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My neighborhood friend Helene told me that she had just booked a cruise for her family on the Carnival Vista out of Miami during the summer of 2018. How exciting! Since the trip is over a year away, she asked me for advice on accumulating miles and points for flights to Florida and a few hotel nights pre-cruise.
First, I must applaud Helene for planning in advance! It’s much easier to accumulate miles and points and use them when you have time to spare vs. trying to book points redemptions at the last minute.
And second, I must admit I’m a little jealous. Have you seen photos or video of the Carnival Vista? It looks awesome!
Since Helene and her husband are new to accumulating miles and points via credit card sign-ups, I want to make this process as simple as possible. Although there are a dozen credit card combinations that could accomplish their goal, I want to recommend the least number of cards, and ones that don’t have upfront annual fees.
Newbies to this process most likely don’t have to worry about Chase’s 5/24 rule or Amex’s lifetime bonus per card rule, so that makes it a little easier to make recommendations.
Flights: The cheapest way to get from Dallas to the Miami area on points is going to be on Southwest airlines. Southwest points prices fluctuate based on cash prices, and Southwest does not have limited award availability like other airlines. Southwest flies into Fort Lauderdale, but Helene and her family can easily take a shuttle to the Miami cruise port.
Hotels: I’m recommending SPG or Marriott hotels for their pre-cruise stay, since there are so many to choose from in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area. Also, the Amex SPG credit card currently has a higher bonus of 35k for a limited time.
For flights and a few pre-cruise hotel stays, it is only necessary for Helene’s family to apply for a total of two credit cards. And both credit cards I’m recommending have annual fees waived the first year! However, the order of applications and timing is important.
Step One: Apply for Amex SPG for Hotel Points
The first card that Helene or her husband should apply for is the Amex Starwood Preferred Guest card (SPG). The reason this application needs to be first is that the higher bonus of 35k points expires on April 5, 2017. After that, the bonus will most likely drop to 25k points. The annual fee is waived the first year.
Before applying, Helene should go online and join the SPG loyalty program. It’s free to get an account number, and I think it simplifies the process of using points on the credit card.
Next, apply for the Amex SPG card. To get the bonus points, you must spend $3000 in the first three months, then another $2000 within the first six months. Write down the date you apply, because the clock starts ticking from the date the bank approves you for the card, not the date you activate your card.
In total, you must spend $5000 over six months to get the bonus of 35k points. Combined with the spending to get the bonus, they will have 40k SPG points to use. They can use those points for SPG hotels, or convert them at a 1:3 ratio to Marriott points.
If Helene converts the 40k points to Marriott, she will have 120,000 Marriott points. That’s enough for three nights at Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa. The resort is right on the beach and has an 8000 square foot lagoon pool and a kids’ club!
Another great choice is the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. It has a skywalk that connects the pool to the beach, as well as a spa and tennis center. It costs 10,000 SPG points per night, but the 5th night is free. So they could stay here for 5 nights using 40k SPG points.
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Step Two: Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred for Southwest Points
Wait, why wouldn’t I recommend applying for the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card to get Southwest points? In this situation, I think the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) is a better fit.
The CSP’s annual fee is waived the first year, but the fee on the Southwest card is not. The CSP earns Ultimate Rewards points which you can transfer to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio. However, you can also transfer the points to other transfer partners, like United and Hyatt, or use them for cash back.
The sign-up bonus for the CSP is 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4000 in the first three months. If you add an authorized user who makes a purchase within the first three months, you get an additional 5000 points. Combined with the minimum spending, you have 59,000 points.
I recommend that Helene or her husband apply for this card after meeting the minimum spending on the SPG Amex. Since Southwest Airlines does not release flight schedules until closer to departure, she has plenty of time to accumulate these points for her flights.
Based on this year’s points cost for Dallas to Fort Lauderdale in June, points earned from the CSP should be enough to cover round-trip flights for Helene’s family of three.
This card does pay us commission if you apply through our site.
Bonus Steps: Apply for Credit Cards to Offset Cruise Price
The two steps above to accumulate points for flights and hotel require two credit card applications and $9000 of spending over a period of nine months (or $1000 per month). For most people, that is doable based on charging gas, groceries and other normal living expenses. This will save Helene’s family over $1400 in flights in hotel expenses for their trip!
However, if they want to take this a step further, there are other card options they could use to help offset the price of the cruise.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus has 40,000 bonus points after spending $3000 in the first 90 days. The annual fee is waived the first year. The card earns 2X points on everything!
You can use those points to erase $400 of travel expenses from your statement for charges up to 120 days in the past. A card with similar benefits it the Capital One Venture Card. See our Hot Deals section for more info on these cards.
I understand that applying for many credit cards can be overwhelming for people new to this hobby, so I recommend sticking with the plan to get flights and hotel nights secured first.
Tips for Newbies
Take it slow. Apply for one card at a time, until you meet the minimum spending to trigger the bonus points.
Stay organized. Write down your card approval dates as well as the deadline for meeting the minimum spending.
Use family income on applications. Laws allow married couples to use joint family income on applications. This is helpful if one spouse stays at home or has a job with lower income.
Pay off your credit card balances each month. The goal of this miles and points hobby is to gain rewards for spending that you already do. Don’t go into debt.
Good luck, Helene, and keep me posted on your progress!
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.