How Much Can You Really Save With Credit Card Rewards?

Photo credit: Doc Searls, CC BY 2.0.

I just checked my Alaska Airlines account: currently, I have 35,336 miles, which includes the 30,000 mile bonus I got with my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card and is more than enough for a free flight.

Yes, the card comes with a $75 annual fee, but… free flight. Free checked bags. Since I pay the card off in full, I’m coming out ahead by at least $500 this year. (The Points Guy values my 35,336 miles at $671.)

Which is why I was super-interested in this CNBC article that details exactly how much one woman saved by signing up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card:

The travel credit saved me $600. The card offers a $300 annual travel credit reimbursement each calendar year, which I earned both in 2016 and 2017.

Rather than thinking about the travel credit as savings, however, I like to think about it as a perk that lowers the annual fee: The rebate essentially bumps the fee down from $450 a year to $150 a year.

That’s before she starts counting up rewards points and bonus points. (You’ll have to read the whole article to find out exactly how much she saved through points and perks, but it was way more than I was expecting—especially compared to that guy who bought a car with his credit card to get the rewards.)

I didn’t really consider getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve because its biggest bonus requires putting $4,000 on the card in three months, which is more than I usually put on a credit card. However, CNBC’s Kathleen Elkins figured out a way to cover the cost:

I worked around this by putting big group tabs on the card when my friends and I went out and asking my family to use it for bigger expenses, like flights or hotels. After I picked up the bill, friends and family paid me back via Venmo.

That’s one way of doing it.

(My first thought was “but then your family doesn’t get their points for flights and hotels,” and then I realized that they could log into their airline or hotel rewards account and still get points for the booking. They just wouldn’t get the additional points that come with making the booking via a special credit card.)

Does anyone here have the Chase Sapphire Reserve? Or any other miles or points cards you want to discuss in the comments? I only recently started getting back into the credit card points game, having stepped away from the whole thing while paying down around $17,000 in credit card debt, so I’m curious how y’all do it.

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