I love traveling but also love to travel as comfortably as possible plus earn points & other rewards as I'm traveling to travel more... below are some of my tips on how to achieve these two things!
I'm breaking this down into several categories: credit cards, mileage programs, rental cars, stays, activities, and amazon finds. This is pretty jam packed so definitely bookmark this page to come back to again later! *this post contains affiliate links and I'd love if you used them to show support*
Between my husband and I, we have 10 credit cards. For a casual traveler, I don't recommend that route, but it works great for us! We use every single credit card we have like a debit card, meaning: we never pay interest because each one is paid off in full every month- no exceptions. We do not use our actual debit cards, checks, or cash unless we absolutely have to. Keep in mind the sign up annual fees and bonuses for each card are ever changing, so that specific information may not be accurate at the time of reading. *I am not a travel agent or financial advisor or anything other than a traveling photographer! Please use this blog post for educational purposes only and consult your banker or financial advisor before applying for a credit card.*
Annual fee: $75
Benefits: 50,000 mile sign up bonus, yearly companion fare, first checked bag is free for any Alaska flight
Recommended for: someone who only wants one credit card. I'd tell you to use it for every single purchase you make, then rack up your points to earn free flights, rental cars, and hotels.
Notes: We personally prefer Alaska over any other airline because of where we live- we frequently fly with Horizon Air (partnered with Alaska) as it's the only airline that operates out of our city's airport. If we lived closer to a bigger or international airport, we may have chosen a different airline card, like the Delta Skymiles Platinum or Southwest cards.
*pro tip: if you have a significant other, you can both sign up for the card to get double the benefits!
Annual fee: $0
Benefits: $200 sign up bonus. This isn't a travel credit card but the points you earn can be used for travel within the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal (which I'll call CTP from now on)
Recommended for: someone who wants a credit card to earn points, but doesn't want the annual fee.
Annual fee: $95
Benefits: 60,000 points sign up bonus, 2x points on travel, dining & grocery purchases, trip cancelation insurance, points can be used within the CTP for 25% more redemption value.
Recommended for: someone who wants to travel on any airline, not be stuck with Alaska, etc.
Annual fee: $550
Benefits: 50,000 sign up bonus ($750 in travel), $300 annual travel credit, 3x points on travel, dining & grocery purchases, $100 TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit, Priority Pass Lounge Access (this is huge you guys- it's my absolute favorite part. every time we go to the SeaTac airport we make a stop at my favorite restaurant that accepts Priority Passes and get $56 worth of free food), trip cancelation insurance, trip interruption insurance, rental car insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, purchase protection on any shopping purchase, emergency evacuation & transportation, and more! And of course points can be used within the CTP for 50% more redemption value. Clearly, I love this card.
Recommended for: someone who travels frequently that can use the card to its fullest.
These next cards are for business bank accounts at Chase only-
Annual fee: $0
Benefits: $500 sign up bonus (but use this money for travel as it's more valuable within the CTP, rather than redeeming it as cash) and 5% cash back in select business categories.
Recommended for: anyone who owns a business and wants to earn points!
Annual fee: $0
Benefits: $500 sign up bonus, 1.5% cash back on every purchase
Recommended for: again, anyone who owns a business and wants to earn points.
My overall recommendation for this category: start with the Alaska card or a different airline specific credit card (plus one of the Chase Ink Business cards if you have a business) and work up from there if you feel you could use more benefits that other cards offer. If you want to get more advanced, there's an entire system you can use with several cards to maximize your benefits & points earnings. YouTube will help immensely with this, or email me!
CREDIT CARD HACKS
I have a few 'secret' ways I like to make sure I reach the spending requirement to obtain the sign up bonus if you can't do so easily within the first 3 months (the typical amount of time allotted for the spending requirement):
Sign up for a new credit card right before you have a big purchase to make
Sign up for a new credit cart right before you have a trip to book (& if you have friends going with you on that trip, offer to pay for their travel expenses as well. Have them pay you back right away to pay off the card)
Buy visa gift cards with your credit card, then spend those cards at your own pace
If possible, pay your rent or mortgage with your card. Sometimes the fees are astronomical, so don't go this route if the fees don't make sense
I've signed up for every single airline mileage program that I can, it's free. That way at the least, all your information is saved and ready to book your next trip. I currently am signed up with 8 airlines, I keep my passwords and program numbers organized in a locked notes app on my phone.
*pro tip: try to stick to traveling via one airline so you can build your status with them for perks. For example, my husband and I are MVP Gold status with Alaska; this gets us free seat upgrades!
A lot of people don't know this, but you can use your mileage points to book rental cars through the CTP and the Alaska Arlines Cars website. Plus, same as mileage programs- sign up for every car rental loyalty program that you can (it's also free). This way you can still choose the best car option when renting but not be limited to just one place. Each loyalty program is a little different, but most offer quicker check ins, free upgrades, and free second drivers.
*pro tip 1: before you leave the rental car location, take pictures of all sides of the vehicle.
*pro tip 2: before purchasing car rental insurance while paying for your rental car, look into your own car's insurance! It may cover rental cars. If it doesn't, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. One of the perks is car rental insurance if you use the card to pay for the rental.
I will almost always choose an Airbnb over a hotel. That's just my preference. Some things I like more about Airbnb's compared to hotels: free & easy parking, meeting new people, unique experiences, supporting actual humans and not big corporations, feels more like home, you have access to a kitchen with most stays, they're usually cheaper than hotels for the quality, and generally more private than hotels.
If you enjoy staying in hotels or just like free accommodations, use your points you earn with your credit cards to purchase hotels (same situation as rental cars: you can use the CTP or Alaska Airlines Hotels) OR stay loyal to a certain hotel to accrue points with them to redeem for future bookings- like Hilton or Best Western.
*pro tip 1: choose a 'Superhost' to ensure a great stay!
*pro tip 2: stay in an Airbnb with a washer and dryer available. This way if it's a longer trip you can do a laundry day mid-trip and pack half as many clothes. Or if it's a short trip, you can do your laundry right before you leave and come home with clean clothes.
If I'm going to be traveling anywhere, you better bet I'm going to plan something fun and non-work related while I'm there. Whether it's going to a nearby national park, doing some sort of location specific activity, or just spending one evening exploring the nearby city & getting good food. If you like national parks, don't skip on the annual park pass. It'll pay for itself after using it only on two occasions!
Airbnb is actually a fun and different way to find activities to do- with Airbnb Experiences you can find some pretty cool stuff to do with locals with normally pretty small group numbers.
Other things I always travel with
I try to pack the least amount of liquids as possible, as well as stay as eco friendly as possible. Of course, minimizing liquids for carry-ons is required, but I also like to minimize them if I check my bag because things like to leak/explode and that can get quite annoying. The first 4 items are non-liquid products that are traditionally found as a liquid. They're all eco friendly as well, which is very important to me.
*Pro tip: I don't bring my own shampoo, conditioner, or body wash- I use what's available at the Airbnb.
Facial Bar Soap (my favorite is the Flora bar)
Portable Charger (scroll down to "portable charger" & choose the photo you'd like printed on it)
A lower back pillow (I accidentally took one from Air New Zealand in 2019... oops- but it's the perfect little pillow that I can't fly or drive without)
Snacks (always make a snack stop before you go to the airport!)
My prescription drugs to make flying easier- if you get anxiety from flying or experience motion sickness, talk to your doctor to see what they can prescribe to you to help! (If you'd like to know what I take, send me a message- I don't want to add another disclaimer about medical advice on top of my other disclaimers!!)
There you have it! Happy traveling!! Send me an email or a DM on Instagram if you had any questions. And check out my travel schedule for the rest of the year here! Lastly, don't forget, I am not a travel agent or financial advisor. Please don't sign up for a credit card if you'll abuse it and ruin your credit score or your life.