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This is the 6th post in my intro series to travel hacking.  For a list of other posts, check out my post on how to travel hack your way around the world.

Credit cards that give you miles or points come in two flavors: cards that give you miles or points for a particular airline or hotel, and cards that give you points in the banks’ own currency.

 

Airline/Hotel Credit Cards

When you sign up for a card like the American Express Hilton Honors card and receive the 50,000 points those points deposit straight into your Hilton Honors account and are now yours.  The banks buy points and miles directly from companies like Hilton or American Airlines at a reduced rate and then use them as bonuses to lure in new customers.

Should you cancel a co-branded card, the points you received are yours to keep, and will remain in your account.  In rare cases the points can be “clawed back” by the provider, but the general rule of thumb is that this can be avoided by keeping the card open for at least 6 months.

Co-branded cards are probably the easiest to understand. For instance, with the American Express Hilton Honors card you’ll earn 6x points at hilton properties, drugstores, supermarkets, gas stations, and phone/internet/cable purchases, and 3x points for all other purchases.  These points automatically deposit into your Hilton account after your billing statement closes, and are indistinguishable from any other Hilton points you have in your HHonors account.

 

Bank Issued Credit Cards

Bank issued cards are a different beast altogether.  Using their own currency, these types of cards come in two types: points that effectively become money, or points that transfer into miles or points.

While cards like the Capital One Venture One card give you $1 back for every 100 points you earn, the programs we’re really interested in are the Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Program, American Express’s Membership Rewards Program, and Citi’s Thank You Points program.

 

Conclusion

While co-branded credit cards are a great way to earn points on your airline or hotel of choice, padding your wallet with a few bank issued cards are a great way to increase your award options.  Over the next few days I’ll cover the 3 major programs.