Why You Should Use Travel Credits Before Points

by joeheg

There are several types of travel credits. For this post, I’ll use the term broadly to cover any benefit with an expiration date that you can use to book travel instead of cash. Since most programs allow you to keep points active with some account activity, they’re not included.

If you have several travel credit cards, there’s a good chance that one or more of them provides a yearly travel credit. While several of these credits reset at the beginning of the year, some of them are based on your cardholder anniversary (a.k.a., when you pay your annual fee). These credits vary from those that cover anything travel related, like the $300 credit from the Sapphire Reserve card, to the restrictive Air Travel Credit provided by the AMEX Platinum and Hilton Honors Aspire cards.

Instead of offering a statement credit, hotel co-brand cards often provide free night certificates. Many of them have restrictions about where to redeem your free night based on a hotel’s category or how many points are required for a free night.

Next, there are travel credits you get when canceling travel plans or if you accept an airline’s offer to switch to another flight.

Finally, there are a few programs that have points that expire within a certain time frame with no way to extend them. Since they’ll become worthless if you don’t use them, I’ll include those as well.

Use Your Travel Credits First!

When making your travel plans, always look to use your credits first. If you can use a bump voucher or credits from a canceled flight, use those first since they’ll have the most restrictions. Beware that these vouchers often have restrictions, as I learned when redeeming one from American Airlines.

If you have free night vouchers from hotel co-brand credit cards, also look to use them ASAP. It’s tempting to hold them for the “perfect” time, but it’s better to use them when you can instead of going a whole year, only to end up struggling to use them before they expire.

Some programs, like Wyndham Rewards and Singapore KrisFlyer, have points that expire. For example, points with Singapore Airlines expire 36 months after you earn them, regardless of account activity. If you have points in your account, from a canceled trip, best to find a way to use them even if it’s not how you originally imagined.

If you don’t have any of these credits, or can’t make them work for your trip, then look to use statement credits. From finding a creative way to use your AMEX Airline Fee Credit to booking travel with your Ritz Carlton card, it’s better to book free travel than pay for it.

You might need to pay some cash to complete a reservation booked with travel credits. For example, we used $150 from United TravelBank for tickets, but we still had to pay for the rest.

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When using the AMEX Platinum Fine Hotels & Resorts credit, I had to pay an additional $140 for the room.

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That’s instead of paying 15,000 World of Hyatt points that I can now use for another stay.

Then You Can Use Points

Once you’ve exhausted all of those options, then look to book with points. There will be times when you can’t use your travel credits, like if there’s no hotel available to use your free night or if the airline you have a voucher for is charging an extremely high price and you can find a lower fare with a different carrier.

I don’t want to suggest that you NEED to use your credits before points but that you should look if you have any credits available before automatically paying with points.

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