Forums and Research

Cruise Critic – A great resource for cruise information. They have a lot of good posts and cruising news, but the real gem of Cruise Critic are the forums. My username on Cruise Critic is awestover89 and I mostly hang out on the Royal Caribbean forums, but there are also forums for finding airfare, general cruising questions, and for all ports of call.

TripAdvisor – A very well known resource; you’ve probably seen businesses advertise their TripAdvisor reviews. This is a great resource for all your destination questions; research hotels, attractions, restaurants, and anything else you could want to know about before going somewhere new. They also have a decent travelers forum to answer more specific questions you may have.

FlyerTalk – One of if not the best resources for getting into the points and miles game. They have excellent forums to discuss strategies for maximizing earning frequent flyer and hotel rewards points as well as how to maximize the value of the points you have earned.

The Points Guy – Probably my personal favorite resource. The Points Guy shares information on earning and spending points and miles, provides reviews of hotels and flights, shares excellent airfare deals when they are available, and makes recommendations for travel credit cards. By following his posts we have already earned enough miles for a domestic flight in first class and an international flight in economy for no money out of pocket.

City Data – A wide variety of forums, but good resources for US states as well as some international destinations. There is also a travel specific sub-forum. While not as specialized as the other forums on this page, there can be some really good information here.

Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Reserve – This is the travel rewards credit card. It is a premium card with a rather high annual fee ($450) but that annual fee gets you a lot of perks; access to select airport lounges through the Priority Pass Select program (valued at $99 per year plus $27 per lounge you visit), Free Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check (valued at $100 per 5 years), $300 annual travel reimbursement (valued at $300 per year), travel protection, 3 times points on travel and dining purchases, 50,000 bonus points on sign-up, and points are valued at 150% when used to purchase travel through Chase’s portal. That means that your 50,000 point sign-up bonus is valued at $500 cash back/statement credit, or $750 in free travel.

Chase Freedom – At first glance Chase Freedom is a very basic, standard, cash back credit card. It has 1% cash back on all purchases with rotating 5% cash back categories that change every quarter. The real value, however, is that like all Chase cards the Freedom earns Ultimate Rewards Points. If you have another Chase credit card with travel benefits, such as the Sapphire Reserve above, or the slightly cheaper Sapphire Preferred, you can transfer points earned on your Freedom to the travel card and take advantage of the increased value when redeeming points for travel. If you’d rather not deal with rotating 5% categories, you can also opt for the Freedom Unlimited, which is just a flat 1.5% earned on all purchases.

Citi Double Cash – While not strictly a travel card, the Citi Double Cash has one of the simplest and best cash back rewards options. Earn a flat 2% back on all purchases, 1% at time of purchase and an additional 1% at time of payment. No need to worry about categories or limits, just spend and earn.

Alaska Airlines Signature Visa – Airline and hotel co-branded credit cards are always a very personal decision, depending on what airline you tend to fly the most. When we lived in Alaska having the Alaska Airlines Signature Visa credit card was amazing. Free checked bags, discounted one way fares, and an annual companion fare saved us a
lot of money when flying to and from Alaska. Alaska’s network is primarily on the west coast, but they also have a strong partnership with American Airlines. If you have a specific airline you frequently fly, I would highly recommend looking into their co-branded credit card to see what the perks are. Sometimes they will be worth it, sometimes not, all depending on your personal travel plans.

With credit cards there are two big points to make:

  1. Points are only worthwhile if you can pay off your card. Even the Chase Sapphire Reserve, with a maximum effective point value of 4.5% (3% on travel and dining, plus the 150% bonus when used to book travel) has an interest rate significantly higher than the points rate. If you are carrying a balance and paying interest, any rewards you earn won’t make up the cost.
  2. Keep an eye on fees. Annual fees are the obvious thing to look out for, but there are other fees to keep in mind, especially for a traveler. Some credit cards will charge a foreign transaction fee of up to 3% on all purchases that are made in a foreign country or through a foreign website. I highly recommend having at least one credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees; those fees can add up quickly and can take a very large chunk out of your travel budget.