How to Use Credit Card Points & Miles for Travel

lindsay silberman flight tips

If you’ve followed me for a while, you already know that I am OBSESSED with credit card points and miles. They’ve given me the ability to travel around the world—often in business & first class—for little to no money. And that’s not an exaggeration. I used credit card points during my honeymoon to fly First Class to/from Asia; I did the same for a trip to Positano and Lake Como last year; before that, I flew round-trip to Sydney, Australia for under $200; and this year, I’ve used points for round-trip flights to Tokyo, Greece, and the South of France.

Although the concept might seem intimidating if you aren’t familiar with how it all works, I promise that if you start small and ease your way into it, you too can become a points connoisseur like me.

Below is a super basic step-by-step explanation of where to start, plus a list of the top credit cards I recommend.

1. DECIDE ON YOUR TRAVEL GOALS.
Would you rather…
– Use your points/miles to save money on a domestic economy flight?
– Save them up, and use them to fly business/first class internationally?


Not sure which card is right for you? I put together a little guide featuring all of my favorite credit cards (and why I love them).


2. JOIN FREQUENT FLYER & HOTEL LOYALTY PROGRAMS.
If you’re in the US, I recommend signing up for all the major programs (SkyTeam/Delta, Star Alliance/United, OneWorld/American, TrueBlue/JetBlue, etc.) but have your eye on which one or two you usually fly (or plan to fly) most often. Same goes for hotel programs: Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, etc. If you have a significant other or a family, make sure that each person creates an account so they can start earning points when they travel as well.

3. KEEP TRACK OF THEM.
There are a number of apps that will help you keep track of how many points/miles you have on each airline, but I recommend one called App in the Air.

4. PICK A CREDIT CARD.
Choose which card to open based on two things: Are they offering a good sign-up bonus?  Do they offer bonus points in categories that you spend the most money on? Here’s what I mean by that…

– Sign-Up Bonus: Because competition amongst credit card companies is so stiff, many of them incentivize new customers with amazing offers (these can be between 50,000- 75,000 points) just for opening the card and spending a certain amount within the first three months. I only open new cards when there’s a great bonus offer going on. The first time Matt & I did this, we were able to book our round-trip flight to Sydney, Australia…just for opening credit cards!

– Category Bonus Points: Certain cards will give you 3-4x the number of points in specific categories that you spend money on. Do you go out to dinner a lot? Make sure you pick a card that gives you bonus points on dining. Travel a lot? Get a card that offers  bonus points on money you spend on travel.

A WORD OF CAUTION: While I definitely endorse opening multiple credit cards (I usually have 3-4 in rotation at all times, as does Matt) please do so responsibly. I know you don’t need me to tell you this, but you should never spend more than you can reasonably pay off—and always try to pay your bills in full (or as close to full as possible). Racking up debt on multiple cards will just fuck you in the long run. And we’re all too smart and savvy to let that happen, right?

5. USE YOUR POINTS!
The best way for me to illustrate this is by giving you a basic example.

So…let’s say you opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred card and got the 50,000 bonus miles for signing up. You’ve also used the card for a few months and now have a total of 75,000 miles in your account. You’d like to use those points to go to Paris in October. But how?

Chase points can be transferred to United Airlines, and in my experience, there are really good options to Europe on United, so I’m going to start there. Log in to your Mileage Plus account (which you should have, since I told you to create one right?!) Oh, look! You have 5,000 mileage plus miles in your United account that you completely forgot about from a flight you took last year. Now you have 80,000 points (75k from Chase + 5k from United) to work with. Go to the homepage to search for your flight, and check the box that says “book with miles.”

how to use credit card points for travel

Now here’s what comes up when we do that search…

how to use credit card points for travel

Unfortunately we don’t have enough miles for a business class ticket, but if we were to book the 30K miles ticket in economy (60k round-trip) we’d actually have points to spare. With 5,000 miles already in Mileage Plus, this means you’re going to have to transfer 55,000 from Chase.

How to Transfer Ultimate Rewards from Chase to an Airline:

  • In the upper right-hand corner of your Chase dashboard, it will show you the number of Membership Rewards points you have. Click “Redeem Rewards.”
  • You’ll be brought to a screen that asks you whether you want to turn your points into cash. YOU DO NOT WANT TO TURN YOUR POINTS INTO CASH. Using them for flights, in my opinion, is way more valuable.
  • Scroll down to “Transfer to Travel Partners.”
  • Here, you’ll be able to input your Frequent Flier programs, and browse the different airlines/hotels that Chase allows you to transfer to.

  • Select the airline, and follow the prompts.
  • Go to United.com and log out of your Mileage Plus account. Then log back in. Voila! 60,000 miles to book your round-trip ticket to Paris!

Don’t forget to check out my mini-guide to the best credit cards for travel, dining and more. I also recommend checking out my blog post on how to look chic when you travel.


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5 Comments

  1. Jenni Weinacht
    March 19, 2019 / 2:07 pm

    Thanks Lindsay for this article! We also use the Chase Reserve card and absolutely think it’s the best deal in terms of points conversion for travel. I just need to figure out how to use it more for business class 🙂

    • April 6, 2019 / 10:22 pm

      highly recommend reading The Points Guy! So much great detailed info there.

  2. March 29, 2019 / 1:55 pm

    Gteat tips! Do you know how long does it usually take to get approved/rejected?

  3. June 18, 2019 / 4:17 pm

    I want to take my wife to Italy. I’m thinking Lake Como. I really know very little about how to plan such a thing. Neither of us is good at planning trips. I want it to be special, I don’t want to stay anywhere I will regret. So — nice, but not something that will kill our savings account. Is there a good place to turn to to make this happen?

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