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Here’s what: Freedom to travel isn’t just about lifting mask mandates and COVID testing requirements
When the COVID pandemic hit, my family had to cancel a long-awaited cruise with stops in Mexico, Belize and Honduras. We were extremely disappointed, but I assured the children that things would soon be back to normal and we could get back on the road.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
Fast forward to 2022 and, like many people, we haven’t flown in over two years. So far, my family has typically taken at least two or three trips a year using credit card rewards, points, and miles to travel almost for free. So this long layoff meant a big change for us.
But now popular tourist destinations are once again opening doors to travelers and lifting restrictions such as mask mandates, proof of a negative COVID test and mandatory quarantines. Hawaii, for example, is ending the requirement to present a negative test or proof of vaccination to enter from the continental United States from March 26. And countries like Canada, Costa Rica, France, Ireland and the Maldives have relaxed or announced an end to pre-arrival COVID testing.
The easing of restrictions means there are many more destinations open without having to jump through awkward hoops. With that in mind, and after racking up a fairly large amount of credit card rewards during the pandemic, I recently decided to book a last-minute spring break trip for myself and the kids using points and miles.
My mother, who is from Canada, overheard me on the phone trying to piece together the trip.
“You’re funny,” she said, amused by my seemingly overdue style of vacation planning. “And you’re so lucky you can just pick up the phone and book whatever you want.”
She is right to a certain extent. Living in the United States, we have so many more opportunities to earn points and miles through credit cards, dining programs, shopping portals, and promotions than in countries like Canada. For example, it’s not uncommon here to see credit card sign-up bonuses in excess of 100,000 points; elsewhere such things are rare.
But traveling for free with rewards isn’t entirely a matter of luck – it takes organization and research to navigate the ins and outs of loyalty programs and keep track of details like reward charts. and point expiration dates. My friends and family often ask me how I find the time to juggle 20+ travel rewards credit cards and stay on top of these things; I respond that while it’s part of my job here at Insider, it’s also something I really enjoy.
That doesn’t mean you have to gamble on credit card rewards if you want a taste of free travel. I know many people who strategically open only one or two credit cards from transferable points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, and by running all their spending on those cards, earn enough rewards to s offer a fun trip or two each year.
You don’t have to be a frequent flyer expert or a points nerd to take advantage of these opportunities, either. It’s perfectly fine to stick with a simple cash back credit card – many of which don’t charge an annual fee – and use that money to travel instead. But if you’re new to the rewards travel game and want to be able to travel where and when you want, earning points and miles can get you the best return on your spend.
At Personal Finance Insider, we write extensively about paths to financial freedom, from planning for retirement to setting up passive income streams. Earning points and miles through credit cards is another piece of this puzzle for me, as it offers my family the opportunity to experience new experiences and destinations for a fraction of the usual cost.
And now that the world is opening up again, I will continue to keep my mother’s words in mind. My family is lucky – not only to have more destinations to choose from that welcome visitors, but also the ability to book a flight or hotel using credit card rewards without having to worry about breaking the bank .
— Jasmin Baron, credit card editor for Personal Finance Insider
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