Here Are My Travel Card Strategies To Rack Up Points and Miles in 2018

My 2017 strategy post was a popular one so I’m back with a new strategy post as we head into 2018.  After all, the dawning of a new year is a good time to re-examine priorities, plans and tactics.

I’ve included in my list here some of my classic, always-valuable strategy elements as well as new ones.  Here we go!

Time Your Card Applications to Align With Major Purchases

Here’s a common situation that is a bit maddening: You drop big bucks on a purchase.  Then weeks or months later an appealing credit card offer catches your eye.  The card comes with a major bonus but it requires a significant minimum spend, leaving you musing, “If only I had acquired this card earlier and used it for that big purchase I would have met the minimum spend requirement easily.”

So instead of going down this path, use the start of the new year as a trigger to identify and lay out upcoming major purchases for the year.  Consider whether you’ll be buying appliances, furniture or even a car.  Then create a plan to obtain a high-signup-bonus card (or even multiple cards) shortly before you make those purchases and turn them into a major reward.

Some of my family members used this tactic recently with home renovations.  They knew they were going to drop a substantial chunk of change on a kitchen redo, so they grabbed a Chase Sapphire Preferred a couple weeks prior to the bill coming due.  They got 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points which they shortly thereafter they redeemed for $625 of hotel accommodations via the Chase UR travel portal.

By aligning their application for a Chase Sapphire Preferred to some home renovations, members of my family were able to net three free nights of accommodations in Clearwater, FL, where they’ll see sunsets like this!  Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy

One other tip that can be critical: If you do end up cutting it close and get approved for a Chase credit card hours or days before a major purchase you can use my trick to get your card number before the physical card arrives at your mailbox.  Get the details on this trick here!

Embrace the Quarterly Bonuses (and then don’t forget them)!

Second only to signup bonuses, quarterly bonus categories are the next best way to rack up points, miles or even cash back quickly.  A few cards offer such arrangements, including the Chase Freedom and Discover it.  As I’ve detailed before, the Chase Freedom’s 5X quarterly bonus rate can actually amount to a net return of over 10% when the points are transferred to a travel partner.  The Discover it offers a straight 5% cash back on the quarterly categories.

Once you have one or more of this type of card, there are two key aspects to getting the big payback on quarterly categories.

First, you must register for the quarterly bonus categories.  That’s easy though as you’ll receive a reminder email from Chase or Discover to do so.

Second, you need to remember to use the card(s) for bonus category purchases.  If like me you have a wallet full of various cards, that’s not quite as easy as it sounds.  Here’s a simple tip to keep it all straight: Write the bonus categories directly on the card(s) with a Sharpie pen.  If you end up running out of clean space, put an address label on the card (on the side opposite the chip) and write on it.

Match Your Card Acquisitions With Your Travel Destinations

If you rack up points and miles but they’re not usable for your upcoming trips you’ll probably be frustrated.  So take a moment as we enter 2018 to look ahead at your calendar for major events and get-togethers.  Think weddings, family reunions, birthdays and of course, vacations.

Jot down some notes on which plans will require air travel and hotel accommodations.  Check which airlines offer nonstop flights to/from those locations and identify desireable hotels in the destinations.  Then consider grabbing the co-branded card or a versatile card that allows you to transfer points into that mileage program.

To determine which airlines offer the most appealing routes to/from your future destinations I recommend using Google Flights.  You can follow up with a quick check on RouteHappy to confirm the flights will be enjoyable, or at least tolerable.

For example, if United is offering nonstop flights to your destination and all other airlines only offer two-stop service, then you’ll want to strongly consider grabbing a United card such as the MileagePlus Explorer.  That will net you a bounty of United MileagePlus miles as well as priority boarding and a free checked bag.

Aspen panorama by The Honeymoon Guy
United offers reasonable flight options to Aspen (my 2018 ski trip destination) so I recently got a United MileagePlus Explorer card. Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy

On the hotel front, I recommend plugging your destination into Pointimize.  That is a quick way to determine all the hotels in the area that can be booked with points.  I’ll usually supplement that with a glance at TripAdvisor to ensure the hotel I’m eyeing up is highly-rated.

Take Inventory of What You’ve Got

Just as you’d check the fridge and pantry before heading to the grocery store, it’s wise to check your miles, points and free night awards inventory before making major travel moves.  So use the beginning of a new year as a chance to list out the cards you hold and identify any major perks they offer, such as free award nights at renewal (if you’re not already doing so, consider using my free Travel Credit Card Tracking Spreadsheet.

This offers two benefits: It should ensure that miles/points and awards you have don’t expire unbeknownst to you, and it should help steer your future plans.

Christmas ornaments in NYC by The Honeymoon Guy
In the fall of 2016 while taking “inventory” of our awards, I realized that Patty had an IHG free night award. We were able to quickly turn that into a short trip to NYC during Christmas season, allowing us to check out all the beautiful decorations and the big tree! Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy

For example, if you’re looking to take a two-night trip and you catch that you have an unused free night award from the IHG Rewards Club card you could direct your energy toward that program.  Doing so would mean you only need to accrue enough points for a single night as opposed to two nights in a program for which you don’t have any existing free night awards.

Use Automated Reminders to Avoid Missing Out

As I mentioned on the topic of quarterly bonuses, perks and benefits are only great if you remember to use them.  With all of the electronic reminder services available these days there really isn’t an excuse to miss deadlines.

You can use a calendar service like Google Calendar or Outlooks’s calendar with their built-in reminder features.  Or you can use associated apps like Google Tasks or

While you’re in the process of updating your calendar or app, include a reminder to check your Amex Offers once a month. They’re updated somewhat frequently so it’s worth checking every so often.  I’ve saved hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, using those offers on my Hilton Honors American Express and my SPG Business American Express.

Aim High

Finally, don’t be afraid to go big.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” – Robert Browning

Consider an epic, aspirational trip.  If you’re going through the motions to acquire points or miles for a ho-hum, short-duration trip you may find it difficult to put even the moderate amount of effort to plan it effectively.

On the other hand, when you’re really amped up about the payoff being an unforgettable vacation, it can be easier to remain motivated to track your spending, important deadlines, etc.  Scientific research has actually revealed that the optimal vacation length is eight days!

Time to put these strategies to work and make 2018 a year of memorable travel!  Happy New Year!!

Do you have other strategies for 2018?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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