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How to Travel Cheap: Travel Hacking with Credit Card Points

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

 

We’ve written here before on the importance of vacation for de-stressing, creativity, and productivity, but what if you just don’t have the money to fly to a remote beach or history-laden European city?

Do you want to spend a week in Barcelona or the Bahamas? You could either:

  • Tighten your budget and save up for a year or more
  • Get a second job and save up for a year or more, or
  • Just do things the easy way...

What? You didn’t know there’s an easy way? Today, we’re going to give you a short introduction to the world of travel hacking. When done smartly, you could earn enough points to go anywhere and get there in style.

This topic is vast, and this is only an introduction. We’ll provide links throughout to give you a deeper dive into the intricacies of travel hacking.

Depending on how ambitious you are with your travel goals, travel hacking can be as simple or complex as you need. The main requirement, however, is organization. But the relatively small hassle of keeping organized and being strategic pays huge dividends.

CAVEAT

Before getting into the amazing benefits you can earn from strategically chosen credit cards, there’s a big caveat of which you should be very, very aware. Credit card travel hacking is only a good idea if:

  • You’re employed or have a reliable, predictable income.
  • Can be reasonably organized with multiple credit cards.
  • Can be trusted with a credit card.
  • Don’t have a history of racking up credit card debt.
  • And you have a credit score of 680 or better.

You can estimate your credit score for free by using Credit Sesame, Credit Karma, or the tool on CreditCards.com. These services can help monitor your credit moving forward. If your credit score isn’t up to par yet, you can learn more about giving it a boost here.

THE ORIGINAL TRAVEL HACKING: CREDIT CARDS

The process of travel hacking with credit cards can be boiled down to three steps:

  1. Sign up for a credit card with a good travel-related signup bonus

  2. To earn the bonus, you need to meet the minimum spending requirement within 3 months

  3. Redeem the points for free flights and hotel nights!

Many of the best cards have annual fees. This shouldn’t frighten you. The amount you’ll redeem should far overshadow the annual fees.

Below are a few recommendations of cards to get started with.

NB: Alliance Direct Benefits has no affiliation with the companies mentioned in this article.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve are both great for domestic and international travel. I recently used the Reserve to book flights from New York to Moscow, Moscow to Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyzstan to New York, all free thanks to the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

The Reserve offers higher quality benefits than the Preferred, but both currently offer a 50,000 point signup bonus after spending $4000 in the first three months.

Don’t have $4000 in bills that can be paid with a credit card? A simple trick is see how far you get, and make up the remaining balance with Amazon gift cards, which, for many, are as good as buying cash.

For domestic travel, there are two cards you should get: Chase’s Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier and Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Plus. The signup bonuses on these are something of a moving target, so keep an eye out and wait to get them when they offer a 50,000-point promotion rather than 25,000. The plus side is that the promotional period spending requirement is only $2000 in the first three months.

To really get the most out of these cards, do your best to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. This brilliant idea lets you bring a friend with you on any Southwest flight for free! The catch? You have to earn 110,000 inside of a year. If you can get both of the above-mentioned cards at a 50,000 signup bonus and earn another 1,000 point through spending, you’ll easily qualify.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. You can and should also investigate cards for points toward hotels and rental cars as well as other big promotional airline cards.

For more information, Million Mile Secrets is a great resource to check out. Here are their favorite credit cards and a more in-depth dive into the initiation secrets of travel hackers.

If for whatever reason you’re not game for gaming credit card companies, Triphackr has a great article on racking up points without credit cards. And you can get great travel benefits with the Alliance Direct Benefits Plus and Value Plans.