sign-Up Bonus: 60,000 American Airlines miles after making your first purchase within 90 days of account approval and paying the annual fee.
- 2 American Airlines AAdvantage miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
- 1 AAdvantage mile per dollar spent on all other purchases
- First checked bag free on American Airlines flights
- 10% of redeemed miles back (10,000 miles maximum per calendar year)
- Preferred boarding for primary cardmember and up to 4 companions
Annual Fee: $95
This is a really good sign-up bonus considering it comes without any significant minimum spend requirement. Technically, you could buy a pack of gum with your new AAdvantage Aviator Red card, pay that single purchase, and the $95 annual fee, when the first statement comes due, and receive 60,000 American Airlines miles.
Now, the key point is how valuable, and easy to use, are those American miles?
American, more than any of the other major U.S. carriers, has made finding decent award availability difficult at best. At least at saver award levels, that is.
In the “old days,” which were only a few years ago, a typical economy class, roundtrip award ticket within the continental U.S. would run 25,000 miles – on any of the major airlines.
That is no longer the case. United, Delta, and American have gone to a more hybrid award pricing model, that still, supposedly, keeps the published award chart pricing levels in mind, but tweaks them based on dollar pricing and demand.
Which means, you may find an award flight for the 25,000 mile price, but it departs at 5:30 a.m., has a 7-hour total layover with two stops, and arrives at the destination over 12 hours after the trip began…all for a New York to Miami getaway! That might be a slightexaggeration, but not by much.
To get a “normal” flight that doesn’t leave at the crack of dawn, has only one stop and a layover no more than 2 hours in length, you’ll be paying more miles.
And in the case of American, often the “normal” award trips equate to 60,000 miles roundtrip.
Savvy award travelers know that these days, American AAdvantage miles are much better used to book premium cabin, international flights on partner airlines. However, that is a more advanced Miles and Points practice, that some just may not want to bother with.
American miles aren’t worthless – and award availability has gotten somewhat better in the past months – but you will have to be flexible with your travel planning if you want to use them for free American flights within the U.S.
If you’re fine with that, then this card’s sign-up bonus is a great opportunity to build, or add to, you AAdvantage balance.
Sign-Up Bonus: 60,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days from account approval.
- 2 miles on every purchase
- Redeem miles for travel, cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise
- Get 5% of redeemed miles back
- Miles don’t expire
Annual Fee: $89
Redeeming the Arrival Plus “miles” for travel provides the best value. The 60,000 mile sign-up bonus equates to $600 in travel statement credits (10,000 miles, the minimum number for redemptions, equals $100 when redeemed to offset travel purchases).
Cash back provides a lower return of 5,000 miles for only $25. This level of return applies to gift cards, too.
So, utilizing the miles to offset travel costs is the best way to go.
This Arrival Plus card has come, gone, and is now back again. The current version is not as lucrative as the older version, but still can provide value for those seeking to offset travel-related costs.
Hotels, airfare, car rentals, and many of the typical travel expenditures you can think of are able to be offset with Arrival Plus miles. The charges have to be $100 or more, though.
A page on Flyertalk for the Arrival Plus card lists which, somewhat unique, travel purchases have been considered “travel” by Barclays for redemptions. You can view the page here.
And an easy way to ensure a travel purchase is considered “travel” is to have it charged to your hotel room. For example, on a trip a few years ago, my wife and I charged the majority of our meals, parking and an excursion to our hotel room, resulting in one overall Hyatt charge which was fully offset by the Arrival Plus miles. Normally, neither parking charges nor meals would be considered “travel,” and thus be allowed for the miles redemption. Lump them under room charges – even though we didn’t pay for our room since Hyatt points were used to stay for free – and those charges go away, too.
The Arrival Plus is definitely worthwhile to get just for the $600+ in travel credits you’ll receive as a sign-up bonus. The minimum spend is a bit steep at $5,000, though. On the bright side, that minimum spend will add 10,000 miles (and $100) to your available balance to offset travel costs that much more.
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