Travel for $free.99 — the credit card edition

I get asked a lot how do I travel so much. Besides the fact that I am frugal as a mo fo, I also take advantage of many travel rewards programs. My last few flights around the USA were practically free! I paid $5.00 tax for a flight from New York City to Reno, then another $5.00 to get home from the West Coast! Additionally this year I’ve gotten about $800.00 in statement credits. That’s pretty awesome wouldn’t you say? In one year that’s roughly $1100.00 received by me for the low low price of $FREE.99!! Woo!!

Teeny Tiny Disclaimer: I know this can be overwhelming, so I sympathize. But trust me it will SO be worth it when you traipse down the tarmac with a huge grin on your face because you know that flight cost you next to nothing! And if you don’t have good credit right now I included links at the end of this article just for you!

OK, so I got you motivated to get your free money right? Right!

When signing up for travel cards there are many options out there. I’ve tried 2 myself that I will tell you about. There are cards that are affiliated with a specific airline and there are travel credit cards where you can use your points for any airline. The former is best if there’s an airline you fly with most; the ladder is better if you want to book the cheapest flight available and you don’t care if you fly Delta, Shmelta or Joe Blow airlines.

So, think to yourself, is there a particular airline you like or use the most frequently? If the answer is yes, I love flying with Lily Air, start by registering for their mileage rewards program. It’s usually a simple sign up on the main page of their web site. Also research if that airline is apart of an Alliance. If so you can use your points on ANY of the airlines they are partnered with AND you’ll gain miles when you fly with their partner airlines.

Tip: In many cases if you’ve flown that airline within the last 30 days you can call and they will add that flight to your account. Even though you signed up for their rewards program after the flight they will generally still honor it within a time window. So call and get your credit! The more flights the more points the closer you get to free flying!

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View from above #skyfish

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Now find out if that airline offers a credit card. For instance there is a Delta American Express card, Alaska Airlines is partnered with Visa and so on. Almost always these cards will have a sign-up bonus for new applicants. This is where you rack up a lot of points quickly for the future. Just for signing up and spending a certain amount within the first 1-3 months you automatically can get anywhere from 30,000-50,000 points! That can be several free flights depending on where you’re headed! But remember these points will only be redeemable for that airline.

Bonus: Airline credit cards usually have other perks when flying with them, like free checked baggage when you purchase that flight with said card. So that’s another 25-35$ per bag and now poof, free for you! Check the details of your card for other perks!

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City mural (painter unknown)

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If you don’t have allegiance with a specific airline then it doesn’t make sense to do an airline credit card. There are still LOT’S of options out there! Credit cards tailored for travelers are best. These cards generally give you more points for travel related expenses (flights, bags checked, trains, buses, hotels). Example: 3 points for every dollar on your flight down under, but 1 point for your organic groceries and those leopard printed leggings. As with most travel cards you can redeem your points by booking a flight through the airline or credit card portal OR you can make a travel purchase, and use the points as a statement credit to pay that bill later. Make sense? Good stay with me!!! You got this!

Did you know? Many travel credit cards waive international fees, but always check and read the fine print. Additionally the first years annual fee is generally waived. You can usually downgrade the type of card for the second year in order to avoid the fee, or sometimes if you threaten to cancel they’ll waive the fee again! Or maybe you really like the card and the fee pays for itself with all the perks you get.

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Jet setting

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If you’ve found a card you like and they have a spending minimum you might be wondering how you will spend X amount in Y amount of days. It’s important to choose a card that you can make the minimum spend requirement for. You don’t want to spend money you don’t have. For instance I signed up for the Barlcays Arrival+ card and I had to spend $3000.00 in 90 days. Besides my big flight to Australia and a few other travel necessities, I wasn’t planning on spending that much. So I cheated and asked my family if they had any big bills or large purchases coming up if they wouldn’t mind letting me make the purchase with my card and they could give me cash or check.

It worked brilliantly for me, but if you can’t do that you can pay all of your bills and monthly costs with that card and you should be able to meet the minimum. And If you live in a modern country like America you can pretty much charge everything and anything! So if you swipe away for all your purchases you should be able to meet the requirements and get those miles!

Tip: It’s a good idea to sign up for these cards right before you have a big purchase (trip to Madagascar, a new computer, building a robot, whatever) in order to avoid this problem.

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Sunny day

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Now, important to remember, you can only get the upper hand out of these programs if you pay your bills ON TIME! If you’re late to pay your credit card bill you will acquire fee’s and interest and in the long run you will LOSE money! And that means less exploration….we don’t like that. Almost all credit cards nowadays have paperless statements and you can actually schedule email reminders to pay your bills. Use this feature. And NEVER EVER spend money you don’t have. That is a big no no and is a sure way to get you in debt fast.

Keep in mind: Every card is different. Some give you double or even triple points on all travel related purchases, then 1 point on every regular purchase, while others might give more for groceries or gas etc. If it’s an airline affiliated card you usually have to redeem for travel directly through the website, while if it’s a general card you redeem for statement credits. Figure out what you spend the most on and get a card that is tailored to your life. Either way you’re gonna get free monies! It just depends on your lifestyle. Here’s a breakdown of different travel cards from a professional travel hacker!

Ok so that icky word came up earlier…..debt. Maybe you have bad credit and can’t get approved for a credit card now. Yes that sucks, but check out this blog post on travel hacking with bad credit and start working on your credit now. I’m not a financial wizard of any sorts, but this other site has great advice for improving your credit score. Be diligent, keep your eye on the prize of free flights! Follow their advice, build up your credit and come back to my post later!

I shared here what has worked for me personally. But for more in depth info and ways to get free travel check out this dude’s blog on travel hacking!

And now, a short video of me riding the local bus aka bemo, in Bali, Indonesia!

Leave your comments below! What cards do you like, what strategies worked for you to get the most out of your miles and travel cards? Share the knowledge!

2 replies »

    • Awesome glad to hear! It’s daunting to write an article like this knowing that SO many others have done it, but hey it’s always good to have a fresh take right? Glad to hear you enjoyed! Thanks!


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