Name: Rachel Smith Occupation: Freelance writer, creator of Hello Personal Finance Residence: Grand Rapids, Michigan Cardholder since: 2018
I’m fairly new to travel hacking. I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, so using credit cards to earn points was common because it was a good way to offset the high cost of travel for my family. I was familiar with travel credit cards and their rewards, but my family and I only began taking maximum use of their benefits this year. We started off with the Hilton Honors American Express Card.
My favorite way to earn points
One of the main reasons I chose this card is because it earns 5X points on purchases at eligible supermarkets. This is the where the majority of our spending happens, so it was nice to have a card that offers high rewards for that spending category. It’s my favorite way to earn points because nothing changed in our spending patterns except that we started getting reward points for our usual purchases of food and household items.
My favorite optimization hack
For now, we are banking the points we earned so that we can redeem them for a visit to the Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort in Mexico this winter to escape the Michigan snow. My husband and I plan to have a romantic getaway. It’s an all-inclusive resort with complimentary meals, snacks and adult beverages, so our major cost will be the airfare to get there. A standard room at the Hilton Puerto Vallarta costs us about 46,000 Hilton Honors points to reserve (see screenshot below).
We’ve accumulated enough to pay for three nights — and the points for one of those nights was earned just through the card's welcome offer: (Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Card after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $5,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. Terms Apply.)
Why I keep using this card
Our other optimization plan is to keep this card active forever — even while using other cards — by charging one small recurring bill and have it paid automatically each month. It will allow us to keep a long credit history — one of the factors impacting credit scores — without having to pay an annual fee.
This card will also help us earn bonus points if we need to book a hotel. And we get to enjoy the card’s benefits, including rental car insurance, Silver status (which offers even more perks at Hilton hotels and resorts), and Shoprunner, which offers free shipping and returns at several retailers.
» Learn more: Find the best hotel credit card for you
Why I recommend this card
The Hilton Honors American Express Card is a low-risk introductory card with a $0 annual fee and great benefits. The welcome bonus is: Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Card after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $5,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. Terms Apply. And the card rewards you for what you do daily, such as spending on groceries, gas and dining. It’s a great way to dip your toes into the world of travel hacking.
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 2021, 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
Photo courtesy of Rachel Smith.