How I Use Credit Card Points to Maximize My Travel Budget

By Jess Culotta | December 2, 2018 |

I have found that one of the major factors holding people back from traveling more often is the price tag that’s associated with it. But what if I told you there was a way to fly for FREE by being rewarded for your every day spending habits? Sound too good to be true? Truth is, it’s not.

Credit Card companies offer programs for Travel Rewards and Cash Back incentives based off your purchases. The trick is to find the credit card that gives you a return based off of your current spending habits.

Below I provided a 5 step guide of how I use credit cards to maximize my return on money being spent. One of my life mottos is that I will only spend money if it’s productive money, meaning; “is this purchase giving me a financial return in some way”? However, what works for me doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. It all depends on your personal spending, budget and most importantly YOUR ABILITY TO PAY OFF YOUR CREDIT CARD. This last point is the most important one. Credit cards have very high interest rates so racking up a high credit card bill with the inability to pay it off isn’t worth any amount of points.

Right now you might be saying, “Wow! This looks like lot to read and a little overwhelming, does this actually work?”

I’m here to tell you, yes it does! In 2018 alone I travelled to Mexico 3 separate times, Hawaii, Cuba, The Bahamas and Colombia. From all of this travel I only paid for one of those flights out of pocket and it was only because I was leading a retreat in Tulum, Mexico so I didn’t want to use personal points for a business expense. The rest of my flights were all purchased with points. That’s six international trips in 2018 all purchased with POINTS!

Now let’s get you on your way to earning points!

Step 1) Take a look at your finances and see where you spend your money.

For me, outside of my home bills (mortgage, electric, internet, etc) my top spends are on Travel, Dining Out, Groceries, Amazon & Gas.

Step 2) Figure out your reward goals (Cash Back vs Travel Rewards, Hotel vs Airline points, etc).

For me I focus on Travel Rewards. From there you can fine tune what you are specifically looking for in Travel Rewards. What are your travel goals for your points? Are you loyal to an airline and want to maximize points with a certain carrier? Are you looking for hotel points, airline points or both?

Personally, I’m not loyal to an airline. I will fly whichever airline can get me where I want to go with the cheapest rate and best flight pattern. Because of this I look for a card that will allow me to transfer my points to multiple airlines without penalty. I also don’t focus on hotel points because I often stay in AirBnB’s when I travel.

Step 3) Find credit cards that give cash back or points per dollar based on your spending habits and meet your reward goals

These are the credit cards I use and the breakdown of point return that they give me on ALL my spend categories. This means that I rarely make a purchase that falls outside of an extra earning potential.

Here are two of my favorite Chase credit cards for Travel. If you are just getting started with traveling or credit cards I suggest the Preferred. If you are a regular traveller I suggest the Reserve due to added bonuses and an extra point earn on travel and dining purchases. See a break down on some of their advantages below:

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Great starter credit card. I previously used this card until Chase released the Sapphire Reserve. Clink my Referral link to apply for this card.

Card Benefit Overview

  • 50,000 point sign up bonus (awarded after a 4k spend in first 3 months)
  • 2x points on travel and dining
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • 1:1 point transfer to 9 Airline and 4 Hotel travel partners
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, after that $95.


Chase Sapphire Reserve 

I find this to be the best for frequent travelers and it’s the card I use.

Card Benefit Overview

  • 50,000 point sign up bonus (4k in 3months0
  • 3x points dining and travel worldwide
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to 9 Airline and 4 Hotel travel partners
  • Free credit for global entry or TSA Pre
  • Priority Pass lounge access
  • $450 annual fee (but you can rationalize that after the $300 travel credit  you are only paying $150)


Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

*must have a prime membership for this card

I only use my Amazon Visa card for Amazon purchases, Groceries (at Whole Foods, when I’m at other stores I’ll use my Chase card), Gas and at Drugstores. Every other purchase gives me a better return using my Chase card and ultimately helping me with my overall goal of maximizing my travel points.

Card Benefit Overview

  • 5% back at
  • 5% back at Whole Foods stores or online purchases
  • 2% back at Gas Stations
  • 2% back at Drugstores
  • 2% back at restaurants (**I never use this card at a restaurant as my earning potential is higher with the Chase card**)
  • 1% back on all other purchases
  • No Annual Fee
  • $70 Gift Card Upon Approval

Step 4) More ways to earn

  • Online Shopping through Chase Shopping Portal
    • Earn extra points on online purchases when made through Chase’s online portal and your Chase credit card.
    • This is great for retailers that don’t fall into the dining and travel bonus earn categories. For instance one of my other spend categories is on athletic apparel. Clothing retailers like Lululemon I don’t get bonus points if I shop in store on any of my cards but if I shop online through Chase’s portal they are currently offering an extra 8 points per $1 spend. Meaning if I spend $10 dollars at Lululemon I will receive 80 points increasing my point intake on my purchase. Note that this feature is not available for purchase of gift cards or with additional discounts, check what exclusions apply.

PRO TIP: Always offer to pay the check when dining out with friends and have them Venmo you so you can maximize your points.

Step 5) How to use your points

Using Chase Sapphire Preferred/Reserve To Redeem For Travel:

  • Book Tavel Through Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal
  • Transfer to Travel Partners to include: Southwest, Jet Blue, United, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, KLM, Marriott, Hyatt, Ritz Carlton and more.

Shop with points at

  • Amazon automatically applies money back on your Amazon account after each billing cycle. You then switch your payment option in you Amazon account to “pay with points” to have it automatically applied to your payments at checkout.


If you found this info helpful and you decide to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card please use my referral link as I will receive a bonus. The other cards are not offering a referral bonus at this time. If you have any additional questions you can always contact me at
*the information in this post are based on my personal opinions and travel goals. The best cards/rewards system will vary based on individual credit, spending, and more. All card benefits and information is accurate to date of posting December 2018.


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