In this beginner’s guide, we’re going to go over all the basics you need to know so you can start working towards a nearly-free vacation!
When you sign up for a credit card they often come with a bonus or welcome offer. The welcome offer will usually be something like “earn 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months”. Those 50,000 points are usually worth at least $500 towards travel or sometimes closer to $1,000 or more!
The $3,000 you need to spend is called the minimum spending requirement. The idea is that you sign up for a credit card, complete the minimum spending requirement, get the points, redeem the points for flights and/or hotel nights, go on a nearly free vacation, and repeat! That’s how you travel for free! Sounds easy enough right?! Well, maybe it is a tad more complicated than that, but not much!
Enjoying a free stay at Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach
Your minimum spend is the amount of money the credit card company states you must spend on the card in a given time period (usually three months) in order to be awarded the welcome bonus. You might be wondering how to meet that spending requirement, especially on cards that require a higher amount. First, pay for all your normal, everyday expenses (groceries, gas, internet, cable, etc.) with a credit card. We never use cash and it would pain us to do so. Why use cash when we can get 1.5-5% back on all our purchases if we use a card?!
You can also plan your credit card applications around a big purchase. Planning on buying new furniture? Have a medical or dental procedure coming up? Going to be doing some Christmas shopping? Those are all great times to open a card because you know you will be spending more than normal.
Check out this post for more ideas on how to meet minimum spending.
We used points and miles to fly business class to Croatia
When just starting out it's a good idea to decide where you want to go and then get the cards you need to make that particular trip happen. This is how I (Alex) got started.
I would pick a hotel brand in the area I wanted to stay with and get the necessary cards to give me those points. I would also check the airlines that flew to that destination and get the necessary cards to fly that particular airline. If that sounds confusing don't worry, we're here to help!
If you don't have a particular destination in mind that's okay! Focus on cards that earn flexible points that can be use for a variety of travel. Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Airline and hotel cards, in particular, will increase their welcome offers every so often. When that happens it is a great opportunity to get more points! At those times I sometimes open a card and then plan my vacation around those specific points. In the case of airline points, I will open a card and keep those points handy for a rainy day.
We always try to keep you in the know with those limited-time offers.
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My mom is a little more OCD and her strategy is to get all the points! She gets all the points she can and typically signs up for one card after the other. In doing it this way she racked up over 3 million points in two years!! She does pay more in annual fees doing it like this but believes the benefits of her cards outweigh the annual fees. With as much as she travels, this has been well worth it for her!
For more information on whether to keep, cancel, or downgrade your credit card, see this post.
Keep in mind, that you need to keep the card the entire first year. The credit card company won’t like it if you cancel your card right after you get your points. In fact, they can take away your points if you cancel before it has been 12 months.
Free flights on United and free nights at the Park Hyatt Washington D.C.
There are a lot of variables that determine how many cards it will take to get you your nearly free vacation but just to give you an idea – you could plan a trip for 2 to Hawaii using 3-4 cards, a trip to NYC to meet up with your girlfriends for one card, and a roundtrip flight to Europe with one card.
Just like saving up money for a trip, it takes a little time to save up your points. Depending on your spending habits you could expect it to take around 6-9 months to have the points to book a Hawaii trip. If you are like me, you will find that once you get into this, the points start coming in and that timeline will go down.
Use points to save on Disneyland
By doing this you are able to get a lot more points and each gets the same welcome offer. You are also able to refer each other to cards to get more points.
This is what it looks like; You sign up for a card and earn 50,000 points after meeting the minimum spend. Once you are close to meeting the minimum spend you refer your spouse/partner to the same card. They apply and are approved, which earns you a referral bonus. They meet the spend on their card and earn 50,000 points. Now instead of just 50,000 points, you have 100,00 points plus the referral bonus!
One of many business class flights to Europe using points
In short, the Chase 5/24 rule says if you have opened 5 or more new credit cards in the past 24 months, from any bank, you will not be approved for a new credit card from Chase. This is important because Chase issues many of the best travel reward credit cards available. These include cards from United, Southwest, Hyatt, and the Chase Ultimate Reward cards. If you are an authorized user on a card that counts against your five cards (we recommend not making each other authorized users). Because of this rule, we recommend starting with Chase cards.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most business cards don’t count towards your 5/24 count, however, if you are over 5/24 you won’t be approved for Chase business cards.
Check out this post for more information on the Chase 5/24 rule.
Free flights and four nights at the Grand Hyatt Kauai using points
Free flights and a week at the JW Marriott in Phu Quoc, Vietnam
It is critical that you only get into this hobby if you can pay off your card in full each month. If you are paying interest then you really aren’t getting a free vacation but are getting into debt instead. You also want to have a credit score of 700+.
Free flights on Southwest for our family and five nearly free nights in Cancun
One of the questions we get the most is, “How do you keep everything organized?!” Believe it or not, it is pretty easy.
The biggest tip we have for organization is the Travel Freely app. This is a free app that keeps track of your credit cards. It keeps you up to date on your Chase 5/24 status, annual fees, bonus deadlines, and more! We also recommend putting your cards on autopay so that you don’t forget to pay any of your bills.
London on points
Earning and using credit card points and miles can seem overwhelming and confusing. We know, we were once beginners. We have spent HOURS and HOURS learning everything we know. As we taught ourselves through blogs and message boards we realized there wasn’t much out there geared towards beginners and that most blogs focus on advanced travel hackers.
Our goal is to simplify travel hacking in the hopes that you don’t have to spend the hours and hours that we spent. Let us help you. Together we can teach you how to travel for free and get you to places you never dreamed you could travel to. Travel for nearly free is a real thing.
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