Do you want to get free or at least 50% off flights? What if all you had to do was what you are doing now? This is where travel credit cards come in and before your credit card panic starts to set in, hear me out. Admittedly, credit cards can require some self control, but is that worth a free trip and improving your credit score? Absolutely! And by using them for your everyday spending and paying them off each month, it’s a great way to get rewarded for just doing what you do.
First, if I can do it, so can you. Four years ago I knew nothing of how to get free flights. In fact, I flew to Asia 7 times before it even dawned on me to sign up for frequent flyer miles, so if you tend to feel overwhelmed by the wacky world of travel, don’t worry. In the last year, my fiancé and I have flown from California to Puerto Rico to New Orleans and back, for FREE! This January we are exploring Nicaragua, again at no cost, and that just the start. I have built my credit score to nearly 800 and have 3 free flights just chilling on my accounts, waiting for me whenever I am ready. Not too shabby, and I want to help you do the same by following these easy steps.
Choose an Airline Specific Card or a Card that Gives You Travel Credit. The difference is that with an airline specific card, you must use your points for flying with only that airline. For example, I love the Southwest card. I received 50,000 bonus points for signing up and have redeemed them for whopping $1,200 dollars worth of flights. With an airline specific card also consider where they fly, so if you have always wanted to go to Europe then Southwest is not a good one for you where as British Airlines or Lufthansa might be. An example of a non -affiliated card is the American Express Blue Sky card. They offered a bonus of $500 off a travel purchase made with their card, so after booking my Nicaragua ticket for around $500 I simply called in to redeem, and they credited my statement back $500. I use both types, and both are great, but it is important to consider which type is best suited for you.
Only Get Cards with High Bonuses
Most cards offer different promotions through out the year. I never sign up for anything that doesn’t give me at least 30,000 points or $400 in rewards. Chances are if you wait and check periodically, you can get the card you want with the bonus you deserve. A good bonus is not 10% off your bill that day at the register or a $25 gift card, so stay away from those. Getting cards can help build your credit score but not if you turn in to a credit card junkie.
Only Sign up for Cards with a Reachable Minimum Spending Requirements.
Most cards have minimum spending requirement to receive the bonus. For example, my Chase Sapphire Preferred required that I spend $2,000 in three months to get the 40,000 points, so I factored that I would have to spend around $700 dollars per month on my card to reach that. Now that may sound like a lot of money but I am not saying go buy a big screen or a new wardrobe to get there. This breaks down to a mere $23 dollars per day, an amount the average person spends on daily food and gas. If a card gives you 100,000 points for spending $10,000, well chances are you won’t reach that, and if you do, your debt will outweigh your bonus, so basically don’t get crazy!
Use Life’s Large Expenses to Your Advantage.
If there is a card with a great travel bonus you have had your eye on but the spending requirement is too high to reach with your daily expenses, take advantage of the shit life throws your way. For me, this is dentistry. I hate spending money on my dang teeth, but the physical and financial pain was greatly dulled by the fact that I got $600 travel credit for using my new card. So your car needs a new transmission, well that sucks, but it sucks less since you used your travel card to hit a 50,000 point bonus. If life gives you lemons, get a flight out of it!
Understand the Pros and Cons of Annual Fees
A lot of cards have two options. Usually, a company will have lesser version of a card with no annual fee, no minimum spending requirement but only %25 of the bonus. Then you have the cards with an annual fee (usually waived the first year), a spending requirement, but a huge bonus. These cards usually also have an anniversary bonus present, meaning that when you pay your annual fee, usually around $90, you then receive about that much back in points to balance it out. Since I will always travel a lot, the second option is much better for me. However, if you just want use it for a free flight on your two weeks vacation time, then maybe a card with no annual fee is a better option. Basically weigh the pros and cons to make an educated decision.
Most Importantly, Pay Off Your Card in Full Every Month! (or at least 90%)
Again, credit cards are only for the strong willed. Credit lines are not free money and if you lose discipline, they can do a lot more damage than good. Although I am frugal by nature, I avoid accidently getting in over my head by only getting a new card every three months. Using the Chase Sapphire example above, I put all my daily expenses on that one card while depositing my paychecks to my checking account. Then at the end of the month I can see my monthly spending, how far I am from reaching the bonus, and then I use my funds from my checking and pay off my card balance either in full, or at least 90%. By keeping this rule, you will always be financially responsible and continue to earn flights without accumulating debit. Also by only getting a new card every 3 months you ensure that you are helping and not hurting your credit score by applying for too many cards at once.
So this is travel hacking 101, a simple and safe guide to getting rewarded with travel for just doing what you do daily. Below are a few of my favorite travel cards to get you started.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
American Express Blue Sky