Our Credit Card Rewards Plans for 2013

Our Credit Card Rewards Plans for 2013 - picture of gold credit cards

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I earned over $2,500 in cash rewards through credit card sign-up bonuses.  I took most of those bonuses as statement credits and gift cards. Overall, it worked out great.  I am super happy with the results and am definitely not planning on stopping anytime soon.  However, I do have plans to do something slightly different for at least part of this year.  Read on!

 Pursuing Rewards for Travel

Inspired by Jacob @IHeartBudgets, I decided that we would try to earn hotel stays instead of cash this year.  Since we are going to try to take at least one kid-free vacation per year and don’t really care where we go, I thought it would be exciting to see what we could earn.


Enter the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card is currently offering a 25,000 point sign-up bonus if you spend $5,000 within the first 6 months.  Therefore, Greg and I are both going to get one. Since it will be a long process, it will also give our credit score a bit of a break, even though we aren’t that worried about it. I already applied for mine, and we will apply for Greg’s once we approach the spending requirement.  So, after both of us reach our spending requirement, we will have 50,000 Starpoints to spend.  Also, the Starwood Preferred card lets you transfer points between members that live in the same household.  Therefore, once we are ready to redeem our points, we will transfer them to either one of us in order to be able to book an entire vacation.


So…What Are Starpoints Worth Anyway?

I’m glad you asked! Starpoints can be redeemed for hotel stays in Sheraton and Westin resorts all over the world.  They have hotels grouped in categories based on how expensive the hotel is.  Category 1 hotels can be redeemed for as little as 2,000 Starpoints per night!  Category 7 hotels can be redeemed for as much as 35,000 points.  I am going to focus on Category 4 hotels since they can be redeemed for 10,000 per night.  Since I will have 50,000 Starpoints, I should be able to redeem 6 nights (They also give the 5th night free for Category 4 hotels).  Then we will just have to pay for airfare, food, and entertainment.  I may also try to earn more rewards in order to get our airfare free.  But for now, I’m just focusing on the free hotel stays.


What Hotels Are in Category 4?

Here are some of my favorite options for Category 4.

Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort and Casino – We have never been to the Bahamas but definitely want to go.  This is definitely a possibility for our points.  Flights from Indianapolis to Nassau are cheap!  On Expedia, they started at $300 each depending on what day of the week we decided to go.

Aloft London Excel – London is on our bucket list of places that we definitely want to visit at some point.  Seeing Les Miserables and The Woman in Black live on the London stage are both items on our bucket lists.  This hotel is 8 miles from Buckingham Palace and just a cab ride away from all the sites and attractions we want to see.  It looks like flights would cost at least $800 each, but it would be worth it!

Sheraton Denarau Villas in Fiji – This hotel looks absolutely amazing.  I would love to go to Fiji.  The downside to this option is that flights are outrageously expensive, like $2,500 and up.  Still, it’s a possibility.  I want to go to Fiji, and I’m going to have to pay to get there eventually!

There are sooooooo many other options to use Starpoints all over the world….from Hong Kong to Mexico to Amsterdam.  I will start narrowing down a destination once we get closer to time.  It will take us quite a while to spend $10,000 with just groceries, gas, and regular spending – but we will definitely get there.  I can not wait! After that, it’s on to earning some Chase points!


Have you started pursuing credit card rewards yet? Do you plan to? What are your favorite rewards cards?

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  1. Hmmm I haven’t looked into hotel rewards, but it sounds like it can be a great deal. I would love to have rewards pay for my vacations. Currently I use Discover and take advantage of the cash back rewards, but getting a card for something more specific like hotels may pay off better.

  2. Both my wife and I just got Amex cards for this very reason. We got $400 statement credits after spending $500 in the first three months and then it’s some different formula after that. It’s good on any airlines and hotels and better yet has no annual fee. It’s really starting to whet my appetite to earn more.

    1. I got that same offer in the mail. Hopefully I will have time to do it after we do the two Starwood cards. Then I can get some money off of my airfare!

  3. We had tossed around the idea of earning rewards this year, but then I found out last week that someone’s trying to steal my identity, so I’ve put locks on both of our credit reports.

    1. Ohhhh……that’s ugly. I don’t blame you!!!

    1. I think it’s different outside of the U.s……but you could try to check it out!

  4. We haven’t done this yet, but we do want to soon. We are waiting though as to not hurt our credit since we pan on buying a new house next year.

    1. Yeah, I don’t blame you. I don’t think one or two cards would hurt though. It certainly hasn’t made much of a difference in our credit.

  5. Wow! Had no idea this could be so lucrative! We may well give it a try, but after we’ve got our debt situation under control. We’re new at not accumulating debt via credit cards, so I want to make sure we’ve completely broken the habit before using them again. 🙂

  6. If you plan on doing any traveling to Europe the Club Carlson cards is pretty much a winner (the rewards visa one or the business one). Your first purchase gets you enough points for a stay at a top teir hotel (in the US that would be the amazing Radisson Blu in Chicago for example) and when you use points for 2 or more nights the last night is free! Add into that just being a member of Club Carlson gets you free internet on all stays. This is why they are quickly becoming one of my favorite chains.

    All that being said starpoints are so incredibly valueable it is amazing (even with their recent devaluation of “cash and points” options).

    1. that sounds awesome, Brian. I will definitely check it out!

  7. Too bad you haven’t thought about where you’d go on vacation. Someone seems to need a little R-n-R now, huh?

    1. I am already planning 3 vacations out, Joe. We are going to the Caribbean in 2 weeks from today. Then we are going to Florida in May. Then we are planning something for fall then hopefully Europe in spring 2014!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Traveling on points is a great way to travel and London is so much fun to see. Where are you going in the Caribbean?

    1. 2 weeks from today!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Feb 11th-17th without the kids. Just me and Greg at an all inclusive all adults resort. Its going to be amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. K – guys, help an old guy out. What is this thing with credit cards? Sooooooooo don’t understand that. And, let me pose a question – if you guys are so hell-bent on being debt-free and prosperous – what are you doing using credit cards (regardless of points, etc)???????????? Not understanding this.

    1. Jim, I pay off my balance about once a week – we never pay interest.

      It isn’t for everyone. If someone is in debt, using credit cards can make things worse. But, for me, my only bill is my mortgage. I don’t even have a car payment. So I put my groceries and stuff on a rewards card for points and cash rewards and pay it off once a week.

  10. I’d love to get miles and rewards!! but don’t think I can get a new credit card being self employed and my current one already has 0% fee on withdrawals abroad which is the main thing I look for in a CC.

    1. I think it’s different in other countries. That’s what I’ve heard anyway!

  11. I’m pretty much only into cash back rewards cards. We use a combination of Citi Dividends and our Costco American Express. All told the rewards yield about $400 – 500 per year. I know I could likely do better if I did some additional work, but I’m honestly satisfied enough with that where I would prefer to concentrate the time into other areas, some which make money (the blog) and others which are just more relaxing time. I think I have a good balance!

  12. I got a Hilton Honors card last year and earned 2 free weekend nights which was the sign up bonus after you spend $3K. It adds up pretty quick.

  13. Holly, I am certainly on board. Now that we don’t and never will have credit card debt, I am hoping to get a completely free vacation this year. Since I haven’t sold my business yet, I just got a Chase INK card. I should have $500 in about a month from that. We are getting free airfare from the Frontier Airlines Visa. I’m not sure if I can pull off everything for free, but I’m sure going to try.

    1. That’s how I feel. The more that is free, the better!

  14. Good luck! I hope you get to go on a totally awesome vacation 🙂 I would love to go to London; it’s on my bucket list too!

    1. I really want to stay at the Park Lane Hotel in London but that is a category 5 in Starwood. So, it would cost me 12,000 star points per night. It still might work. The Park Lane is just down the street from Buckingham Palace and Queen Theatre where we could see Les Mis! Its also blocks from Hyde park, Big, and Westminster Abbey.

  15. Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget says:

    Awesome! I’m excited to hear how this year plays out for you guys!

    We’re considering it… some of those destinations you listed look pretty great right now!

    1. Yeah, they do. I am sorely in need of a vacation!

  16. I’ve often wondered if travel and hotel rewards would be worth a lot more than the usual cash equivalent I always seem to take. I know gift cards are usually given out at a discount, so why not travel points as well. I’ve been to a timeshare presentation for Starwood before. They have some NICE places to stay!

  17. Looks look a great deal.

    I’m curious, what does opening so many credit cards within a relatively short period of time do to your credit score? Curious if you have noticed any changes?

    1. No, not really. You just have to make sure to space them out and it doesn’t make a significant impact.

  18. Hells yeah, PLAYA!!!!! Way to dive right in 🙂 I just hit my Chase minimum spend, and about $3k away from my first 25,000 pts. on the Starwood. We’re planning on using them pts. at FinCon, and also my wife wants to head to Nashville at some point. Also, there are some NIIIIICE Westin Hotels in the city that we’ll use points for a weekend getaway. Pretty excited for you guys! 🙂

    1. Me too!!!!!!! I want to do something really fun!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Bichon Frise says:

    I would personally use the starpoints to transfer to airlines (20k points => 25k airline miles), since hilton points are so easy to come by. My spouse got over 200k hilton points. And Hilton has some REALLY NICE properties (I particularly like the Conrads).

    My latest antics scored us 2 round trip tickets in first class to Bali for $10. And while I sit on over a million points and miles, we’re splurging to stay at the Aman Resorts in Bali.

    1. I have never done a Hilton card before. I’ll have to look into that!

  20. I am skeptical, but that is probably because I paid off my last credit card back in July 2012. I am just working on the cash back part, so I want to master that, then move onto different rewards like hotel stays. Your posts are inspiring though.

    1. Hey, only do it if you are 100% sure you won’t get into any trouble!

  21. I received that same Starwood credit card offer in my in box today here in Canada! (25,000 points) There is a $120 annual fee for one credit card and then $50 for the supplemental card. I have a lot of points card for the drug store, 2 airline points cards, a no annual fee mastercard and an annual fee visa that has a ton of points. I don’t mind signing up for credit cards but after you use the card for a year and pay the fee, do you just close the cards because I don’t want to keep paying an annual fee?

    1. The American version doesn’t have an annual fee the first year so I’ll just cancel it by the time the fee hits. That is what I did with a few cards earlier this year.

      It would have to really be worth it for me to pay an annual fee.

  22. Justin@TheFrugalpath says:

    We’re currently working on paying off credit card debt that we acquired when we replaced our roof. Once the card is paid off we plan on trying this.
    It’s good as long as it doesn’t make you spend more. I could see some people justifying a purchase just to get the points. Also, I like how you said that you pay it off weekly. That’s a great idea.

    1. Yeah, we’re pretty boring so it isn’t a problem for us. Plus, we typically do cards with low spending requirements. There are a ton of cards out there with bonuses once you spend 10K or something like that, but we would never do them because we wouldn’t spend enough.
      The Starwood cards require 5 K in spending in 6 months and that will be easy. Our grocery budget is $500 per month and our miscellaneous/gas budget is $200 per month. Those two things alone bring us to $4200. Plus, I have to pay for our May vacation sometime in March and that is $1100 so we will get there. It’s important to take your spending into consideration before you do anything like that. Obviously, you wouldn’t be saving or earning any money if you had to spend money you wouldn’t have otherwise spent!

    1. It doesn’t take much effort. I personally think it’s fun. It’s just a hobby! I maybe spend an hour per month on it.

    1. More for me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! haha, just kidding =)

  23. Wow! This is a very interesting concept. I read Jacobs post about what he’s doing and it really sounds awesome to get 6 nights free at a hotel. One thing I’m kind of interested in learning is what do with the credit card after all the points are burned up? Do you just stop using it and move onto the next card or do you continue to use it and build the points back up?

  24. I use a SW credit card (or I did anyway) to get mileage that way. Right now though it’s too dangerous for me to use credit cards. Not until I have them all paid off. I’m looking forward though to redeeming some miles soon though!

    1. I would definitely wait until you pay the off!!!!! =/

  25. This makes me very jealous of the amazing incentives you guys have across the pond!!!!

    1. I’m sorry they are different where you live. =/ Trust me, I would trade credit card rewards for universal healthcare any day.

  26. I’ve been to the Sheraton Beach Resort in Nassau. We were on a cruise and bought a day pass to access the pools and the beach. They have a bar that serves food by the pool area and you can rent jet skis from the locals right at the beach. The interior of the hotel look spectacular as well. Beautiful scenery and very relaxing. It was really nice!

    1. Ohhhh….thanks! It does look super nice! And I couldn’t believe that flights were so cheap there!

  27. I don’t want to say for sure, but I think this is mostly a US thing….maybe it exists in Canada, but I’m not aware of it. Sorta like “extreme couponing” – only exists in US.

  28. Love, love, love the idea! I mean, the analytical part of me just wants to break this down real fast: let’s say you get 6 nights at $200/night (being conservative). That’s $1200 worth of rewards on ONLY $10,000 of purchases. That’s a 12% return on your money. Oh snap…I just wet my pants. lol

    In all seriousness, this is awesome. As soon as my life gets situated I’m jumping all of this type of stuff again. It’d just be hard for us to charge $5 over 6 months. We could probably make it happen if we charged everything but Mrs. WSL would not go for that. 🙂

    1. You should look at the Hyatt Card from Chase…. 2 Free nights after $1000 spend in 3 months…. example 2 nights in Paris Park Hyatt (april 19 and 20 just picked random) would cost 1560 Euro ($2102)…. 2 nights in Tokyo Park Hyatt (Lost in translation hotel), same nights would be 78000 Yen ($860).

      Totally worth the $75 annual fee to score $2100 worth of rooms in Paris….

      1. Ohhhh……….Brian. You’ve inspired me. Maybe I’ll do the Hyatt as well and book 2 days at the Hyatt in Paris. I could fly to London, stay 5 days in the Park Lane Hotel, take the nifty underground thing from London to Paris. Stay 2 days, do stuff, then fly home from Paris!

  29. It exists in Canada too but it doesn’t seem to the same extent. In an above post I mentioned I got the same Starwood offer as Holly but here in Canada there is $120 annual fee. Still worth it for all the free nights but I’m wondering if it’s worth it to sign up cancel credit cards on a somewhat regular basis and would that hurt your credit.
    Right now there’s a promotion on air miles for American Express credit cards: 500 air miles and you don’t pay the annual fee the first year or 150 air miles for a no annual fee card. I may sign up anyway but it’s not that lucrative as 500 air miles is about 40% of the miles you need to fly say Toronto to Boston or it’s maybe one night’s hotel stay or a restaurant gift card which I guess is still something!

  30. I am interested in learning more. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Look forward to hearing more about where you end up going and staying and how many points it “costs” you.

  31. Awesome! I love using rewards myself, and am heading to NYC here shortly – all paid for by credit rewards. Would love to go back to London again… Been about 4 years – love that city.

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  33. Judy Murray says:

    I actually hadn’t thought about using rewards for hotel nights. It always seems like I am spending more money trying to get the points (airfare or whatever) and if I just saved a bit each month, I could be more peaceful about it. I knew someone who took a flight from one city to the next (paid for it) just to qualify for his free ticket. Do alot of people spend money on things like that in the quest for something free (and then it’s not really free is it because you had to pay for it to get it for free). I think the idea of taking a kid free trip is very appealing though. I need to do more homework to make this one work!

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