For me, the best part of traveling with points and miles is the planning. I love choosing a place I want to go and then carefully selecting cards with rewards that can take me there.
Recently, I set my sights on London. Even with the best points and miles strategy, I knew it would be a challenge to cover my trip costs in full. But after some research and analysis of multiple approaches, I settled on one that would work for me.
I felt a surge of triumph when I was finally able to book my London trip and fully cover my flight, hotels and even my baggage fees and train travel with points and miles. Even better, I paid for my trip entirely with the sign-up bonuses from three cards, only one of which carries an annual fee.
My travel philosophy
I learned to travel with points and miles during my previous life as a high school teacher with a very limited budget and schedule. Even though I have more flexibility now, I still look for ways to stretch my points and miles as far as possible instead of using them to splurge on nicer plane seats or hotel stays.
SOMYOT TECHAPUWAPAT/GETTY IMAGES
My London trip is no different. Far from glamorous, I’m flying economy round trip and staying at a midrange hotel just outside the city. Still, I’m going to London without having to pay anything in out-of-pocket travel expenses, so I consider this to be a major redemption success.
My flight to London
After monitoring flight prices, I knew I could probably pay for my flight with the sign-up bonus from the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®. I got the card earlier this year when it was offering an impressive bonus of 75,000 miles (no longer available), feeling confident I could find a flight that would work for me within that miles budget.
JOHN GRIBBEN/THE POINTS GUY
I was right. I ended up booking a round-trip economy flight from Nashville to London for 50,000 AAdvantage miles plus just under $200 in taxes and fees.
Currently, the card is offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 AAdvantage miles after you spend $2,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Even if I had waited to get the card, the bonus would have been sufficient to cover my flight.
This card also has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, and an annual fee of $99 after that. Its perks include preferred boarding and a free checked bag on domestic flights, and it also earns 2 points per dollar spent on American Airlines, restaurant and gas station purchases. With these benefits, I’m planning on keeping this card in my wallet for quite some time.
Related: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® review
My hotel in (well, just outside of) London
The superstar of my hotel credit cards is my Hilton Honors American Express Card (see rates and fees). With this card, I received a welcome bonus of 100,000 Hilton Honors points as well as complimentary Silver elite status. This status allows me to utilize Hilton’s fifth-night-free perk, helping me stretch my points even further. This card brings a lot of value, especially since it doesn’t carry an annual fee.
The current welcome bonus is 100,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three month of card membership. Plus, you can earn up to $100 in statement credits on eligible purchases made at any Hilton family hotels in the first 12 months of card membership.
My hotel selection process was trickier than booking my flights. Even though 100,000 Hilton points is a great bonus, it’s a tight budget for multiple nights anywhere, given Hilton’s dynamic award pricing structure.
However, after some searching, I landed on a Hampton in Croydon. Technically, the hotel is just outside of London, but it’s near a train station so I’ll easily be able to get to wherever I want. And at just 20,000 Hilton points a night, I knew I could fully cover my five-night stay there with the bonus from my Hilton Honors card.
Even better, with the Hilton fifth-night-free benefit, I was able to book my stay for only 80,000 points and save the rest of my bonus to put toward another trip.
Related: Hilton Honors American Express Card review
Covering taxes, fees and train tickets
If I only used the bonuses from my Hilton and AAdvantage cards, I would still feel great about my budget-friendly booking. But being able to use a third bonus really sealed the deal for me.
One of my favorite strategies to pay as little out of pocket as possible for my travels is to use cash-back rewards to cover what my points and miles typically don’t. In this case, I’m using a $300 cash-back bonus I got from my Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card (no longer available to new applicants) to cover the taxes and fees on my flight ($192.87) as well as a seven-day transit pass (around $90).
The information for the Wells Fargo Propel has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
JOSH GRIBBEN /THE POINTS GUY
Even though this particular card is no longer available to new applicants, the same idea works with any cash-back card that offers a welcome bonus. If I were implementing this strategy today, I would probably choose the U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card, which is currently offering a bonus of 50,000 bonus point (worth $500 cash back) after you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 120 days of account opening. Even with its $0 introductory annual fee for the first 12 months and $95 annual fee after that, the net gain from this bonus would cover the cost of my flight taxes and fees as well as my transit pass, with some money left over for airport snacks.
Related: U.S. Bank Altitude® Connect Visa Signature® Card review
I firmly believe that there is no wrong way to travel with points and miles. We all have different approaches and different goals, and to me, that’s part of the fun.
If you’re new to points and miles travel and feel overwhelmed, be sure to check out our beginner guide. If you’re less new but still unsure which card to get next, we can help with that too. No matter where you want to go or how you want to get there, with the right credit cards, you can put together a points and miles plan to make your next travel dream a reality.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors American Express Card please click here.