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NerdWallet’s travel experts harp on one concept over and over again: The smartest way to plan your trips, redeem points and miles, or select a new travel rewards credit card really depends on your individual travel goals.
Turning your travel rewards plans into a smart money move doesn’t have to entail opening 20-plus credit cards. If you need some inspiration for your credit card strategy this year, our Nerds share some of their own approaches for 2022. You’ll find what benefits they value most, which brands have earned their loyalty and what cards they’re using.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
1. Enjoy status and audit my annual fee credit cards
My travel rewards goal for 2022 is to start taking advantage of the perks provided by my Marriott Platinum status, including the free breakfast, suite upgrades and more. I also plan to travel more this year, so I have a lot of points to burn and places to visit that have been on my list for a while. I am running a bit low on Chase points, so I recently applied for the Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card, and I’m working toward meeting the minimum spend on that.
I also plan to do an audit of all my travel credit cards with an annual fee and decide what I do and don’t need because some of the cards have duplicative perks (i.e. Priority Pass).
I also sadly lost my United Silver status last year because I didn’t fly enough, so now I need to think about how I will pack when I travel. I’m an overpacker, and one of the benefits that I enjoyed most as a United Silver elite was the ability to bring on a 70-pound bag free of charge on all tickets. One of the ways I’m considering offsetting bag fees is taking advantage of the $200 airline credit provided by the The Platinum Card® from American Express. Enrollment required. Terms apply.
– Elina Geller
2. Burn through piles of points and get my spouse on board
After two years of significantly reduced travel, I'm focused on two main travel rewards goals in 2022.
First, it's the year of the "the burn." Having stockpiled hundreds of thousands of points, it's time to use them all up for cheap travel to everything from high-end all-inclusive resorts to a quick weekend in Las Vegas. Points and miles generally only devalue over time so spending them now is wise.
Secondarily, earning hotel elite status is on the top of the list for me (and my wife) this year. I’m approaching lifetime Platinum with Marriott and despite the recent removal of the award chart, my future self will appreciate the lifetime status once it is locked in. That means I’ll need to once again re-qualify for Platinum, which requires 20 nights on top of the 30 credits I get from my Bonvoy credit cards.
In order to diversify in the family, we’ll be looking to get my wife approved for the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, which comes with Diamond status. She’ll use this as she travels for her job but it also gives us great flexibility when traveling for fun by holding upper-tier status with two large hotel brands. Terms apply.
– Kevin Berry
3. Re-qualify for elite status with American Airlines
I got a taste of luxury when I earned American Airlines elite status last year under reduced requirements, and I don’t want to let it go. This year is all about re-qualifying.
American Airlines recently overhauled its elite status program, so it’s been a bit tricky to figure out exactly what I need to do. Turns out, it’s not as easy as racking up AAdvantage miles with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®. My strategy this year is to use shopping portals, fly American Airlines or partners, and spend on my AAdvantage credit card until I reach the 30,000 Loyalty Points I need to earn Gold status once again.
Once that’s done, I’m back to earning and burning my Chase points. I’ve already redeemed them once this year using Chase’s Pay Yourself Back feature to offset an Airbnb I booked. It might not be the most valuable way to spend your points, but what can I say? Sometimes remote working doesn’t work if you and your partner are both taking conference calls from the same hotel room. I needed a door. And I got one with points.
– Meghan Coyle
4. Foot the group travel bill to collect beaucoup points
My travel rewards strategy is to pay for as much travel as I can — even if it’s not mine.
That’s all because I’m committed to traveling to three weddings this year (and possibly more). And most of those trips will involve big friend groups.
Luckily, I love planning travel (as I should, considering I’m a travel writer for NerdWallet), and I’m seizing two major opportunities: ensuring we save money on whatever we book, and collecting the credit card rewards by charging everything to my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and having them pay me back.
One of the weddings is out in the countryside, so we’ll need a rental car. While rental car prices are at record highs (up 35% since last year), I’ve booked a car that I’ll share with three other wedding guests, which means I only have to pay a quarter of the price but will collect 100% of the credit card rewards.
– Sally French
5. Go big with luxury travel
My travel rewards strategy involves a (literal) champagne problem: I need to book more luxury travel this year. I racked up roughly one gajillion points and miles during the pandemic and am now traveling less frequently (thanks a lot, fatherhood). So I need to find a way to spend those points on the few trips I am taking.
My cursor moves to “order by lowest price” by force of habit, so my budget-traveler brain will need a reset in order to execute this strategy. Don’t get me wrong: I love luxury travel. But it’s much harder for me to know whether I’m really getting a good deal on it compared with budget travel.
Here’s a hypothetical example: I could spend 10,000 IHG points on a hotel room that normally costs $100 and know that I’m getting a good deal because IHG points are usually worth about 0.7 cent each. But what about spending 70,000 Alaska miles on a business class flight that would usually cost $1,500? Sure, that’s a “good” value for Alaska miles (which are usually worth about 1.2 cents each). But here’s the thing: I would never actually spend that much cash on a flight. So it still feels like a waste of miles.
My problem boils down to a psychological one: Can I get over my spendthrift tendencies and enjoy this opportunity to book high-end travel? We’ll see.
– Sam Kemmis
6. Redeem redeem redeem
Anyone else spend the tail end of 2019 confidently booking a major trip abroad for June 2020? I don’t have to tell you how that turned out.
There was a sliver of hope in early 2021 that things might inch back toward normal come June, but here we are in spring 2022 and I’m at long last counting down the days to a big summer getaway more than two years in the making.
The silver lining is that — after all the canceling of reservations and all the waiting — I was able to rebook my trip to Newfoundland, Canada, for significantly less cash than the first time around by taking advantage of one of the COVID era’s most buzzed about credit card sign-up bonuses last year: the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and its 100,000-point welcome offer.
I used the points earned from that to cover all my Airbnb stays using the Chase Pay Yourself Back feature, getting me 25% more value out of each point. Then, I took what was left and coupled it with the change/cancellation credits I’d been holding onto to make a significant dent in airfare.
I rebooked a portion of my flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal this time around, meaning I was able to both redeem and earn points on that airfare — getting an elevated earn rate and adding a decent chunk of points to my stash for future travel expenses.
Would I prefer to have traveled as planned back in 2020? Sure. But global pandemic aside, I did get some solid redemptions out of the whole ordeal.
– Steve Miller
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card