Like most people, I love the idea of earning rewards to get free travel accommodations. Really, who wouldn’t want to travel for free? To make things even better though, I’ve found ways to go beyond just your basic travel points.
Through the magic of stacking, I typically earn triple rewards when booking travel. By using various programs when I book, I’m able to earn rewards that translate to cash back in the form of gift cards and investment opportunities, along with those hotel discounts, free stays and airline miles. Here’s how I do it.
Start With Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Travel rewards credit cards offer points to use toward travel, and often additional earning potential when booking travel. There are a lot of options out there, but most offer points that can be redeemed for free flights or to offset hotel costs.
Some travel cards also allow you to earn extra points for specific loyalty programs through hotels or airlines. Whichever card you choose, finding one that works for your spending and travel habits is the first step toward earning free travel benefits.
Take Advantage of Sign-Up Bonuses
Taking advantage of sign-up bonuses from credit cards is one of the quickest ways to earn free travel. In fact, it should be a key point in the decision of which travel card you choose. If you know a trip is coming up, consider applying for a credit card with a signing bonus that will benefit you and fit into your travel rewards strategy.
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred®, for example, you get 100,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months. That’s enough for $1,250 in travel when you book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards website. In fact, both Sapphire credit cards are currently offering big sign-up bonuses for new members.
Similarly, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers new cardholders 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months. Capital One has a stripped down version of the Venture Card with no annual fee that also offers new cardholders a generous one-time bonus for becoming a card member.
Just make sure you pay off your credit card in full each month to avoid interest. Those interest payments can destroy any value you get from rewards.
Sign Up for Loyalty Rewards Programs
Signing up for loyalty programs is also key to increasing your travel rewards. In addition to signing up for airline frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs, look for options from businesses and travel sites you already use or are likely to use in the future. For example, I book a lot of travel with Orbitz, so I signed up for their rewards program.
Many loyalty programs also have partners that can help you earn extra points just by making regular purchases. If you belong to the Wyndham hotel rewards program, for example, you can earn 250 points for every DoorDash order you place in the United States. And with the Wyndham credit card, you get points for both using the card and for ordering DoorDash.
You might be surprised by which loyalty programs are connected, and it’s definitely worth researching so you can earn those extra points from your regular purchases.
Update Your Profiles
If you frequently book travel through a third-party discount website, it makes sense to update your profile with your frequent flyer numbers. My Orbitz account includes frequent flyer information for my Delta, United and American Airlines programs. That way, if I book through Orbitz, the numbers are there and I receive my Orbitz rewards for booking, as well as the airline miles and whatever rewards I have from the credit card program.
You could easily use the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, for example, to stack rewards from booking travel on a website like Orbitz, especially if you have a cash back extension. By going through various rewards programs, a single purchase using the Bank of America Travel Rewards card would potentially net you:
- Up to 5% cash back (depending on the promotion) using the Swagbucks plugin as you shop on Orbitz
- Orbitz rewards for making a purchase on Orbitz
- Airline miles with your airline loyalty program
- 1.5 points for each dollar spent on the credit card
Using this strategy, you’ve just banked four different rewards — and only had to make a single purchase. All of these rewards can be used in different ways to offset the cost of future travel or even result in free travel.
How to Maximize Credit Card Rewards With Third-Party Booking Websites
Figure out where your credit cards are going to do the most good for you on third-party booking sites. For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card only awards you 2X miles per dollar on purchases made directly with Delta. While purchasing through Orbitz with the Swagbucks plugin using that same card to make a Delta purchase, you’d get frequent flyer miles for the trip, as well as the Orbitz and Swagbucks rewards, but you won’t get double miles from the credit card. Take a few minutes to consider which rewards are most valuable, and how you can make the most of the purchase.
Another consideration is that you might not be able to get hotel rewards points when you book through a third-party website like Orbitz or Expedia. Instead, if you want hotel rewards points, you might have to go through the individual hotel website. If this is the case, using a hotel-branded credit card can help you boost your ability to earn points toward a free stay
I’m a member of Marriott Bonvoy, so if I book a hotel room online, I get extra rewards. But first, I make sure my Swagbucks plugin is functioning. I go to the Marriott website and earn up to 3% cash back from Swagbucks. Then I book using a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred that offers 2X points on travel purchases at hotels, but also 5x points on travel bookings made through Ultimate Rewards. And, of course, I get my regular Marriott points.
For faster rewards, though, I could use the Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card, which has no annual fee and offers three points per dollar spent at Marriott. In this case, I’d still shop using Swagbucks to get some cash back, but the real value would be in the extra Marriott Points that would help me stay free faster.
Save Money on Travel With Your Booking Strategy
Overall, I save a lot of money each year on travel — or at least offset the costs to some degree — just by having a booking strategy that allows me to stack rewards from various programs.
For example, right now I have $35 in Orbitz rewards. I’m planning a three-night trip to Las Vegas for my birthday, and I can use those $35 in rewards to get a nightly discount on a hotel room. I have enough airline miles to fly round-trip for free, and enough Swagbucks rewards for an Amazon gift card that I can use to buy a fun outfit to wear. The whole thing is going to cost me about $200 out of pocket — mostly in food and drink. (But I can use the Capital One® SavorOne® Card to get 3% cash back on the dining, entertainment and grocery store spending.)
Think about which rewards sites are going to provide you with the most value and which credit card rewards you’re most likely to use. Then, put together a strategy that allows you to maximize your rewards each time you book travel.