In 2018 I slowly started using Points and Miles to stretch my travel budget. But in 2019 I got a lot more serious and started to develop travel strategies. Planning what miles I would need to earn to cover costs for my next trip or even the one after that.
I spent a lot of time (and still do) reading travel blogs written by some very savvy individuals that really know how to use the tools available out there. My favorite blog is Your Mileage May Vary because it is written in a way that I understand the concepts being presented. I learned a lot about integrating credit cards into my travel saving strategy.
Some Key Points When Choosing Credit Cards
- ALWAYS pay off your balance every month! Otherwise the interest you pay negates the value of the points you earn.
- When selecting a new card, make sure that it offers some bonus categories that earn higher points and that your cards don’t all have the same benefits. That would be redundant.
- Choose cards that will be useful in achieving your personal travel goals.
- Beware of the Chase 5/24 Rule! (This Link is to a good article explaining it)
- Make sure that you will be able to get enough value from the card to justify the cost of the annual fee.
Once you have some cards in play, you will need to plan on periodically evaluating their usefulness. Making sure I got enough value to offset the annual fee is important to me. My plan is to evaluate my cards at the end of each calendar year to determine if they are keepers going forward. If not then ideally they should be cancelled before the next annual fee is billed.
Points to Consider When Reviewing Current Credit Cards
- The number one thing is did I get enough monetary savings from the card to offset the annual fee.
- Was I able to use the benefits on the card to provide additional perks or travel savings?
- Does it look like I will be able to get the same or better value from the card in the next year?
Calculating the Value Received from my Credit Cards in 2019
As an Analyst, I like to spell it all out to see where I stand. So here are the cards that I want to review.
Annual Fee $89
1 Free Night Holiday Inn Hillsboro Oregon at a value around $130
We bought down the rate for a 2 night hotel stay in Traverse City using the Points+Cash Rate during peak season at a value over $200
I received a Free Night Certificate on my card anniversary (haven’t used it yet). I estimate the value around $200 (plus or minus depending on the hotel I choose).
My estimated savings/benefits were $530 this year compared to a fee of only $89 so I definitely got enough value to offset this fee. I was able to take advantage of the first quarter promotion to earn a lot of bonus points, but the rest of the year the offers were pretty flat. I also downloaded a few free kindle books that are a member perk. Holiday Inn’s are everywhere and I feel like it is beneficial to have a nice bank of IHG points to pull from when needed.
Since the fee is low, and the value is there and the card is useful and a Keeper! But I do hope that they will do a better job with their points promotions in 2020.
Annual Fee $69
I was able to use the Companion Pass benefit for round trip flights to Portland for my daughter, to Texas and to Hawaii for my husband. I would value these flights at around $1600.
I was also able to pay for my entire round trip airfare to Hawaii with points at a value of over $1000.
I am not going to lie, this card was an impulse decision due to it shiny sign up offer of points plus a Companion Pass for the year. We were planning to stay stateside in 2019 for our travels and I knew I could use the Companion Pass to really stretch our travel budget. Of course we absolutely got more than $69 in value from the card! Here is the hard part, this card has really low points earning potential. Our Companion pass ends on 12/31/19 and next year we are doing a big international trip so we wont be using it as much.
Because it is a low cost card, I am going to keep it. We have been able to secure some good Southwest fairs between Detroit and Texas when we visit our son. I may upgrade it to the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card in 2020 (annual fee $149) to take advantage of increased benefits including a $75 annual travel fee credit, 4 upgraded boardings per year and a higher anniversary points bonus.
American Express Gold Card
Annual Fee $250
Before we discuss the value I got from this card, let me lead with this is the most expensive annual fee in my card line up. It pained me to sign up for this card, but it was very important to my 2020 international travel plans. I needed to earn a large number of points that could easily transfer for my upcoming international airfare. It was also important that I start early in order to earn enough points in time. And it’s working! I knew it would be super important to take advantage of all the perks and offers to try to offset the big annual fee. I have been vigilant.
I received 100% of my Airline Fee Credit (paying for the Early Bird Check ins for my Hawaii flights and 1 to Portland) value $100.
American Express added Boxed to their Dining Credit partners in June and I was able to start cashing in on that perk. I have received a $10 statement credit every month since for a total of $60 in savings.
I have also been able to utilize 6 American Express Offers earning back statement credits totaling $85.
The annual fee was $250 and although I have only had the card 8 months I managed to receive $245 back in credits. Pretty close to even, don’t you think? I also amassed almost enough points to cover my business class international airfare for next year. This year I really got to know this card and what it has to offer so I am confidant that next year I will meet or exceed having enough credits to cover the fee. This one is another keeper!
I know there are cards with $450-$550 annual fees that offer super perks, but I am staying in my lane where I am comfortable for now!
Capital One Venture
Annual Fee $95
I used miles to erase airport Taxi charge from Honolulu to Waikiki with a value of $39.
I also used mile to erase 2 Early Bird Check in Fees for flight segments to Hawaii with a value of $50.
We have had a Capital One card for a very long time. I upgraded it this spring to the Venture in order to get the most bank for our buck. Because I was working on earning spend bonuses on new cards this year, I didn’t use it enough to earn a ton of points. But I was still able to turn the points I had into savings of $89 which is pretty close to the annual fee. I like the simplicity of the travel purchase eraser. I strategically charged the taxi and airline fees to the card because I knew that I could use it to offset them.
Since this is a card relationship we have had for so long, I plan to use it more next year (including the Global entry perk worth $100), and it has the flexible purchase eraser benefit, this card is also a keeper.
The Mister got some new cards this year too!
This year I was able to get Mark a little involve for the first time. He has now seen the benefits and is more of a believer in what I have been doing. I have learned that it is sometimes better to have separate accounts when opening travel rewards cards. It gives you more options later for your spouse to open a similar card with the same company and it can help keep slots available for opening new cards as well.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Annual Fee $95
This card has Primary Rental Car Coverage that we used for rentals in Texas and Hawaii this year. Estimating an average savings of $11 per day (about the average charged by the rental car companies) for a combined 7 car rental days would give you a value of $77.
We transferred some 45,000 points earned from our sign up bonus to cover the cost in full of 3 nights at the Hyatt Centric in Waikiki…..Ocean view and Penthouse level! This room goes for $315 per night for Hyatt members for a total value of $945.
We needed a card that could earn general Chase points that could transfer to multiple other programs. Since I was over my 5/24 I would have to wait, but my husband was good to go. We didn’t get the card until June, but managed to eek out over $1000 in value against a mere $95 annual fee. Winning! This card holds a lot of potential value due to having some elevated spending categories, the primary car rental insurance, it has great points transfer options and we can use the $100 Global Entry credit next year. This card was a good choice and has plenty to offer so it is a definite Keeper.
Hilton Honors Surpass American Express
Annual Fee $95
One American Express Offer with a statement credit of $10.
Priority Pass Lounge Membership comes with this card. We were able to visit 2 airport lounges. On our trip to Texas, we experienced a 3 hour flight delay in Detroit and the lounge benefit was priceless. If I did put a value on free entry plus 3 hours of decent food and full open bar (plus ultra comfort) I would say about $100 considering the cost of comparable airport fare.
We also spent a quick hour in the Plumeria lounge in Honolulu. Much lighter fare than in Detroit and mostly beer and wine, but still a good stop when traveling with Southwest that doesn’t serve food on their flights. I had a lovely 1 hour pour of Chardonnay (lol) and Mark managed 2 beers along with our lunch. I would value this around $50.
Being card carrying Members gives you Hilton Gold Status. That then translated for us into free breakfast at Hilton hotels in Texas and California. Let’s estimate $40 per hotel stay for a total of $80 in value.
There were 3 main reasons for signing up for this card.
- 130,000 sign up bonus points for meeting spend requirement
- 6 times points per dollar spent on Gas, Dining Out and Super Markets. Plus 12 times points per dollar spent on Hilton stays.
- 10 Priority Pass Lounge visits per year (which can also be used for your spouse if they are with you).
Mark’s main purchases are Gas (important because he commutes about 30 minutes each way) and Dining Out. This gives us great earning potential on those categories. We have only had the card 3 months, and already taken advantage of quite a few perks. That Lounge access was a real life saver during that DTW flight delay! I estimate we have already received $230 in savings which wipes out the $95 annual fee. Additionally we have earned a sweet bank of points that should cover a nice vacation stay down the road. For sure a Keeper!
Looking back it has been a great year of travel for me. By strategically using the perks and benefits of my credit cards, I was able to greatly reduce my trip costs allowing me to travel further and more frequently. I was able to take 3 big trips and several small ones. Every trip I got better at using the tools and saved more money each time. If you do the math, I was able to save over $4000 this year. Woo hoo!
When doing a review of my current credit cards, I think they are all doing a good job of providing travel savings and benefits. In the end, I will keep them all. As I become more and more comfortable with the points and miles process and the benefits of each of my cards, I will be able to continue increasing the amount I am able to save.
I have already taken a look ahead at what new cards I might add to my line up in 2020 in order to further my ability to travel and save more. My hopes in unpacking this analysis for you today was that it will serve as an example for you in how to look at your own cards to be sure you are getting enough bang for your buck. If you haven’t started using credit cards for travel savings yet, maybe this will help you to take a baby step or two next year yourself. You just have to start with a goal and a plan.
Gotta love the process…..Dream, PLAN, SAVE, Adventure!
Hope your 2020 is filled with Travel and Savings!