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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 kids it wouldn’t be long before things would get back to normal and we could hit the road again.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
Fast forward to 2022 and, like many folks, we haven’t been on a plane in over two years. Until now, my family has usually taken at least two or three trips a year by using credit card rewards, points, and miles to travel for next to free — so this long layoff has meant a big change for us.
But now, popular tourist destinations are throwing the doors open to travelers again and lifting restrictions like mask mandates, proof of a negative COVID test, and mandatory quarantines. Hawaii, for example, is ending the requirement to show a negative test or proof of vaccination to enter from the US mainland as of March 26. And countries including Canada, Costa Rica, France, Ireland, and the Maldives have relaxed or announced the end of pre-arrival COVID testing.
The loosening of restrictions means there are many more destinations open without having to jump through inconvenient hoops. With that in mind, and having accumulated quite a hefty stash of credit card rewards over the pandemic, I recently set about booking a last-minute spring break trip for myself and the kids using points and miles.
My mother, who is visiting from Canada, overheard me on the phone trying to piece the trip together.
“You’re funny,” she said, amused at my seemingly late vacation planning style. “And you’re so lucky you can just pick up the phone and book whatever you want.”
She’s right to some extent. Living in the US, we have so many more opportunities to earn points and miles from rewards credit cards, dining programs, shopping portals, and promotions compared to countries like Canada. For instance, it’s not uncommon here to see credit card sign-up bonuses in excess of 100,000 points; elsewhere, such things are a rarity.
But traveling for free with rewards isn’t completely about luck — it takes organization and research to navigate the ins and outs of loyalty schemes and keep track of details like award charts and point expiration dates. Friends and family often ask how I find the time to juggle over 20 travel rewards credit cards and stay on top of such things; I reply that even though it’s part of my job here at Insider, it’s also something I get a real kick out of.
That doesn’t mean you have to go all-in on credit card rewards if you want to get a taste of free travel. I know plenty of folks who strategically open just one or two credit cards from transferable points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, and by running all their spending through these cards, earn enough rewards to treat themselves to a fun trip or two each year.
You don’t have to be a loyalty travel whiz or points nerd to take advantage of these opportunities, either. It’s totally fine to stick with a straightforward cash-back credit card — many of which don’t charge an annual fee — and use that money toward travel instead. But if you’re new to the rewards travel game and want the ability to travel wherever and whenever you want, earning points and miles can get you the highest return on your spending.
We write a lot about paths to financial freedom here at Personal Finance Insider, from retirement planning to setting up passive income streams. Earning points and miles from credit cards is another piece of that puzzle for me, because it offers my family the chance to enjoy new experiences and destinations for a fraction of the usual cost.
And now that the world is opening up again, I’ll continue to keep my mother’s words in mind. My family is lucky — not only to have a wider choice of destinations 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 cards editor for Personal Finance Insider
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