Choosing a Reward Credit Card for Long Haul Travel

Traveler’s with the goal of long distance travel, lets say… from the U.S. to Australia, typically plan well in advance for this type of travel to ensure getting the best deal. These long-haul flights come with a pretty high-price tag.

Others have been successful in navigating travel from the U.S. to Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji et al.) for the low-low and even done so in premium class air cabins. So what is the best way to embark on such an expensive journey without breaking the bank?

A great way to maximize your dollars and decrease the amount of actual cash you’ll have to front for your adventure to Australia, is by capitalizing on credit card incentive and traveler loyalty programs. There are numerous credit cards offering mileage and point redemption for airfare and lodging, but not all cards are created equal.  Credit card rewards can come in the form of airline miles, cash back, or general points, or perhaps a combination of all three.
…Not all cards are created equal

I’ve compiled a few links (see below) to help you make the right decision for your lifestyle and pockets/pocketbooks.

Airline, hotel, and credit card loyalty programs can be used to save you money and they often can be used in conjunction with each other to get the most bang for your buck. On average, a roundtrip flight from the U.S. to Australia will cost about 100,000 points/miles and it varies depending on cabin class.  Although obtaining that many points can seem intimidating, it is possible with diligence and discipline.

Let’s break it down.

First and foremost, establish an end goal. For this to be a realistic goal, you need to start this plan in motion as soon as possible, and also give yourself enough time to build and earn enough in loyalty points and rewards to capitalize upon fully funding at least the travel portion of your trip.
You will want to do some research and determine which credit card is best for you.  Be sure to consider your home airport and the airlines that fly from there as well as the airlines that offer flights to your destination. Also consider how much you currently travel and your every day spending habits.  Taking these decisions into account will help you choose the right card for you. Here are just a few popular reward cards you can choose from.
*According to the website, you’ll earn 5x the points on airfare travel (purchases).

You can find a more comprehensive list of reward/loyalty cards here or do more research for the right card for you here, here, and here.

Once you have chosen the right card for you, start using it! And I mean for any and everything.  I wouldn’t recommend purchasing items you don’t actually need or hadn’t planned to purchase initially, because this can start an unhealthy habit. Credit cards make their money on the annual fee as well as the interest when you don’t pay your bill in full monthly.  So you will need to be able to pay the balance each month, not just the minimum amount due, the entire balance. But if you need a new set of tires, put them on the card as well as every day purchases like coffee, groceries, gas, etc.  The end goal here is to use the cash you would normally use for these everyday purchases to pay your credit card bill and use the credit card to make these purchases directly. You can build up your available mileage/points balance much faster by being consistent in using it.

Personally I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) credit card. So my experience with that card will be highlighted here. The sign up bonus of 40,000 -50,000 points is great to jumpstart your points balance and will get you on your way to your destination. But keep in mind that putting $4000, which is required in the first three months, on the card can be dangerous if you are not careful and prepared to pay that balance.

For the CSP I earn one point on each purchase and one additional point for travel which includes flight and hotels.  Dining purchases also earn 1 additional point.  Just note that if you drive a lot or have a gas guzzling SUV, you won’t get any extra points for fill-ups, as gas is not considered travel and you won’t earn any extra points.  Also beware of the $95 annual fee which is typically waived during the first year, but can be viewed as a small price to pay when you consider the price of your free flight.

Getting the most bang for your buck

Start by using the card for all purchases you would typically either use cash or debit for. Then at the end of the week use the money either cash or your checking account to pay directly to the credit card. This way you avoid overspending as well as having any purchases accumulate interest.

Another way to build your points balance is by shopping online through your credit card shopping portal. The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal offers a wild array of shopping options.  You can continue shopping your favorite brands and stores through the portal.  Not only will you earn additional points by shopping through the portal, but sometimes you’ll get discount just by purchasing through the portal.  Lowes, Amazon, Groupon, J. Crew are just a few of the online retailers that can be found on the portal.

Some Perks

Additional perks to this card include, no foreign transaction fees, and Chase offers 1:1 ratio transfers to several other airlines and companies.  Part of the reason I was able to travel to Puerto Rico and stay in one of their top 5-star hotels without paying a dime is because I was able to transfer some of my Chase Reward points to my United airlines Mileage Plus loyalty program to cover the flight/ hotel/ ground transportation. And there was no additional charge for doing this since Chase and United have a partnership.  This may also come in handy for any subsequent flights on partner airlines.

You will have to do a little bit of research to determine which reward card is best for you and your lifestyle. So before you buy your next set of tires or large purchase consider getting your rewards credit card first, so those large purchases can count towards your next big trip and towards the minimum required purchase amount to receive the sign-up bonus.
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