Note to Plan a Trip to Europe using ebook

How to Use Travel Reward Programs to Plan Adventures

Updated 12/22/2021

Whether you are a beginner at planning travel adventures or you have been journeying around the globe for years, learning new tips and tricks to enhance your travel can always elevate your travel experiences.

One of the best travel tips for this next year is for you to sign up for travel reward programs, travel loyalty programs, or travel rewards credit cards. They will help you to earn discounts and rewards that can be redeemed for travel.

Learn to be a savvy traveler.

first class using travel reward programs

If you are a business traveler and travel regularly for work or are simply a frequent flyer, these tips are especially useful for building your reward points. Be sure to enroll in all of the pertinent travel reward programs, such as United MileagePlus:

  • Frequent flyer programs with airlines
  • Hotel loyalty rewards
  • Rental car rewards
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If you do not travel frequently enough to accrue points, signing up for a credit card that helps you earn points to be used toward travel expenses is also an option.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a great card to work toward earning points for travel.

Sign Up for Travel Reward Programs

Signing up for travel reward programs is the first step to take if you are or plan to be a frequent traveler. You’ll find more in depth information in the eBook: Plan a Trip to Europe: Essential Advice to Begin Your Travel Adventures:

“… you should decide which travel reward programs for airlines, hotel chains, and rental car companies you want to accrue points with and then stick with them as much as you can. Chris actually signed up primarily with Hilton and Marriott since some international cities only have one or the other (both chains have plentiful options across Europe with dozens of brands in their portfolios). Consider which chain(s) will work best for you as your travel reward programs. 

“Over the years, we’ve gone on many vacations where we have only paid for food and activities because travel reward programs and points covered the hotel stay, our airfare, and the rental car. It has been a blessing and has allowed us to travel to a lot of amazing destinations.”  

Plan a Trip to Europe: Essential Advice to Begin Your Travel Adventures

If you have not already signed up for any or all of the necessary travel reward programs, now is an excellent time. Make yourself a note that looks like the list below and start the enrollment process today.

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Use Travel Reward Programs to Plan Your Adventures

When you begin to plan an international trip, or even trips closer to home, you can implement these travel reward programs to enhance your travel and likely save money.

There are Six General Steps to consider and follow when planning a vacation that uses your travel reward programs and points:

  1. Decide When and How Long
  2. Choose a Destination—Be Flexible
  3. Schedule Flights
  4. Book Hotels and Places to Stay
  5. Reserve a Rental Car (if needed)
  6. Plan Places to See, Day trips, and Book Excursions
Lighthouse in Boston

Consider Travel Reward Programs As You Decide When and How Long

Begin to think about WHEN and HOW LONG would work best for your schedule as you plan your vacation and want to use travel reward programs.

Ideas to consider:

  • When do kids get out of school in the summer?
  • Should you go over Fall Break? Spring Break?
  • Is it just two of you?
  • Are you traveling solo?
  • Are there any destination holidays to consider?
  • Are there work holidays you can piggy back onto to maximize your time off from work and efficiently use travel reward programs?
  • Are you planning to travel at the peak of the travel season or during the shoulder season?

When you narrow down the WHEN and then determine the length of your trip, you can begin to search for flights and look at the availability of hotels in your destination.

This is an important step as it often focuses the rest of your planning.

Florence Italy as adventures as a couple

Choose a Destination—Be Flexible When Using Travel Reward Programs

When you are choosing a destination, you will want to also consider flights and lodging at the same time. These three key steps work hand in hand in the planning process.

Making notes throughout the planning process is essential. Use the Ultimate Travel Planner to record your flights, plan your budget, keep track of lodging and transportation, and more.

Fill The Ultimate Travel Planner with everything you need as you plan your worldwide adventures and fulfill your travel resolutions. Plan your best trip ever as you organize all of the details in this hardcover travel planning journal and notebook. Plan your budget, check off your packing list, discover places to visit and things to do, and use the TO DO lists so you don’t forget anything.

After you have determined the WHEN and FOR HOW LONG, look at the general area where you want to travel and then check to see which, if any, hotels are available for you to use travel reward points. Be flexible. At the same time, you will also need to consider flights to your destination.

Venice Italy canals and super easy ways to save money for your travel resolutions

Considerations on how to choose a destination:

  • What destinations are on your bucket list that you have always wanted to visit?
  • If you are flying to Europe, does it make more sense to fly to a centralized airport on a non-stop flight and then take the train to your final destination?
  • Have you considered that certain flights are usually cheaper on a Tuesday than a Saturday?
  • Have you checked Pinterest for travel destinations and ideas?
  • How much time do you have? If it is just a weekend, maybe consider destinations closer to home. If you have one to two weeks, consider international destinations.
  • Will you have to recover from jet lag?
  • How many people will you be traveling with and what are their ages?
  • What type of weather or experience are you hoping to have, ie., relaxation at the beach vs. hiking in the mountains?
  • What is your budget?
  • Can you be flexible on your destination and figure out the most cost-effective flights first?

If you are interested in additional tips in planning, the eBook Plan a Trip to Europe: Essential Advice to Begin Your Travel Adventures or the Online Course SUPER EASY Travel Planning (choose one or the other) are full of tips and ideas whether you are a first-time traveler or are in need of a refresher course.

Schedule Flights Using Your Travel Reward Programs

If your destination can be somewhat flexible, pin down your flights first.

along Lake Geneva in France
Park next to Lake Geneva

Begin by searching for the best flights and airports that match your general destination and dates. It takes a bit of work to pin down the specifics—you might even find a great flight home first and want to work back from there.

Try to find flights that allow for the least amount of layovers AND that use the lowest amount of your frequent flyer points.

Maximize your points as much as possible.

If, for example, you want to leave as soon as school lets out in May and you want to include the Memorial Day holiday in your trip as well as time off from work, try to find flights in that window of time. Consider the length of your flight and the number of layovers in your planning.

If you want to go to Switzerland, as another example, and you have a better chance of an upgrade or more availability on flights into the Geneva International Airport versus the Zurich International Airport, then choose Geneva and focus the rest of your vacation planning around that destination.

Being flexible is the key.

Sometimes your destination is chosen for you. Look at the surrounding airports and check flights. You may then have to take a train to reach your final destination. Be sure to figure all cost factors into your decision.

Book Hotels Using Travel Reward Programs

Depending upon the length of your stay, you might find yourselves needing to make multiple lodging reservations using your travel reward programs in multiple cities.

Continue with the scenario of a visit to Switzerland where you land at the Geneva International Airport.

In choosing a specific destination for this trip, now look at a map of Hilton properties and Marriott properties in Europe.

Hilton Properties in Europe

It looks as though there are a lot of hotel options to consider using your travel reward programs. You will need to zoom in on the map to focus on a specific location.

Hilton Properties Close to Switzerland

Knowing that you want to visit Switzerland, for this scenario, look closely at the properties in Lucerne as well as the two offerings close to Lake Geneva.

You may ultimately choose to stay at the Hilton Evian-les-Bains because it allows easy access to day trips in Switzerland as well as to some interesting places in France.

And because Switzerland is generally more expensive, this option may allow you to save on the loyalty reward points you use as well as on other expenses by staying on the French side of Lake Geneva.

You will then have to consider your DAY TRIPS AND TRANSPORTATION (that’s part of the next step), but the pay-off of using hotel points from your travel reward programs to cover the hotel in Evian is a great trade off.

If you choose this option and stay in France and take day trips to Switzerland, the added bonus is that you will get to see some fantastic scenery in France and Switzerland.

Boats on Interlaken Lake, Switzerland Europe Travel
Interlaken, Switzerland

Ideas to Consider:

Planning trips where you change hotels each night and have to pack your bags everyday is wearisome. If you can, choose a place to stay for 4 to 5 days, explore the area, and then move on to another location.

Will you be traveling with children and need adjoining rooms? If you are traveling as a family, hotels in Europe particularly limit the number of people in a room and you will often have to use your points toward two rooms.

Is your destination set? And there are NO hotels from your travel reward programs available? If so, then choosing a place to stay may require you to find alternative hotels or Airbnbs outside of your loyalty program. That’s okay. Just be sure to budget and plan for the extra expense.

You don’t have to stay on-brand all of the time.

When traveling as a family, an Airbnb (or equivalent service such as can be an economical option.

Obviously you won’t be able to use your hotel points, but an Airbnb offers some bonuses:

  • It gives everyone room to spread out
  • There are more options for storing food and making your own meals
  • You can plan for a bed for everyone
  • Parking is usually free
  • You can plan to do laundry

If your vacation is longer than a week, clean laundry is an important consideration. Try to plan a stays at an Airbnb in between hotel stays in order to have fresh laundry.

When you are looking for a place to stay in an Airbnb or other option, a reservation with a washing machine is essential.

These laundry pods are pretty awesome too!

Use Travel Reward Programs to Reserve a Rental Car

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And maybe learn how to parallel park before you go!

You will want to weigh the benefits of having a rental car with a variety of factors.

With a rental car, it is so convenient and nice to have a place to leave your things as you explore, especially if you are bringing extra jackets [affiliate], snacks, or a lunch along on your excursions.

As you research the transportation options for your chosen destination, you may find that taking the train makes the most sense or that it is better to schedule a rental car (using your rental car travel rewards) in a major city and then drive to your destination .

From the eBook, Plan a Trip to Europe: Essential Advice to Begin Your Travel Adventures

Consider your travel needs while traveling in Europe. Do you need a one-way rental? (Be aware that one-way car rentals are subject to a hefty fee.) Would it be easier to take the train? Which side of the road will you be driving on?

Except in Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom, Europeans generally drive on the right hand side of the road.

If you plan to drive while traveling in Europe, you might also consider applying for an International Driver’s License (IDL). An IDL is recommended though not required.

Chris applied through our local AAA office and was able to obtain an IDL the same day with an in-person application. The AAA website suggests allowing 4 – 6 weeks if you are mailing documents. The fee is relatively low. 

Make sure to research the travel requirements for the countries you plan to visit. For example, a vignette (toll pass) in Austria is a must if you want to avoid a ticket.

If you rent the car from a neighboring country, drive to Austria, and then return, be sure to remove the vignette from your windshield upon returning your vehicle. The rental company may charge you an extra fee for taking the rental car out of the country.

Here’s a tip to tuck into your memory banks if you ever do travel to Geneva, Switzerland: Find your way to the French sector of the airport in order to pick up your rental car. Renting a car from the French side versus the Swiss side of the airport cuts the cost of the rental significantly.

Do you have any good tips to share? Leave a note in the COMMENT section below.

Plan Places to See, Day Trips, and Book Excursions

While visiting major travel destinations, larger cities, and tourist stops, it is also just as much fun to travel out of the city, see the countryside, and explore smaller towns.

Murano Italy colorful homes along the canal
Murano, Italy

Once you have pinpointed your travel destination and booked flights, lodging, and transportation using your travel reward programs, then begin to search on Pinterest and travel websites to gather ideas, research, and scout out day trips.

TripAdvisor is another resource for determining sites to visit, finding restaurants that are recommended, and reading reviews on hotels, excursions, and restaurants. TripAdvisor has become more commercialized over the years and people question the authenticity of the reviews. Be wise in how you use it. You may still find that it contains useful information.

In addition, visit travel forums on Rick Steves’ Europe, Fodors, and Lonely Planet.

Don’t forget to bookmark travel websites such as simplyjolayne too!

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how to plan a vacation using travel rewards

Final Thoughts on 6 Essential Steps to Use Travel Reward Programs to Plan Adventures

There are many travel websites that suggest spontaneity versus planning. Sometimes you need to be spontaneous and not plan every moment of every day.

Some of your most memorable moments may come from simply wandering around a new city and searching for a place to stay once you get there. But, if it is in your nature to be a planner, and it gives you peace of mind to know where you will lay your head each evening, these steps will help in your planning process and in knowing how to use travel reward programs to maximize the points you have accrued.

Hopefully you can see the benefit to enrolling in travel rewards programs for your flights, hotels and car rentals. If you travel for work (or will once you can get back to traveling after the pandemic), accruing reward points through the travel reward programs you enrolled in is just an extra bonus for family or personal travel.

Be sure to sign up for a credit card such as Chase Sapphire Reserve as well. The rewards really do add up!

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Walk Along With Us
9 months ago

Rewards is one of our favorite ways to travel. Always trying to get my points 🙂

Fransic verso
Fransic verso
9 months ago

This is amazing! You can travel and still get rewarded. Great idea!

9 months ago

Love these tips to travel and get rewarded! Also love the shot of Nauset Light – makes me miss summer. I’ll definitely be referring back to this post to maximize my points and rewards next year!

Emilia Taneva
9 months ago

It’s amazing how much you can save by signing up for a rewards program! Thank you for this amazing help!

Josy A
9 months ago

Great tips Jolayne! I really need to get better at using these kinds of rewards. We normally get one free flight a year by saving points from our credit card, but there is sooo much more I should be doing.

9 months ago

This is such a helpful guide, thanks heaps for sharing. I love collecting points and credits

9 months ago

We love using rewards for hotels and flights, but haven’t done it for car rentals, good idea!

9 months ago

Great tips! I totally agree that enrolling in travel rewards programs are a good idea. I’ve stayed at several hotels for free using reward points!

9 months ago

I have been wanting to get into travel rewards! This was a very helpful post!

Mama Pinot
9 months ago

Thank you for sharing these awesome tips!! I’m a huge rewards junkie!! All my credit cards are linked to frequent flyer airlines and I also love using Marriott and Hilton Rewards for hotels. I love that you end up saving so much when you use points to travel.

9 months ago

oh man I really need to get in on this rewards game! We have a hotel program we like, but other than that, I think we’re really missing out!

7 months ago

Great information! I’m that friend that says. “I’ll pay. You can just Venmo me” so I can get all the travel points!

7 months ago

Rewards and using points are my favourite things, these are fantastic tips.