How to Travel and Save More with Reward Programs

If you are new to our site, there is one thing you should know about us.

We love to Travel!!

If we have an opportunity to travel and we can swing it with our schedule and finances, we go for it! We have traveled to the other side of the world and back. These days we keep a running bucket list and plan to visit them all together.

We know it will take awhile to cross everything off our list. Especially, because just about every time we cross one thing off, we add two more.

But if we’ve learned anything from all our travels, it’s that when done efficiently, it can be fun, exciting, fulfilling, and rewarding. It can be rewarding in every sense of the word if you play your cards right, and I mean that literally.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Credit Cards, right?

Not necessarily. Yes, credit cards are one of the BIGGEST broadcasted ways to earn travel rewards. But they are not the only way to earn rewards while you travel.

I am going to briefly cover them because I think they are one of the faster ways to earn rewards, but then I’m moving on to other methods of reward programs for travel.

Depending on who you ask, some people will say credit cards are the way to go, and others will say not to touch them with a ten-foot pole…

Ultimately, you’ll have to use your logic and decide what’s best for you.

Credit Cards

There is so much hype about travel cards. Yes, they can be super helpful if you use them correctly.

Should you use them? Not if you don’t have to. However, if you are going to use them, be careful. Be smart. Don’t go on a trip and spend money you don’t physically have.

We debated long and hard about whether we were going to go the credit card route. Ultimately, we did decide to go with a card because, for us, we would always have the cash to pay our expenses, we decided not to ever carry a balance, and we chose to do it for the travel rewards.

Often credit cards get a bad rap because it’s a common belief that people don’t use them responsibly. Usnews.com released a 2017 article based on consumer polls of travel credit card usage, balances, and rewards.

The article also goes over the best travel cards for the year. Below I discuss my favorite travel cards and why. One of which, made their list.

Here’s my favorite and why.

1) American Express Platinum

This is the main travel card I use. We debated for a long time before getting the card. They recently had a change of benefits which partly swung our vote for it.

Top benefits include:

  • 5x the points on hotels and flights booked through their site
  • $200 yearly credit on Airline Fees
  • $200 yearly credit with Uber
  • Redeemable points for free hotel stays or flights
  • Gold Status for Hilton and Starwood Preferred Guest (and now that SPG and Marriott are partners, gold status with SPG gives you gold status with Marriott)
  • Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Credit for Boingo
  • Access to 1000+ airport lounges
  • Pay with points
  • Plus, an assortment of other rewards that constantly change such as cash back for Amazon purchases, extra points for specific restaurant charges, or online shopping benefits.

 

The list goes on. And it’s a long list. You get the idea. Visit the card’s benefits page here to get a full list.

It’s a good travel card for us and most people find that the yearly credits and covered fees more than make up for the $550/yr cost this card has. (Side note: active duty military? Check out the service member civil relief act in relation to credit cards and loans)

They also recently made this card metal. Literally. It’s kind of cool if you’re going to get them anyways.

Looking for a referral for this card? Contact me here.

2) Starwood Preferred Guest Card

This card made USNews’ list for top 6 travel cards. We had this card from before but don’t use it much.

This card also offers:

  • 5x the points on travel related purchase
  • Redeemable points for free hotel stays or flights
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Free in-room premium internet

The nice thing about this card is that the yearly fee for it is only $95.

However, if you travel a lot, you can see why the Platinum card is our chosen favorite. It has all these options and more.

I’m actually rather surprised to see the American Express Platinum card didn’t make the list.

There are so many options for travel cards out there these days. Everybody has an opinion about which is the best and which is the worst.

It’s important to do your own research and figure out what works best for you. Read more about this card here.

If after doing research, you decide you want a referral for either of these cards, contact me about it.

That’s all I have to say about credit cards. The rest of the travel benefits I talk about are unrelated to credit cards. Although, many credit cards do offer rewards for these topics too.

This post may contain affiliate links. Which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no extra cost to you. For more information, visit my disclaimer page.

Road Travel

1) Gas

Traveling by car a lot? Download GasBuddy to help you find the best gas prices around. The app also allows you to build up points that convert to entries for a daily $100 gas card. Plus, you can use the app to pay for your gas at participating stations and get 5 cents off every gallon.

Gas Buddy also recently released a study about the top reward programs by gas station company. You can see the article here.

The one I use the most is Plenti.

Plenti is a point reward system that allows you to collect points for gas at Exxon, Mobil, and a few other select gas stations.

You can build points for your gas and in-store purchases. You can also build points through many other places that partner with them such as Macy’s, ATT and a few others. Then you can use the points to pay for gas and grocery purchases. We’ve filled up our tank a few times this way.

 

2) Taxi services

Whether we have flown or driven to our destination, sometimes it just makes the most sense and if you’re in a big city, can be cheaper to use a taxi service.

First on the list is Uber. I think by now just about everyone has heard of Uber. Overall, it’s pretty easy to use. You enter your destination, specify the size vehicle you need, and hit request.  Uber has also partnered with Visa to offer special pricing and local offers. Just go to your settings tab and select “Visa Local Offers”. Thinking about downloading Uber for the first time? You can use my referral code “allisone833ue” and you get $5 off your next four rides.

Similar to Uber is Lyft. For the most part, Lyft works the same way as Uber. You enter your destination, vehicle size necessary, and hit request. What’s great about the added benefits with Lyft is that they have partnered with a few other companies to increase your rewards.

JetBlue allows you to link your TrueBlue and Lyft accounts. You can earn points for airport rides and up to 750 TrueBlue points or $15 off for your first Lyft ride.

Delta is another one of those partnerships. You can earn 1 mile for every $1 spent on rides.

Are you a T-Mobile customer? Be sure to be on the lookout for T-Mobile Tuesday Lyft Promotions, discounts, and free rides.

Thinking Lyft sounds like a better fit for you? If you want, you can use signup code “Allison80503” to receive a free ride in select cities.

3) Car rentals

If you plan to rent yourself a car there are several top-rated car rental reward programs. You can see a full list of the top ones here.

National Emerald Club is one of the top-rated ones. You get a “credit” every time you rent a car and can earn a free rental day with 5-7 credits depending on which level of membership you have.

Next on the list is Hertz which uses a point per dollar system with their reward program. You can start redeeming your rewards with as little as 550 points.

Not on the list is SixT. If you haven’t heard of this car rental company yet. You are missing out! A German-based company, they’ve been around for over 100 years and are now in over 105 countries.

SixT’s rewards program works on a tier level which is based off how often you rent a car with them.

Everyone begins with a basic membership and you are upgraded as you reach the requirements for the next level. Of course, as you move up the tiers, your benefits increase. Basic benefits can include no queue lines, the collection of reward points, discounts, and free additional drivers in as little three rentals.

SixT is also a great option for young drivers under the age of 25. While it may incur some extra charges, they have the whole system in place and there’s a lot less fuss than with other car rental companies.

Flights

Nearly every airline out there has a reward program these days. The trick to getting the most out of them is choosing two or three main airlines you fly.

In addition, try to choose ones that partner with other reward programs you use. For instance, Delta and Marriott are partnered together. From there you can connect to Starwood Preferred Guest rewards. Building up your rewards with just a few programs and being able to combine them helps to get to your redeemable levels faster. It also gives you a greater variety of options for redeeming your points. Here’s a Forbes article that discusses the top-rated airline reward programs.

Have points that are going to expire? Check into what else you can use them for. Some programs allow you to shop with your points. I once bought magazine subscriptions with airline points because they were about to expire. I knew I wouldn’t be flying that airline again soon and I couldn’t transfer them anywhere. There’s no point in letting them go to waste if you don’t have to.

Hotels

Hotel reward programs can be a wonderful thing. If you stay in hotels much, the extra little things can make a big difference. Reaching elite levels of any of the following programs definitely, add to the comfort you experience.

There are numerous top hotel chain reward programs and every one offers something just a little different. The main program you use will depend on your personal travel needs. You can read about the top-rated programs on usnews.com.

My favorite hotel reward programs are Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest. I will admit though, that this is mainly because as I mentioned above, my platinum card gives me automatic gold status with these. Benefits include room upgrades, lounge access, late checkout, and breakfast.

Planning on starting a rewards account with Marriott? Contact me here for a referral and earn up to an additional 10,000 points.

Think you might be ready for a more unique experience?

Try Airbnb. Let me just say, the idea of staying in a strangers space really weirded me out for the longest time. I thought the whole idea of Airbnb was crazy and didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

However, after looking into it more and hearing stories from friends, I realized just how many amazing experiences this can bring!

Plus, when you’re searching for a room, the details of the situation are all there. You can book a private room in a house, an entire apartment, or even an entire house/vacation home. You can read reviews of previous Airbnb guests and then write a review of your own when you leave.

I have heard from friends about great stays in mansions, cute little cottages, beach front property, and downtown condos. It’s worth a shot if you’re looking for something unique and the prices are usually comparable or less than a hotel stay.

If you think it’s something you want to try, use this link and get $40 off your first stay!

 

Food

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a reward program that rewards you for all your eating out besides a credit card. Although, Plenti (the program I mentioned earlier in the gas rewards) does give you reward points for any restaurants that are partnered with them.

I have found though that most restaurants have their own reward programs. Generally, the programs are kept up to date through apps. You can search your app store for the name of the restaurant you frequent and see if they have a program.

For when I am on the go, my top three food-related rewards programs are:

1) Restaurants

  • Starbucks
    • Even though they can be a bit overrated at times, you always know what to expect with them and you can find them just about everywhere. Use the referral link above for a free item when you register.
  • Panera
    • Sometimes when you’ve been doing a lot of travel, you just need to know you can get a decent sandwich, a clean salad, or a bowl of comforting soup. Panera is my go-to for meetups with friends. Rewards are based on the number of visits and not a dollar value. Sometimes you can reach your next reward in as little as three visits. I’ve also had random months of free bagels every day and my personal favorite is a free birthday pastry.
  • Chickfila
    • It’s safe to say that I love Chick-fil-a. I’m actually keeping a running tab of how many different locations I have been to. Sad, I know. Anyways, building up for rewards is a pretty quick process. Time and dollar amount spent to get the next reward does differ a little depending on what the item you’re working towards is. For instance, working towards an ice cream or fruit cup is much quicker and costs less than working towards a salad or deluxe sandwich.

Each of these apps offers a pay with your app and an order ahead of time option. This can be great if you are in a rush to get to your order.

2) Groceries

If you’re staying somewhere long-term, constant eating out may get old. Don’t worry, I have apps for grocery shopping too! Whether you are meal planning or just grabbing some snacks, these apps are my go-to for coupons and rebates.

This is hands down, my favorite grocery store app!! So far I have gotten over $150 in rebates back. They have recently expanded to include groceries, shopping, and some online purchases to be part of their program.

You can earn additional dollars when you redeem “bonus” rebates. Plus, inviting friends and building a team increases the bonuses you get. There are monthly goals to reach for your team and when you reach them, you get extra dollars.

You simply select the rebate you want to redeem, scan the product barcode, and submit a photo of the receipt. I know this sounds too good to be true, but it really works!

Once you build up at least $20 in rebates, you can have it deposited directly into your Paypal or Venmo account.

Want to try it for yourself? Use my invite code “ynkuece” when you sign up. You’ll get $10 when you redeem your first rebate and I will get $5. So we both benefit from building a team!

Like Ibotta, Checkout 51 gives you rebates on groceries you purchase. I found this app took me longer to build rewards on, but it’s gotten a lot better lately.

The selection has increased, and you can submit receipts that are over $60 for a chance to win $500 once a week.

The payout minimum is also $20 and last time I cashed out, they sent me an actual check in the mail.

The nice thing about this app is that you can upload loyalty cards to it for automatic savings and to skip uploading your receipt.

Currently, there’s no registration bonus for this app but it’s still worth the download if you’re going to be buying groceries and household goods anyways!

Bonus tip: sometimes these apps will have rebates on products that also have coupons in circulation. You can use the coupon at the store and then get the rebate for it on the app.

Internet Shopping

Sometimes we need items and the only way to get them is by placing an online order. We’ve all had that moment when thought it was a bit of a nuisance but we knew we needed it anyways.

Well thankfully, now there’s an app for that too!

Ebates is another cashback company that finds coupons and refunds for you when you go to place an online order. You can get a refund on just about everything and it all really adds up quickly if you do much shopping online.

Plus, you can now get rebates on select in-store purchases.  Use the referral link above to receive a bonus $10 when you sign up.

Shopkicks – This app is my second favorite one!

Essentially, you earn “kicks” (points) for things as simple as walking into participating stores, scanning specified products in-store and taking quick polls, making purchases of said products and submitting receipts, and using a linked card for purchases at participating stores.

Once you build up enough kicks, you can redeem them for gift cards to stores like Target, Walmart, Amazon, BestBuy, TJ Maxx, Starbucks, etc. It’s a long list of options and reaching reward levels doesn’t take long at all.

I have redeemed $60 in rewards based only on my walk in and product scan points. And that was before they expanded their reward base.

Thinking about downloading this app? Use code “BEST230146” and we’ll both earn an extra 250 kicks for your first walk-in or scan within 7 days of joining.

So there you have it!

All the crazy ways I utilize reward programs to travel and save as much as possible.

Every little bit you do, adds up to a little bit more you can do.

Every time you work towards your next reward, save on dinner, groceries, or get a free flight, you are increasing your purchasing power.

You don’t have to rich to be smart with your money. And you don’t have to be miserable to live a thrifty lifestyle.

The market is so saturated with competition these days, companies have to work harder for business. It’s part of why they incentivize with reward programs.

The trick is just to find and use the best ones for you and your lifestyle!

Have questions or know of any other reward programs I should be aware of? Submit them in the comment box below!

How to Travel and Save More with Reward Programs

8 thoughts on “How to Travel and Save More with Reward Programs

  1. That’s a very elaborate tip guide. I’m definitely going to try one of these out. The credit card option looks the best. But we’re broke travellers, so it doesn’t suit our style 😉

    Like

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