Raise your hand if you like free flights….!
Before you start reading this post, I want to forewarn you that it’s all about credit card rewards. If you are someone who is adamant about not using credit cards, then you’ll probably think this post isn’t for you and you’ll stop reading. OR, you can keep reading and I’ll tell you why you SHOULD be using credit cards to get free travel!
I also want to make a disclaimer that I am not endorsing that you go out and open up a bunch of credit cards and rack up debt. Please evaluate your financial situation and determine whether or not you’re in a place to fully pay off your credit cards every month AND can meet the spending requirement for sign-up bonus points. More on that later!
The first question I always get when people hear how much we travel is how we are financially able to do it. My answer: we travel hack. Travel hacking involves using rewards programs offered by airlines and credit cards to your advantage to get free flights, hotels and car rentals. We have boarded multiple flights, rented several cars, and stayed in hotels and it didn’t cost us a dime. Here’s how we did it:
Airline Rewards Points
We most frequently use American Airlines AAdvantage Program and we both have AA credit cards. We fly AA whenever we can and we buy those flights with our credit cards to max out the number of points we can redeem. We have used points to fly for free all the way to India, as well as several other domestic flights within the US. This credit card is free for the first year and costs $50 each year after that. When you sign up, you can earn 25,000 bonus miles after spending $750 within the first 3 months. That’s enough for a lot of round trip flights in the US. You can get more information here.
We have also used the Hawaiian Airlines credit card, which we signed up for specifically for a trip to Japan because we were able to fly from LA to Maui for free and then pay $200 to get us from Maui to Tokyo. SCORE! This rewards program requires you to spend $1,000 in the first 3 months and you get 50,000 bonus points. The home page on HawaiianAirlines.com advertises that you can earn 35,000 points when you sign up, but there’s a hack to this travel hack! Click here to see how you can earn 50,000 bonus points instead of 35,000, which is a completely free round trip flight to Hawaii from the West Coast! The fee for this card is $89 a year and you will get charged within the first month of owning it, so that is something to take into consideration. We closed our Hawaiian Airlines cards after we redeemed our trips to avoid paying the yearly fee since they’re limited in where they fly.
Almost every airline out there offers a credit card and a rewards program. If you fly a certain airline more often than others, I urge you to AT LEAST sign up for their rewards program, which is always free. The program keeps track of your miles and eventually, you can get a free flight if you fly often enough. Also look into their credit cards and see what bonuses they offer. You will almost always get a free flight out of opening a credit card with an airline if you meet their spending requirement.
Oh rewards credit cards, how we love you. Did you guys know that we usually get all of our Christmas presents for free using Amazon credit card rewards? Well, that’s not travel related, but it’s still awesome!
We swear by the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. The sign-up bonus for this is a whopping 50,000 points, which is worth over $700 in free travel, but it has a steep spending requirement of $4,000 in the first 3 months. Don’t let that scare you away! Keep reading!
We live our life through our credit cards. We use them for everything from buying groceries, to paying our bills. This made the steep spending requirement easier to achieve. We also waited to open this card until we had large purchases to make. Check out what you’ll be doing or what you might need in the next 6 months and open your card right around that time. Do you need to buy a new refrigerator? Do you need new tires for your car? Will you be paying a lot in taxes? You can pay your taxes in April using your credit card! Opening it in December and using it for your Christmas shopping is a good idea as well.
Now, back to more perks of the Chase Sapphire card.
- In addition to the 50,000 sign up points, you can also get an additional 5,000 points if you add an authorized user and they make a purchase in the first 3 months. So, within 3 months, Shawn and I had each earned 55,000 bonus points, which was the equivalent of $700 in travel. You also get 2x points spent on travel and dining (which we do WAY too much of) and 1x points for everything else, so it’s really easy to rack up points. Since I opened the card a year ago, I’ve earned 83,171 points. I used them to rent a car in Maui (which was free) and will have enough for a free one-way ticket home from New Zealand.
- Car rental insurance is provided
- There are no foreign transaction fees, so we always use this card when we travel to another country.
- They waive their fee for the first year, and it is $95 each year after.
Now, I think I know what you’re thinking: having credit cards and opening multiple cards hurts my credit score.
This isn’t necessarily true and there are ways to make sure you have a good credit score while still having multiple credit cards. The first tip I have is obvious. Don’t live above your means and make sure to pay off your credit card(s) every month. We treat our credit cards like we would treat our checking account. If the money isn’t there, you can’t spend it!
According to the Experian blog, as long as you don’t open up multiple accounts in a short period of time, your score will be fine. You will notice a slight dip in your score when you are approved for a credit card, but as long as you maintain good credit by making payments, your score will rebound in a couple of months. Trust me on this. I have 6 credit cards and my credit score is over 800. In fact, the longer you have a credit card, the better it is for your credit score.
So, ask yourself: can I do this too?
And the answer is YES! Identify which airline you typically fly with and make sure you are part of their loyalty program. There is NOTHING to lose here. It doesn’t cost anything! I have loyalty programs with Delta and United even though I normally fly with American Airlines. Then, start with just one credit card to dip your toes in the water. Again, I’d highly recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, but the $4,000 spending requirement isn’t feasible for everyone. Click here to get a list of every credit card and their sign-up bonuses, fees, and other information.
Welcome to the travel hacking world! Wander far (for free), my friends!