Though many interviews were done over Zoom during the height of the pandemic, travel is slowly opening back up—and so are the possibilities to interview for your first or next practice in person.
The interview trail is an excellent opportunity to build up credit card points to redeem for future travel or future interviews. Ever since I got into credit card points for travel, I have rarely paid full price for any trip. I am usually able to find some way to subsidize a trip with points, whether it is free flights, upgrades or free hotel rooms. Many cards also come with access to amenities that make travel more enjoyable, like airline lounge access and status upgrades at hotel chains and car rental agencies.
First, the caveat
Fair warning though: When using credit cards for points, it is very easy to get sucked into the murky depths of credit card debt. So, this activity is only meant for the most disciplined who will pay their cards off in full every single month. Remember to only put charges on cards that you could otherwise pay for in cash right now. Do not use credit cards as a form of a loan; at an average APR of 12 to 20%, these lines of credit are not cheap. But for those who can make sure not to carry forward balances month to month, credit cards can provide a great way to utilize the necessary costs of interviews to subsidize future interviews or future leisure trips.
It would be wise to remember that every time an individual applies for a new card, the credit card company performs a hard pull on his or her credit. That process can temporarily drop their credit score by 5 or so points. It is also important to note that any new line of credit can halt the underwriting process on a mortgage loan, so it is important not to apply for a new card while in the process of buying a home.
How it works
For those new to the whole concept, credit card points or reward miles were devised as a way to reward loyalty to a brand or institution. Each X amount of money you spend or miles you travel can result in Y amount of reward points or miles that can be redeemed. Over time, these reward points have grown. Certain expenditures can result in double or triple points. Some points can be transferred to other brand partners for better redemptions. Credit card points have almost become a new form of currency. Many experts at this game have gotten free or very discounted trips using some basic knowledge of how the industry works.
For those of you wanting to dive in, here are some terms to know.
Sign-up bonus. This is the carrot that many cards use to lure in new customers and is the desired fruit of the serial credit card hackers. It is a gift of a lump sum of reward points after a certain amount of money is spent on the card in a predetermined period of time. For example, some cards will give 100,000 points as a bonus after $3,000 is spent on the card in the first three months. Those 100,000 points can then be used to book roundtrip airfare to your destination of choice.
Annual Percentage Rate (APR). As opposed to a simple interest rate, APR is the annual cost of the loan to the borrower, including fees and other charges. Credit cards are required to list APR in the interest of truth in lending.
Credit card bonus categories. Certain cards reward spending on specific categories by offering two to four times the points per dollar spent. Point earning can be maximized by knowing which card rewards what spending and using those cards for those purchases.
Annual fee. This is the fee charged for holding the credit card open. Not all cards have a fee. The cards with the most potential travel rewards usually do have a fee. But, if used wisely, the fee is usually surpassed by the value of the perks derived from the card.
Transfer partners. Many of the popular credit cards partner with other brands. For example, Chase Ultimate Reward points can be transferred to loyalty programs with Marriott or Hyatt. Once the points are transferred, they function just like Marriott or Hyatt points and can be redeemed for hotel stays. Often, the redemption is more efficient this way. Also remember not all points are created equal. Some loyalty points are more valuable than others, as they have a higher purchasing power.
Status upgrades. Some cards partner with other brands to offer free status upgrades to the holder. These status upgrades may entitle the card holder to complimentary room upgrades, late checkout and other perks.
Lounge access. An important perk of certain travel cards include the right to use airline lounges during travel. Some use Priority Pass to grant access to these lounges. Others, like American Express Centurion Lounges, require the presentation of a qualifying card to enter. The use of these lounges can enhance the travel experience and save money on incidental food costs at overpriced airport restaurants.
Credits. Some cards credit back the cost of certain purchases like airline fees, global entry and TSA precheck fees. Some of these credits are automatic. Others only happen when the deal is manually applied to the card by the user and then the card is used to make the purchase.
Shopping portal. Some cards reward shopping at certain stores with multiples of points per dollar spent if the purchases are made through their “portal.” This can be an efficient way to rack up points on shopping you’d be doing anyway, like buying a new suit for interviews.
Cash back. Lastly, points are not the only way to get rewarded for credit card spending. Some cards give cash back instead of points. Other cards provide the option to “pay yourself back” in cash by using points.
Knowing these terms will help you evaluate credit card opportunities and optimize reward accumulation while spending on interviews. Tread carefully, pay off in full, and good luck on the interview trail!
Disha Spath, M.D., is an internal medicine physician, a mother to two awesome boys, and a wife to Josh. She writes about personal finance, money-saving hacks, and investing to help doctors and other high-income professionals get out of debt and design their ideal life at The Frugal Physician. She is a podcaster and ambassador for The White Coat Investor.