How to Use Credit Cards to Get a Free Vacation
Want a free vacation? Your travel credit card can help.
We’re living in the golden era of travel rewards, which means you have access to several credit cards that can give you enough points to score free flights and hotel nights. Two of the best travel cards for free travel right now are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Card.
Free Hotel Nights: Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee, waived first year)
You’re going to get the most points out of your Sapphire Preferred card in the first three months. That’s because Chase is running an offer where you’ll get 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points if you make $4,000 in purchases.
Transferring Your Points
Those “CUR” points, as they’re called, can be transferred to the rewards programs at Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels. So, if you transfer all 50,000 points to Hyatt’s Gold Passport program, you’ll end up with 50,000 Gold Passport points. In most cases, your points will show up within 24 hours of making the transfer.
Using Your Points
When it comes time to plan your vacation, do research on which hotels have properties at your destination. Then, find out how many points it takes to stay at those hotels. As far as bargains go, Hyatt has plenty of hotels that cost less than 10,000 points per night. Marriott will give you a free fifth night if you book four rewards nights.
Tip: You can get an extra 5,000 miles if you add an authorized user and make a purchase with the user’s card.
Free Flights: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier ($99 annual fee)
In my research of free rewards flights, I found the Southwest Rapid Rewards program offers the best flights at the cheapest fares. You might even be surprised to know that Southwest’s seat size and recline distance are on par with United and other major carriers. How do you get a free seat on Southwest? The airlines’ Rapid Rewards Premier credit card is offering 50,000 free rewards miles if you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
The points you earn on your credit card are automatically deposited into your Rapid Rewards account, the portal through which you’ll book your flights. You don’t have to go through one portal to get to another like you have to with Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Using Your Points
Southwest makes it really easy to redeem your points for flights. Log into your Rapid Rewards account and then search flights by points, not dollars. You’ll get a list of flights and the corresponding points it will take to get that seat. You’ll find that there are always one or two flights that cost significantly less than other flights; those points prices won’t be around for long. The key is to book early while the best fares are still available.
Tip: You’ll get 6,000 free points on your anniversary.
A Few More Things to Keep in Mind
How you use your rewards points will depend on where you’re headed for vacation.
- Avoid using points for rental cars. If you’re driving to your destination, you might be tempted to use your points for rental cars. Don’t do it. The rentals tend to cost a lot of points, which cuts down on their value. Save your points for your hotel room.
- Leverage your free night for a modestly priced upgrade. A trick I’ve used in the past is cashing in rewards points for free hotel rooms, then asking about upgrades. In many cases, you’ll find that paying a couple of hundred dollars extra for a four-night stay could get you into a huge suite. The upgrade price is well worth the cost, especially considering the same room could cost you $1,000 or more at the regular rate for four nights.
- If you’re flying international, try the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card is a great choice if your getaway is in the U.S. However, if you’re flying international, you might want to use the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Your CUR points can be transferred to a number of international carriers including United, British Airways and Singapore Airlines.
There are plenty of ways to use travel points to book your next vacation. Do your research and you’ll maximize your points.
My final tip? Pay off your balances in full. If you carry a big balance on your travel card, the interest payments you make will decrease the value of that “free” vacation!