A Newbie’s Guide to Travel Rewards Cards

I think that all avid travelers can agree that one of the most frequently asked questions is, “How can you afford to travel so much?!” (or some variation of that question). The truth is, I have a very strict strategy – rewards, points, and miles!

Credit cards play a significant role when it comes to the affordability of my travels. I believe that credit cards should only be used as a tool to achieve a greater goal. In my case, this goal is to rack up as many reward points as possible, to be able to travel for “free” or very cheaply. If you aren’t sure how this credit card game works, look no further!

There are dozens of travel rewards credit cards on the market. These cards essentially reward you with points, miles, or cash back for spending in certain categories. For example, one of my favorite cards [which I discuss more in depth below], is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. This card earns me 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for each dollar that I spend on dining and travel. As a young professional who is always on the go, I dine out a lot – every day. So, whether I am having McDonalds for lunch or enjoying a luxurious dinner at Carbone NYC, I will be earning valuable points. The travel category includes almost everything, from my subway pass, tolls, airfare, rental car services, and even trips booked on third-party sites such as Booking.com.

I place all of my daily spending on my credit cards, so that I am constantly earning points. When the bill comes each month, I use the cash that I would have otherwise spent, to pay off my cards.

The first key to this strategy is…

Spend within your budget! If you don’t have a budget, I can help you out with that! Overspending on credit cards is the primary reason why so many people end up in uncontrollable debt.

The second key to this strategy is…

Avoid paying interest by paying your bills in full each month. Any interest accrued will most likely negate the benefit of the rewards. I explain this in detail in this blog post.

The third key to this strategy is…

Have the right selection of cards that fit your personal lifestyle. This is very important. If you are someone who mostly drives and prefers to cook at home rather than dine out, then the Chase Sapphire Reserve may not be for you, because the rewards categories don’t fit your lifestyle. Every card has unique categories, and doing your research on each card is essential to mastering the game of credit card rewards.

Points, miles, and rewards are not the only benefit of these cards. Many also come with additional perks such as trip protection, baggage insurance, airport lounge access, and much more. Below I’ll discuss the travel-focused cards in my wallet, and why I love them:

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase’s Sapphire Reserve is one of the few premium cards on the market, and was named “Best Premium Card” at The Point Guy Awards. This is a great card for frequent travelers, and can accommodate many types of people including budget, luxury, solo, and family travelers.


Earning Rate: 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining

Sign-Up Bonus: If you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months of account opening, you will earn 50,000 points. This is worth $1,050 when redeemed via Chase's online travel portal.

Annual Fee: Did you think that holding these cards were free?! The bad news is, nope they’re not. The good news is, the benefits and perks of holding one of these cards usually far outweigh the fee. The Reserve’s annual fee is $450.

Top Benefits and Perks

Annual Travel Credit

The first $300 spent each year on travel purchases will be reimbursed. This credit offsets the annual fee, essentially making it $150.

Airport Lounge Access

This is my favorite perk! After experiencing airport lounges, I’ll never go back to sitting amongst the basics at the gate *muahahaha*. The Reserve comes with a complimentary Priority Pass membership, which gives you and two guests access to over 1,000 airport lounges around the world. Airport lounges are comfortable areas where you can wait for your flight, get some rest, or get work done, while being wined and dined with an open bar, unlimited food, and snacks. Some lounges even include complimentary services such as shower suites, spa treatments, and manicures.

I recently had a 6 hour layover in Mexico City. My friends and I used 'The Grand Lounge Elite', and we were literally treated like royalty – attentive and personalized service, gourmet food cooked to order, foot massages, premium cocktails, and more! It was one of my best experiences to date, and I hear that the lounges in the Middle East are even better!

Glimpse of The Grand Lounge Elite in MEX

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

If you apply for TSA PreCheck ($75) or Global Entry ($100), you will be reimbursed for the application fee. This essentially makes the application free of charge for you. TSA PreCheck allows you to skip the long lines at TSA, and head straight to a designated line with less people, where you don’t have to take off your shoes or belongings. Global Entry, which includes TSA PreCheck, allows you to skip the long lines at Customs after returning from an intonational destination. You just head straight to a kiosk where you will scan your passport, answer four questions, and be on your merry way!

Global Entry airport kiosks

Rental Car Privileges

Reserve card holders enjoy “enhanced benefits” such as upgrades and discounts when they rent vehicles from Avis, National, or Silvercar.

Lost Luggage Reimbursement

Hopefully this is one you’ll never need. However, if you do need it, Chase has you covered! If you or your immediate family members' luggage is lost or damaged by the airline carrier, you will be covered up to $3,000 per passenger.

Other Benefits

  • Exclusive access to Chase’s Luxury Hotels and Resorts Collection

  • Rental car insurance

  • Roadside emergency assistance

  • Trip cancellation insurance

  • Special access to some exclusive events and VIP experiences

  • Dedicated concierge service to assist you in your travel and lifestyle plans

  • Etc.

Loving this card? Apply here!

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Now closed and upgraded to the Reserve

The Sapphire Preferred is the basically the Reserve’s little sister. The Preferred comes with a lower annual fee, and a few less perks. However, you can still earn immense value with this card! It is great for beginners and occasional travelers.


Earning Rate: 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining

Sign-Up Bonus: If you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months of account opening, you will earn 60,000 points. This is worth $750 when redeemed via Chase's online travel portal.

Annual Fee: $95

Top Benefits and Perks

No Foreign Transaction Fees

When you use your card to make purchases in a different country or currency, Chase charges you no foreign transaction fees. This is a huge benefit, since most credit card issuers will charge you a fee to use your card abroad.

Primary Rental Car Insurance

Chase offers primary rental insurance, when a car rental is booked using your card. This is a nice perk since most cards only offer secondary car insurance, which means you have to first look to your personal auto policy, if any, before the card’s coverage will kick in.

Lost Luggage Reimbursement

You can receive up to $3,000 per person for any lost luggage, if your flight was booked using your Sapphire card.

Other Benefits

  • Trip cancellation insurance

  • Trip delay reimbursement

  • Baggage delay insurance

  • Etc

Loving this card? Apply here!

Chase Freedom Unlimited

This card isn’t technically a travel rewards card; it’s actually a cash back card. However, when you have a Chase points earning card such as the Preferred or Reserve, you can choose to earn points instead of cashback on the Freedom Unlimited.


Earning Rate: Earn 3% cash back on all purchases in the first year, up to a maximum of $20,000 spent. After that, earn 1.5% cashback or 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases.

This card rewards you regardless of what you’re spending on, so it’s a great tool to use in order to maximize your points earnings. I use this card for everything that isn’t travel or dining – shopping, household items, everyday essentials, etc.

Sign-Up Bonus: Earn 3% cash back on all purchases in the first year, up to a maximum of $20,000 spent. This bonus is equal to $600, and is honestly geared towards big spenders.

Annual Fee: $0 (Owww!)

Benefits and Perks

Because the Freedom Unlimited is technically not a travel rewards card, the perks are limited. However, the card does offer:

Purchase Protection

When a purchase is made on the card, you are covered for 120 days against any damage or theft, for up to $500 per claim.

Extended Warranty Protection

When you purchase an item using the card, Chase will extend the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by one year.

American Express Platinum

In my very important opinion, this card is the King of All Kings! The AMEX Platinum would definitely be considered a premium luxury card. It brings with it an entire book of benefits and perks, many that I cannot even enjoy because I’m broke AF… like the 20% discount on private jet charters *cries in poor*


Earning Rate: 5 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with the airline, and travel booked via American Express Travel.

Sign-Up Bonus: If you spend $5,000 within the first 3 months of account opening, you will earn 60,000 points. This is worth a whopping $1,200!

Annual Fee: Clutch your pearls sis… $550. Now before you get your panties in a bunch, keep reading!

Top Benefits and Perks

Damn near everything about this card is a top benefit, but here are some of my faves:

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

If you apply for TSA PreCheck ($75) or Global Entry ($100), you will be reimbursed for the application fee.

Airport Lounge Access

I’m not only talking about your typical Priority Pass lounge. In addition to a Priority Pass membership, card holders and two guests get exclusive access to American Express’ own Centurion lounges. This is a network of luxury airport lounges, located in select airports, and only available for use by Amex Platinum and Centurion (aka Black) card holders. Each lounge has a unique theme and ambiance, with menus designed by internationally acclaimed top chefs. That’s not all folks! Platinum card holders also get access to Delta Sky Clubs, as long as they are traveling on a same day flight with Delta. Does the Platinum put all other card’s lounge access to shame, or nah?!

Amex Centurion Lounge at LGA

Uber Benefits

Card holders receive automatic Uber VIP status, as well as $15 per month in Uber cash ($35 in December). This comes in handy for city girls like myself, who are always on the go with taxi services. If you do not typically use Uber to get around, the credit is also good for Uber Eats; so, you can order free food delivery on a lazy Friday night.

Airline Fee Credit

You will receive an annual $200 airline fee reimbursement for any airline of your choice. The reimbursement covers incidental costs such as onboard food purchases, internet purchases, and baggage fees. If you care, my airline of choice is JetBlue *hehe*.

Saks Fifth Avenue Credit

Say what! Prior to getting the Platinum, I would have never stepped foot inside of a Saks – not in my budget sis. However, as a benefit of holding this card, I receive a $100 annual statement credit for purchases made at Saks, online or in store. The credit comes in installments of $50, once every six months. Again, if you care: My first purchase was a pair of Ray-Ban’s that were on clearance for $69. So, basically, I paid $19 for a pair of luxury shades. Winning!

Gold Status at Hilton and Marriott Hotels

The list continues! You will receive automatic Gold Status in both the Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy loyalty programs. Both programs have different benefits; however, expect to receive perks like room upgrades and late checkout.

Courtesy of Marriott Hotels

Car Rental Memberships

Platinum card holders receive complimentary memberships in Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred and National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive. Memberships come with enhanced benefits, such as discounts and upgrades.

Other Benefits

  • Exclusive access to Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts

  • ShopRunner membership

  • Monthly subscription to Departures Magazine

  • Roadside emergency assistance

  • Lost baggage insurance

  • Travel accident insurance

  • Special access to some exclusive events and VIP experiences

  • Dedicated concierge service to assist you in your travel and lifestyle plans

  • Etc.

Loving this card? Apply here!

Rewards Cards That I Don’t Own, but Deserve an Honorable Mention

  1. Discover it Cashback card: Best for cashback fanatics (Actually, I do own this one, oops!)

  2. Citi Prestige Card: Best for hotel perks and frequent diners

  3. American Express Gold Card: Best for frequent diners

  4. American Express Everyday Preferred Card: Best for drivers and supermarket shoppers

  5. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best if you love Hotels.com

  6. Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: Best for American Airlines Flyers

  7. Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express: Best for Delta Flyers

Whew! That was A LOT! And this is just the beginning! I haven’t even touched methods to boost your points earnings, the different ways to redeem your points, or how to redeem your points for the maximum value.

Leave a comment below if you loved this article, and would like me to continue this ‘Newbie Guide’ series!

About Me

Copyright © 2019 Dizzy Discoveries. All Rights Reserved.

Welcome to Dizzy Discoveries! I'm Shadeyka Warren --  a vibrant and passionate travel blogger, finance expert, journalist, and creative content visionary. My mission is to inspire, motivate, and educate. Join me on my journey, as I discover everything that this beautiful earth has to offer!


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