Are you a millionaire? Who pays for you to travel? How do you afford to travel so much??? These are common questions I have heard throughout my post grad years. Actually beyond that. My life.
Growing up, my parents took us on the most extravagant vacations every year. To pay for the trip, my parents would use points from Marriott and American Express credit card programs. My parents each own their own businesses, and would put their work and personal expenses on these credit cards, and then pay them off immediately so they would not be charged any interest. By the end of the year, it would be enough points for us to go on a week long family vacation! We went to the Caribbean, Mexico, the BVI, Europe, across the USA, and it was incredible. We never paid for flights or hotel stays...all completely free! My Mom has a memory of me saying at 8 years old that when I was old enough, I wanted to get my own Marriott Credit Card so I could travel on points for free just like we did as a family.
Fast forward YEARS later. During my senior year of college, I got an incredible job offer in Corporate America to work as a management consultant....but the job was located in Ohio (I'm originally from Boston so this was a very random job location to me). The opportunity and money was fabulous so I accepted the job offer, but now I needed to figure out all my living expenses. I needed a car, furniture, an apartment....a lot. I didn't have the option to move back home, and needed to buy all my own things.
HOW I BUILT UP MY POINTS
I am a big believer on always finding the positive. With all these new expenses, it was an opportunity to start building up my POINTS! Every credit card advertises a "special offer" incentives to sign up. The best time to sign up for a credit card and qualify to receive the "special offer" incentives is when you have large expenses to help you hit the spending amount. The Marriott Rewards Credit Card (CC) offered 80,000 bonus points if you spent $3,000 the first 3 months of opening the card.
My last semester senior year, I got a part time job and applied for a Marriott Rewards CC. Once I was approved, I purchased my car by putting the down payment on the Marriott Rewards CC and paid it off, immediately. I kept doing this with all of my expenses - I put them all on the card and paid it off each bill. Every single expense (even if it wasn't for the move. I never spent (and still don't) more than I could pay off each month. This is very important!
Once I graduated and started working full-time, I began traveling for work. For my full-time job, it requires me to travel to our clients Monday through Thursday. To get to our clients, it can require train, flight or car rental travel. To book travel, we are able to use a corporate card, or use our own travel credit card. When staying at Marriott-brand properties, I would use my Marriott CC because I would get 6x points per $1 spent for hotel stays. Then, I would use my corporate card for travel expenses with flights, trains and cars.
After my first month in Ohio, I found out I was being transferred to NYC. I was so excited because I wanted to transfer to NYC eventually, but didn't think it would happen SO FAST. So, I sold my car and packed up all my things and moved to the big city (and put all my moving expenses on my Marriott Rewards CC, of course - see how I found the positive there, ha!).
Fast forward 3.5 years later, I have gone on over 8 vacations all over the world and could never been able to afford them if it wasn't by using points. Here are some tips I have learned from my parents and what I have learned the past few years on using points when traveling.
Sign up for a frequent traveler program
Easiest tip you can do. Just sign up! By signing up, you will start your loyalty program and attached your traveler profile to your reservations. If you already traveled but didn't create a travel profile prior - no worries! You can call up the loyalty program and they can attach your traveler profile to previous stays to collect the points!
The loyalty programs I am part of are: Marriott Bonvoy, American Express, Delta Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines. For airlines, I primarily use Delta or American.
Looking for a jump start on the points game? Look into credit card programs with travel loyalty programs.
Like I mentioned earlier, the best time to sign up for a credit card and qualify to receive the "special offer" incentives is when you have large expenses to help you hit the spending amount.
Transfer points from one loyalty program to another during special promotions
American Express is most known for this! 2-3 times a year, American Express and another loyalty program will offer 2:1 point transfer (2 points per 1 point transferred or 2 miles per 1 point transferred). So if you have a large balance with American Express, you can transfer the points easily to another program and get more bang per point.
Shop out the best hotels deals with points
When I start to plan our trips, I think about what activities we are going to be doing. Will we be spending a lot of time in the hotel? Will we be out most of the time? Then, I look at all the hotels in the area and get an understanding of which hotel has the best value. If we are going to be out most of the day exploring, I will stay at hotels that are less points per night. If we want a luxury experience, spa visits and be able to lounge by the pool, then I will see how many nights we can afford with using points for the whole stay. If we don't have enough for an entire stay, I will split up the time by staying at 2 hotels, in different locations, to save on the points per night.
Note: If you stay at a Marriott brand hotel for 4 nights in a row, they usually give you the 5th night free!
Combine points when traveling with friends!
With Marriott Bonvoy, you can transfer points to someone (I am not sure if any other programs allow this for free...usually you have to pay to "gift" points). For my trip to Hawaii, my friend and I split the hotel room the nights she stayed with me with points! When you transfer points via Marriott Bonvoy, your balance will update immediately. There is no wait time! If you are traveling with a few friends who have points, split the cost up and send all the points to one account to pay for your groups stay!
When you are on property, ONLY USE the hotel loyalty credit card
For Marriott Bonvoy, you get 6 points per $1 spent when using your Marriott Bonvoy CC on property. I always use my Marriott Bonvoy CC for my hotel stay, my food on site, and any other services. Every little bit COUNTS, so soak up all the points you can get.
Hope these tips were useful! Do you love to use points when you travel? Share your tips in the comments below!