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When you’re brand new to earning and redeeming travel rewards points, picking a specific future vacation as a goal can help you select your next travel credit card with laser-like focus. But once you’ve traveled on points and miles a few times, you can more comfortably bend the rules.
While you earn in a timely fashion, there’s a compelling case for stashing away points well before you know what you’ll use them for.
This became even more possible in August 2019, when United announced that , and again in October 2019 when Southwest changed the rules to their Rapid Rewards program. United and Southwest join Delta and JetBlue, whose rewards programs already allowed you to hold onto your points indefinitely.
So if points are meant to be enjoyed, why put a bunch in cold storage with no plan? Because when you thaw them out, the results can be magical.
A found that a 50,000-point sign-up bonus can pay for one or two domestic round-trip flights, depending on where and when you travel. But if you want to explore more far-flung destinations, you’ll need extra time to earn additional points beyond the bonus.
For example, a round-trip flight from New York to Portugal in spring 2020 requires at least 60,000 United MileagePlus points. Currently with the , you’ll earn .
With a rewards rate of 2 points per $1 spent on United purchases, restaurants and hotel stays, plus 1 point per $1 everywhere else, it’ll take a considerable amount of time to hit your point goal for just one ticket — let alone earn enough to cover the cost of a group trip.
One way to move things along more quickly? Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards®, earned on a card like the , over to your United MileagePlus account. (Still, you’ll need time to earn those Chase points, too.)
You’re saving up for the trip of a lifetime, but you don’t want to spend 15 hours in a dreaded middle-of-the-middle seat. For a business or first class seat that will allow you to arrive rested and refreshed, you’ll often need to accumulate six figures' worth of points. This is certainly an instance where miles that don’t expire can work very well in your favor.
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Sitting on, say, a supply of 200,000 points means you can make it to your friend’s bachelor party in Las Vegas and their destination wedding in a Tuscan villa — with something left over to spend on the trip you want.
The point is, having a ton of points on hand lets you stay nimble so you can travel multiple times a year or book last-minute travel without it costing you much.
Earning points in one rewards program allows you to have points at the ready for all sorts of travel expenses, like flights and hotel stays with the airlines and hotels of your choice. Rewards programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards®, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou rewards allow you to book directly on their own travel sites, or transfer points to airline and hotel partners. Points may expire if your card is closed due to inactivity, so make sure to use your open credit cards periodically.
Credit cards affiliated with JetBlue, Delta, Southwest and United earn welcome bonuses you can keep forever, and other co-branded airline and hotel cards will preserve your points if your credit card is active — or if you fly or book stays at least every 18 months or so (terms vary by card and program). If your city is well-served by a particular airline and you already fly them often, keeping a points supply handy will make it easier for you to book discounted travel whenever you need to. Take care to choose a card for an airline or hotel chain you know you’ll use — there’s no sense in building a stash of points for an airline or hotel that’s inconvenient for you.
What to watch out for
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the , including those best for:
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: