Day 2: Earning Points & Meeting Minimum Spend Requirements

Here I am in Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland and best of all the trip was free thanks to points!

By applying for just one card and meeting the minimum spend (more on this later), you’ll automatically have enough points to book up to 4 one-way domestic flights. That’s a TON of value for what essentially will take you 5 minutes and a small level of planning.

Janet, a member of our community, used points earned from her signup bonuses to take her family of 4 to Hawaii – for $473 total.

This vacation could have cost us $6,986, but we spent only $473.20 after using all our miles, travel credits and points — for a 95% savings!! I still can’t believe it!!

Before you sign up for a travel rewards credit card, it’s good to have an understanding of the three different types of cards: fixed-value cards, co-branded cards, and transferable points cards.

There’s a lot to say about each type, but for now, here’s a quick overview:

1. Fixed Value Cards

Fixed value cards operate on a “fixed value” point system, meaning you’ll know exactly what points will be worth before signing up. They are incredibly flexible and points can be redeemed as travel statement credits to essentially wipe away nearly any travel-related expense.

Pros:

  • The easiest of all cards to use
  • Point valuation is easy to remember; usually 1 point = 1 cent value (ex. 40,000 points = $400 value)
  • Points are flexible and can be applied to nearly any travel-related expense, including nontraditional redemption like tours, B&Bs, boutique hotels, cruises, etc.
  • No need to worry about award availability
  • No need to worry about transfer partners

Cons:

  • While easy to understand, the value of points can be considerably lower than other rewards cards
  • If you close your card, you’ll lose the remaining point balance (so plan accordingly)

Examples of Fixed Value Cards

2. Co-Branded Airline & Hotel Rewards Cards

Co-branded rewards cards offer points or miles specific to a single airline or hotel program. While these cards are subject to award availability and award charts (thus generally requiring more planning and learning), the value can be significantly higher than fixed value rewards cards.

Pros:

  • Points you earn are housed in your reward account with the co-brander, so you never have to worry about transferring them (example: the JetBlue Plus Card is co-branded with Barclaycard but points only accrue in a JetBlue TrueBlue reward account)
  • If you choose to close your card, you won’t lose your points or miles
  • Points earned typically count towards “status” with a co-branded card

Cons:

  • Points and miles earned with co-branded cards can expire after a certain period of time, based on the company’s policies. Usually, you’re required to have some sort of activity to keep them active, which is generally easy to do
  • You aren’t typically able to cash out rewards earned with a co-branded card (the SPG card from Amex is an exception)

Examples of Co-Branded Cards

3. Transferable Points Cards

For many award travel enthusiasts, these are the best rewards cards to take advantage of. Why?

Two words: value and flexibility.

These cards are typically considered the most attractive due to transfer partner options, higher potential value, flexible and multiple redemption options, and more.

The big players are:

INSIDER TIP: Most travel rewards experts make a transferable points card a staple in their wallets. Our favorite card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but you should choose a card that’s right for you.

Pros:

  • Flexibility – you can use them to book directly, transfer to airline or hotel partners, or cash them out
  • Most of the big players listed above offer big signup bonuses

Cons:

  • For some, not having the option to redeem as a statement credit is an issue. To them, “erasing” the cost is more convenient (see fixed value cards)
  • While they offer higher value, transfer partners and award charts can take time to understand

So, which card is right for you?

Deciding which of the three types of travel rewards cards is right for you can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! And remember, you can always mix and match the types of cards you get over time – it really depends on what works best for you and your lifestyle.

If you’re interested in squeezing the most value out of each point or mile, a transferable points card is likely the way to go.

If you’re already loyal to a specific airline or hotel, it may be best to consider a co-branded rewards card.

If you’re interested in travel rewards and prefer the ease of redeeming points or miles as travel statements credits (a.k.a. “erasing” travel-related expenses), a fixed value card may be a good option for you.

Today’s Action Items

3 things you can accomplish in 3 minutes or less:

  • Determine which type of rewards card is right for you (fixed value, co-branded, or transferable)
  • Sign up for your perfect travel rewards card and take advantage of a new sign up bonus

See you tomorrow!