7 Strategies For Optimizing Your Travel Credit Card Rewards

by Jason on March 30, 2012

in Travel Credit Cards

If you love to travel and you’re serious about getting great rewards so you can travel more often, it’s time to kick things up a notch and get serious about becoming a “Have Points Will Traveler.” In this post, I’m going to let you in on 7 *must follow* strategies to get even more out of your travel credit cards. This is what separates the road warriors from the beginners. 😉

1. Stay tuned in for great credit card bonus offers.

Chase sapphire preferred bonus offer 50000These days, credit card companies and banks are offering fantastic travel rewards bonuses for new customers. Your monthly, annual, and lifetime spend on these credit cards can amount to major revenue for the banks. They are very motivated to win your business and willing to offer you some lovely incentives to make that happen. From what I understand, the sign-on rewards we’re seeing these days are historically very high and — in some cases — may even be the highest on record.

Taking advantage of these bonuses means keeping your ear to the ground (especially by subscribing to this blog) and being ready to grab those new travel credit card offers as they become available.

Some of my favorite offers at the moment are for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Chase Ink Bold, the US Airways Mastercard, Capital One and the Citi Aadvantage card. New offers are coming and going all the time, so it’s critical that you’re keeping tabs on what’s going on. (It probably wouldn’t hurt to follow me on Twitter too. Often I can announce things there much faster than here on the blog.)

2. Maintain a strong credit profile.

As a consumer, you’re greatest asset is your credit ratings with the top 3 bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. It’s super important that you keep a good watch on your credit reports and credit scores to make sure things are in tip-top shape at all times. Obviously, this rule applies to getting great credit cards, but it’s also important for keeping those cards too. Some credit card companies take routine “soft inquiries” of your credit reports to make sure you’re still a worthy borrower. Regardless of whether or not you’re making payments on time, paying your balance in full every month, some credit card agencies will suddenly decide you’re no longer worthy and close your accounts.

These days, banks and card issuers are mostly interested in good borrowers who have good credit and represent low risk for borrowing. Due to new regulations in the financial services industry, credit card interest rates are now capped for personal consumer cards. For this reason, credit card companies are focusing more on attracting low-risk borrowers so they can earn more money from merchant processing fees.

Every time you use your card at the local shopping mall or your favorite online shopping site or Taco Bell or wherever, the card issuer charges the merchant a small fee for processing the transaction. These fees range from 1% to 3% or higher. If you spend $100,000 on your credit card, that’s $1000 to $3000 in revenue for the card issuer.

This is why it’s SO important to become a good borrower and let the banks compete for your business. You deserve it for being responsible with your cash.

3. Never take no for an answer.

When you’re applying for new cards, your online application gets processed by a computer. If you don’t fit the computer’s approved borrower model to the letter, then your application will either end up “Pending” or “Declined.” When trying to secure a new travel credit card with an attractive sign-on bonus, it’s almost always worth your time to take additional steps to massage your application through.

Most all of the credit card companies have their own “Reconsideration Lines” where you can call in and speak to a real human being about your application. This is your chance to talk openly about your credit profile and explain some of the “missing pieces” to your overall credit-profile puzzle.

Even if a reconsideration line phone call takes 5 to 15 minutes of your time, and even if you do still actually get denied, it’s still worth every minute.

If you get approved, well… you get approved! And, the call was worth the extra steps to secure the sign-on bonus that could be worth $500-$2,000 in travel value. If you get denied, you can find out EXACTLY what’s wrong with your credit profile to make sure you fix those problems going forward.

4. Shop online like your life depends on it.

If you’re not shopping online for 90% of your major purchases and 50-75% of your normal everyday purchases, you’re missing out! I always try to remind people that online shopping is the best strategy for getting 10 times the points and miles and the best way to maximize your points second only to credit card bonuses.

I’m still trying to figure out how to get my daily lattes online. :)

5. Diversify your loyalty programs.

I love flying business class. But it can be a major challenge to build enough points in one single program for a complete round-trip business class flight with one airline. By building points across multiple programs, multiple hotels, and multiple airlines, you never have to worry about overpaying for a ticket or a room just to work towards your next award.

Being “blindly” loyal can cost you if done incorrectly.

6. Be loyal to what you love.
Travel credit cards
But.. if you know what you like, there’s usually no smarter decision than focusing on a specific program that rewards you in ways best compatable with your travel style. Having a lot of travel experience is indispensable for this strategy. You will only know what you really love by visiting lots of different hotels and flying with many different airlines.

Also, I’ve noticed that I can easily get carried away by cool-sounding loyalty programs and perks only to discover later that the company’s follow-through is not so great. This is where learning how to VALUE your points really becomes critical.

For example, I recently got Gold Status with Accor’s A-Club hotel loyalty program. I love Sofitel hotels, so I was pretty excited about the benefits. But after 3 separate stays as a gold member, I didn’t find the rewards as attractive or as advantageous as described. A-Club’s gold status doesn’t hold a candle to Starwood’s comparable level.

Sometimes figuring this out can be as easy as glancing at the published list of benefits. Other times, it’s more complicated. At the end of the day, only YOU can decide which programs you love.

7. Do something different.
Finally, make sure you don’t get stuck in old patterns simply because that’s what you’ve always done. I see this a lot with AMEX cardholders. Everybody perceives American Express as the credit card to have — and for good reason! AMEX card benefits are wonderful. But paying $450 per year for the AMEX Platinum card might not be worth it if you’re not actually using the benefits. Plus, you could be missing out on new opportunities to get new card bonuses AND keep using your favorite old cards.

It’s like anything else in life — if you don’t try new things, branch out, and break the mold, it’s all too easy to miss out.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Paul Hanley July 22, 2012 at 6:50 am

Re Amex Plat You get $200 non flight air
Fees reimbursement It’s calendar year So $200 now $200 in Jan. Caveat you have to pick one airline Rumor is 4 fifty$ gift cards will fly(pun intended)
I’m currently doing $10000 spend on Amex Bus Gold. 2months ago I called Amex(SPG) nudging for Amex Plat 100,000 offer Just after signing up For gold got Plat offer/50000 but I never saw the RSVP #. Amex never answered email Two phoncons only resulted in transfers
Also Amex has shut down their mall with no coherency or stated plan
Now from left field comes a Plat offer to my bride Go Figure Chase is taking their lunch and dinner


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