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A Solo Traveler’s Guide to Points & Miles/Award Travel
Using points and miles earned from credit card spend is a great way to experience travel while keeping more cash inside your pockets. While the basics of earning and redeeming miles are similar no matter what type of traveler you are, solo travelers can have some adjustment to their strategies in order to make award travel a consistent thing.
Benefits of being a solo traveler for award travel
Solo travelers enjoy certain advantages mainly with navigating through award availability and trying out different properties with little resistance from other humans.
Solo travelers undoubtedly have the most advantage when it comes to securing an award ticket. Award space can be hard to come by, and there may be times where an airline would only release a single award ticket within a flight. Travelers with companions might need to stagger their flight dates which can introduce another layer of issue to tackle, and is especially challenging if children are in the picture. Or, they can accept that they might not be able to fly Business or First Class together if award availability is too hard to come by.
On the hotels side, solo travelers can get the best availability (and a few times prices, too) especially in Europe or East Asia where it can be rough to book an award night with 3+ guests. Worst case scenario, families may have to book a second room, which would then double the price for hotels.
Solo travelers don’t have to consult or compromise with traveling companions, and they can just go with whatever their flexibility allow!
Solo travelers would likely have easier time hotel hopping. Hotel hopping generally means switching accommodation between days in the same area to manage hotel costs, or simply trying out different properties. Some hotel status makes it easier to hotel hop thanks to guaranteed 4pm late checkout like Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite and World of Hyatt Globalist.
Being a solo traveler means you won’t have to consult anyone else since hotel hopping can be a time-consuming process, and not everyone will want to keep switching accommodations, especially at the same setting.
Drawbacks of being a solo traveler for award travel
Solo travelers can feel limitation with points resources as the burden of earning and redeeming points are dependent on themselves, rather than having someone else to help out with the costs.
Slower points accumulation rate
The solo approach to points accumulation would definitely be slower due to not being able to refer each other and having less opportunities for signup bonuses. Having a Player 2 would also greatly help circumvent credit card restrictions like Chase 5/24 rule too since some issuers can be sensitive with credit card application/acceptance velocity.
Hotels become more expensive
One of the nicest things about hotel programs is the ease to pool points under one account. Unfortunately, solo travelers won’t likely be able to take advantage of it, thus bearing all the costs themselves.
The burn rate for hotel points is overall much faster than airline miles, so solo travelers have a harder time with hotel redemptions than flights. While solo travelers could hotel hop to help mitigate expenses, it still won’t be as meaningful than having someone else to help foot the bill.
Recommended Hotel Credit Cards for Solo Travelers
Chase IHG Premier Business Credit Card
The Chase IHG Premier Business Credit Card boasts a $99 annual fee, but comes with a free night certificate worth 40k IHG points that can be topped up with unlimited IHG points. The main draw for this card is the 4th night free benefit when booking 3 consecutive nights in a single stay. Compared to other programs like Marriott and Hilton that gives 5th night free instead, IHG’s threshold is easier to reach.
For solo travelers, the 4th night free can save you money, plus IHG constantly run 100% bonus points promotion where you can buy IHG points at 0.5 cents per point. It’s also quite easy to get better value than 0.5cpp on IHG even before accounting for the 4th night free.
AMEX Hilton Honors Surpass Card
Hilton Honors Surpass comes with a $150 annual fee, but gives quarterly $50 statement credit towards Hilton stays. If the credit is used, the card would pretty much pay you to keep it. On top of that, it gives Hilton Gold status, which I believe is the strongest mid-tier hotel status. Free breakfast or food & beverage credit can help reduce food cost during your travel.
Hilton Aspire may also be worth considering, but it’s geared towards resort stays, which I figure is not the type of stay a solo traveler would go after. But, if that’s what you’re into, then go for it!
Recommended Airline Credit Cards for Solo Travelers
The “best” airline cards for solo travelers are the cards that would earn you flexible currencies like Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Capital One Miles. Transferring points to airline partners ensure that you’d get the best value for airline redemptions.
Typically, co-branded airline cards have poor rewards multiplier on spend. However, I wouldn’t dismiss them as they still do come with signup bonuses. But, you have to learn how airline alliances work to get the most mileage out of these programs.
Some cards would give free checked bag which can be worth the annual fees paid, but you have to know which airlines you fly a lot with to get value.
Solo travelers have a massive advantage when it comes to securing an award flight with given availabilities compared to partners and family travelers. However, they will have challenges when it comes to hotels since hotel points are much faster to burn than airline miles, which is then compounded by their slower points earnings rate due to not having as much opportunities to get referral and signup bonuses from credit cards.
With the right credit card strategies and selecting hotel programs suited better for solo travelers, the cost issue can be somewhat mitigated. I feel IHG and Hilton are the most cost-effective hotel programs for solo travelers thanks to their great value credit cards and their large footprint across the globe.