Travel·Posted on Sep 9, 2022This Is How To Earn And Spend Credit Card Points Like A Boss — According To A Guy Who Currently Has 12 Million Airline MilesWelcome to the confusing, rewarding world of credit card points.by Evie CarrickBuzzFeed ContributorFacebookPinterestTwitterMailLink I've met people who know how to leverage credit card points to fly first class to Fiji, but I've never really understood how they did it. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF Universal Pictures / Via giphy.com The world of credit card points has always felt a bit like trigonometry to me — you know that mastering it is possible, but is it really worth all the work? That's why after years of only benefiting from the occasional free domestic flight, I talked to the guy who has over 12 million airline miles and flies for free all over the world. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF Abso Lutely / Via giphy.com Enter Chris Hutchins, a guy who gets a kick out of flying first class for free — and does it often. In fact, he's so serious about hacking life that he started All the Hacks, a chart-topping podcast where he shares his secrets. I was lucky enough to chat with Hutchins and ask him what felt like a million questions on credit card points and travel. THANK YOU, CHRIS. Here's what I learned: 1. The first thing you need to do is figure out what you spend the most money on. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF NBC / Via giphy.com Before you pick a credit card, you need to determine the areas where you tend to spend the most money. Gas? Groceries? Flights? "Mint [a budgeting app] or your credit card company will show you where you spend your money," said Hutchins. Once you know what areas you spend the most, you can find a credit card that rewards you for making those purchases. 2. Then, find a credit card that gives you lots of points for every dollar you spend. Skaman306 / Getty Images A standard credit card might give you 1 point for every $1 you spend. That means if you spend $40 on gas, you would get 40 credit card points.But, if you drive for work and buy a lot of gas, it might make sense to sign up for a card like the Citi Premier Card, which gives you 3 points for every dollar spent on gas. Using that card at the pump would result in 120 points rather than 40."I don't think everyone needs to go get cards for everything they spend money on — look at the things you spend a lot of money on," he said. "For most people, the optimal solution is one card where you spend a lot of money and one card where you spend money that's not in those bonus categories." 3. For most people, one or two of these four credit cards is the best choice. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF CBS / Via giphy.com The credit cards Hutchins recommends for people who are interested in accumulating points are listed below. (It's worth noting that this is just general advice — everyone is different.)- Citi Premier gives you 3 points for every dollar spent on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel, and hotels. - Chase Sapphire Preferred gives you 3 points on dining and restaurants worldwide and online grocery shopping and 2 points on all other travel. - Capital One Venture gives you 2 miles for every dollar spent on anything.- Bilt gives you 1 point for every dollar you spent on rent (yep, that's right), plus 2 points on travel and 3 points on dining. 4. Credit cards from Chase, Capital One, Amex, and Citi tend to be better than airline cards. Violetastoimenova / Getty Images If you fly United Airlines a lot, and like the perk of a free checked bag, a MileagePlus card might be a good choice, but in general, credit cards from banks and companies like Chase, Capital One, Amex, and Citi tend to be better than airline cards. Why? Because they often reward you with more points for every dollar spent AND with bank cards, you can transfer your points to whatever airline you want. You don't have to book a United flight if the American flight is better."When you have an Amex card, you can book [the flight] in the Amex portal, or they partner with 19 airlines and you can transfer [points] to any of those 19 airlines and book it on their site," Hutchins explains. You don't have that flexibility if you accumulated your points with an airline credit card. 5. And of course, a card with a killer signup bonus is always more attractive — and may result in a free flight. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF Universal Pictures / Via giphy.com One way to accumulate points fast is to choose a card with a nice signup bonus. For example, you might get a free flight just by signing up for a card (you typically have to spend a certain amount of money in the first few months to get the point bonus).This is part of why Hutchins has accumulated so many credit cards. "I was never the person opening up 15 to 20 cards a year, but I was the person who anytime I saw a card with a100,000 or 80,000 point bonus, I'd sign up," he said. 6. If you want to make point collection part of your lifestyle, take a cue from Hutchins, who has 14 credit cards, but only uses these three cards regularly. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF Paramount Pictures / Via giphy.com Accumulating credit card points the way Hutchins does is not something most people have time for or an interest in. But, if you're curious (like I was), he says these "are probably the three cards I use the most, in fact of the 14, these are the cards I use for almost all of my spending." - AMEX Gold, which gives 4 points per dollar spent at supermarkets and restaurants- Chase Sapphire Reserve, which gives 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining- Capital One Venture X, which is the catch-all card that gives 2 points per dollar spent on everything and anythingHutchins uses his other 11 cards for rare one-off purchases that make sense. For example, he says it's smart to use the Marriott Bonvoy credit cards, which give you up to 6 points for every dollar spent, at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy. 7. Keep in mind that some cards with awesome point-to-dollar ratios also have hefty annual fees. Delmaine Donson / Getty Images The Chase Sapphire Reserve that Hutchins uses, for example, has a $550 annual fee. 😬 Meanwhile, most of the "starter cards" he recommended in #3 have a more doable annual fee: between $0 and $95. 8. Once you have the card, the easiest way to rack up points is to spend big. Picking up the tab at dinner and booking group trips is an easy way to earn points quickly. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF NBC / Via giphy.com When Hutchins first got into the credit card game, this was his main method — and it worked like a charm. "Every time we went to dinner, I offered to pick up the tab, and people would give me cash," he said. "Every time I had the opportunity to put something on my card, I would."Then, he started organizing group trips and events just so he could put the charges on his credit card. "Once all my friends started getting married or getting engaged, I'd plan all the bachelor parties. ... People would send me the money, and I'd book all the stuff. I'd end up putting 15 flights on a credit card to New Orleans," he said. 9. And if you travel for work, see if you can use your personal card rather than the company card to book flights and hotels. Morsa Images / Getty Images When Hutchins started traveling for work, he would use his personal credit card to book, then request a reimbursement. It was a little more work than just using the company card, but he was able to rack up a lot of points. 10. If you have no idea what card you should use for what purchases, this app might help. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF CBS / Via giphy.com As you can imagine, deciding what card to use for what purchases can be tricky. When you're not sure, Hutchins recommends using the CardPointers app. The app will tell you which of your cards will give you the best reward for various purchases. "They are not linking to your bank account, they are not learning how you spend money," Hutchins explained. "They'll just tell you for common categories [like flights or gas] and for all the cards you have, these are the best for spending." 11. And if you have a big purchase to make, buy it through a credit card shopping portal. Fg Trade / Getty Images Many credit cards now have their own shopping portals — and they'll give you points just for buying things through their portals.So, if you buy a pair of $180 Apple AirPods through the United MileagePlus shopping portal, you might earn 180 points (1 point for every $1). And by purchasing the same AirPods through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Freedom portal, you might earn you 360 points (2 points for every $1). The trick is mastering CashbackMonitor, a site that lets you search shopping portals to compare earning rates (for free)."Anytime I'm about to buy anything of substantial value, say over $100, I go to CashbackMonitor, and it will tell you which of the shopping portals give you the highest points back," Hutchins said.It might not sound like much, but Hutchins says sometimes you might be able to earn 10 points per dollar spent. In that case, you would earn 1,800 points just for buying your AirPods through a shopping portal. 12. Most credit cards let you transfer points to whatever airline you choose, but finding the best reward flights can be tricky. This site helps. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF Netflix / Via giphy.com One of the biggest perks of going with a credit card from Chase, Capital One, Amex, or Citi is that you can transfer your points to any of their transfer partners. (For more, re-read #4.)But the trick can be deciding if you should transfer the points to Delta or United. Hutchins uses Point.me for this cumbersome task. "They'll go search all 30 airline websites, and you can tell them what points you have, and they'll tell you where to transfer points," he explained, noting that the site charges $5 for a day pass and has annual memberships. 13. Another option is to search just one airline in each of the three major flight alliances in order to find the best reward flights. Delmaine Donson / Getty Images Most airlines are part of one of the world's three major flight alliances: SkyTeam, Oneworld, and Star Alliance. So, if you're curious what airline you should transfer your points to, all you need to do is search one airline in each of the three alliances. For example, a search in Delta will also pull up AirFrance flights.Hutchins says he will do a quick search on one airline under each of the three alliances. "Maybe it adds 30 minutes to the process and could save you half on the trip or more," he said. 14. Typically, you'll find the best reward flights early on or at the last minute. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF Bounce / Via giphy.com Airlines put aside a certain number of reward seats for each flight, but the trick is finding and securing these rewards seats when they're still a good deal. "There's not a hard and fast rule, but I'd say planning a trip as far out as possible or as short as possible are your best options," he said. And as you might guess, flexibility is key. "The more flexibility you have either on when you go, where you go, or how far in advance you plan, the more confident I am that you’ll find an incredible deal. ... If you're flexible, it will almost always work out."In general, he sticks to the "one penny a mile rule," so, for a $1,000 flight, you need to find a reward seat that is100,000 points or less, or it doesn't make sense. 15. Using your points for rental cars, seat upgrades, and hotels is almost never worth it. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF NBC / Via giphy.com It can be tempting to use your points for that weekend car rental or to offset the cost of your hotel, but Hutchins says redeeming points for cars, upgrades, and hotels is almost never worth it. "Using miles and points that are not part of a rental car program to rent a car is almost never a good deal," he explained, noting that "On the whole, airline points are worth a lot more than hotel points."He says that if you have flexible points (points earned via a bank card, not an airline card), the "best value comes out of booking international flights and Hyatt hotels." 16. By the way, none of this advice applies if you can't pay your credit cards off in full every month. Tap to play GIF Tap to play GIF Comedy Central / Via giphy.com The perks you might get from opening credit cards, racking up charges, and transferring points is never worth it if you can't pay your credit card off in full each month."None of this applies to anyone who isn’t able to pay their cards off in full every month — so, no amount of interest is worth the perks," Hutchins said. 17. And finally, no matter what, you need to be super mindful of your credit history. Milan2099 / Getty Images Don't think you can open and close credit cards on a whim without paying for it in the long run. If you open a card, you need to keep it around.Hutchins explained that "The length of your credit history is valuable — if you have a card with a long credit history, downgrade it to a card with no fee, and try to put one purchase on it a year to keep it open."