Matador Network

5 credit card points programs that travelers absolutely have to check out

Photo: AKuptsova

Do you have a case of Instagram envy when you see attractive people traveling in first class and staying in five-star hotels? Even if you consider yourself a budget traveler and are just as happy sleeping in a mud hut without AC as you are waking up with 1000 thread count sheets in the penthouse of the Park Hyatt in Tokyo, there’s something to be said for living through the experience, even if you don’t make a habit of it. These activities of the super rich (as opposed to the ultra rich, flying on private jets to their own islands) aren’t nearly as out of reach for the average traveler as we would like to think. Here are some of the ways you can join their ranks for a day or two.

1. Hotels: Hyatt Visa Credit Card

This credit card offers two consecutive free nights in any Hyatt property around the world after spending $1000 in three months. This includes the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa, where standard rooms can exceed $2000/night depending on the season. Considering you only need to spend $333/month on average to reap $4000+ in rewards, I’d say this credit card tops the list.

2. Flying: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card

If there’s one thing we know from watching Casey Neistat’s videos and hearing stories of travel hacking, it’s that short of chartering a private jet, there is no more luxurious way to fly than in Emirates’ first class suites on an A380.

At this time, the private rooms featuring a full-size bed and closing door cannot be booked with points, but first and business class can: 150,000 and 82,500 to travel from Dubai to the US, respectively. Short of spending $82,000, how can ANYONE ever hope to get these numbers?

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card offers between 25,000-50,000 points just for signing up and making one purchase, and these points can be redeemed on a partner like Emirates. This is a standard offer for rewards cards, but what makes this one unique is the fact that the standard two-year turnaround between cancelling the card and applying again to reap the benefits isn’t necessary, meaning a budget traveler can cancel the card within a — reasonable — time limit and possibly be approved again soon afterwards… so long as they don’t abuse it.

3. Trains: Amtrak Guest Rewards® World Mastercard® Credit Card

Let’s just admit that a lot of us don’t think of train travel, especially in the US, as luxurious. Back in the day, when trains had to cater to the elite — traveling across the country while sipping brandy, no doubt — it was reasonable to expect staterooms with fitted seats and amenities that would make most long-distance lines today seem like Greyhound.

Amtrak hasn’t fallen quite that far, still offering private rooms on cross-country trips with dining cars offering meals that — in this writer’s humble opinion — far exceed those in air economy class. Booking a 2-3 day trip in a roomette can cost several hundred dollars, while a premium bedroom can easily go over $1000.

With the time and cost involved, why travel in such a way? Because it truly is a throwback to a more luxurious time in travel, when we could avoid unnecessary security screenings, haul 17 bags for every passenger, and not be stressed about arrival times. Spending $1000 on the Amtrak Mastercard within 90 days will earn a cardholder 20,000 Amtrak points: just enough for a private roomette across most of the country.

4. Gold: Etihad Guest Miles Program

You can still buy gold bars on top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, but why pay for something when you can get it for free? There’s nothing richer than purchasing something guaranteed to depreciate in value and acting like you’re a genius. Should you fly often enough on Etihad Airlines, you can redeem 118,900 points for a 10-gram, 24-karat gold ingot.

5. Space Travel: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles

Anyone else remember when Lance Bass paid $20 million just to go into space as a tourist, and how we thought that kind of travel would forever be out of reach to all but millionaires and astronauts?

Sub-orbital flights may be getting cheaper, but they’re definitely still in the realm of the super rich. Virgin Atlantic promoted redeeming two million points for a seat worth $250,000 on their Virgin Galactic flight, meaning one to the moon would probably be over ten million. Whether this will actually be honored once these flights get up and running is subject to debate. If a Hyatt is established on Mars, do you think the free nights from the visa would be honored?