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In my previous life, I was a college aviation instructor, so was thrilled when one of my former students texted the fantastic news that she’d finally landed a dream job in her chosen field – flying around the country! She’ll be on the road ~5 months a year, though, so naturally our conversation turned into making the most of that.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I signed up for all the hotel programs!”
Turns out, her situation is a little more lucrative than many who travel for work, because she’s getting a fixed allowance for each night she’s on the road for accommodations and meals. So she can essentially plan (and pay for) her own hotel stays and food, and make use of the best credit cards for travel without having to mess around with expense reports or reimbursements from her employer.
She’s new to credit card rewards and asked my advice. Here’s what we talked about.
First and foremost, I said, never leave money on the table. Especially if someone else is footing the bill.
Earn the Most Credit Card Rewards When You Travel for Work
I’ve done a moderate amount of work travel, but I’m no George Clooney in “Up in the Air” … you’ve seen the bit:
If you’re old timey at the work travel thing, this probably won’t resonate. But if you’re new, here are tips to get you started.
1. Sign Up for Every Rewards Program Possible
My friend doesn’t have loyalty to any hotel brand – her work has her showing up in cities and towns with just a few days notice, so she goes for the hotel with the best rate. She’s already signed up for every single hotel rewards program to earn points for her stays.
Be sure to add your loyalty program number to every stay – even if it’s on a discounted or corporate rate. You may not always earn points, but it’s worth a try. I have airline friends who don’t earn points but DO get stay credits when they’re out on layover with certain brands.
2. Pay for Flights, Hotels, Food, and Incidentals With a Rewards-Earning Credit Card
If your work reimburses you for your travel expenses, you’re already ahead of the game. Some companies make you put your travel expenses on a corporate card, which means you won’t get the rewards for your spending – instead, they will. You should still sign up for airline and hotel programs though, because often you’ll get to earn miles and points regardless of who pays for it.
Assuming you’ll put your travel and dining spending on your own credit card, as my friend will, the best bet to start with is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It earns 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 on travel and dining worldwide with no caps – it doesn’t matter if you’re staying at a Hyatt or small-town motel. The annual fee is $95. And it comes with 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (worth $600 cash back, or $750 in travel) after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening – that’s pretty huge.
It’s even easier for flights, because airlines will award you frequent flyer miles whether you book directly with them or through a 3rd-party site like Expedia or Orbitz. Hotels aren’t the same – you typically won’t earn hotel points or stay credits if you don’t book directly (but you’ll still earn credit card rewards).
3. If You Become Loyal to a Brand, Get Their Credit Card (Usually)
Being a road warrior may mean you’re gonna get the cheapest, fastest, or easiest travel arrangements. Using a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Citi Premier℠ Card makes sense here, because you’ll earn bonus points for travel regardless.
My friend says she’s been frequently staying at Hilton and Marriott brands, because there’s usually one of their hotels wherever she ends up. Otherwise, she’ll use her company allowance for an Airbnb, which is cheaper in a lot of instances.
If she keeps staying with Hilton, it’s worth it for her to get the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card – she’ll earn bonus points on every stay, but more importantly free breakfast at Hilton hotels because the card comes with Hilton Gold Status.
When she stays at Marriott, the new Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card would make sense if she’s trying to save up for Marriott stays. It earns 6X Marriott points per $1 at participating Marriott hotels. I wish it offered elite status with the same perks as the Hilton card, though.
Check out the brands you stay with most. Do the math, and assess if the perks and earning with a branded credit card is worth it.
4. Earn Rebates
It’s a nice extra boost when you’re using your credit card for work stuff.
Do you have more advice for a newbie diving into travel for work? Please share in the comments.