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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?