A guide to travel rewards for infrequent travelers and on a budget


The internet can give the impression that collecting points and miles, done primarily through a travel rewards credit card, is only for the most awesome of us. And certainly, people who spend thousands of dollars on lavish shopping sprees tend to rack up travel rewards for “free” first-class airline tickets to (and presidential hotel suites) the top destinations. ostentatious.

But even if you are more frugal than Benjamin Franklin, you can still enjoy the hunt for travel rewards. In fact, you might be in the best position to profit from chasing points and miles.

Rewards can fund trips to weddings and graduation ceremonies you hate paying out of pocket. They can grab you free breakfasts. They can unlock discounts and exemptions, like waived resort fees and free checked baggage.

Even if you are not a first class international vacationer, travel rewards can still benefit you. Here are other common types of travelers – budget, casual, family, and couples – and strategy suggestions for each on how to use travel rewards.

Budget travelers

Would you prefer your points to cover one first class trip or 10 basic economy class trips? With travel rewards you can have it anyway. While the fanciest Instagrammers might proclaim the former, sometimes it’s wiser to spend miles on budget plane tickets.

Get high value for your points

Airlines including Southwest LUV,
+ 1.01%
and JetBlue JBLU,
+ 2.03%
Order a similar value of points, whether you redeem them for a higher class airline ticket or the lower base economy base fare. Frugal travelers who prioritize dozens of free flights over a single luxury flight with free champagne and reclining seats can also maximize travel rewards.

Reserve points to avoid paying resort fees

Hotel fees can be brutal, but many hotel loyalty programs, including World of Hyatt H,
+ 3.58%
and Hilton Honors HLT,
+ 0.74%,
do not charge them for rooms booked with points. The budget traveler will appreciate the extra money to use elsewhere on a trip.

Unlock even more discounts with longer stays

Some hotels offer additional discounts for point bookings. For example, Hilton Honors members with at least one Silver Elite membership receive the fifth night free when they reserve points.

Marriott MAR,
+ 1.73%
has a similar policy, just like IHG IHG,
+ 0.73%.

Use credit card benefits to get free food at airports

Don’t overlook the other economic benefits that credit cards can offer you: Credit cards with airline lounge access can save frequent travelers hundreds of dollars in overpriced airport food, as most Airport lounges offer free coffee, alcohol, and light snacks. Some even serve full meals.

Go through security faster (without paying for it)

Meanwhile, a credit card that covers the cost of TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, or a Clear membership not only saves you application fees, but also saves you time in queues. security and immigration.

Occasional travelers

Occasional travelers can also benefit from travel rewards. If you don’t travel often, you probably don’t need to prioritize specific transit benefits like access to airline lounges or TSA PreCheck. It might not be worth it for you to pay for these luxuries out of pocket or have their expenses reimbursed through a premium credit card (which means a hefty annual fee).

Look for travel cards with no annual fee

With a travel credit card with no annual fee, you will usually earn rewards for your daily expenses, which you can apply towards the cost of your trip.

Avoid foreign transaction fees

Apply for a card that doesn’t charge an overseas transaction fee, which is typically up to 3% of your purchase when you pay in a foreign currency.

This isn’t the kind of charge you want to see on your bank statement after your international vacation.


Having enough points to book award travel for more than two travelers at a time might seem like a difficult undertaking, but with the right credit cards and a laser focus on family benefits, you could realize significant travel savings before that. next family vacation.

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Enjoy the free benefits of checked baggage

If you hate being mired in bags while keeping your baby balanced, you may be more likely to check in your luggage. Free checked baggage is part of the benefits of Elite status and / or a premium travel credit card.

It’s not uncommon to find airline credit cards with annual fees of $ 100 or less that offer free checked baggage for you – and sometimes your entire party.

Opt for the free breakfast

The free breakfast is not only an obvious money saving for families, but also a saving of time and stress.

  • Do you have picky eaters who can’t sit still in a table service restaurant? Then having breakfast at the hotel where your little one can have their choice of cereal could be a lifesaver.

  • Struggling to get all the teens into a car and drive them somewhere to eat? Ask them to head to breakfast in the lobby as soon as they are ready.

Travel rewards can automatically unlock Elite status with hotels that offer free breakfast as a benefit of Elite status.

Following: Is a Travel Rewards Credit Card Right for You?


In many ways, couples have twice the opportunity to earn travel rewards.

Look for complementary credit cards

Couples should focus on getting transferable rewards, a flexible type of travel reward currency, like American Express AXP,
+ 1.36%
Membership Rewards, Chase JPM,
+ 1.15%
Ultimate Rewards and Citi C,
+ 0.42%
Thank you points. These rewards can be transferred to specific hotel or airline loyalty programs.

So, if half the couple earns transferable rewards, while the other half wins on a branded hotel or airline credit card, they can maximize the opportunities to earn and redeem rewards.

Consider a companion pass

Don’t forget to try to earn a Southwest Companion Pass, a coveted perk that allows you to nominate someone to fly with you for free outside of taxes and fees, which start at $ 5.60 one way. You can earn this either by traveling to Southwest a ton or by spending on some Southwest credit cards.

While not as extensive as the unlimited companion fares you could earn on Southwest, other airline credit cards offer companion tickets as a benefit for cardholders. Some of these companion tickets give you a completely free ticket on a flight that you have already booked for yourself, while others allow you to book a ticket for a buddy with a big discount.

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The bottom line

If you’re a budget-conscious traveler who usually just books a trip after spotting a low-cost deal, you might actually be missing out on even better deals.

Read more : The United States welcomes international tourists again – but it could complicate your vacation travel plans

Booking trips with points and miles can unlock even bigger discounts – not only fares that are less than their cash value, but also the ability to avoid annoying fees like living expenses. Add in perks like free breakfast, lounge access, security membership, and a Companion Pass, and you save a lot of money on things you would otherwise have to pay for, provided you play your cards well.

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Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SAFmedia.


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