It’s the most wonderful time of the year, with the kids jingle belling… sorry, nearly got carried away there. Yes, the holiday season is in full swing with cooler weather (as I write this, I can see that it’s snowing outside through the window in front of me), fireplaces in full use, Christmas decorations taking center stage, and last but certainly not least, consumers going a bit crazy on the spending side. That last one will be the focus of this article.
It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to travel hacking or are an experienced travel hacker, one of the most important things you can do this time of year is to maximize your holiday spending to get as many points and miles as you can by using the right cards. But how do you do that?
Picking the right cards for yourself
The first thing you should do is figure out what you want to use the points for. That will help you figure out what cards to get. If you have a specific place you want to visit, there are some cards that will help more than others. For example, if you want to go to Italy, it would be useless to get a Southwest Airlines credit card. But an American Airlines AAdvantage card, a United MileagePlus credit card, or Delta Skymiles credit card would be useful. Rewards programs with transferable points like American Express’ Membership Rewards or Chase’s Ultimate Rewards would also be extremely useful.
Once you figure that out, apply for a card that’ll get you a bonus and therefore a lot closer to that goal of yours.
After you take care of that, we can take a look at some cards with bonus categories that are useful when it comes to buying presents (some of these you may want to apply for, some you may already have).
Chase Freedom Unlimited
This one gets you an unlimited 1.5% cash-back on every purchase you make. And while this one is technically a cash-back card, you can combine the points you earn with points from the Chase travel favorites - the Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preserve - making them fully transferable, and in turn, much more valuable.
This card offers 5% cash-back on purchases of up to $1,500 with categories that rotate every quarter. This quarter, you can earn the 5% cash-back bonus on all purchases (again, up to $1,500) made at wholesale clubs, department stores, and using Chase Pay. And just like the Freedom Unlimited, you can combine your points with other Ultimate Rewards earning cards.
Amex Everyday Gold Card
Amex recently revamped this card (complete with an option to get a Rose Gold Card). With this card you’ll be able to earn 4x points at US restaurants and 4x points at US supermarkets (up to $25,000). So if you’re planning on going out to eat over the holidays a little more while at the same time hosting the family for Christmas - which would require a trip or two to the supermarket - this may be a pretty good option for you.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus
The AP offers two miles per dollar on every purchase made. In addition to that, you get 5% miles back when redeemed for “travel and cash back statement credits, gift cards, and merchandise...” An uncomplicated card that has easy-to-redeem miles. I’d highly recommend this card for those who think they’re interested in getting into miles and points but aren’t sure.
Other cards to consider if you don’t have
The Capital One Venture Rewards Card is very similar to the Barclaycard AP. Of course, for the avid traveler, the Amex Platinum is a great option as is the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Preferred. The Citi Double Cash is also a nice option to have in your back pocket.
Take advantage of online shopping
Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, your favorite thing to do during the holidays is to probably not go to the mall. What do many of us do instead? Shop online, of course. Amazon is one of my main victims (actually, it’s probably more accurate to say I’m one of Amazon’s main victims, but I digress). But there are more benefits to shopping online than avoiding the large crowds. For example, there are plenty of online shopping portals that’ll give you additional rewards points at certain retailers - like Home Depot, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon, and hundreds more.
Some of the more popular portals:
Amex offers section of online account
The cool thing about having an American Express credit card, is the “Amex Offers & Benefits” portion of your online account. There, you will find a seemingly endless amount of rotating shops, restaurants, hotels, and other companies that you can add to your card and use. For example, I currently have 56 offers attached to my card. One of them is an offer from Winc Wines, where I would get $15 back for spending at least $50. All these offers have an expiration date. That one, for example, is in February of next year. That gives me plenty of time to buy a few bottles of wine to bring to holiday parties and get $15 off - as long as I spend at least $50.
I wouldn’t force it with these offers, but if you use a handful of them, you’d end up getting potentially hundreds of dollars back. You can even combine them with the aforementioned online shopping portals just to stick it to the man, ya know?
Using miles and points instead of cash for gifts
This’ll get some push-back from the hard line travel hackers who believe the miles and points you’ve earned should only go toward travel, but if you want, you can use the awards you’ve earned to make it easier on your bank account during the holiday season when purchasing gifts. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It wouldn’t be the first thing I would do with my points because most of the time you can get more worth out of your points when redeeming them for travel, but for some people, it’s most certainly worth it. Using miles and points instead of cash could allow you to either buy more gifts or a more expensive gift. Most of the big banks that issue cards (Chase, Amex, Barclaycard, Capital One) will allow you to use points/miles to redeem for gift cards and/or statement credits.
The holiday season, though joyus, is a stressful one for many. It’s not easy when you need to buy a sleigh load of gifts for family and friends. But there are ways you can make it easier on yourself either immediately by using points/miles for the purchases or on the backend, by earning extra points. And if you use just a few of these tips in this guide, you’ll certainly be earning your way to a holiday season you won’t soon forget.
If you’re interested in more tips and tricks that’ll earn you thousands of dollars in free travel, consider buying my book, Cracking the Code to Travel Hacking. It’s your quickest way to learning a ton about the hobby of travel hacking. To help you decide, I’m giving you access to a free chapter of my book. Sign up on the form below and you’ll not only get that free chapter, but a library of other free information to make your life easier before you go on that next vacation of yours.