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    The Limitless Travel Playbook

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    The Definitive Guide to Points Hacking, Industry Secrets, VIP Rewards Strategies, and More!

    Imagine being able to fly around the world in business class — for free — at pretty much any time your heart desired. Sounds like a dream, right?

    It is for many, but contrary to popular belief, it’s actually much easier than you might think to get a free business class ticket to New York City, Paris, Hong Kong… or pretty much anywhere you’d like to go!

    You can do this by collecting airline miles, hotel points, and credit card points. These have changed the game for travelers worldwide and given the average Joe easy access to the world.

    Oh, and don’t worry — amassing huge travel point balances is no longer reserved for people who fly full-time for work. In fact, in 2024, it’s easier than ever to earn miles and points without ever stepping foot on a flight or staying a night in a hotel room.

    In this guide, we’re going to bring you, the average traveler, full circle on how to travel for just taxes and fees (and yes, in business class if you choose!).

    We’ll also touch on things like gaining free access to airline lounges and obtaining hotel status and even show you how to redeem your miles for a few specific trips.

    Does that sound good to you? Let’s get started!

    Chapter 1: Getting Started With Earning Points and Miles

    Lufthansa B747-8 First Class Seat 1A - Cherag Dubash
    Ready to start traveling the world for free? You’re in the right place. Image Credit: Cherag Dubash

    Historically, travelers have earned airline miles by simply flying on 1 airline all of the time.

    This meant free first class airfare was restricted to those traveling for work or people already paying for premium tickets. Plus, even if you were earning points this way, you were usually restricted to 1 airline alliance when it came to redemption time.

    Then, we saw the introduction of co-branded airline credit cards. These allowed travelers to earn miles on their everyday purchases, so everything from a quick trip to the corner store for milk to a down payment on a new car could earn valuable points and miles.

    But what type of credit card should you get? And more importantly, how do you travel for free if you don’t spend a ton of money on your credit card each month?

    Good questions, and this is exactly what we’ll answer in this chapter. We’ll start by discussing which types of award credit cards are on the market, dive into sign-up bonuses, and look at some specific credit cards you can start with.

    The 3 Types of Award Credit Cards

    Currently, there are 3 different types of rewards-earning credit cards:

    • Cards earning transferable points
    • Cards specific to a certain airline or hotel
    • Cards that earn generic cash-back

    Below you’ll find an overview of each of these different credit card types, discussing their merits and best uses along the way.

    Transferable Points Credit Cards

    Transferable points cards are generally issued by banks. The award points accrued by these cards can be transferred to various airline and hotel partners, or even be redeemed for credit toward paid flights or merchandise.

    However, the best values are usually found when transferring points to airline partners to book international business class seats.

    Right now, there are 4 major issuers of transferable-point credit cards: Chase, American Express, Citi, and Capital One.

    Each bank issues its own points currencies for these cards:

    All 4 of these issuers offer multiple credit cards you can use to earn these points, too. Each card has different benefits, different points-earning structures, and different annual fees. So make sure to shop wisely for a card that works best for you and your purchasing habits.

    Don’t worry, we’ll talk more about transferable points later in this chapter!

    Airline- and Hotel-Specific Credit Cards

    Alternatively, you can choose a co-branded card from an airline or hotel loyalty program of your choice.

    Nearly all major U.S. airlines and hotel chains have co-branded cards, so shop around and see which is best for your travel and spending habits.

    These cards often have specific benefits for the airline or hotel chain that issues the card. For example, you may get free airline or hotel elite status, checked bags, priority boarding, or other benefits just by holding the associated credit card.

    Unlike transferable points cards though, your points usually cannot be transferred out of the loyalty program you’re earning with. This means you’ll be subject to devaluations and have limited flexibility in how you redeem your points.

    Cash-Back Credit Cards

    Finally, you can also use a cash-back rewards credit card to get no-frills cash-back on your purchases. These rewards are usually awarded in the form of a statement credit or a bank transfer, and the amount of cash-back you’ll earn depends on the card you have.

    Which Type of Credit Card Is Best?

    At Upgraded Points, we’ve always been partial to transferable points cards, and we highly recommend one of these cards for your everyday purchases.

    Our reasoning behind this is simple: with transferable points cards, you’re not tied to 1 specific airline or hotel loyalty program. Instead, you have the freedom to transfer to several different airlines and hotel chains, giving you maximum flexibility and protecting you from devaluations.

    Plus, transferable point currencies consistently rank at the top of our points and miles valuations.

    For example, we value Chase Ultimate Rewards points — one of the most popular transferable points — at 2 cents apiece, meaning that 50,000 of these points is worth a whopping $1,000! This is an incredible value and another reason why you should consider starting with transferable points.

    Comparing American Express, Capital One, Chase, and Citi

    As discussed earlier, 4 banks issue transferable points credit cards: American Express, Capital One, Chase, and Citi.

    Each of these programs has their own unique transfer partners that make it easy to redeem points and miles across airlines in all 3 of the major airline alliances: Star Alliance, Oneworld, and SkyTeam. You can find each issuer’s list of transfer partners in their respective articles (Chase, American Express, Capital One, and Citi).

    To us, Chase and American Express are the most powerful transferable points currencies. This is because they offer the most valuable transfer partners with the best redemption rates. For example, you can redeem just 7,500 Chase or American Express points for a short-haul flight within the U.S.!

    We’re not going to dive too deep into redemptions in this chapter, though — stay tuned for Chapter 3 for in-depth guides on how to redeem points to popular destinations worldwide.

    Start With Chase Cards First

    So, you’re familiar with all of the major transferable points programs and now you’re probably wondering, “What card should I get first?”

    At Upgraded Points, we recommend that most people start with Chase Ultimate Rewards earning credit cards — and for good reason.

    Chase recently instituted a rule dubbed the 5/24 Rule. In short, this rule prevents you from getting new Chase cards if you’ve opened 5 credit cards (across any bank) in the last 24 months. Currently, other issuers like American Express, Capital One, Citi, and US Bank do not have this type of restriction.

    If you’ve signed up for less than 5 cards in the last 2 years, we highly recommend starting with the Chase strategy we’ll detail below. After all, if you don’t do it now, who knows when you’ll be able to apply for Chase cards again?

    Plus, this tried-and-true approach is how most of the Upgraded Points team (including the author of this book!) got into the miles-and-points game themselves!

    The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Is Our Favorite Starter Card

    We highly recommend starting out with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This mid-tier card is perfect for those just getting started with award travel — here’s why.

    First — and perhaps most importantly — the card is currently offering a huge sign-up bonus to get you started.

    Plus the card offers some fantastic bonus categories to really help you rack up the points on your everyday spending.

    GREAT STARTER CARD
    Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
    U.P. Rating 
    The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

    A fantastic travel card with a great welcome offer, good benefits, and perks for a moderate annual fee.

    Learn More(at Chase's secure site)
    A fantastic travel card with a great welcome offer, good benefits, and perks for a moderate annual fee.
    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.
    60,000 points
    $1,200
    $95
    21.49%-28.49% Variable
    Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
    Good to Excellent (670-850)

    The Chase Sapphire Preferred® card is one of the best travel rewards cards on the market. Its bonus categories include travel, dining, online grocery purchases, and streaming services, which gives you the opportunity to earn lots of bonus points on these purchases.

    Additionally, it offers flexible point redemption options, no foreign transaction fees, and excellent travel insurance coverage including primary car rental insurance. With benefits like these, it’s easy to see why this card is an excellent choice for any traveler.

    Pros
    • 5x points on all travel booked via the Chase Travel portal
    • 5x points on select Peloton purchases over $150 (through March 31, 2025)
    • 5x points on Lyft purchases (through March 31, 2025)
    Cons
    • $95 annual fee
    • No elite benefits like airport lounge access or hotel elite status
    • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.
    • Enjoy benefits such as 5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases, $50 Annual Chase Travel Hotel Credit, plus more.
    • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Travel℠. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
    • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
    • Get complimentary access to DashPass which unlocks $0 delivery fees and lower service fees for a minimum of one year when you activate by December 31, 2024.
    • Member FDIC
    Financial Snapshot
    • APR: 21.49%-28.49% Variable
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
    Rewards Center

    Chase Ultimate Rewards

    But the perks don’t stop there. Cardholders also receive a $50 annual hotel statement credit when they book a hotel through the Chase Travel portal. You’ll also earn bonus points equal to 10% of your total purchases made the previous year — if you spend $20,000 on purchases, you’ll get 2,000 bonus points on your account anniversary.

    The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has no foreign transaction fees, meaning you can use the card anywhere that Visa is accepted and pay zero transaction fees, regardless of currency.

    Plan on renting a car on your journey? Don’t worry about purchasing that pricey Auto Collision Damage Waiver — the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers primary auto rental insurance on all car rentals you pay for with the card. This benefit provides reimbursement for damage or theft of the vehicle for up to the actual cash value of most rental vehicles. And since it’s primary insurance, you don’t need to file a claim with your own auto insurance if anything happens to your rental car.

    Given that the card offers great bonus categories, earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, has great perks, and has an annual fee of just $95, it’s a no-brainer for our favorite starter travel card

    Which Card Should I Get Next?

    Considering Which Credit Card to Get
    Image Credit: ESB Professional via Shutterstock

    With so many credit card options out there, it can be confusing to decide what cards you should get, and in what order.

    Assuming you already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as your starter travel rewards card, where should you go from there?

    Well, due to the Chase 5/24 rule, we highly recommend you stick to applying for Chase cards first, as you can easily move on to cards from other issuers after you’ve exhausted your Chase card options, but, because of 5/24, the same isn’t true for those who start with other issuers and then move to Chase.

    So, which cards come next? Below we outline a few example scenarios depending on what you’d like to maximize for.

    Hot Tip: Want personalized advice about what credit card makes sense for your needs? Join our Level UP Travel Facebook group to receive tips and helpful information from fellow award travelers!

    Chase Personal Cards

    There are 2 great options here: the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Chase Freedom Flex℠ Credit Card. They’re both technically cash-back cards, but the points earned with them can be combined with your Chase Sapphire Preferred card for huge travel savings.

    Neither card charges an annual fee, and the bonus categories will complement your Chase Sapphire Preferred card nicely. Both cards earn 5x points per $1 spent on travel purchased through Chase Travel, plus 3x points per $1 on dining and drugstore purchases.

    The primary difference between the 2 cards is that the Freedom Flex card also earns 5x points per $1 spent on up to $1,500 in spend on quarterly bonus categories like gas and groceries, while the Freedom Unlimited card earns an uncapped 1.5x points per $1 spent on all non-bonus purchases. Occasionally, this card offers an additional cash-back amount as part of a welcome offer, so you could earn even more cash-back.

    Chase Business Cards

    Chase offers quite a few business cards, but our 3 top picks are all Ultimate Rewards-earning cards: the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, Ink Business Cash® Credit Card, and Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card.

    Similar to the cards we’ve discussed already, the Ink Business Preferred card is a premium Ultimate Rewards card with access to transfer partners, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, while the other 2 Ink business cards are technically cash-back cards that can be combined with a premium Ultimate Rewards earning card.

    Small business owners are eligible to apply for all 3 of these cards if they so choose, depending on their business needs. Better yet, while you do need to be under 5/24 in order to be approved for these cards, being approved for them does not add to your 5/24 count. In other words, if you’re 3/24 and are approved for the Ink Business Preferred card, you’ll still be 3/24 afterwards.

    Hot Tip: If you’re interested in one of the major Chase business credit cards, but are uncertain which card is right for you, have a read through our ultimate Chase business card comparison guide to help you make that decision.

    Airline Cards

    Airline credit cards are an excellent way to receive more value from airlines that you fly with frequently. With these cards, you’ll usually receive perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, a discount on inflight purchases, and more.

    Chase has a partnership with 6 separate airlines to offer co-branded cards, including Aer Lingus, Air Canada (launching at the end of 2021), British Airways, Iberia, United, and Southwest. So if you fly frequently with any of these airlines, it is probably worth it to you to add your preferred program’s card to your wallet.

    For instance, if you regularly fly with United, you might want to add the United Quest℠ Card to take advantage of the 2 5,000-mile anniversary award-flight credits, the $125 United purchase credit, the free checked bags, reward seat upgrades, and 25% discount on inflight purchases.

    Or if you’re a Southwest flyer, then perhaps you’d prefer the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card for its 4 annual Upgraded Boarding certificates, $75 annual travel credit, and 7,500 anniversary points each year you hold the card.

    Hotel Cards

    As with airline cards, adding a co-branded hotel card for a chain you stay with often is a fantastic way to get more value out of your hotel stays.

    These cards usually offer some sort of automatic elite status with the chain, which won’t just help you earn more points during stays, but can also grant you perks like early check-in and late checkout, room upgrades, free breakfast, and free night certificates.

    Chase offers hotel credit cards for 3 major chains: Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott. If you stay at any of these chains with any sort of frequency, you’ll likely get plenty of value by holding that chain’s credit card.

    Bottom Line: Chase offers tons of great credit cards, and plenty of them might make a lot of sense for you depending on your travel habits. You don’t necessarily need to get any of these cards in any particular order, but we highly advise making good use of your 5/24 slots with Chase cards before moving on elsewhere.

    Which Cards To Get After Chase Cards

    After you’ve exhausted the Chase credit card options that make the most sense for you, you can move on to other issuers like American Express, Barclays, Citi, and Capital One, depending on what type of rewards and bonus categories you’re trying to optimize for.

    One great option would be to add a premium card that effectively functions like a perks-based credit card for travelers. We have a great one in mind…

    The Platinum Card® from American Express Is Our Favorite Premium Card

    When it comes to premium credit cards, our favorite by far is the Amex Platinum card. Why? Because, despite its high annual fee, the Amex Platinum card is absolutely loaded with excellent perks and credits that any frequent traveler is sure to love. But unlike typical credit cards, the card allows you to carry a balance for certain charges, but not all.

    BEST LOUNGE ACCESS
    The Platinum Card® from American ExpressTerms Apply / Rates & Fees
    U.P. Rating 
    The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

    The Amex Platinum reigns supreme for luxury travel, offering the best airport lounge access plus generous statement credits, and complimentary elite status.

    Learn More(at Amex's secure site)

    Apply With Confidence

    Know if you're approved with no credit score impact

    If you're approved and accept this Card, your credit score may be impacted.

    The Amex Platinum reigns supreme for luxury travel, offering the best airport lounge access plus generous statement credits, and complimentary elite status.
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on eligible purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
    80,000 points
    $1,760
    $695
    See Pay Over Time APR
    Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
    Good to Excellent (670-850)

    When it comes to cards that offer top-notch benefits, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better card out there than The Platinum Card® from American Express.

    Make no mistake — the Amex Platinum card is a premium card with a premium price tag. With amazing benefits like best-in-class airport lounge access, hotel elite status, and tremendous value in annual statement credits, it can easily prove to be one of the most lucrative cards in your wallet year after year.

    Pros
    • The best airport lounge access out of any card (by far) — enjoy access to over 1,400 worldwide lounges, including the luxurious Amex Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass lounges, Plaza Premium Lounges, and many more!
    • 5x points per dollar spent on flights purchased directly with the airline or with AmexTravel.com (up to $500,000 per year)
    • 5x points per dollar spent on prepaid hotels booked with AmexTravel.com
    Cons
    • $695 annual fee (rates and fees)
    • Airline credit does not cover airfare (only incidentals like checked bags)
    • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
    • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
    • $200 Hotel Credit: Get up to $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®. The Hotel Collection requires a minimum two-night stay.
    • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back in statement credits each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Disney+, a Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, The New York Times, Peacock, and The Wall Street Journal. Enrollment required.
    • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With complimentary access to more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more airport lounge options than any other credit card issuer on the market. As of 03/2023.
    • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Save on eligible delivery fees, shipping, and more with a Walmart+ membership. Use your Platinum Card® to pay for a monthly Walmart+ membership and get up to $12.95 plus applicable taxes back on one membership (excluding Plus Ups) each month.
    • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year when incidental fees are charged by the airline to your Platinum Card®.
    • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only. Terms Apply.
    • $189 CLEAR® Plus Credit: CLEAR® Plus helps to get you to your gate faster at 50+ airports nationwide and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your Membership (subject to auto-renewal) when you use your Card. CLEARLanes are available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues.
    • Receive either a $100 statement credit every 4 years for a Global Entry application fee or a statement credit up to $85 every 4.5 year period for TSA PreCheck® application fee for a 5-year plan only (through a TSA PreCheck® official enrollment provider), when charged to your Platinum Card®. Card Members approved for Global Entry will also receive access to TSA PreCheck at no additional cost.
    • Shop Saks with Platinum: Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases in Saks Fifth Avenue stores or at saks.com on your Platinum Card®. That's up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. Enrollment required.
    • Unlock access to exclusive reservations and special dining experiences with Global Dining Access by Resy when you add your Platinum Card® to your Resy profile.
    • $695 annual fee.
    • Terms Apply.
    Financial Snapshot
    • APR: See Pay Over Time APR
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
    Rewards Center

    American Express Membership Rewards

    For starters, the card is simply the best card on the market when it comes to airport lounge access, offering cardmembers access to 6 different airport lounge networks.

    The perks and benefits don’t stop there though! Do you want hotel elite status? The Amex Platinum card offers Gold elite status upon enrollment with both the Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy programs. Need hotel benefits elsewhere? You can make a booking through the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program and receive room upgrades, daily breakfast for 2, late checkout, a $100 experience credit, and more.

    What else does the Amex Platinum offer? You’ll also receive cell phone protection, rental car coverage, trip delay and trip cancellation insurance, purchase protection, return protection, and extended warranty protection.

    As far as annual credits go to help offset the annual fee, this card has plenty (note that some benefits require enrollment):

    That’s over $1,500 worth of annual credits that you will receive each and every year in exchange for the card’s $695 annual fee, so most cardmembers who use these perks will come out ahead before factoring in the card’s other awesome benefits.

    Now, Meet That Minimum Spend!

    No matter what card you sign up for, the most valuable part is the sign-up bonus. With that in mind, make sure you have a plan to hit the minimum spend required to earn that bonus, usually within 3 to 4 months of being approved.

    Just make sure to have a plan so that you don’t have to spend more than you usually would just to earn the bonus. Luckily, you can earn points for virtually all of your spending, including cell phone, cable, utility, insurance, and other bills. And don’t forget streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix, and Hulu, as well as rideshare options like Uber and Lyft!

    If you need a boost to hit the minimum spend, you can use a service called Plastiq to pay bills that otherwise don’t accept credit cards. There’s a small service fee to use the service, but it can be worth it to earn that initial sign-up bonus. You can use Plastiq to pay rent, a mortgage, a student loan, and more.

    Remember: carrying a balance and overspending is never a good idea, so be responsible and don’t buy unnecessary things.

    Our Favorite American Express, Capital One, and Citi Cards

    Stack of Credit Cards
    Once you’ve opened a few Chase cards, start earning points with American Express, Capital One, and Citi — there’s tons of value to be had! Image Credit: lentamart via Shutterstock

    After you’ve worked your way through the Chase cards, chances are you’ll want to dive into American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Miles, and Citi ThankYou Rewards in the future — and you really should!

    Doing this will let you further diversify your points portfolio and earn points for even more trips in the future. But the question remains: which cards are best from the other major issuers?

    Best American Express Membership Rewards Card

    On the American Express side, we highly recommend the American Express® Gold Card. It earns 4x points per dollar spent on U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, then 1x thereafter) and at restaurants, 3x points per dollar on flights booked directly with the airline or through AmexTravel.com, and 1 point per dollar everywhere else.

    And while the card has a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), it’s largely offset by the card’s up to $120 per year in dining credits, and up to $120 in Uber Cash per year. Enrollment is required for these credits.

    BEST FOR DINING
    American Express® Gold CardTerms Apply / Rates & Fees
    U.P. Rating 
    The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

    This is the best card for food lovers who dine out at restaurants (worldwide), order take-out and want big rewards at U.S. supermarkets!

    Learn More(at Amex's secure site)

    Apply With Confidence

    Know if you're approved with no credit score impact

    If you're approved and accept this Card, your credit score may be impacted.

    This is the best card for food lovers who dine out at restaurants (worldwide), order take-out and want big rewards at U.S. supermarkets!
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months.
    60,000 points
    $1,320
    $250
    See Pay Over Time APR
    Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
    Good to Excellent (670-850)

    The American Express® Gold Card is a game-changer.

    With this card, you can earn 4x Membership Rewards points at restaurants and you’ll also earn 4x Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1x.

    There isn’t another card on the market that offers a 1-2 punch like this. Of course, there are several other benefits of the Gold Card as well, including extra monthly dining rewards and more.

    Pros
    • 4x points per dollar at restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
    • 4x points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets, up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases; and 1x thereafter
    • 3x points per dollar on flights purchased directly from airlines or at AmexTravel.com
    Cons
    • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
    • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
    • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
    • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
    • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
    • Get a $100 experience credit with a minimum two-night stay when you book The Hotel Collection through American Express Travel. Experience credit varies by property.
    • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
    • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
    • Annual Fee is $250.
    • Terms Apply.
    Financial Snapshot
    • APR: See Pay Over Time APR
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
    Rewards Center

    American Express Membership Rewards

    We value Membership Rewards points at 2.2 cents apiece, meaning that 60,000 of them are worth an incredible $1,320. If the bonus is higher, that’s even more.

    Best Capital One Miles Card

    Next up we have Capital One Miles.

    We recommend giving the Capital One Venture Rewards card a look. This card earns 2x points per dollar on all purchases, and you can use your points in a variety of ways. Plus, there’s an awesome welcome bonus that you can see in the table below.

    The best way to redeem your Capital One miles is by transferring them to any of a number of Capital One’s transfer partners. These include major airline loyalty programs like Air France/KLM FlyingBlue, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and more.

    LIMITED TIME OFFER
    Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardTerms Apply / Rates & Fees
    U.P. Rating 
    The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

    Get 2x miles plus some of the most flexible redemptions offered by a travel credit card!

    Learn More(at Capital One's secure site)
    Get 2x miles plus some of the most flexible redemptions offered by a travel credit card!
    Enjoy $250 to use on Capital One Travel in your first cardholder year, plus earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening - that’s equal to $1,000 in travel.
    $250 Capital One Travel Credit + 75,000 miles
    $1,600
    $95
    19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)
    Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
    Good to Excellent Credit (670-850)

    The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is one of the most popular rewards cards on the market. It’s perfect for anyone in search of a great welcome offer, high rewards rates, and flexible redemption options.

    Frequent travelers with excellent credit may benefit from this credit card that offers a lot of bells and whistles. And it offers easy-to-understand rewards earning and redemption.

    Pros
    • 5x miles per $1 on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
    • 2x miles per $1 on all other purchases
    • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit
    Cons
    • Enjoy $250 to use on Capital One Travel in your first cardholder year, plus earn 75,000 bonus miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening – that’s equal to $1,000 in travel
    • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
    • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of trip options
    • Miles won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how many you can earn
    • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
    • Use your miles to get reimbursed for any travel purchase—or redeem by booking a trip through Capital One Travel
    • Enrich every hotel stay from the Lifestyle Collection with a suite of cardholder benefits, like a $50 experience credit, room upgrades, and more
    • Transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
    Financial Snapshot
    • APR: 19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: None
    Rewards Center

    Capital One Miles

    Capital One miles are lower on our valuations list, but we still give them a healthy valuation of 1.4 cents per mile. This means that we value 60,000 Capital One miles at $840.

    Best Citi ThankYou Rewards Card

    Moving onto Citi, we highly recommend checking out the Citi Strata Premier℠ Card for your first Citi ThankYou Points-earning card.

    The Citi Strata Premier card earns 10x points on hotel, car rentals, and attractions booked through CitiTravel.com and 3x points on air travel, other hotel purchases, at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, and EV charging stations. Plus, it offers a $100 annual hotel credit off a single hotel stay of $500 or more booked through the ThankYou portal. Your Citi ThankYou Points can then be transferred to travel transfer partners!

    Citi Strata Premier℠ Card
    U.P. Rating 
    The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

    Earn 70,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening, redeemable for $700 in gift cards or travel rewards at thankyou.com
    70,000 points
    $1,120
    $95
    21.24%- 29.24% Variable APR

    The Citi Strata Premier℠ Card is a great all-around travel rewards card that allows you to earn big rewards on a variety of purchases like air travel, at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, and more, along with flexible redemption options, all for a modest annual fee.

    Pros
    • 10x points on hotels, car rentals, and attractions booked through CitiTravel.com
    • 3x points on air travel, other hotel purchases, restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, and EV charging stations
    • $100 annual hotel benefit
    Cons
      • $95 annual fee
    • Earn 70,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of account opening, redeemable for $700 in gift cards or travel rewards at thankyou.com
    • Earn 10 points per $1 spent on Hotels, Car Rentals, and Attractions booked on CitiTravel.com.
    • Earn 3 points per $1 on Air Travel and Other Hotel Purchases, at Restaurants, Supermarkets, Gas and EV Charging Stations.
    • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
    • $100 Annual Hotel Benefit: Once per calendar year, enjoy $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more (excluding taxes and fees) when booked through CitiTravel.com. Benefit applied instantly at time of booking.
    • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
    • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
    Financial Snapshot
    • APR: 21.24%- 29.24% Variable APR
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

    Of course, there are other awesome American Express, Capital One, and Citi cards on the market, too, each with its own set of benefits. For more info on these, check out the Credit Cards page on our website.

    Chapter 2: Expert Hacks for Getting VIP Treatment at Little or No Cost

    ANA Lounge Honolulu
    ANA Lounge Honolulu. Image Credit: Cherag Dubash

    Congratulations! You’ve booked your first award ticket — we’re super excited for you, and can’t wait to hear all about your first miles-and-points trip.

    Next up, we’re going to take a look at how to get treated like royalty at the airport. And by that, we mean showing you how to get awesome airport perks like access to airport VIP lounges, free access to Global Entry and TSA PreCheck lanes, and how to never pay for a checked bag again.

    Each of these perks can make or break the airport experience. After all, who wants to wait at the terminal when they can hang out in a swanky airport lounge and drink complimentary cocktails instead?

    Accessing VIP Airline Lounges Without Airline Status

    Simply put, airline lounges are awesome. They give you a comfortable place to relax before and in between flights, and often have complimentary food, drink, newspapers, and Wi-Fi.

    Traditionally, these lounges have been reserved for the most frequent flyers and those who paid a hefty sum for an airline lounge pass. However, these days, several credit cards will give you lounge access just for signing up.

    Our favorite card for lounge access is the Amex Platinum card. It gives you access to 6 different lounge networks: Amex Centurion Lounges, Escape Lounges – The Centurion Studio Partner, Priority Pass lounges (enrollment required), Plaza Premium Lounges, Airspace Lounges, and Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta.

    Picture this: You’re at the airport and you’ve just made it through security and you’ve got some time to kill before your flight begins to board. What do you do? Most people would just sit at their gate or at the food court eating overpriced and bland food, or meander through the duty-free shop.

    But those with airport lounge access can relax in a comfortable seat and enjoy premium food and cocktails as they wait for their flight. And, lounge guests can charge devices, get some work done in a quiet space, take a shower, and even get a complimentary spa service!

    American Express Centurion Lounge IAH Bar
    The bar is the place to be to grab a cocktail or meet colleagues. Centurion Lounge IAH. Image Credit: American Express

    Or course, lounges will have varying amenities. Some will feel very luxurious and posh, while others will have just the basics. But no matter which lounge you find yourself in, you’ll have free food and beverages and a nice(r) place to relax before your flight.

    There are a number of popular credit cards that offer some sort of airport lounge access and what you can expect from each of them.

    (Note: The best personal card is the Amex Platinum Card, and on the business side — it’s the Business Platinum Card® from American Express.)

    SCROLL FOR MORE

     

    Amex Platinum Card / Business Platinum Card

    Chase Sapphire Reserve®

    Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card / Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card

    Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

    United Club℠ Infinite Card

    Amex Centurion Lounges

    X

     

    X*

     

     

    Escape Lounges – The Centurion Studio Partner

    X

     

     

     

     

    Priority Pass Lounges

    X

    X

     

     

     

    Plaza Premium Lounges

    X

     

     

     

     

    Airspace Lounges

    X

     

     

     

     

    Delta Sky Club

    X*

     

    X*

     

     

    American Admirals Club

     

     

     

    X**

     

    United Club

     

     

     

     

    X***

    * Access when flying with Delta
    ** Access when flying with American
    *** Access when flying with United

    Get Your Global Entry (or TSA PreCheck) and CLEAR Fees Reimbursed

    Global Entry is a program operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. It allows passengers to pay a $100 fee for expedited access through border checks when returning to the U.S. (provided they pass a background check).

    When approved for Global Entry, you’ll be able to use automated kiosks to clear customs when returning to the U.S. from abroad. Additionally, you’ll be given a Known Traveler Number that — when added to your plane tickets — will give you access to TSA PreCheck security lanes at the airport.

    Similarly, CLEAR connects certain biometric features (e.g., face, iris) to your personal identity, making it possible for you to speed through both airport and sporting venue security checks using only the blink of your eye, replacing the standard ID, ticket, and boarding pass.

    With CLEAR, you don’t need to remove your wallet from your purse or pocket, and after verifying your identity using your biometrics, a CLEAR Ambassador will escort you through the dedicated CLEAR lanes to the front of the TSA PreCheck or standard security line.

    While there are many cards that offer a Global Entry credit, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, United℠ Explorer Card, or Capital One Venture card, only 1 widely available personal card on the market offers both a Global Entry and CLEAR credit: the Amex Platinum card.

    Of course, each credit card has different rules for redeeming the benefit, so check with your credit card issuer on how to do it properly to ensure you’re promptly reimbursed.

    Earning Hotel Status With Credit Cards

    The St. Regis Mauritius Resort
    Get upgraded at luxurious properties thanks to your hotel elite status. The St. Regis Mauritius Resort. Image Credit: Marriott

    Hotel elite status is a beautiful thing. When you have it, you can enjoy benefits like complimentary room upgrades, bonus points on paid stays, better in-room internet, and maybe even free breakfast depending on the chain and status level. It makes your hotel stays just a little bit (okay, we’ll admit it: a lot) more enjoyable.

    But how do you get hotel status without spending an insane number of nights at hotels each year? It’s simple: through a credit card!

    Many hotel co-branded credit cards — like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card from Chase and the Hilton Aspire card — include complimentary elite status at their respective hotel chains.

    LIMITED TIME OFFER
    Hilton Honors American Express Aspire CardTerms Apply / Rates & Fees
    U.P. Rating 
    The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

    Automatic Hilton Diamond status, an annual free night, and a travel and resort credit make this the perfect card for those who stay in Hilton hotels.

    All information about Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by Upgraded Points.

    Apply With Confidence

    Know if you're approved with no credit score impact

    If you're approved and accept this Card, your credit score may be impacted.

    Automatic Hilton Diamond status, an annual free night, and a travel and resort credit make this the perfect card for those who stay in Hilton hotels.
    Earn 175,000 Bonus Points after you spend $6,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card in the first 6 months of Card Membership. Offer ends 7/31/2024.
    175,000 points
    $875
    $550
    20.99% - 29.99% Variable
    Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
    Good to Excellent (670-850)

    The information regarding the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.


    Paying hundreds of dollars for an annual fee on a co-branded hotel card might seem ridiculous, but you should know that the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is much more than your run-of-the-mill hotel credit card.

    The Hilton Aspire card is not only a phenomenal card for Hilton Honors loyalists, but even those who visit Hilton hotels just a few times a year can still get excellent value out of all the benefits that are packed into this card.

    So let’s have a look at what makes the card so valuable to travelers.

    Pros
    • 14x points per $1 on Hilton purchases
    • 7x points per $1 on select travel and at U.S. restaurants
    • 3x points per $1 on all other purchases
    Cons
      • High annual fee of $550
    • Earn 175,000 Bonus Points after you spend $6,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card in the first 6 months of Card Membership. Offer ends 7/31/2024.
    • Earn 14x Hilton Honors Bonus Points when you make eligible purchases on your card at participating hotels or resorts within the Hilton portfolio.
    • Earn 7x Hilton Honors Bonus Points for eligible purchases: on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies, and at U.S. restaurants.
    • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for other purchases on your card.
    • Enjoy up to $400 in Hilton Resort Credits (up to $200 in statement credits semi-annually) on your card each anniversary year when you stay at participating resorts within the Hilton portfolio.
    • Enjoy complimentary Diamond status.
    • $550 annual fee.
    Financial Snapshot
    • APR: 20.99% - 29.99% Variable
    • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

    However, our favorite card for complimentary hotel elite status is — you guessed it — the Amex Platinum card. Upon enrollment, this card gives its cardholders complimentary Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold status, so there’s a good chance you’ll have elite status on a majority of your hotel stays.

    Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite members receive room upgrades, fifth consecutive reward night free, late checkout, free internet, 25% bonus points, welcome points, and more.

    On the other hand, Hilton Honors Gold Elite members receive the fifth consecutive reward night free, room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, 80% bonus points, free Wi-Fi, late checkout, and more.

    Like other Amex Platinum card benefits, you can activate your complimentary elite status at the Benefits tab on the American Express website. Simply search through the list of benefits, find the hotel status benefits, and click the Enroll button. Then, you’ll be asked to provide a Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors number and you’ll be instantly enrolled.

    Here’s How to Never Pay for Bags Again

    Hate paying checked-bag fees? So do we. And we’re here to tell you how to never pay them again.

    The easiest way to do this is to sign up for a credit card with the airline you fly the most. More often than not, airline co-branded credit cards give flyers 1 free checked bag whenever they fly that airline.

    Currently, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, and United Airlines all offer co-branded credit cards that offer free checked bags on domestic flights. Each card has different requirements on how you can take advantage of the benefit, so check with your credit card issuer for more info.

    Alternatively, you can use a card with an airline credit to cover your checked bag fees. Some cards that have this benefit include the Amex Platinum card and the Hilton Aspire card.

    Hot Tip: Hate paying baggage fees? Check out our article “Do I Need to Pay With My Airline Credit Card to Get Free Checked Bags and Perks?” and our ultimate guide to avoid paying baggage fees, including tips for over 30 different airlines!

    Chapter 3: Redeeming Points and Miles: A Crash Course

    Singapore Airlines B787-10 Regional Business Class Seat
    Singapore Airlines B787-10 regional business class seat. Image Credit: Cherag Dubash

    So, you’ve earned your Chase Sapphire Preferred card sign-up bonus and you’re eager to redeem your points. While you could simply redeem your points to cover the cost of a paid ticket through the Chase travel portal, we highly recommend staying away from this option.

    Why? It’s simple: you’ll only get a flat-rate of 1.25 cents per point towards any paid flight.

    This means that 100,000 points are worth $1,250, which, frankly, won’t get you anywhere near an international business class ticket.

    Like we discussed earlier, we recommend transferring your newly-minted Chase Ultimate Rewards points to one of Chase’s airline partners. This will let you maximize your points and redeem for award tickets that are worth far more than $1,250.

    Keep in mind that when we’re breaking down redemption options,  many programs have travel transfer partners that overlap, allowing you to book certain awards with multiple point currencies. This can get confusing quickly, so we’ve created our transfer partner calculator tool to help you quickly see which points can be transferred where.

    In this chapter, we’ll show you how to redeem points and miles for trips to some major vacation hotspots around the world.

    With that, let’s jump in!

    Hot Tip: If you want to ask specific questions about award redemptions, or even just share photos of a recent awesome trip you took, then you should join our Level UP Travel Facebook group to connect with other award travelers!

    The Best Ways To Redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

    Chase Ultimate Rewards is one of the most popular — and lucrative — points currencies in existence. You’re going to want to get as much value as possible out of them when you’re ready to redeem.

    Or course, there are multiple ways to get great value out of your points, but whether you’re after first class flights or a more economical option, let’s first take a look at what transfer partners are available to you, and then we’ll break down some of our favorite redemption methods for Chase Ultimate Rewards.

    Chase Transfer Partners

    Here’s a look at the Chase transfer partners, separated into categories we believe are best for getting maximum value out of your Ultimate Rewards points:

    For this chart and others like it, transfer partners in the “Top Choice” section were selected because they offer the best opportunity to regularly receive the best value for your hard-earned points, like transferring 30,000 points to World of Hyatt for a free night at a world-class 5-star hotel.

    Partners in the “Solid Options” category can usually provide decent value on a consistent basis, but are unlikely to provide immense value outside of a handful of program sweet spots — like booking round-trip business class tickets to Spain with Iberia for 64,000 points.

    Lastly, partners we’ve listed in the “Not Recommended” category are there because it’s exceptionally difficult to get outsize value using them in comparison to the rest of the programs. For instance, you could transfer 85,000 to 100,000 points to Marriott Bonvoy to book a free night at a top-tier hotel, or for roughly the same amount of points you could book 3 free nights at a top-tier Hyatt hotel.

    Of course, this list is not the end-all-be-all. It’s certainly still possible to get good value out of the programs in the bottom tier. But in our view, programs in the top or middle tiers consistently provide high value for travelers.

    With that, let’s have a look at some of our favorite ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points!

    Fly Singapore Airlines First Class

    Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 First Class - From Rear
    Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 first class. Image Credit: Greg Stone

    Singapore Airlines offers one of the best first class cabins in the world. Not only will you enjoy a luxurious and spacious cabin, but you’ll receive caviar service, premium Champagne, and food that’s more similar to a fine-dining experience on the ground than a typical airplane meal. When you’re flying in a cabin like this, getting to your destination is half the fun!

    When it comes to booking this world-class experience, the cost — even in points — isn’t cheap, but it’s definitely worth it! Here’s a look at how many points you’d need to transfer to Singapore’s KrisFlyer program in order to fly first class:

    SCROLL FOR MORE

    Singapore Airlines First-Class Redemptions (One-Way)

    Origin

    Destination

    Redemption Cost

    Los Angeles (LAX)

    Singapore (SIN)

    130,000 points

    Los Angeles (LAX)

    Tokyo (NRT)

    107,000 points

    New York (JFK)

    Frankfurt (FRA)

    86,000 points

    New York (JFK)

    Singapore (SIN)

    132,000 points

    San Francisco (SFO)

    Hong Kong (HKG)

    104,000 points

    San Francisco (SFO)

    Singapore (SIN)

    130,000 points

    Hot Tip: You can also use Amex Membership Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Points, and Capital One miles to book these awards. Need more information on how you can fly Singapore Airlines first class? Our ultimate guide has you covered

    Stay at Hyatt Hotels

    The World of Hyatt program is a favorite among points-and-miles travelers thanks to the quality of its hotels along with how reasonable the award chart is. This helps gives travelers incredible value when using points to stay at Hyatt hotels. Plus, when you book a hotel stay using points, you won’t pay any taxes or fees for your booking — saving you even more money.

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    Hotel Category

    Standard Room

    Regency/Grand Club

    Standard Suite

    Premium Suite

     

    Points Per Night 

    1
    5,000
    7,000
    8,000
    10,000
    2
    8,000
    12,000
    13,000
    16,000
    3
    12,000
    17,000
    20,000
    24,000
    4
    15,000
    21,000
    24,000
    30,000
    5
    20,000
    27,000
    32,000
    40,000
    6
    25,000
    33,000
    40,000
    50,000
    7
    30,000
    39,000
    48,000
    60,000
    8
    40,000
    50,000
    61,000
    80,000

    You can book a free standard room in a top-tier Category 7 or 8 hotel for 30,000 to 40,000 points per night, while nights at top-tier hotels in other chains can cost 85,000 to 100,000 (or more) points per night!

    Need some inspiration? Say no more!

    Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa
    Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa. Image Credit: Hyatt

    Take the luxurious Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa, for instance, which offers breathtaking views from your overwater villa. While rooms routinely go for over $1,000 per night, as a Category 7 World of Hyatt property you can use just 30,000 Hyatt points instead. If you have 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to burn, you could book 3 free nights at this world-class property in one of the world’s most desired destinations and still have 10,000 points left in your account!

    Prefer something more affordable and closer to home? You could book a long weekend at the Thompson Chicago, Gild Hall in New York City, or The Confidante Miami Beach, for just 15,000 points per night at each.

    Hyatt is also our favorite hotel chain for traveling families because Hyatt allows you to book suites online using your points just as easily as if you were booking a standard room.

    Hot Tip: Check out some more of our favorite ways to get maximum value out of World of Hyatt points!

    Fly Short-Haul Flights Within the U.S. on American or Alaska Airlines

    Thanks to a transfer relationship with British Airways, you can use Ultimate Rewards to book short-haul awards within the U.S. with American or Alaska Airlines for fewer miles than what each of those programs usually charges.

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    British Airways U.S. Partner Award Chart (One-Way) 

    Distance in Miles

    Price

    1 to 1,151

    9,000 points

    1,152 to 2,000

    11,000 points

    2,001 to 3,000

    13,000 points

    3,001 to 4,000

    20,750 points

    4,001 to 5,500

    25,750 points

    4,001 to 5,500

    25,750 points

    6,501 to 7,000

    36,250 points

    7,000+

    51,500 points

    Here’s a sampling of flights you could book for these low prices:

    • Boston (BOS) to Orlando (MCO) for 9,000 points one way
    • Chicago (ORD) to Los Angeles (LAX) for 11,000 points one-way
    • New York (JFK) to Miami (MIA) for 9,000 points one-way
    • Seattle (SEA) to San Diego (SAN) for 9,000 points one-way

    With prices like those, you can book award tickets for the entire family! Note, too, that British Airways also partners with Amex Membership Rewards and Capital One Miles.

    Bottom Line: Chase Ultimate Rewards are one of our favorite point programs thanks to their flexibility and the incredible redemptions you can make when using them. For more redemption ideas, read through our guide on the best ways to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points!

    The Best Ways To Redeem Amex Membership Rewards Points

    ANA A380 First Class Seat 2A
    Fly to Asia in ANA first or business class by transferring Amex points to Virgin Atlantic. Image Credit: Cherag Dubash

    Amex Membership Rewards points are also exceptionally valuable when it comes to booking incredible travel experiences. Fortunately for people who earn Membership Rewards points, American Express has assembled the largest number of transfer partners of all 4 major transferable point currencies.

    Amex Transfer Partners

    First, let’s break down some of our favorite Amex transfer partners, along with some you’re better off avoiding.

    Again, it’s not impossible to get great value out of any of the programs listed, but allow this chart to serve as a general guideline for you when it comes to making high-value redemptions.

    Here are some of our favorite ways to redeem Membership Rewards points:

    Round-Trip Business Class Tickets With ANA

    b777 300er The Room
    ANA’s new business class seating is unparalleled. Image Credit: ANA

    All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club has one of the best award charts around when it comes to booking round-trip business class flights — plus you get a stellar seat and service to boot!

    You can book round-trip business class tickets with ANA from the U.S. to Japan for just 85,000 points during the regular season. And in the low season, the rate drops to just 75,000 points!

    Want to fly to another Asian city? You can do so for just 5,000 to 25,000 additional points. Here’s a look at some round-trip routes that fall under regular-season pricing:

    • Chicago (ORD) to Seoul (ICN) for 90,000 points round-trip
    • Houston (IAH) to Singapore (SIN) for 110,000 points round-trip
    • New York (JFK) to Tokyo (HND and NRT) for 85,000 points round-trip
    • Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Hong Kong (HKG) for 90,000 points round-trip

    Prefer to fly to Europe? You can use ANA’s Mileage Club program to book round-trip business class tickets with a Star Alliance partner airline for just 88,000 points.

    Here are some example routes to inspire your imagination:

    • Chicago (ORD) to Milan (MXP) for 88,000 points round-trip
    • Los Angeles (LAX) to London (LHR) for 88,000 points round-trip
    • New York (JFK) or Newark (EWR) to Paris (CDG) for 88,000 points round-trip
    • Seattle (SEA) to Frankfurt (FRA) for 88,000 points round-trip

    Better yet, you can also add a stopover within the same award region — as long as your itinerary doesn’t depart from Japan — for no additional cost. This would allow you to book a round-trip ticket, for example, from New York to Athens, with a stopover in Prague, for just 88,000 points.

    As you can see, the ANA award chart offers some incredible value for those looking to fly business class without needing to pay an exorbitant amount of miles to do it!

    Flying Delta One Suites to Europe

    DELTA One Suites A350
    Fly in your own suite with Delta using your Membership Rewards points. Image Credit: Delta

    Delta One Suites are Delta’s most premium cabin experience. They feature individual “pods” with sliding doors for privacy, premium food and beverage options, and a fully lie-flat bed so you can rest on your way to your destination.

    When booking a Delta One Suites ticket through the Delta SkyMiles program, award tickets can be very expensive. But if you book through Virgin Atlantic (also a Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards partner), you can fly round-trip between the U.S. and many major European cities for just 100,000 points!

    Here are some examples:

    • Atlanta (ATL) to Rome (FCO) for 100,000 points round-trip
    • Detroit (DTW) to Amsterdam (AMS) for 100,000 points round-trip
    • New York (JFK) to Paris (CDG) for 100,000 points round-trip

    Round-Trip Tickets to Hawaii

    Maui Hawaii - Katie Seemann
    Jet off to Hawaii! Image Credit: Katie Seemann

    Hawaii is easily one of the most popular destinations for U.S. travelers, but it is very expensive to get there. That’s where your points and miles come in!

    One of our favorite uses of Membership Rewards points is transferring them to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer to book round-trip flights on Alaska Airlines to Hawaiian islands like Maui or Kauai for as few as 24,000 KrisFlyer miles — an incredible price considering the average cash fares to the islands.

    For the most part, flights from most major West Coast gateways can be booked for 24,000 miles round-trip, while flights from the Midwest or East Coast will cost 35,000.

    Here’s a look at some round-trip flight options:

    • Chicago (ORD) to Kona (KOA) for 35,000 miles round-trip
    • Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL) for 24,000 miles round-trip
    • New York (JFK) or Newark (EWR) to Maui (OGG) for 35,000 miles round-trip
    • San Francisco (SFO) to Kauai (LIH) for 24,000 miles round-trip

    Hot Tip: There are multiple great ways to get to Hawaii, have a look at some of the best ways to fly to Hawaii with points and miles!

    The Best Ways To Redeem Citi ThankYou Points

    While not quite as popular as Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, the Citi ThankYou Rewards program can provide a lot of great value to travelers in its own right. Citi offers a large list of transfer partners, giving you several options when it comes to redeeming your points.

    Citi Transfer Partners

    Again, we’ll give you a rundown of every Citi transfer partner, broken down into which we recommend, and which we don’t.

    You know the drill by now: these recommendations aren’t hard and fast rules, but rather a general guideline to help you get the most value possible.

    With that, let’s look at a few great ways to use your Citi ThankYou Points!

    Short Flights Within the U.S. Using Avianca

    There are plenty of great uses of Avianca LifeMiles, but one of the best values is on domestic short-haul flights with its Star Alliance partner United. You can book tickets for as few as 7,500 miles each way.

    LifeMiles divides the U.S. is divided into 3 zones, with most of the East Coast in Zone 1, most of the Midwest in Zone 2, and the West Coast in Zone 3. Flights within the same zone are priced at just 7,500 miles, flights between Zones 1 and 2 are 10,000 miles, and flights between Zones 1/2 and 3 are 12,500 miles — quite reasonable no matter where you’re hoping to fly!

    Here are a few routes you could book at these rates:

    • Boston (BOS) to Washington, D.C. (IAD) for 7,500 miles one-way
    • Chicago (ORD) to Miami (MIA) for 7,500 miles one-way
    • New York (JFK) or Newark (EWR) to San Francisco (SFO) for 12,500 miles one-way
    • Philadelphia (PHL) to Houston (IAH) for 10,000 miles one-way
    • Seattle (SEA) to Los Angeles (LAX) for 7,500 miles one-way

    Hot Tip: You can also transfer points to Avianca from Amex Membership Rewards and Capital One. Curious to hear about some of the other great ways to redeem Avianca miles? Our ultimate guide to Avianca miles will show you just that!

    Flying ANA First Class

    ANA New 777 The Suite First Class Cabin
    ANA New 777 “The Suite” first class cabin. Image Credit: ANA

    ANA’s first class cabin, dubbed “The Suite,” is incredibly sleek, spacious, and private. Plus, it offers an inflight monitor that measures an astonishing 43 inches! When’s the last time your inflight monitor was as large as a proper TV?

    Fortunately, you can snag a deal on this experience thanks to the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club program. You can book a round-trip first class ticket between the Western U.S. and Japan for only 110,000 points, or from the Eastern/Central U.S. for just 120,000 points. Keep in mind these tickets regularly cost up to $20,000 each!

    • New York (JFK)/Chicago (ORD)/Houston (IAH)/Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Tokyo (HND) for 120,000 points round-trip
    • Los Angeles (LAX)/San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo (HND and NRT) for 110,000 points round-trip

    Bottom Line: There are dozens of great ways to make great use of your Citi ThankYou Points. Check out our complete guide to the best ways to redeem Citi ThankYou Points to learn all about them.

    The Best Ways To Redeem Capital One Miles

    In the points-and-miles world, Capital One Miles is the “new kid on the block” as Capital One miles only became a transferable currency relatively recently. While it does offer some solid transfer partners to travelers, some partners offer a 2:1.5 transfer ratio, instead of a 1:1 ratio like the other major currencies.

    Given that, we don’t value these miles as highly as the other programs, but they can still offer great value when you use them right.

    Capital One Transfer Partners

    Here’s a quick look at how we could categorize Capital One’s partners:

    Finally, let’s look at some of our favorite ways to use Capital One miles:

    Fly Lufthansa First Class

    Lufthansa B747-8 First Class Seat 1A - Cherag Dubash
    Lufthansa first class. Image Credit: Cherag Dubash

    Lufthansa first class is a bucket-list experience for many points travelers. The cabin itself is luxurious and spacious — and who can forget about the signature rubber duck first class passengers can take home with them! And, of course, since we’re all points travelers here, we naturally look for a way to book these flights that typically sell for around $10,000 for next to nothing.

    Lufthansa first class tickets can be booked through Avianca LifeMiles for 87,000 miles each way, and Capital One miles transfer to LifeMiles at a ratio of 1:1, meaning it’s fairly easy to accrue the miles needed to book this top-notch experience.

    Here’s a look at some of the flights you can book:

    • Chicago (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA) for 87,000 miles one-way
    • New York (JFK) or Newark (EWR) to Frankfurt (FRA) for 87,000 miles one-way

    Fly To Hong Kong in American Airlines First or Business Class

    Looking to travel to Hong Kong? You can use Capital One transfer partner Etihad Guest to book business or first class flights with American Airlines for just 55,000 miles in business class or 67,500 miles in first class — a fantastic deal for such a long flight!

    American Airlines operates its Flagship Business and Flagship First products on select routes from its main hubs, so you might need to book a positioning flight first in order to catch these flights:

    • Dallas (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG) for 55,000 miles one-way in business class
    • Dallas (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG) for 67,500 miles one-way in first class
    • Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG) for 55,000 miles one-way in business class
    • Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG) for 67,500 miles one-way in first class

    Hot Tip: Don’t forget to check some of our other favorite ways to redeem Capital One Miles for maximum value.

    How To Transfer Your Points

    British Airways BA Transfer
    Transferring your Chase Ultimate Rewards points is simple. Image Credit: Chase

    Now that you’ve set your sights on a trip, found award availability, and earned sufficient points to cover your trip, it’s time to transfer them to an airline partner. Here’s how to do it, using the Chase Ultimate Rewards program as an example:

    1. Select the appropriate card. If you want to transfer points, you will need to select an Ultimate Rewards card with an annual fee. You can combine Ultimate Rewards points under your chosen card from others that don’t have annual fees.
    2. Select Transfer to Travel Partners under the Use Points drop-down menu.
    3. Choose your desired airline or hotel partner and select Transfer Points.
    4. If you haven’t already added your frequent flyer number or hotel rewards number, you’ll be prompted to do so.
    5. Once you’ve linked your airline or hotel account to your Ultimate Rewards account, choose how many points you’d like to transfer. Transfers must be done in increments of 1,000.
    6. Confirm the number of points you’re transferring and complete the transfer.
    7. Head over to the appropriate airline or hotel program’s website to book your award flight or award stay.

    Most of the time transfers are instant except for those to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. These usually take 24 hours to process from Chase Ultimate Rewards, and sometimes longer from its other transfer partners (Amex, Citi, and Marriott Bonvoy).

    Hot Tip: In our ultimate guide to transferring flexible points to other accounts, we’ll walk you through how to combine and transfer flexible points between your own accounts, as well as from your own account to family, friends, and authorized users for Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi, and Marriott Bonvoy.

    Chapter 4: Tips for Family Travel

    Little girl on Jetkids Bedbox in airport
    Airports are a lot of fun for kids! Image Credit: Chris Hassan

    Sharing travel experiences with your children and other family members can create lifelong memories. However, traveling isn’t always easy and can be very stressful at times. Adding kids into the mix may not sound like a great idea to many people.

    However, with a little planning and advice from those who have gone through the best and worst of traveling with infants, toddlers, and kids, family travel can be something to look forward to. And, you can even pay for (most of it) with points and miles!

    Hot Tip: If you’re ready to start traveling with your kids, be sure to read “Best Tips for Amazing Family Travel With Your Kids (Less Stress & More Fun!).”

    Planning for Family Travel

    Family Walking Through Burlington International Airport BTV Vermont
    Traveling with kids is great, but it takes some planning. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

    Traveling with little ones involves extra planning. Whether you’re planning a weekend road trip or an international excursion, you should be prepared to put a little extra work into the planning stage.

    One of the biggest stress factors when traveling is rushing from one place to another. While you’re almost guaranteed to experience some stress, if you implement the following tips, you can mitigate some of the setbacks that may arise:

    • Arrive at the airport early
    • Book nonstop flights whenever possible — connections add time and stress
    • Confirm all documents in advance
    • Bring extra snacks
    • Bring extra diapers and clothes — accidents happen, plan for the worst!
    • Bring entertainment
    • Pack medicine in your carry-on
    • Visit an airport lounge to refresh
    • Schedule downtime upon arrival at your destination

    Should You Fly Business/First Class or Economy?

    American Airlines First Flagship Business Class Miami to Boston kids
    American Airlines Flagship Business with kids. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

    This is a question that’s widely debated on the internet: should you fly with a baby or child in business or first class? While some (cranky) adults might say no, we say absolutely… under the right circumstances.

    It’s obvious that flying upfront is more comfortable, and with a little one in tow, any extra space and comfort is welcome. If we could fly first class on every flight, we would, but it’s not always possible or practical. Maybe the flight is full or a bassinet isn’t available, but flying in economy can sometimes be a better option for some families.

    The decision takes into account many factors that can vary from family to family. Be sure to check out our list of the pros and cons of flying business class with a baby so that you can make an informed decision.

    Hot Tip: Did you know that prices for a lap child can vary based on the destination, airline, and form of payment? Be sure to read our article “Ultimate Guide to Booking a Lap Child on Your Next Flight [Includes Airline Pricing].”

    Preparing Documents for Travel With Kids

    Little girl with passports at BOS airport
    Having multiple passports means lots of applications! Image Credit: Chris Hassan

    Parents are used to filling out and providing documents for their kids, whether it’s for school, sports, or doctor’s appointments, so travel should be easy in comparison. Especially because we’re going to walk you through everything you need!

    If you’re planning on flying internationally, everyone, regardless of age, will need a passport. While the process of getting a passport for your baby is relatively straightforward, it can take some time. The sooner you start the process, the better — even if you don’t have a trip planned.

    If just 1 parent is traveling, it can start to get complicated, depending on the age of your child(ren). A child flying internationally with only 1 parent or guardian will need some permission forms, which can vary by airline and destination. However, the most important piece is a notarized parental consent form signed by both parents.

    Flying domestically requires less paperwork for kids, but the rules do change based on age.

    Here’s what you should expect to need while flying with kids in the U.S., based on age:

    • Newborn: Some airlines require babies to be at least 2 weeks old to fly. A birth certificate may be asked for.
    • 0 to 2: The only time an airline might request an ID is if your child is flying as a lap child for free, which will be used to prove that they’re under the age of 2.
    • 2 to 18: If your child is under the age of 18, they are a minor and are not required to provide identification as long as they are traveling with an adult. They will need a boarding pass, however. Minors traveling alone have different requirements determined by the airline.
    • 18+: Anyone over the age of 18 is required to have an ID to fly.

    Bottom Line: ID requirements vary by age. Check out this story to cut through the confusion: “What ID and Documents Does My Child Need To Fly?

    Getting Through the Airport With Kids

    Getting to the airport, checking in, dropping off bags, and getting through security can be stressful for adults traveling alone. Adding kids along with their toys, diaper bags, and more to the mix makes it even more challenging, even for travel pros. But going in with realistic expectations and a few tips can save time and frustration.

    After collectively passing through security thousands of times, we put together an excellent guide to help families speed through TSA airport security. And if you’re currently breastfeeding, don’t worry — we cover how to travel with breastmilk, too!

    Once you get through all of the stressful stuff, it’s finally time to relax in a lounge. And we’ll show you how to do that, too!

    Visiting Airport Lounges With Kids

    Admirals Club Miami International Airport Boy with Cookie
    Lounges often have great sweets and snacks for kids. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

    Although lounges may seem like really fancy and exclusive areas for first class passengers to hide away and drink Champagne (OK, they can definitely be that), they’re also the perfect refuge for families looking to escape the chaos of the main terminal.

    Parents don’t need to feel like they’re intruding because many lounges have dedicated kids’ rooms so your little one(s) can burn some energy while you get everyone changed and fed — without bothering other travelers.

    With free food, drinks, showers, and more, stopping by a lounge can give your family something to look forward to during a connection or before your flight. And you don’t need to be flying in first class to get access, either — some of our favorite credit cards come with complimentary lounge access!

    Bonus Chapter: The Points and Miles Guide to Walt Disney World

    Walt Disney World Entrance
    Miles and points can make your Walt Disney World trip more affordable. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

    We’re not quite done yet! We know Walt Disney World is at the top of many a travel bucket list, so we can’t round out this book without a quick section on redeeming your hard-earned points for a free Walt Disney World stay.

    In this chapter, we’ll take you through how to fly to Orlando and stay in a hotel near Walt Disney World for free. Additionally, we’ll end the chapter with a discussion on earning bonus points when purchasing Walt Disney World tickets.

    Please note that we’ve focused on using Chase Ultimate Rewards points in this piece. Check out our full “How To Visit Disney World for Cheap by Using Points & Miles” for help with using other programs.

    Let’s get the magic started!

    Book a Free Flight to Orlando

    American Airlines award ticket ORD MCO in October
    American Airlines award flight prices. Image Credit: American Airlines

    First things first: getting to Orlando!

    Fortunately, every major airline and alliance can get you from your home airport to Orlando International Airport (MCO), which means you have plenty of options to use your points and miles.

    If you have British Airways Avios, you consider booking a flight under 1,151 miles at a cost of just 9,000 Avios one-way, giving you exceptional value for your points. However, with a little bit of flexibility, you can find great deals directly with American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, and more starting around the same price.

    For those with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer them to United Airlines and book a one-way ticket for just 12,500 miles each way.

    Or, you could consider transferring your Ulitmate Rewards points to Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. Southwest’s award prices are tied directly to the cash fare for a given flight and are redeemable at approximately 78 points per dollar. If a flight costs $100, you’ll pay approximately 7,800 points per ticket. And since Southwest frequently offers fare sales between Orlando and other major cities, you’ll often pay even less than this.

    Use Points To Cover Your Hotel Stay

    Ritz Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes JW Marriott Lazy River family
    Use points to stay at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, just minutes from Walt Disney World. Guests have access to the JW Marriott Lazy River next door, too! Image Credit: Chris Hassan

    Travelers have 2 options for redeeming points for hotels in Orlando. You can either stay at a Disney property or at a nearby hotel. Obviously the former is more convenient but can be more much more expensive from a points perspective. Let’s take a look.

    Disney has 3 on-site points-friendly hotels: the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resorts and the soon-to-open Walt Disney World Swan Reserve.

    All 3 of these properties are members of the Marriott Bonvoy program, so you can use Marriott Bonvoy points for free nights. Each property is a Category 6 hotel, meaning award nights range from 40,000 to 60,000 points apiece. However, availability can be scarce, using points doesn’t exempt you from paying nightly resort fees, there is no free breakfast for elite members.

    With that in mind, we don’t think that using your Marriott Bonvoy points for free nights at these on-site resorts is a very good value.

    However, staying off-property at the Disney Springs entertainment area can be a pretty amazing deal (depending on the cost of a paid hotel stay).

    Disney Springs is a large entertainment area near the other Disney properties. It used to be known as Pleasure Island and later Downtown Disney, but it’s since been rebranded and expanded with more restaurants, hotels, and shopping.

    The great part about the Disney Springs hotels is that many are part of the main hotel loyalty programs. Hilton, Wyndham, Marriott, and more all have hotels in the area, and you can use your points at all of them. Even better, many of these are Disney partner hotels.

    Note that Marriott Bonvoy is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. And while we generally don’t recommend transferring points from Chase to Marriott Bonvoy, if you’re traveling to Walt Disney World during peak times, it may be worth it to save a nice chunk of change.

    Earn Bonus Points on Walt Disney World Tickets

    Unfortunately, it’s hard — if not impossible — to find a discount (or earn extra points) on Walt Disney World tickets.

    So with that in mind, we recommend using a credit card that earns more than 1 point per dollar spent on either all purchases or on entertainment purchases to pay for your tickets.

    Some examples of this include the Capital One Venture card (2 points per dollar spent on every purchase) or the Freedom Unlimited card (1.5 points per dollar spent on every purchase). Using cards like these will give you more points for your purchase, and in turn fuel your next trip!

    Final Thoughts

    In this book, you learned the ins and outs of using credit card, airline, and hotel points and miles to travel the world for free. We hope it helped inspire you to use points and miles to explore the planet and enrich your life while traveling in comfort.

    Safe (award) travels!

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