5 credit cards you should have in order to earn thousands in travel rewards

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

DENVER -- If you’re like most people, credit card rewards points are usually just an after-thought.  But, what if we told you, you could go to Rome, business class for two by cashing in just over $1,000 in points?

You could also stay in a grand suite at the Brown Palace, just by opening a credit card.

Jason Steele, Senior Points and Miles Contributor with The Points Guy does just that.  “Our travel budget for the year is sometimes $1,000 to $2,000 and yet some years, we could consume, If you looked at the retail price $50,000 - $100,000," he said. Think champagne taste on a beer budget.

The Points Guy is a website to teach people how to travel in luxury often using ‘only’ credit card points and nothing out of pocket. He said the secret is just two words:  collect points. Steele makes a living helping people maximize points and takes advantage himself, too.

According to Jason, “On a recent trip to Europe last year, I upgraded my daughter and I from business class to first class on Lufthansa.”  So, how does he do it?  Let’s start with the basics.

Most points work like this: You get roughly one point for every dollar spent. You can then convert the points to cash or gift cards at a rate of one per penny.

For example:

  1. Spend $1,000 -- get 1,000 points and cash it in for $10. However, if you know how to work the system, you can get a lot more than just one penny per point.

Here’s a cheat sheet:  Jason said take advantage of sign-up bonuses by having a handful of credit cards. “So, a good credit card might offer 50,000 or 100,000 points just for giving them an opportunity to have your business,” he said.

  1. Second, charge the right things on the right cards to get bonus points.

He said, “I might have a particular card for groceries and another card for office supplies.”

  1. Lastly, know how to navigate travel rewards websites.

We decided to put Jason to the test, to show you how and see firsthand what he could buy online, in minutes, using only points.

Brown Palace luxury using just points

So, for example, you need a 'staycation,' luxury accommodations in one of Denver’s finest places, a signature here in the Mile High City, The Brown Palace. An upgraded room complete with a separate living room, a full dining room and champagne!

Jason first went to Marriott.com and selected reward travel.  Within seconds he found a deal. “See, look at this. We have four nights in the Brown Palace for 140,000 points which coincidentally is the same number of rewards points that we received just for signing up for this credit card.”

Fly to Rome on points alone

From accommodations to travel, we asked him if he could book me and my husband a pair of round trip tickets, business class to Rome using only my points.

With a lucrative sign-up bonus, I had accumulated 174,000 points on my American Express card. Again, Amex would say that’s worth a value of $1,740.  Round trip tickets to Rome retail around $5,700 a piece on the low end.

“It gives us the option to book trips with points but we would only get 1700 dollars in value from those points, but if we say “transfer points,” Jason said that’s a way to get around using actual dollars. He said you need to look into transferring your points into miles.

“What I would do is I would look at the different airlines here, and I would say not only which one of these will fly me to Rome--but which one would have the partners to get me there,” Jason said.

The trick

That is the trick—you have to see which partner airline allows you to get away with using the least amount of miles and only minimal add-on charges -- and don’t give up!

We looked at lots of airline websites, Finally stumbling here: Britishairways.com and its multiple partners happened to be running a special bonus points promotion giving you an additional 40 percent of your total points as a bonus.

Here’s the proof—he types in that he needs 180 thousand miles for two to get to Rome flying business class. “I`m going to put this in here and it`s going to calculate how many membership rewards points I need. In this case, I would need 129,000 membership rewards points,” Jason said.

Once you find the winning airline partners and days for travel, that would leave us with 45,000 miles still left over!

In summary, it’s very possible to find two round trip business class tickets to Rome using points that would cash out for $1,290 instead of what would’ve cost $11,400 without points. That’s roughly 11 times the value.

Sign up for the right card: Jason's top 5

The bottom line to playing the points game? Signing up for the right card.

Jason says these are his top five cards great for transferring points for travel:

  1. Starwood preferred guest card, Amex card
  2. Amex EveryDay card
  3. Chase Saphire Preferred Card
  4. American Express Platinum Card
  5. Chase Inc. Plus Card

Knowledge is power and now you know the secret the credit card companies and travel industry never wanted you to know.


Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.