Award Booking Credit Cards Family Travel Miles and Points

Easy travel rewards for non hackers

One of my favorite Saverocity personalities, Robert Dwyer, and I both enjoy listening to the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast (Disney stuff). On Episode 306 they had a brief discussion about travel rewards. Their sensible conclusion was that they don’t want to expend the mental bandwidth to keep track of it all. Travel hacking takes a lot of mental bandwidth (otherwise you might make potential costly mistakes), and I’m experienced enough now to know it’s pointless trying to convince people the value they present. But I thought it might be fruitful to discuss some easy travel rewards that don’t require a lot of mental bandwidth.

Travel reward programs can be complicated and confusing. But here are some easy travel rewards programs that you can use to save money on your travel!
If you can handle this, you can probably handle some simple travel rewards

A couple of notes. First, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to think they don’t want to expend the mental energy required to keep track of a million award programs. We all have our hobbies. Secondly, the easy travel rewards programs I’m discussing in this post don’t necessarily represent the most monetary value. Instead, they present travelers the opportunity to save money casually – without being insane like some of us.

I’ve split the rewards programs into categories, moving from simpler to more complicated within each category (in my opinion).

One organizational step – get a good password manager

While you can save money on your travel expending very little mental bandwidth, you should really get a good password manager before you get started. I use Lastpass, which will autofill my passwords in for me when I’m logged in – that saves a lot of mental time and effort.

Travel reward programs can be complicated and confusing. But here are some easy travel rewards programs that you can use to save money on your travel!
Honestly, even if you don’t care about travel rewards, you should consider LastPass or equivalent

Of course programs like Award Wallet really help too, but the simple easiest thing you can do is use something like Lastpass. That way you don’t really need to remember any of your logins and passwords.

If you’re paranoid about security, you could always make a spreadsheet for yourself, but that will really hurt your bandwidth. Programs like 1Password, which cost money, might be worth the cost in bandwidth saved alone. 

Airline Rewards

If you’re flying, I find it easiest to focus on fixed value rewards programs like Southwest and Jetblue. That way you never need to worry about different award levels, demands on space, etc. etc. Each point you earn from Southwest or Jetblue has a monetary value to it. In fact they make redeeming the points a simple matter of clicking on “points” instead of “cash” when you search.

One feature propels Southwest to the top of the “easy to redeem” list: fee free cancellation. You can cancel or change your ticket any time up to 10 minutes before your flight. While you don’t get the money (or points) back to your account, you can apply that credit to future travel on Southwest.

Travel reward programs can be complicated and confusing. But here are some easy travel rewards programs that you can use to save money on your travel!
If you live in a city with a lot of Jetblue flights, it’s pretty easy to earn rewards

One reason casual travelers avoid airline rewards is it’s hard to keep track of your frequent flyer number and how many miles you have. Solve that problem using the password manager you installed above. With Southwest or Jetblue, it doesn’t even matter how many miles you have since you can pay with cash or points – just try to pay with points every once in awhile and you’ll be saving money! The amount of bandwidth required to do this is only the amount of bandwidth you need to remember to login.

Hotel Rewards

While I’m not a huge fan of the program, I have to admit: hotels.com 10th night free program remains the easiest hotels rewards program. Basically, as long as you book all your hotels through their site you will earn one free night for every ten nights you purchase. Credit towards free nights expire in 12 months if you don’t redeem or stay within that time period.

The value of that free night will be equal to the average of the cost of the ten paid nights. It doesn’t get any easier than that, bandwidth wise. Also, Disney fans – you can book Disney hotels through hotels.com and redeem free nights at Disney. 

Travel reward programs can be complicated and confusing. But here are some easy travel rewards programs that you can use to save money on your travel!
If you’re going to stay on site, why not book through hotels.com and earn something back for it?

Orbitz also has a rewards program – you earn 5% back for hotel bookings and 1% back for airline bookings. You can only use the rewards for hotel stays and all rewards expire in 12 months regardless of activity. The benefit of this program lies in being able to redeem more quickly (i.e., you don’t have to wait until ten stays).

When it comes to simple options, these hotel rewards are as simple as remembering to login and remembering to have activity once a year. Minimal mental bandwidth!

Credit Card Rewards

I swear I do not have affiliate links, but I still think the Barclays Arrival Plus card remains one of the easiest cards to use for travel rewards and a great card for travel hacking beginners. However, the annual fee scares casual travelers looking to save money and I get that. But if you think the $89 annual fee is worth the decreased bandwidth, then 2.1% redeemed towards travel will be pretty good for rewards.

Another great option is the Bank of America Travel Rewards card which comes with no annual fee. If you are a Platinum Honors Preferred client you’ll get 2.625% back per dollar spent, otherwise you’ll get 1.5%. Capital One Venture offers 2% back as well but with a $59 annual fee. All three of those cards are easy to use because you just redeem points against your travel purchases.

Of course the best option for the casual traveler? Invest in a 2% cash back card. The Fidelity Visa and Citi Double Cash both offer 2% cash back for no annual fee. But these options aren’t as “casual” because you need to mentally organize your money and dedicate that to your travel. Or alternatively, you can tell yourself to feel better about spending money on travel since you’ve been earning 2% back. Either way, it’s not as “clean” as the travel rewards card options.

Credit cards of course require more bandwidth than either the easy travel rewards from the airline or hotel programs I listed above. You need to keep track of things and you need to pay your balances off in full. What you receive in return for that extra bandwidth comes in the form of more savings, including savings you can “stack” (you can earn 2% cash back if you use your Fidelity card at hotels.com on top of the free night you are working towards).

Car Rental Rewards

One quick note here: it’s worth it to sign up for car rental programs. All you need to do is remember your number and add it to your reservation and you can generally skip the lines when picking up the car. All the different companies have different names but for the most part, have an account with them, skip the line. This even works sometimes for me when I book through sites like Priceline (even though it shouldn’t per terms and conditions). Worth the mental bandwidth especially in a place like Orlando where car rental lines are nuts.

Final Thoughts

Again, while these programs won’t save you the most money, they are some of the simplest programs to use. If you’re traveling a lot, why not at least give it a shot. Every dollar counts – if you save $50 that’s like…ten Mickey bars!

Any other easy to redeem programs I missed? 

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Travel reward programs can be complicated and confusing. But here are some easy travel rewards programs that you can use to save money on your travel!

Joe
Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less
http://www.asthejoeflies@gmail.com

5 thoughts on “Easy travel rewards for non hackers”

  1. Curious why you picked Fidelity and Citi over the PenFed 2% Visa with a checking account (minimum $500 or direct deposit) or military. One reason why it is better than Fidelity and Citi is no foreign transaction fee. But PenFed expires after 5 years if you don’t redeem which is worse than Fidelity which never expires. Citi expires if you don’t earn in a year and you have to have at least $25 and foreign transaction fee is 3%. You can do automatic redemptions with Fidelity, but you have to get $50 of redemptions and only 1% foreign transaction fee. Green America recommended a card by Elan which is the issuer of the Fidelity card while not having nice things to say about Citi http://www.greenamerica.org/take-charge-of-your-card/index.cfm PenFed is a credit union helping DoD, homeland security, military people and families. I have been thinking about getting a credit card since the Sallie Mae master card reduced my grocery from 5% to 2% cash back and my Citi Forward card was also reduced to 2 thank you points per dollar on restaurants. What would you get if you were me? I am thinking one of the 2% credit cards or Golden 1 Platinum Rewards since my siblings live in California or possibly the SECU MD Signature Visa.

    hotels.com is not that great for a casual traveler because every time you use a coupon or book as part of a package it doesn’t count towards one of your 10 nights free and it expires too fast and the only way to keep your account active is to stay in a hotel. I have never earned a free night from them. You also don’t get the best rate compared to the member rates of hotels or with senior discounts for my parents or using walk in rates with hotelcoupons.com, etc. If you book a weeks worth of hotels.com one year for full price and then next year stay at an AirBnb, all your points will be gone and you can’t just take surveys on e-miles or redeem for a magazine to keep active. You are better off going to retailmenot, looking up hotels.com, seeing what coupons there are (currently 11% off when booking with the app or email), and forgoing the rewards program. Best Western points never expire for people in North America which is good for casual travelers who don’t want to worry about keeping points active.

    1. Cool points! No real reason I recommended those two over Penfed, just go with what I know. Any 2% card is good obviously.

      In terms of hotels.com, those are all great points for people who want to put in the effort, but if you want to be lazy and still get some rewards, just use the 10 night program. You’re willing to put in more time into this than the target audience for this post, so your ideas would totally save more money for someone willing to put in the legwork!

  2. The casual points users I know, and of course my friend group is a bit tilted towards Disney fanatics, use a combination of a Southwest Credit Card and a Disney Visa.

    My Parents use Southwest Credit Cards plus Hotel Credit Cards but I strongly suspect they let some hotel points expire. I’ve tried to get them into a 2% cash back card but they use a Costco card for everything and like it, good enough. The one time I tried to get them to travel hack they ended up giving me the points (100k Avios). They like to island hop in Hawaii and I even offered to book it for them but they don’t like to decide on travel dates until the last minute.

  3. I like the topic. My daughter who dabbled in travel hacking did OK for about 2 years but simply doesn’t currently have the bandwidth. Although my son loves to travel, I couldn’t convince him to do anything more than a CITI 2%. So for now my “apples” have fallen a bit far from this “tree.”

    A few things to add:

    1) JetBlue and Southwest have great simplicity but won’t work for everybody since it still matters where you live and what destinations you frequent. I fly a lot and can count the number of flights I’ve taken on those airlines in the last 10 years without using all my fingers.

    2) Booking hotels through Hotels.com, Orbitz and the like may save on bandwidth but may also impact the quality of the stay. My (limited) experience with them is that with some hotels, the better/quieter/bigger/renovated rooms tend not to go to 3rd party reservations, especially if they are full. And you may end up with slower wifi or worse yet, having to pay for it!

    My no-travel-hacking, don’t-need-frills son did, on his own and as you suggest, join all the car rental programs, since he traveled a lot for work and rented lots of cars. Ditto for hotels so at least he gets points for paid stays. If he’s the person selecting the hotel, he looks for one with a good free breakfast, that has a fridge in all rooms, and that’s near a Whole Foods. Both kids know that if something is not right, they should speak up, and have been comped some points as a result.

    Finally, I love 1Password. It was a one time expense and cost under $40 during a promo. I have it on all my devices for that one price and get free updates. Don’t know how I managed without it.

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