TRAVEL HACKING 101: how to choose the best credit card

  • This post contains my affiliate links for rewards credit cards that I personally use. Using my links enables me to earn extra points towards my next trip. You get extra rewards points too! We both win, so thank you!

How to choose the best credit card for travel and other perks:

Are you ready to harness the power of your normal everyday spending? Are you afraid of getting new credit cards? Are you overwhelmed with where to begin with credit card rewards and points?

Let me simplify the entire process for you on how to choose the best credit card for rewards, miles, and points.

I’ll walk you through choosing the best credit card for the highest payoff for YOU and your financial goals.

how to choose the best credit card for cheap plane tickets and travel hacking tips

Not all credit cards are created equal

Stop everything and read this if you are interested in opening a new credit card that comes with reward points and miles.

There are a million credit cards out there and not all points, miles and rewards are created equal.

Some credit cards are better than others due to their sign up bonus, which I have discussed at length on the Parallax Life blog.

There are hotel credit cards, airline credit cards and general rewards credit cards out there.

Let’s dive right into how to choose the best credit card for you?

How to pick the best credit card

It all depends on your goal. Are you just interested in cash back that you can use towards your household budget or are you planning your honeymoon and want to go for free to some exotic location?

Maybe you have a family of four and want to visit Grandparents but are finding it hard to save enough money? Travel hacking with credit cards is the key.

Flights get expensive fast when you have a family and credit card rewards points are an excellent way to travel with your family for cheap or nearly free.

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Credit card vs. debit card story:

One huge reason to use credit cards for travel instead of a debit card is Trip Protection! What is trip protection? Well, insurance for your trip, basically. When you purchase a flight on your debit card and plans change, you are shit out of luck.

Last year, my brother and his family (as well as their friends) bought flights to visit my parent’s lake house in Upstate NY. Two weeks before the trip, my brother completely wrecked his back and was immobile. Guess what? Everyone had to cancel their flights! Yikes! Five flights down the drain. Why?

Because they had put their non-refundable flights on their debit card. If only they had used a card like the Chase Sapphire, the tickets would have been refundable or worst case scenario, they would have had an equal credit for those flights.

My brother’s flights were $1500 and they only received a travel credit of $600 from the airline that had to be used within one year.

Look, I get it. You want to save up and pay for things as you spend the money. It is the responsible thing to do, that’s for sure. However, you can still be responsible and use your credit cards.

Why I started using rewards credit cards:

When I chose my first credit card, it was a Bank of America card that was offered on campus at my university. That first card was with me for my trip around Europe when I graduated, I bought my first Apple Computer with that card, and it is still in my arsenal.

However, here’s the deal… That card never gave me anything other than debt. A debt I spent a loooooong time trying to pay off. 8 years to be exact.

These twenty years later, I now understand that my money needs to work for me and so do my credit cards! Credit cards are here to stay, whether you are responsible or not. 

Skip forward 20+ years and now I have two dozen credit cards from a variety of financial institutions and that Bank of America card is empty.

I’ve learned how to choose the best credit card for my life, spending, and goals.

how to find the best credit card for rewards and cash back

Not all rewards points are equal!

Some credit cards give you free checked bags, refunds for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry, a free PriorityPass for lounge access around the world (which I LOVE), trip protection, rental car insurance, early boarding, lost luggage refunds, no foreign transaction fees and much more. 

Some airline credit cards, like Southwest Airlines, even give you a companion pass, which is amazing if you travel with someone else.

Earn 50,000 bonus points with Chase Sapphire Reserve. I can be rewarded too if you apply here and are approved for the card. Learn more here.
{affiliate link}
how to get airport lounge access with credit card rewards points
how to get airport lounge access with a credit card

What kind of credit card should you get?

Your first step to finding the right credit card is to think about what you will use it for. If you don’t travel a lot but have a shopping addiction with Amazon, then get a card with points that can be easily redeemed for cash. Discover and Chase will let you link your rewards cards to Amazon and use those points for online shopping.

–>> I do this with my favorite business credit card, the Chase Ink Plus. Sign up here, even if you just have a side hustle business, for 80K points worth $800! For real! {using this affiliate link means I score a few points too, so thanks}

If you travel a lot for work, hotel and airline cards are a no-brainer. You can get free upgrades, free breakfast, free wi-fi and other perks with hotel cards.

Airline cards (like the Delta AmEx) usually give you priority boarding and a free checked bag. Airlines like Southwest will allow you a free companion flight if you spend enough on the card in a calendar year.

I use the Chase Ink cards for all of my business spending. Earn 80,000 bonus points with Chase Ink Business Preferred. I can be rewarded too if you apply here and are approved for the Card. Learn more here. {affiliate link}
Earn a $150 bonus with Chase Freedom. I can be rewarded too if you apply here and are approved for the card. Learn more here.
{affiliate link}

Where do you spend your money?

The next consideration is how the points are earned. Look into categories that you normally spend frequently, like restaurants, and find a card that gives extra points per dollar in those categories.

The Chase Sapphire is the best all-around card, however, it does come with a $95 annual fee. I have the Sapphire Reserve, which comes with a hefty $450 annual fee, but it gives me a $300 travel credit each year and a Priority Pass for airport lounge access. I love lounge access!

There are other cards out there like the Chase Freedom that have no annual fee and still pay you back for simple shopping. The Points Guy blog and Wallet Hub are invaluable resources for comparing and choosing the best credit card for points and miles.

Earn 40,000 bonus points with the SouthwestRapid Rewards Premier Credit Card. I can be rewarded too if you apply here and are approved for the card. Learn more here. {affiliate link}
Earn 80,000 bonus points with the Marriott RewardsPremier Credit Card. I can be rewarded too if you apply here and are approved for the card. Learn more here. {affiliate link}

How do you want to redeem your points?

Finally, the biggest consideration is how can you redeem the points easily? The Chase line of cards give me bonus $ when I redeem my points for travel and also the points can be transferred dollar to dollar to ANY airline.

Why have all your points tied up in one airline card when you can use a card that works with everybody??

Recently, my parents and I traveled around the UK and while I was trying to help them find the best value for their points, we realized that all of their 180,000 miles were with United Airlines.

All we could do was get them a flight from Toronto to Manchester in economy class.

–>> UGH, IF ONLY those points were all in a Chase Rewards account instead of their United Mileage Plus account, they could have flown the luxurious Singapore Airlines from Houston to Manchester in FIRST CLASS.

Aer Lingus First Class Toronto to Manchester
Lufthansa economy seat from Toronto to Manchester
Aer Lingus First Class Toronto to Manchester using United Rewards Miles

I was able to book the flight in First Class on the same flight with them. They weren’t pleased! However, thanks to all of my travel hacking prowess, I did get my parents into all of the airport lounges for free.

how to earn cheap plane tickets using credit card points and miles

Are you ready to jump in with getting a good travel credit card? Check the perks vs. the annual fee.

The absolute most important thing is the sign-up bonus! It should be 40,000-80,000 points to be worthwhile.

Track your spending to ensure that you receive this bonus. Sign up bonuses go so far with travel that you’ll be leaving hundreds of dollars on the table if you don’t earn one.

Leave a comment when you are ready for the next steps in how to choose the best credit card journey.

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