6 Steps to Free Travel
Ok, your in. You have been thinking about applying to a travel rewards card for a while. You did your own research and surprisingly discovered that if handled responsibly a new credit card will not ruin your credit. You’re ready to start working towards that first bonus. What now? Where to start? What card do I get?
Travel hacking can be a bit intimidating at first. There are so many questions, so much unknown. I recommend starting small with one card, ideally a simple one to use. I recommend starting with a flexible rewards points system such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Points or American Express. Chase UR points are by far my favorite & super easy to use so I recommend starting with them.
Step 1: Decide on a Card
Do your research and determine what card is best for you. Ask yourself these questions. Is my credit score high enough for this card? Can I hit the minimum spend of this card? Will this card it fulfill my travel goals?
Step 2: Apply & Receive Your Card
Make sure to lower your credit card utilization ration to under 10% if possible before applying to a new card. Now the fun part! Apply and receive your new card. (Note, if you will be applying to a new card, I would be super happy if you use one of the links on this blog. It costs you nothing extra and helps keep the lights on.)
Step 3: Study Your Cards Benefits
Know the benefits on your card & use them to your advantage. Know about special categories that offer you additional points such as the 3x points for restaurants, bars & travel for the Chase Sapphire Reserved.
Other benefits could include purchase protection on products, (free) car rental insurance or no foreign transaction fees. Be sure to find out if your new card has a purchase portal. You may be able to get extra points for purchases you were already planning to make but when you start the transaction through the portal you can get 2-30x points for some purchases.
Step 4: Start Working Toward Your Minimum Spend
If you have not been doing so, you must start making every purchase possible with your new card. A big part of travel hacking is obtaining a point or mile for every single purchase you make. 3 Quick Minimum Spend Tip:
- Whenever splitting something with friend(s) always try to put the whole bill on your card and have your friends give you cash or have them Venmo you their part of the bill. This works especially great if you get bonus points at restaurants like some reward cards offer.
- Pay your bills with your credit card. You can often pay electric, cable/internet, water, healthcare, car insurance, etc. with a credit card. Take advantage of this service & even pay upfront for 6-12 months to help hit a minimum spend if needed.
- Make large purchases for friends. If a friend has a large purchase coming up, ask them to let you use your card and they can give you cash or Venmo you.
Have a plan in plan to ensure you hit your minimum spending requirement for your sign-up bonus. The goal here is to not spend money you normally would not just to hit your minimum spend. Lots more coming on this topic, so stay tuned.
Step 5: Pay Your Balance in Full Every Month
The #1 rule of travel hacking is to never pay interest. Paying interest offsets some if not all the benefits of travel hacking and is just plain dumb. If you don’t have the money to spend then don’t spend it.
I personally like to make multiple payments through the month to ensure I never pay any interest. I either set up reminders of when my bill is due to remind me or have my balance paid off in full every month automatically.
Step 6: Finally, Let’s Travel!
Congrats you hit your minimum spend. Now what? Usually it takes until the end of your next statement to show in your account. This can be a major bummer if you are at the beginning of a new statement.
This part is always scary because you often wonder if you will actually see your hard-earned sign up bonus. For whatever it’s worth, I have received the bonus I deserved 100% of the time so far.
Depending on the card you chose, the redemption process will vary. However, you a redeeming your points for travel, be sure to study the process, look into transfer partner airlines, study the best dates to go, times to book and study some more.
After all the hard work, you want to make sure you maximize your redemption and get as much out as possible. Enjoy your trip. Welcome to the club, you’re a travel hacker. Rinse & repeat as much as needed for desired effect.
My favorite beginner travel rewards card
Chase Sapphire Preferred®
Disclosure: I may receive compensation or points for some of the links posted on this blog. If you do use one of my affiliate links I am very grateful for your support. After all, I can’t buy food or beer with points so your support is important to keeping the blog running. I publish this blog based on my opinion and what I truly believe to be the truth and will not change this to try to increase compensation. Thanks for your support!
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.
More Things to Know about CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED® CARD
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards