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 sign-up bonus offered by the card. (Earn 75,000 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. 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.
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 minimum spending required to earn the sign-up bonus points is $1,000 in three months, 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 rewardsYou want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2018, including those best for:
- Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®).
- Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card (Earn unlimited 2 miles per dollar on every purchase).
- Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Get 3 points per dollar on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases).
- No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card (Earn unlimited 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases, with no annual fee).
- Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express (Get 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through American Express Travel, plus get access to the Global Lounge Collection). Terms Apply.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Smith.
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Landing the best airfare is a matter of timing
How to snag credit card rewards flights in peak season
This strategy is how I started earning major travel rewards