How to make the most of your travel rewards points: 3 easy steps

Hi everyone! It’s Carly Helfand from 52 Cities, back to talk about how to make the most of your travel points once you’ve racked up a bunch with the right credit card. (NOTE: link highlighted part to last post?)

Your points are valuable, especially since they can help you get to or stay in places you might not be able to afford otherwise. So it makes sense not to want to spend them unless you know you’re making the most of them.

How can you be sure you are, you might ask? Read on for five tips that’ll help you maximize your hard-earned points stash. 

1. Have an idea of what’s “too much” to spend

As with any currency that you’re not used to using, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with how much things “should” cost if you’re getting a fair price. Luckily, there are some baselines you can use across most airlines: Within the U.S., a good-priced round trip in coach will run you 25,000 points, while a reasonable coach U.S.-Europe ticket, for example, would set you back around 50,000.

Most airlines have some type of award chart posted online that’ll show you what they charge for certain routes at peak and off-peak times, so you can check those out to establish the baselines that pertain to your particular trip. Then, if you see something that looks unusually high, you’ll know it.

Of course, “too high” varies from person to person, and it’ll in part depend on how many points you have in your account and what else you’d like to use them for in the future. Give that question some thought going in, and it’ll make your redemption decision a whole lot easier.

2. Look for award chart “sweet spots”

Fact 1: You can often book an airline’s codeshared flights through the websites of its partner website.

Fact 2: Not all airlines’ award charts look the same.

Put those two facts together, and it means that you can find the same flight listed from different airlines at different prices in points. Crazy, right?

Of course, you’re going to want to book the cheaper version--that’s the easy part. The hard part is knowing where to look for the cheaper version. Luckily, certain airlines have well-established “sweet spots” in their award charts, or routes that run unusually cheap. Here, a little Googling can go a long way; search “Hawaii award chart sweet spot,” for instance, and you’ll see what I mean.

3. Check portals vs. transfers

If you’ve got a credit card that fixes the value of its points to the value of the dollar, you might not have as many options when it comes to redemptions. The amount your ticket or hotel room costs in points is going to be directly tied to whatever its price is in dollars.

If you’ve got a card with transferable points, though, things open up. Programs such as Citi ThankYou, Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards offer fixed-rate redemptions through their respective travel-booking portals, but they also offer you the opportunity to transfer points directly to partner airlines or hotels. And that means for any given redemption, you can compare which is cheaper: booking through the portal, or transferring.

Want more points and miles tips? Click here for access to 52 Cities’ totally free library of travel resources, and if you missed the last post on choosing the perfect travel credit card for you, you can find that right here.

And don't forget to check out PACK's upcoming trips to Chiang Mai and Sicily - what better way to build up your points than with amazing travel experiences ; )