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The affinity cards are particularly dangerous because you are locking yourself into staying at one particular hotel chain. If you are going on a budget vacation, locking yourselves into an expensive hotel chain might be no value at all since you might come out just as well by forgoing the card and booking at a cheaper hotel. Also bear in mind that if you haven't finalized your plans, making this commitment will automatically limit where you can stay and/or visit. Personally I'd avoid these altogether just because high-end luxury hotels usually are not a great value, IMO.

Depends. From a rewards points benefit standpoint, high-end luxury hotels can be an excellent value, much better than a straight rewards card like the Capital One.

For example, this year I applied for an IHG Card (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, etc). The card offered 80,000 bonus points at signup, and $45 annual fee, waived the first year. On the anniversary (that is, after you pay the fee) you get one free night at any of their hotels.

IHG, like all chains, rates their properties from fancy to not-so-fancy.Lower end properties can be had for 10,000 points a night or less. But fancy hotels in the center of London or Paris that are normally around $300/night are about 35K points. So conceivably you could stay three nights at a fancy hotel at a fancy location which would normally cost about $900 for as little as $45. By contrast, the CapOne Venture card gives you $400. Obviously in this example, the IHG card is a better value and by quite a bit too.

Similarly, airlines miles rewards tend to be not a particularly good for shorter domestic hops in coach. But they can be excellent for overseas flights, especially if you upgrade to business. Here's a quick example off the top of my head that I looked into a while back. Numbers are reasonably close but not exact: Seattle to Sydney on Qantaas in coach is normally about $2,000, but using Alaska Airline miles costs about 80,000 miles, or about $0.025 per mile.

If you upgrade to business, the ticket is about $7000 and costs 120,000 miles. So about $0.06 per mile. Compare with the CapOne that redeems points at $0.01. Again, in this example the straight rewards points are not nearly as good a value, and again by quite a bit.

Obviously, it is likely that you could come up with an example when the straight rewards works better, but in the OP's case where he is trying to save for a specific vacation, he should definitely consider a strategy using hotel/airline cards. If you are just looking for rewards in general, then cash is king. I do/have done it either way depending on my goals.

My advice to the OP is to figure out the destination (sounds like Aruba) and the figure out the best airline/airline alliance to get there. Then figure out the likely hotels. From there you can figure out the combination of cards that will maximize the bonus (some hotel cards transfer to airline points, etc). A bit of work, but fun work.
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