Racking up flights just for using your credit card sounds simple. But there’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to maximizing your points and perks to score a vacation. Megan Johnston, a travel expert at Daily Drop, has traveled around the world, saving thousands, by using points. In 2023, she hacked her own destination wedding travel, taking nine family members on their first international trip. Here, she gives her best tips on how to navigate the world of travel hacking.
FEATURED EXPERT: MEGAN JOHNSTON
Megan Johnston - Daily Drop travel expert and community manager
Which is better: An airline credit card or a travel rewards card?
This can vary depending on specific circumstances, but if your goal is to travel more and you have a bucket list that is a mile long, then a travel rewards card is the best place to begin. This way, you don’t lock yourself into a single airline that may or may not have availability for your dream flight. When you earn points with a travel rewards card, you get access to transfer partners that allow you to redeem your points with several different airlines or hotels instead of locking you into only one.
What are airline partner rewards?
Airline partner rewards are when you book a flight on one airline by using another airline’s points. Partner rewards are possible thanks to alliances and nonofficial partnerships set up between airlines. This can be a great way to maximize your points or make them go a little further. In many cases, a partner flight falls in line with a program in a way that will give you more outsized value than if you booked with the program itself, thanks to different airline award pricing models. In the travel hacking world, we call these sweet spots.
When should I book a flight with points?
This is something that will vary by personal circumstances and your goals. Some people use points to save as much money as possible, and some use points to have experiences that are otherwise not accessible to them (like flying first-class). So, first things first, get clear on what your goal is. Once you're clear on your goal, the next step is determining the value. Travel points are generally valued anywhere from one to one-and-half cents per point, at minimum. However, when transferring your points to travel partners, the value can vary because of the way airlines price. We like to stay anywhere from two cents per point and beyond. The way you can determine the value of your points is by using this simple formula: (cash value of award – any taxes and fees) / total points redeemed = value per point. I always say value per point can go out the window if you've done your research and it's worth it to you. Ultimately, the best points trip is the one you book!
Should I use points to upgrade a flight or to take more trips?
Take more trips! Generally speaking, you’ll get more value by booking the class of service you want up front rather than trying to upgrade to it. Outside of the value you’re getting, it’s also important to know that not all tickets are eligible for an upgrade with points. So, if you’re thinking you can book a cheap flight and then upgrade with points to save more, you might need to look a little closer. This all depends on the airline you booked with, your fare class, your class of service, and other rules the airline holds.
Is it better to redeem points in a travel portal or transfer them to an airline?
It is generally better to transfer your points to an airline. When you use your points in a travel portal, your points are fixed at a certain value determined by the cash price. When you transfer them to an airline, your points aren’t priced like this — therefore, you’ll generally get more value. You’re also booking directly with the airline when you transfer your points. So, in the case of delays or cancellations, you’re working with the airline instead of the portal you booked with. The biggest downside when it comes to transferring points is that award space is always limited, so you need to make sure the flight you want to book is available for points before transferring.
What's the best piece of advice you’d give a travel rewards beginner?
Take it one step at a time. The heart of travel rewards is to earn points and redeem for travel. Everything you learn along the way falls into those two categories. Keep it simple and find a community you can ask questions to so you don’t drown in how-to articles along the way!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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