Sitting on a pile of points? Use them for a spring break vacation
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If you’ve spent the fall and winter earning points, it’s time to redeem them for travel this spring. With spring break and wedding season just around the corner, consider thawing out on a beach break to Florida, a trip to Europe or finally organizing travel for that destination wedding.
Travel may feel discouraging at the moment, as prices for flights and accommodation are at an all-time high thanks to inflation and the post-pandemic rise in travel. But this is when having that pile of points can save the day (and your budget).
Here’s how to maximize your hard-earned points stash or credit card sign-up bonus to turn your spring vacation from a budget weekend trip into a luxury getaway — without breaking the bank.
How far can points and miles take you this spring?
Points and miles can take you to the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii and beyond, but really, your trip may depend on the points currency you have, especially if you want to use transfer partners.
Each credit card brand offers a different points currency with different transfer partners and options. Below, we break down top currencies so you can see how to best redeem your points.
American Express Membership Rewards
Amex Membership Rewards points are worth 2.1 cents per point, according to Bankrate’s most recent points valuations. However, keep in mind that you’ll probably only get that value if you transfer them to some of the highest-value transfer partners (booking via the Amex travel portal means you’ll get 1 cent per point toward airfare and around 0.7 or 0.8 cents per point toward hotel bookings and other travel).
For example, transferring your Amex points at a 1:1 ratio to Virgin Atlantic to fly DeltaOne business class from the east coast to the UK will cost you 95,000 Virgin points roundtrip. Since spring airfare between New York and London hovers around $3,000 roundtrip, you’re actually getting a value of more than 3 cents per point (assuming you fly during Virgin’s standard season — Jan. 5 through March 23, 2023, and April 18 through June 17, 2023), which is an incredible value.
Chase Ultimate Rewards
According to Bankrate’s valuations, Chase Ultimate Rewards are worth about 2 cents per point. And thanks to the brand’s long list of transfer partners, it’s fairly easy to get a decent value for them, whether your spring break trip is international or domestic.
One of the best-value hotel transfer partners is Hyatt, where points transfer 1:1, and you can easily get at least 2 cents per point in value. For example, spring rates at the Hyatt Centric Fort Lauderdale in Florida start at 15,000 points or about $370 per night (including the $22 resort fee, which Hyatt waives if you pay with points). This gets you about 2 cents per point in value.
Chase transfer partners like Southwest, JetBlue and United make it easy to transfer points to use for domestic airfare or easy international getaways like Mexico or the Bahamas.
Plus, there’s an automatic 50 percent increase in redemption value (1.5 cents apiece) when you redeem Chase Sapphire Reserve® points toward travel through Chase Ultimate rewards, and a 25 percent boost (1.25 cents apiece) with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
Capital One Miles
Capital One has various transfer partners where points transfer at a 1:1 ratio (like Turkish Airlines, Air France/KLM and Air Canada) — and you may get a max points value redemption of around 2 cents per point, according to Bankrate valuations.
However, booking using the Capital One Travel portal isn’t a bad idea, especially if you hold the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card and don’t have a huge stash of points (enough to transfer and purchase a roundtrip flight, for example).
Although you’ll only get 1 cent per point in the portal, Venture X cardholders get up to $300 in annual credits for trips booked in the portal. Plus, cardholders get 10X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, which can help you rebuild your miles stash.
Citi ThankYou Rewards
Citi’s brand new travel portal should be launching any day now, which means it’ll soon be much easier to redeem Citi ThankYou points — which Bankrate values at 1.9 cents per point toward high-travel transfer partner travel.
Citi has several partners to which users can transfer points, primarily international airlines like Singapore, Etihad and Avianca. Note, though, only premium cards like the Citi Premier® Card allow transfer partner travel, as well as the Citi Prestige® Card* (no longer open to new applicants).
Strategies for traveling with points
These tips and tricks can help you best utilize your points and have an affordable and enjoyable spring break trip:
- Be flexible with dates and aim for off-peak. When it comes to spring travel, the difference of a day or two could mean much more affordable award rates. Many airlines, especially international carriers, only mark Easter week as peak, meaning you may be able to get an off-peak redemption traveling on other spring dates.
- Think outside the box for airlines and destinations. Many credit card airline transfer partners seem far-flung, but transferring your points to Avianca or Lufthansa doesn’t mean you have to travel to South America or Europe. You can just as easily use those loyalty programs to book flights with U.S. domestic carriers for either domestic or international trips — and often at a great value.
- Don’t get stuck on the maximum value. We all want to get the most out of our points, but sometimes it may not work out. The most valuable points redemptions are ones that offer the most value for your needs. Make sure to do your own calculations and see if that value adds up for you and your situation.
- Use points and cash if needed. Don’t have enough points? Many rewards programs allow you to use a combination of points and cash to book travel within their own travel portals.
- Get a credit card bonus. If your points stash needs a boost, get a credit card that offers a welcome bonus. The best credit card sign-up bonuses may cover the cost of your entire trip (or at least a portion of it).
Best credit cards for earning points toward spring travel
Here are some of the top rewards credit cards that can help you build up a solid points balance to use for spring travel and beyond.
The Platinum Card from American Express: Best for luxury travelers
Right off the bat, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers an 80,000-point welcome bonus after spending $6,000 in the first six months, plus high rewards rates on airfare and hotels:
- 5X points on directly-booked airfare and flights and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel per calendar year (on up to $500,000 in spending)
- 2X points on prepaid car rentals through American Express Travel
- 1X points on all other purchases
Although it comes with a hefty annual fee ($695), the Platinum offers over $1,000 in credits, including up to $100 toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, up to $200 in airline fee credits for incidentals each calendar year and up to $200 in annual credits for prepaid hotel bookings at Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection properties via American Express Travel.
Other than its top-notch credit opportunities, Amex Platinum travel benefits include Global Lounge Collection access, complimentary elite statuses with Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors and various travel protection perks.
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for travel portal bonuses
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is Chase’s most premium travel credit card and, as noted above, can get you 50 percent more value for your points when you redeem them for travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
In terms of ongoing rewards, you’ll enjoy:
- 10X total points on Lyft purchases (through March 2025)
- 10X total points on Chase Dining purchases through Ultimate Rewards
- 10X total points on hotel stays and car rentals through Ultimate Rewards
- 5X total points on air travel through Ultimate Rewards
- 3X points on general travel and restaurant purchases
- 1X points on all other purchases
Note, travel rewards rates kick in after you’ve earned the $300 travel credit.
Other Sapphire Reserve benefits include a 60,000-point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months, its annual $300 travel credit, Priority Pass Select membership and a plethora of travel protections.
Capital One Venture X: Best for traveling families
The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card is ideal for families, as you can add up to four additional authorized users for free, making it easy to build up a stash of points quickly. For a $395 annual fee, you’ll get Priority Pass Select membership, up to $100 in credits toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, up to $300 in annual travel credits for Capital One Travel purchases and a list of travel insurances.
As for rewards, you’ll earn:
- 10X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- 5X miles on flights through Capital One Travel
- 2X miles on all other purchases
The card also offers a solid 75,000-point welcome bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months. And considering authorized users’ spending counts toward this threshold, you could earn the bonus more quickly.
Citi Premier: Best for everyday spending
As Citi’s top travel card, the Citi Premier Card offers an unlimited 3X points on hotel and air travel purchases. But for those who are looking for a little more everyday use out of their card, you’ll be pleased to know that 3X rate applies to restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations as well (plus 1X points on all other purchases).
The Premier is also the cheapest card on this list, as its annual fee is only $95. There’s also a welcome bonus that rivals that of the Sapphire Reserve (without the added perk of a 50 percent points boost toward travel portal redemptions): 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first three months.
Given its lower annual fee, Citi Premier benefits can’t compare to more premium cards. It does, though, offer a $100 annual hotel savings benefit and World Elite Mastercard perks.
The bottom line
Applying for a travel credit card to get a welcome bonus is one of the best ways to build up a stash of points to use for spring travel. Once you have your points, make sure to understand how to redeem them for the best value, depending on which program, travel portal or transfer partner you’d like to use.
It may seem like a lot of organization, work and planning, but when you’re exploring Europe’s best attractions or relaxing on a blissful beach this spring, it’ll all be worth it.
*The information about the Citi Prestige® Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.