Fly and Stay for FREE with These Credit Cards!

It seems like the entire Internet has been talking about travel hacking of as late….and why not?  Everyone loves traveling to new exotic locations,  especially if your airfare and lodging are free!  This may sound too good to be true, but with a little bit of effort and creativity you can become a travel hacker yourself! Getting the right credit cards and implementing a sound spending strategy are paramount to your efforts.  Below we outline the top 5 travel hacks that will start you down the path of wanderlust.

1. Get the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. – Unknown
So, what make a good travel rewards credit card? Rewards points of course!  Look for a card that offers upfront rewards points for signing up, as well as, ongoing rewards points when you use their card.  The more the better.  Remember, not all rewards points are created equal. It’s important to see how those points translate to airline miles, hotel stays and purchases.
Redemption value of 50,000 points/miles
Compare the following cards and their point values. Chase Sapphire Preferred® American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card Capital One® Venture Card
Airfare $625 $500 $500
Hotels $625 $350 $500
Cash $500 $300 $250
In some cases, you may want to sign up for multiple cards.  How many is too many?  That answer is tricky.  Signing up for multiple cards at once will certainly ding your credit score in the short run, but as long as you pay off all your balances monthly, within 6-12 months it will be right back to where it was.  Translation: if you are getting ready to apply for a home or auto loan, you may want to hold off on signing up for multiple credit cards.
Adventure may hurt you but monotony will kill you. – Unknown

Pay Off All Your Cards Every Month

This is SOOO important.  The idea behind travel hacking is to make your life better, not worse.  It’s easy to convince yourself to make some lifestyle purchases along the way and carry a balance.  Do not go down this road.  Make sure to be vigilant and pay off all your balances every month. Remember, you’re taking advantage of these cards.  If you spend beyond your means, the credit card companies will be taking advantage of you!

Our Picks

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Sign Up Bonus: 50,000 points Minimum Spend: $4,000 in first 3 months Favorite Feature: Points are worth more than similar cards. (i.e. 50,000 points are worth $625 in airfare) Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card Sign Up Bonus: 80,000 points Minimum Spend: $5,000 in first 3 months Favorite Feature: Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN Sign Up Bonus: 100,000 points Minimum Spend: $10,000 in first 3 months Favorite Feature: Get 35% of your points back on airfare booked with points on your chosen airline.  TIP: Use the 35% of points you get back to upgrade your seat!

2. Get a Hotel Rewards Card with Miles Transfer Opportunities

Not all those who wander are lost. – J.R.R. Tolkein
Why get a hotel awards credit card if you already have one of the awards cards mentioned above?  The answer is simple: hotel specific awards cards offer more points than the above cards when staying in specific hotels or eating at specific restaurants.  Remember, this game is all about reward point maximization and you’d be surprised at how quickly your efforts add up.  The best ones are really a personal preference as they are offered by all the major hotel chains.

Our Picks

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Sign Up Bonus: $100 plus an additional $100 credit for qualifying purchases Minimum Spend: $1,000 in first 3 months Favorite Feature: Marriott Rewards®, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®, Starwood Preferred Guest®(SPG®) finally come together as one consolidated loyalty program beginning in August 2018.  The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card Sign Up Bonus: 100,000 points Minimum Spend: $3,000 in first 3 months Favorite Feature: 12x earning on the card at Hilton properties, and free Hilton weekend nights when you reach targeted spending thresholds.

3. Choose a Credit Card based on Your Local Airport

If you have an airline with a major hub at an airport near you, consider getting a credit card specific to that airline.  For the same reason you would get a hotel specific credit card, you can earn perks and points in excess of what you would receive from a more general credit card rewards program.

Our Pick

UnitedSM Explorer Card Sign Up Bonus: 40,000 miles Minimum Spend: $2,000 in first 3 months Favorite Feature: The primary cardmember and one companion traveling on the same reservation will each receive their first standard checked bag free.  We love this!

4. Meeting the Minimum Spend

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign. – Robert Louis Stevenson
Now that your rewards credit card quiver is full, we need to talk about meeting the minimum spend!  Remember, the goal here is to make the minimum spend but ensure that the balance is completely paid off every month.  You have a couple of options to meet the minimum spend limits.  One option is spread out the signups over a period of time where spending is more manageable.  The other is to get creative with how you perform the minimum spend on each card.  Below is a list of just a few ways you can reach those minimums.
  • Prepay expenses whenever possible
  • Did you know that you could pay your taxes on a credit card?
  • Buy and Collect – Buy something for a family member or trusted friend and have them pay you back!
  • Buy a Gift Card – Gas, groceries you name it. Buy a gift card with a large balance and use it throughout the year.  Amazon gift cards are also a great way to prepay future expenses.
  • Pay Your Monthly Bills with your credit card
  • Pay your insurance in advance
  • Manufactured Spending – This technique falls into a bit of grey area, but the concept is fairly simple. We don’t recommend this technique, but it does exist.  If you want to know more simply Search the term “Manufactured Spending”.

5. Tracking & Managing All of Your Rewards Cards and Programs

 This step is totally optional but highly recommended.  Trying to keep track of all your rewards programs can become a bit cumbersome.  Using an internet application like Awards Wallet makes tracking all your points and rewards from the various credit cards extremely simple and even more fulfilling.  Seeing all your rewards in one place really drives home how powerful and financially beneficial even a little travel hacking can be.  You can check out Awards Wallet here.

The Fine Print

If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found. – Unknown
This goes without saying, but always read the fine print.  Annual fees can add up quickly so make sure you are getting the most out of your cards.  The word “hacking” has a bit of negative connotation but what you are really doing is simply taking advantage of what has been made available.  There is nothing wrong with this!  Be smart, however, and don’t fall into any of the financial traps that credit card companies lay out before you.  Travel hacking is as much about discipline as it is taking advantage of loop holes and “too good to be true” offers.  If you wade into the travel hacking waters slowly, pay off all your balances every month and budget your trips within your means, the world can be your oyster.

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