Beginners Guide to using Credit Card Points & Rewards for Travel | Traveling Elopement Photographer

Beginners Guide to using Credit Card Points + Rewards for travel | Traveling Elopement Photographer | Destination Wedding Photography 


Alright. We all spend money, we all like getting things for free, and if you’re here, you probably enjoy traveling! Well, I’m here to share with you all of my tips, insight + knowledge about how to earn points to get flights and other aspects of travel (hotels, cars, cruises etc) for free, by spending money you’re already spending. READY FOR THIS!? 

I’ll preface this with saying that you have to be smart about this and all of this knowledge is just how I’ve come to know it and understand it. ONLY do this if you’re going to pay off your entire card every month. Go into this with the mindset of these cards acting as debit cards. You can only spend what you have, you’re just adding one step of running it through these specific cards and paying it off instead of running it through your debit card. Otherwise, none of this makes sense and with the interest rates on most of these cards, you’ll end up loosing wayyyy more than you end up saving and its just not smart. If you think you’ll forget to pay it off, set up automatic payments so that it automatically pays your balance in full.

Second preface. Applying for cards + opening multiple cards will hit your credit initially, but will look good over time. Credit likes to see that you’re capable of opening, using and maintaining multiple things - basically you can multi task with your money, but you have to prove that to them. So if you’re planning on buying a car or house in the next 6 months, maybe wait on doing this because it will hit your credit in the beginning, but strengthen it over time. However, with that said, I opened 4 cards 2 months before buying a car and it didn’t affect my car loan sooo who really knows. If you’re concerned about it, do more research. Okay so pay off your cards and know that this can effect your credit. Got it? Okay. Now we can begin.

The biggest key to earning points through these cards is the opening bonus offer. So, earn 50,000 bonus points after spending 3,000 in 3 months kind of thing. Yes, your every day purchases will add up, but it will take a lotttt of spending to earn 50,000 points compared to earning them through the bonus offer, so for travel cards, I like to focus more on the card bonus, and then look at the benefits of the cards. 

All of these cards mentioned are specifically travel cards - so while often times you can redeem the points for things other than travel (cash back, gift cards etc), you’ll recieve more value for your points (usually 25% more value) if you use the points for travel. So I could spend 30,000 points to get $300 cash back, or $450 in flight credit. 

There are few different cards you can look at - airline specific and bank specific. Airline specific cards are ones through a specific airline (Southwest Rapid Rewards, American Airlines, Delta etc), where typically you can only redeem your points for flights on that specific airline. Bank specific cards (Chase Sapphire, American Express, Barclay U.S) allow you to redeem your points on multiple airlines, or as for Barclay, you can use your points to reimburse yourself for any travel expenses that are on your card. For example, I bought a $500 flight through the airline’s website, put the purchase on my card, and the card recognized it as a “travel expense” so I was able to redeem 50,000 points for $500 taken off my statement, where as Chase and AMEX, you buy the flights through their rewards site. 

All of these cards mentioned are specifically travel cards - so while often times you can redeem the points for things other than travel (cash back, gift cards etc), you’ll recieve more value for your points (usually 25% more value) if you use the points for travel. So I could spend 30,000 points to get $300 cash back, or $450 in flight credit.

So think about your lifestyle and where you might want to travel or travel from. If Southwest is the major airline out of your local airport, then you might want that one since you can easily fly them. Or, if you want to fly to London, Southwest doesn’t fly there so you might want to American or Delta. Or if you don’t know where you’ll want to go with your points, maybe choose a bank specific card so you have flexibility. I personally prefer bank specific cards, but that’s because I like the flexibility that comes with them, and the biggest bonuses. 

Once you choose your card, to get the bonus points, you’ll have to spend a certain amount of money within a certain amount of time. With that said, plan on opening a card when you know you have a big purchase coming up. For example, Christmas shopping is approaching so you might be spending more than normal, so now might be a good time to open a card. Or for me, when I know I’m purchasing a new piece of camera equiptment, or a few flights for shoots, I’ll plan to open a card around then, since I’ll be spending that money already, and it’s larger amounts outside of my typical monthly budget. However, if you know you won’t spend $5,000 in three months even with a big purchase, then don’t open that card, because you won’t get any bonus points for spending $4,999, so you want to make sure you’re capabale of spending the amount you need to spend in the time frame, without just spending money wastefully to get points (because then you’re back to losing money!). 

I’ll explain my current card line up, how I use them, and why I have each card before digging into other options. What I like to do, is open two new cards at the beginning of the year - one for personal use, and one for my business use. So in January, I’ll open a new personal card (and I’m specifically saving multiple flight purchases I need to make for shoots next year so that I have extra spending that can help me reach the minimums) and then once I’ve got the bonus points for that card, usually about 3 months later, I’ll open another card for my business expenses, that way I’m able to have two cards of bonus points (upwards of 100-120k points which I can get 3-4 roundtrip tickets to most places in the world, or 5-6 roundtrip domestic flights out of), but also keep my business + personal expenses seperate. However, as I’m working towards the bonus points on these cards (spend 3k in 3 months thing), I’ll put all of my expenses, mixing business and personal, on the cards to be able to reach the minumums. If you do this, keep REALLYYY good track of what is business and what is personal so that you can pay off the respective amounts from respective accounts and not piss off your accountant at the end of the year ;) That’s super important. 

Okay, so this year I’ve used Chase Sapphire Preferred for my personal expenses and Southwest Rapid Rewards for my business expenses. So ALL of my personal expenses go on the chase card (literally everything except my car payment and student loans because those have to come from my debit account) and ALL of my business expenses (gear, software, travel expenses, albums, SD cards, website payment, hard drives etc.) go on the Southwest Card. Through that I got 50,000 bonus points on Chase (which I’ve bought 1 roundtrip and 1 one way tickets this year and still have 43,000 to use), and 50,000 bonus points on Southwest (which I’ve bought 4 one way tickets with and still have 23,000 to use). And the most important thing, they have a balance of $0 each month because I’m only spending what I have to spend. THATS SUPER IMPORTANT FRIENDS, DON’T GET YOURSELF INTO TROUBLE. 

My Chase Sapphire I had to spend $4,000 in 3 months (this is when I upgraded all of my gear this year which took care of a good chunk of that), and my Southwest I had to spend $2,000 in 3 months. Chase I can use on many airlines, but have to purchase flights through their website so sometimes certain airlines aren’t on there, or certain airline deals don’t apply - this is where a card like Barclay (what I had last year) would come in handy. Southwest I can only use on Southwest, but I love SWA, get free bags, drinks, snacks, and I can usually fly them most places domestically from my nearest airport, BWI. Plus, you can cancel or change your flight up until pretty last minute without change or cancellation fee’s. 

Okay, so here are a few cards to look at to get started. When we look at cards we want to think about our end goals with points (destination I want to fly to, where I’m flying from, how much I’ll realistically spend over the next few months, credit score recommended to be approved etc), and think about which one will suit your lifestyle, and end goals best.

Airline Specific Travel




Bank Specific

The two banks I’d recommend as the best are Chase and AMEX. These two both have 3 levels of cards, an basic, medium, and deluxe sorts of versions. Chase for example:

Chase Ink 

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Reserved

If you’re going to apply for CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED apply through this link’s and we’ll both get extra points! It took me hours to write this post so I’d super appreciate it if you’re going to apply anyways!

If you’ve made it this far, DANG. You’re committed to this free flight deal and I’m proud of you - you’re almost there! I know it’s a confusing world to navigate, but once you start learning the system, you’ll realize how EASY it is to get all of these free flights for money you’re already spending. You just have to be smart about it! Email me any questions you have - I’d be happy to help you navigate this world and figure out what would be best for you! Or, if you end up getting a card, let me know! I’d love to hear that this post was helpful for you and how you plan on using your points! Thanks for reading! 

Have travel questions? Get in touch!

Beginners Guide to using Credit Card Points + Rewards for travel | Traveling Elopement Photographer | Destination Wedding Photography