Credit Card Strategies: Earn Points & Elite Benefits

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Before we ever started our full-time traveling adventure, we were both big fans of many bloggers who write extensively about miles, points, flight, and lounge reviews.  We're not going to rehash all of that stuff that's out there already. Rather, we'll share with you our strategies for earning points and miles through credit card spending  that are best to redeem if you're focused on international travel.  All of these cards do not charge any foreign transaction fees.

Important idea #1:  Transferable points are the best

We currently are accumulating transferable points through three programs: Chase, Citi, and Capital One.  American Express Membership Rewards is another program that earns transferable points, but Amex is not as widely accepted around the globe, so we're focusing our energies on the other programs.

Each program has a list of transferable partners where the miles you earn can be sent in order to book award tickets or hotel nights.  This allows flexibility to book an award using the fewest miles possible, given the transfer partners available.  For example, for our flight from Europe to South Africa, we scouted available award flights using,  did a Chase points transfer to Virgin Atlantic, and booked a business class ticket on KLM from Amsterdam to Cape Town for 61,000 Chase points a piece.  Even though we haven't ever flown Virgin Atlantic and earned their points through flying, we could still use their miles to book a flight by transferring them in (after creating a Virgin account).

The points from all three programs can also be used to directly book a fare using the credit card program's own travel booking agency.  Typically you can redeem your points for $0.01 toward the cost of the ticket so a $300 fare would be 30,000 points, but some cards offer a better rate than that.  Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a redemption rate of $0.015 per point, which is a 50% improvement.  That same $300 fare now costs just 20,000 points.  This strategy is helpful if you are trying to fly at a time when there aren't any flights available using points or miles.  You can also use your points from Chase and Capital One to purchase on Amazon, but we don't think that's the highest value use of your points.  

Important idea #2: Maximize your bonus categories

Each of the cards in our portfolio offers slightly different bonus categories, and we leverage that to earn the most points we can when using our cards.  For example, our Chase Sapphire Reserve cards earn 3x points on travel, dining, and gas, and if we book travel through the Chase portal using cash we earn 5x points for the airfare or 10x points for hotel stays.  All other charges earn 1 point per dollar.  Our Citi Premier cards earn 3x points on travel, dining, gas, and groceries.  All other charges earn 1 point per dollar.  Our Capital One Venture X cards earn 2x miles on all spending, so we tend to use this card if we need to buy something that is not in a bonus category for Chase or Citi.  There are other cards out there with different bonus categories, but these bonus categories are the ones full-time travelers will use most frequently.

Important idea #3: Use your elite benefits that come with the card

The top tier transferable points cards come with a suite of benefits particularly relevant to travelers.  One of those benefits is trip delay reimbursement (which we've used twice so far).  If your flight is delayed by more than 6 hours or overnight, you can file a claim through the online portal to have any expenses like meals you ate during the delay or lodging you booked if the delay was overnight reimbursed to you.  This is extremely helpful when there is a weather delay that has affected many flights and every single passenger at the airport is standing in line to get a voucher for food and lodging from the airline help desk.  With this benefit, you don't have to wait in line; you just make your own arrangements and get reimbursed when you submit your receipts to the claims portal.  You can also submit claims up to $3,000 for lost luggage.

Two other benefits that come in the suite and are relevant to international travelers are the Priority Pass membership and the car rental damage waiver coverage.  Priority Pass was super important when we got stuck at Heathrow for 6 hours on our way to Copenhagen Priority Pass gives you access to a slew of contract lounges across the world and typically at least one at every airport.  They vary in quality and refinement, and some are more crowded than others, but we've found that they are much more comfortable than a wait in the gate area if we have significant time before our plane boards.  At some airports, Priority Pass also will include restaurants or other airport experiences like chair massages or relaxation suites, where you get a set dollar amount to spend.

The car rental damage waiver coverage helped us out when we got the flat tire.  The insurance offered free by the rental company didn't cover tires, so we paid the cost and submitted documentation through the claims portal to get reimbursed. Our car insurance from Florida that we have on our vehicle there doesn't cover rental cars outside the US (most car insurance does not).  Having this additional coverage helps us save when we rent internationally by not having to buy the overpriced insurance from the car rental agency, knowing that we can get reimbursed if we have another incident like the tire going flat.

Lastly, we've saved money by using the website partnerships that come with the Venture X card and the Sapphire Reserve card. With Chase you earn additional points, but with the Venture X card you get a percentage back.  For example, you get 4% back when you book using once you've registered your Venture X card with them.  There are other websites like, VRBO,, Marriott and other retailers that offer anything between 2% and 10%.  Some are more useful for us than others, but we've used the hotel discounts the most.

Once you've got your card and have earned some points, check out our article on flight booking strategies (coming soon) for the best way to use all the hard earned points you've earned.

Credit Card Cost and Benefits Summary

Annual Fee: $550 (with a credit for the first $300 you spend each cardmember year on travel, making the effective fee $250).

Bonus Points Categories: 3x travel, dining, gas; 5x flights booked via the portal, 10x hotels booked through the portal

Elite Benefits: Priority Pass membership, trip delay reimbursement, car rental coverage, Global entry $100 credit, lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation coverage

Welcome Bonus as of publishing: 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of card opening

Annual Fee: $95

Bonus Points Categories: 3x travel, dining, gas, groceries

Elite Benefits: none

Welcome Bonus as of publishing: 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of card opening

We use this card because of the welcome bonus, additional transfer programs, and the bonus spend on groceries

Annual Fee: $395 (with a $300 credit when you book airfare or hotels with the Capital One portal making, the effective fee $95)

Bonus Points Categories: 2x points on all spending, 10,000 bonus points each year on the anniversary of your account opening

Elite Benefits: Priority Pass membership to lounges only (but not restaurants or experiences), car rental coverage, lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation coverage, trip delay reimbursement

Welcome Bonus as of publishing:  75,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of card opening