Meet Cindy Greenstein The Points Mom

I am a huge fan of The Points Mom, Cindy Greenstein.   I have been diligently following her tips on Instagram on how to maximize my credit points for travel benefits.  She is always on the go!!!
Finally, I sat down with her and found out all the deets on her latest trips and tips.

What was the best trip you took with just points?

If by best you mean the one in which I got the best redemption, then that trip would be a stay at The St. Regis in Aspen back in 2018. The trip was before Marriott went to dynamic pricing, meaning that properties had caps as to how many points per night they could charge. I had 2 rooms for 5 nights at a mere 30k points per night with the fifth night free. (If you book with Marriott points, you always get the 5th night free).  The cost of the rooms had we stayed at the resort in the heart of ski season, would have been $13,350 per room. So I got the $26,000 hotel stay just using Bonvoy points.

 I saw on your Instagram that you were just in Greece! Tell us how many points did you use?  Did you spend any cash?

We flew Emirates business class that I booked with Emirates Miles that I transferred in from Amex. I used 250k Amex Points to transfer for flights that would have cost about $11,000 had we paid! I also stayed at 3 top resorts using points, my best redemption being at the Canaves Oia Suites where I used 200k World Of Hyatt points for a stay that would have cost $9500 on the day I booked it. In Athens, we used a Free Night Certificate that comes with our Amex Bonvoy credit card. The room was 70,000 points for the night and our 85,000 Free Night Certificate covered that. 

In Crete, we stayed at a Bonvoy property using 70,000 points per night for 4 nights. This one may have made sense for me to pay for as the value of the points that I used (about $2400) was more than the stay would have cost (about $1600). But I often say that there is also a subjective component to value and I did not want to outlay $1600 for my Crete stay. I earn points and miles pretty easily being smart as to what card I use on my spending, so sometimes I am ok losing a little bit of value on redemptions.

I did spend money on all of our meals and excursions. Sometimes I don’t mind splurging a bit on these things because I can justify the little bit of extra expense with the fact that we are flying and staying using rewards. 


  What is the best credit card for reward points?

This is hard to answer and I think it should be what is the “best credit card for you”. My answer is different based on what you spend your $ on, whether you have a business, what your travel goals are, and even what airport you live by in terms of it being a hub for certain airlines. 
But if I was going to have to say one, my current answer (it changes) would be the Capital One Venture. It has a reasonable annual fee of $95, a big bonus right now (75,000 Miles), you earn 2x Miles on ALL PURCHASES and you can redeem your Miles for ANY TRAVEL paid for on your card. You are not limited to using your rewards thru the bank’s travel portals like you are forced to do with the other big banks (Chase, Amex, Citi). 


 How do I maximize my airline miles?

Ironically, the way to maximize your airline miles is NOT by using airline credit cards. You earn more rewards per $1 with flexible cards offered by Amex, Chase, Citi, and Cap One. These flexible rewards can be transferred to your airline loyalty programs. An easy example is if you have a Delta SkyMiles Card, you earn 2x Delta Miles per $1 on dining and groceries. But, if you had an Amex Gold card, you earn 4x Amex Points per $1 on dining and groceries. AMEX POINTS TRANSFER TO YOUR DELTA ACCOUNTS AT 1:1. So if maximizing your Delta SkyMiles is your goal, you will do much better with a card that earns flexible Amex Points versus a card that earns Delta Miles. 
Another easy way is to try to fly the same airline so that you can possibly get some sort of status. The higher your status on certain airlines, the more miles you earn per trip. And know, you can also get airline status by spending with certain airline credit cards, so I do like airline cards for that but not as cards to maximize your airline miles. 

  What don’t you charge on a credit card?

If a vendor is going to charge a fee in order for you to use a card you need to be careful. As long as you are using a card in which you are earning more than 1 FLEXIBLE REWARD per $1, and the fee is 3% or less, then feel free to still use a card as the rewards you are earning in terms of value are more than the fee you are paying, BUT, if you are using a card in which you earn just 1x per $1 on the charge and/or are paying more than a 3% fee, this is where I would NOT use a credit card. 

  Do you ever spend cash?

I really never have cash and often do not find that I need cash. I even use credit cards in vending machines. I try to remember to always have the cash to tip drivers, luggage handlers, etc when I travel, so I do need cash there. But other than that, and especially in my everyday life, I barely ever touch cash. 


 What if I don’t travel, where can I get gift cards?

Most of the FLEXIBLE rewards credit card portals offer gift cards BUT, I would only use rewards on a gift card if you are getting a minimum of 1 cent per point, meaning you need just 50,000 points for a $500 gift card. If you need any more than 50k for that same gift card, I would not use the points at that time. 
Some portals offer gift cards at 1 cent. A client actually just alerted me to the fact that you can use your Citi ThankYou points for Bloomingdale’s gift cards at the rate of 1 cent per point, who knew? Also, you can watch for specials in your credit card portals for gift cards. But the bottom line, you get the most bang for your buck using your rewards for travel. 


  How can I maximize credit card rewards?

The best way is to put all of your spendings on credit cards. You can actually go thru your bank accts, etc, and see where you are spending cash and see if those outlays of $ can be moved to a credit card. BUT in addition, you can also maximize your rewards by using the right card for certain expenses. You should use the card where you earn the most rewards per $1 based on what you are spending $ on. So that may be a different card for groceries, gas, dining, utilities, and gym membership. But don’t get nervous, 2-3 cards can usually cover every category at the maximum rate of earning. 


 How can I Maximize bonus category spend?

By knowing which cards to pull out based on where you are spending and what you are spending on. Certain cards have multipliers for things like dining, groceries, gas, travel, and certain business expenses like advertising, shipping, etc. Using “the right card” for all of your spending will ensure that you are maximizing bonus category spending. 


 Which card has the best Sign-up bonuses?

Right now the bonuses are raised and very good for the Capital One Venture ($95) which is 75,000 Miles after spending $4k in 3 months. 
Another increased bonus right now is for the Citi ThankYou Premier card ($95) which is a great card that earns 3x ThankYou points on dining, groceries, gas, and travel. The Bonus is 80,000 ThankYou Points when you spend $4k in 3 months. 
I think we will see some increased bonuses for one of my favorite Chase cards this fall, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Right now the bonus is 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4000 in 3 months. 
Also, there are a lot of increased bonus offers right now on the Bonvoy cards offered by Chase and Amex, the Delta cards, some United cards and the JetBlue and American cards offered by Barclays and Citi. But, I would not get one of these cards without a solid reason like you really need these miles or you want to pursue status. 


 Which are the best travel credit cards for domestic travel?  International travel?

If we are talking about cards that offer travel benefits and protections when you travel, then there are a few that I would say. Some of them have higher annual fees but they have amazing benefits and offer travel protection (most of the $95 cards offer travel protections too). 
I would say the Amex Platinum ($695) is my favorite card for travel benefits (NOT FOR SPENDING AS U JUST GET 1X PER $1 ON YOUR SPENDING). I also really like the Capital One Venture X ($395) and both the Chase Sapphire Reserve ($550) and the Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95). My answer is pretty much the same for International travel, the most important thing with International travel is you want to make sure you are using a card that does NOT have foreign transaction fees. 

 Maybe I just spend my points online shopping. Which card do you recommend?

Remember, most of the time when you use points for shopping, you do not redeem at 1 cent per point. So for people who would rather use rewards for online shopping, I recommend one of a number of cash-back cards because, with cash-back cards, you generally redeem at 1% as a statement credit.
I like the Citi Double Cash card-This card has no fee and with this card you earn 2% back on ALL your purchases, earning 1% when you charge and 1% when you pay. 
Wells Fargo also has a nice 2% cash-back card with no fee. It is called the Active Cash Card. This card also earns 2% back on all spending.
Then there are some cards that earn 1.5% back on spending (also with no fee), like the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Capital One Quicksilver cards. 

What are your favorite travel rewards cards?

I definitely have favorites, but not for spending on them, just for benefits. And the reason is, the benefits, if used correctly, can wash away the annual fees (often high annual fees).
I love the Amex Hilton Aspire card. Even though the fee is $450, you get a $250 annual resort credit, a $250 incidental airline fee credit each year, and my favorite, a free weekend night at ANY HILTON property. I have used this free night at the Grand Wailea in Maui, the Waldorf in Park City, and a few times at the Waldorf in Beverly Hills. Had I stayed at these properties, I would have been looking at about $1k per night. You also get the highest Hilton status with this card, Diamond, which gives you free breakfast during your stay. 
Rob has the Amex Delta Platinum card ($295) which helps him to keep his Delta Platinum status if he falls short from flying (he usually does) by giving him the ability to earn Status Miles from spending on the card. This spending on an airline card is an exception, as even though he will only earn 1x mile per $1 on most of his spending with this card, he needs to spend a certain amount to maintain his status. 
I also love my World Of Hyatt Card ($95) for the same reason, it gives me the ability to spend my way to keep my Globalist status (highest Hyatt status) if I can’t make it with nights actually stayed. 

 What about hotel points?

Hotel points can obviously come in handy for free stays, but I only recommend using hotel credit cards when you are staying at the hotel and earn nice multipliers often like 6x per $1. Hotel cards should not be used for everyday spending to earn hotel points. Instead, using a flexible card where you will earn more per $1 whose points transfer to your hotel loyalty program of choice is the way to go. 

 Are Reward points worth it?

I guess my answer here is why wouldn’t you earn rewards that can be used for something if given the ability to? There is no reason to ever use cash for anything, it is a waste. Debit cards too, are a waste. You may as well use something that will give you some type of reward and use those rewards even if you are not using them for the best redemptions. At least you are earning something! 


 How do I get the most out of my credit card rewards?

First, use the rewards on travel. As I talk about above, you can usually get at least 1 cent per reward on travel and not often on other types of merchandise. 
And if you use them on travel, here is some info based on the types of rewards you are using…
FLEXIBLE REWARDS-You should always compare where you will use less either by using them as $ for travel or by transferring them to a hotel or airline partner. I make this comparison every time I go to use my rewards. 
Specific loyalty program rewards, like the airline miles and hotel points-make sure you are not using a lot of rewards for a low-price item like an inexpensive flight or hotel room. It may be better to pay here and save your rewards for a bigger redemption. All points and miles have a value that can be looked up. So you can make decisions using these numbers. 


Which credit card points are worth the most?

I use valuations from some of the bigger points and miles gurus in the business. Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards usually come in the highest at about 2 cents per point. Close runner-ups are Capital One Miles and Citi ThankYou Points which come close to 2 cents per point. Notice that I did not list any specific airline or hotel loyalty program rewards in this answer. :-). 


Is there a Credit card rewards points calculator?

It would be nice if one existed, I do my calculations by hand when I am figuring out…
    a. Whether or not to use my rewards for a stay, flight, etc. 
    b. If I am going to use rewards, which method comes out less (using my rewards as $ or transferring them to a partner). 

 Which are the most popular credit card reward programs?

Again, this answer may depend on where you live and what airport your hub is. So for example, in Atlanta, Delta SkyMiles is probably the most popular but if your hub is Newark, then likely United MileagePlus Miles. As for hotels, most people flock to Bonvoy which has the most resorts and a wide array of properties from budget to high-end. Based on what I see they are the most popular because there were many loyal SPG fans in the past that just naturally made the shift to Marriott Bonvoy when the programs merged. 
But, Bonvoy changed to dynamic pricing back in the spring, meaning there are no more aware charts. Bonvoy can charge whatever amount of points they want now based on demand. Some other properties like Hyatt, still use an award chart. So redemptions for these properties are often fewer but harder to find because they do not have as many hotels. 

  Are there amazon credit card rewards points?

Chase makes an Amazon card where you get 5% back as an Amazon Prime member on all of your Amazon and Whole Foods purchases. It is hard to beat 5% back and if you have this card, I recommend you always use it for Amazon and Whole Foods. 

 Do credit card rewards points expire?

The points that you earn on FLEXIBLE REWARDS CARDS (Amex MR, Chase UR, Citi ThankYou, Cap One Miles) do NOT expire ever. But you should try to use these instead of amassing big balances because they can lose value. 
As for airline miles and hotel points that you earn with airline and hotel cards, some do and some don’t. If you are going to earn loyalty rewards and have balances, you should be aware of this and expiration dates. Usually, the programs will email you if you have a balance that is due to expire. And often, you can do something really small like donate 1k points, buy a small item with points, transfer points, etc to extend the expiration dates. Of the big US airline programs, really only American Airlines has expiration dates at this point (annoying). Hotels are more likely to have expiration dates with their programs. 

  Credit card rewards points or miles?

If you are asking which is better, these are just the names they give the rewards in their programs, so there is no answer to which is better points or miles. And it even gets more confusing when an airline calls their rewards currencies “points” as JetBlue does and other programs that aren’t airline specific call their rewards “miles” like Capital One does. 

 What are some ways to build credit card reward points quickly?

Apply for cards with big bonuses and spend the money to meet the minimum spend. I know many people are hesitant to apply for credit cards and when you do apply, your credit score does take a little ding. But know that in a few months, and now having an additional credit line, your credit score will come back even stronger. 
Another thing you can do to earn points quickly is buying gift certificates with your credit cards for money you know you will spend in the future anyway. So like buy yourself a big Amazon gift card, etc with your credit cards to earn more rewards faster. 
Also, make sure that if you have kids that you still support, they have additional cards to use and are all contributing to the family pot of points and miles! 


Can you teach anyone how to maximize their points?

Yes, I can as long as they are willing to probably make a few tweaks to their credit card inventory and possibly add a card or 2 and possibly downgrade (maybe cancel) a card or 2. And they are willing to pull “the right card” for their spending. 🙂