by Jeff Hoyt
Who hasn’t received one of those marketing postcards that offer a 3-day, 2-night Florida vacation that seems too good to be true? Do you know anyone who went on such a trip, because I don’t! But there are legitimate ways to travel for free.
I’ve been accumulating credit card bonus points for years. Some I’ve turned into Amazon gift cards. Others, I’ve stockpiled. On my American Express card, I’ve been able to accrue more than 150,000 Membership Rewards points just by buying things I normally buy, whether at gas stations, in stores, or online.
As a travel writer, I have many opportunities to see the world so I hadn’t spent a lot of time examining the American Express Travel Agency website. But I was recently approached by the charge card company with an offer too good to refuse. They asked me to book my summer vacation using American Express Membership Rewards points, and they would give me 250,000 points. How could I say no?
I learned that AmEx cardholders can pay for all or part of their vacation with Membership Rewards points — not only money-saving vacation packages put together by the company, but individual flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, and even cruises. Flights can be booked on any airline without any black-out dates or restrictions, and last-minute deals are offered as well. Not only can it all be done online, but there is a toll-free number listed so I can speak to a human when needed. There are also specialists trained to help with travel to different regions, particular interests and activities available, and even some who speak foreign languages. And on certain cards, users can get a point back for every five they redeem!
As I deliberated destinations for my family, there was one constant; no matter where you go, you gotta eat. I knew that I could use my points to buy gift cards good at certain restaurant chains including California Pizza Kitchen and Morton’s The Steakhouse. But I wasn’t sure where I’d wind up dining weeks in advance. I discovered that cardholders can use points to buy OpenTable Reward Cards. These gift cards can be used instead of cash at more than 12,000 fine restaurants that work with the OpenTable reservation network. That way I can use points to eat without having to pin down exactly where I want to dine until I’m ready.
I’ll keep you posted as to where we wind up. But since I’ll be traveling with a four-year-old and a two-year-old, at the end of my family vacation, I may need a vacation!
You can click on each photo to enlarge.