tl;dr: You can earn lots of points for airline miles and hotel points if you use credit cards responsibly. You’ll be able to travel for pennies on the dollar if you’re able to understand how to get points and how to redeem them.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably new to travel hacking. If so… welcome to PatonPoints! I created this site with the sole purpose of helping avid travelers like yourself achieve BIG travel for little to no cost. Below are some resources and examples I often forward to people who are new to this hobby.
Resources for Beginners:
/r/churning – Reddit’s main credit card churning subreddit. A daily read for me.
Million Mile Secrets – My personal favorite blog.
The Points Guy – Most popular blog for travel hackers.
PointsBuzz – Travel hacking news aggregator.
FlyerTalk – The go to destination for discussion on travel hacking, travel, and redemption. This is what I read for the latest news and strategies on redemption and opening cards.
Airline Award Charts
Each airline will have it’s own award chart, but it’s generally assumed that United/American, at least for flights from the USA, are best for redemption value as they transfer to multiple alliance partners.
United (Star Alliance)
Partners: Full list of transfer partners here. With United points, you’ll be able to redeem on any of the listed carriers.
American Airlines (One World)
Partners: Here. Same concept as above. You’ll be able to redeem AA points on any of these partners.
Example Earn and Redeem Strategy
For Hawaii, you’ll need 45,000 United points for a roundtrip flight. Here’s an example itinerary:
What would cost you $980 in real cash could cost only $11.20 in taxes and fees. 45,000 points covering $980 is a realized value of 2.18 cents per point! The 45,000 points can easily be obtained by opening a new credit card. More on that below.
Credit Card Recommendations for Beginners
I recommend you start with either the CSP or CSR mentioned below. Chase has some of the most lucrative sign-on bonuses, but has strict rules on opening multiple cards, i.e. 5/24, so it’s better to start with them.
Chase Sapphire Reserve (link): This is my personal go-to. You get 3x on food, travel, and 1x on everything else. I like this card because food/travel are my two largest expense categories. The card is also made of metal! The bonus is 50,000 Ultimate Reward points after you spend 4k in the first three months. The annual fee is $450, but the $300 annual travel credit, Global Entry fee waiver, and bonus outweighs the cost. It also has no foreign transaction fee, so no worries about racking up hefty fees when traveling abroad. That’s 54k (50k bonus + 4k minimum spend) for Hawaii right there!
Chase Freedom Unlimited (link): The bonus is 15,000 points (or $150 cash back) after you spend $500 in the first three months.No annual fee on this card so you can keep this forever. You’ll get 1.5x on all purchases. This is a good companion card to the CSR mentioned above as they’re both Chase cards and you can transfer the Freedom’s points to become Ultimate reward points. UR points are worth at least 1.5 cents per point when redeemed towards travel in the Chase portal (if you have a CSR), so the Unlimited earns 2.25% back on all purchases! (1.5 cpp * 1.5x = 2.25%)
In total with these two cards, you’ll have 65k points from the bonus + all the points you’ll earn from spending on categories. This is more than enough for Hawaii! Try to put as much of your everyday spend on these cards as possible in order to maximize your points. Be smart about where you put your spend. 2.25% return should be minimum standard to beat.
Chase points transfer to a lot of partners, but the most notable is United. Link to partners. In order to redeem your points for Hawaii, you’ll need to log into your Chase Rewards portal and convert your Ultimate Reward points over to United MileagePlus miles. Learn how to convert your points here. This is a simple example, but with additional research, you might find better values to Hawaii that exceed 2.18 cents per point.
Other cards worth having:
American Express Platinum: Cool card if you travel A LOT. Free access to Centurion Lounges, Platinum concierge (amazing for restaurant reservations), comped Global Entry (bypass TSA line, shorter customs line when entering the U.S). Also provides complimentary Hilton and SPG Gold status. $55o annual, but I have a link for waived first year 🙂. If you’d like to earn a Membership Reward bonus, some users have reported success using the CardMatch tool to see the 100k bonus offer. Public offer is 60k after $5,000 spend in the first three months.
Chase Hyatt: 60,000 Hyatt points after $6,000 spend in first six months. Redeem for two nights at the highest tiered Hyatts OR 12 nights at a category 1 hotel. Definitely worth it if you plan to stay at Park Hyatts in Tokyo, Sydney, Paris, etc where rooms go for $1,200 a night! Annual free award night every membership year, which makes the $95 annual fee worth it.
Chase IHG: 80,000 IHG points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. 80k points can be redeemed for 4 nights at most IHG hotels. IHG has a strong footprint around the world, so you can redeem points for stays in almost any location. Platinum status useful for the occasional room upgrade is nice as well. Also earns a free award night every membership year, which accounts for the $89 annual fee.
Chase Ink Preferred: 80,000 points after $5,000 spend in the first three months. 100k if you’re referred by someone who already has the card. This is a business card, so you will need to have an eligible business to apply. Most users on /r/churning have reported being successful using their real name as the business and fictitious name.
There are other cards with good bonuses and perks that will get you points for Southwest, Starwood Preferred Guest, American Airlines, etc, so I’ll write a new post in Hot Deals when there’s a new deal worth mentioning.
When you apply, apply for multiple cards at the same time to minimize the scrutiny you will receive from the bank. If you are denied for any card, call the reconsideration line and they will most likely approve you after verifying your income.
Keeping Track and Key Considerations
Here’s a useful Google doc (with sample data) from r/churning that helps people track their many open accounts. It is important to note account open date and the annual fee. I typically only downgrade/close accounts when after a cost analysis, I deem the account not worthy of being kept open. For example, I’m more than happy to pay $95 a year on my Chase Hyatt card since I get one free night at a Hyatt a year, which is usually more than $95 a night. This is your personal preference. Some can stomach the $550 annual fee of the Amex Plat since they travel a lot, but it doesn’t make the most sense if you don’t travel often to take advantage of the lounge access or hotel status.
In my travels, I’ve racked up almost 1 million points in both airline and hotel points. I love doing this because I’m able to spend my travel money on what’s most important, the experiences such as dining, museums, booze, etc.
People often ask if doing this affects your credit score. It does.. positively! Your credit score is comprised of many factors, and would see a small decrease when opening new lines of credit (due to average age of accounts going down), but in the long run, if you’re responsible and pay your bills online (use auto-pay!), your score will increase. See this article on the mechanics of why. I’ve seen my score increase by 80 points since I started this hobby four years ago. The Google doc really helps with tracking open accounts, but I also recommend services like Mint or Personal Capital to keep track of all your open accounts and open balances.
Contact me to let me know if you have a specific destination in mind! I’m happy to work with you and tailor the correct credit cards and redemption strategy for you.
This is personal advice from one friend to another. I am not liable for irresponsible use of credit cards, debt, or credit score impacts. If done responsibly, this will not only allow you to travel, but will increase your credit score due to having a larger number of accounts, lower utilization, and higher total credit limit. Do not apply for credit cards within 6-12 months of having to qualify for a loan.