How to Earn Free Travel Simply by Using Travel and Cashback Credit Cards
Cost is one of the biggest obstacles that prevent people from traveling. Between flights, hotels, and meals, a single trip can easily cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. That’s why I make the most of credit card reward points, cashback offers, and loyalty programs. However, it’s not as simple as just using the rewards I’ve earned from my spending to pay for flights and hotels. By paying careful attention for the right offers, I’m able to go on exciting trips while spending very little. Here’s how I earn free travel.
Finding the Right Credit Cards to Earn Free Travel
There are so many reward credit cards in the marketplace that it can be difficult to choose the right new credit card. The way I increase the points and cashback I earn is by finding credit cards that have bonuses on my typical spending categories. The two card issuers that tend to have the best travel offers are American Express and Chase. Chase Sapphire Preferred® is an example of a popular travel credit card. I start looking for a travel credit card on their websites first.
The standard return on a reward or cashback credit card is 1 percent. That means every dollar spent earns me one reward point or 1 cent cashback. Obviously, this is better than nothing, but it’s not much. But many credit cards earn higher returns when I spend in specific categories. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases. The American Express Business Gold Card lets me choose from five spending categories and earn 3 points per dollar spent on the category I choose, along with two points per dollar spent on the other four categories. Over time, those bonuses add up.
Free Travel can be Earned Fast by Using Credit Cards to Pay Bills
I use a couple of strategies every month to earn as many rewards as possible. The first is paying my bills using credit cards. The second is matching my spending with the card I have that earns the most for that particular spending category. When I first started, this took some time, but soon I had each card’s bonus categories committed to memory.
Signup Bonus Offers With Airline Credit Cards – Earn Free Travel Faster
The fastest way to earn a large number of points in a short amount of time is a signup bonus offer. Many airline frequent flyer program credit cards have these offers, and they all work the same way. After the airline card issuer approves me, I need to spend a certain amount, known as the minimum spend, within a set period of time. If I meet the minimum spend requirement within that time, the card issuer deposits the airline miles points bonus into my account.
The most common period of time to complete minimum spending is three months. The minimum could be anything from $1,000 on up. The airline miles bonuses are often in the 30,000 to 50,000 range but can reach 100,000 for certain cards. Enjoy free travel with 100,000 points. You could book several domestic round-trip flights or even a one-way flight to Europe in first class.
Transferring Points into Different Programs
It’s important to understand that each reward program uses its own currency. Chase credit cards earn Ultimate Rewards points. American Express credit cards earn Membership Rewards points. A co-branded airline credit card earns frequent flyer miles for that airline. A co-branded hotel credit card earns points in that hotel’s program.
Each reward program also has transfer partners where I can transfer my points. If an airline and a hotel are transfer partners, then I can transfer frequent flyer miles I’ve earned with that airline to the hotel and use them to book a hotel stay and vice versa. Transfer partners typically allow transfers at a 1:1 ratio, but this isn’t always the case. I look for credit cards that earn rewards I can use with my preferred airlines and hotels for free travel.
One of the reasons credit cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards programs are so useful is their versatility. Each of those reward programs has many airline and hotel transfer partners. I have an easier time transferring and redeeming my reward points.
Looking for the Right Deals Cheap Ways to Travel
So, I’ve spent a few months putting most of my spending on my credit cards. I’ve gotten a couple of those enticing signup bonus offers and built up a nice balance of reward points. That’s the easy part. The part that separates the real travel hackers from the rest is getting the most value out of those points.
I could simply use my points to book a flight or hotel for free travel. I’ll get more from those points if I shop around for deals so I can use my points wisely. Here’s an example of how I made the most of my reward points for free travel.
My Almost Free Travel Story – How I Spent $11 to Travel to Philadelphia
I wanted to take a trip to Philadelphia, and it would have cost me 35,000 miles to book a round-trip flight. Instead of accepting that offer, I was patient and monitored the airline deals. Sure enough, a deal popped up for round-trip tickets at only 20,000 miles. I took advantage of the special offer, flew to Philadelphia in March of this year, and saved 15,000 points. That many points could earn me $150 cashback. It’s almost enough for another round-trip flight if I find a special offer again.
Besides those 20,000 points, my airline ticket cost me just $11 in taxes. Fortunately, a friend of mine was in the city at the same time on a business trip. I was able to stay with her at her hotel. So the accommodations were free; I didn’t need to pay a cent for my stay. I had a great time in a city I had never visited before. In addition, I got a glimpse of real American history. I checked out some great restaurants and other attractions and met some interesting people. Without credit card rewards, there was no way I could have afforded this vacation.
Sign up for Travel Email Alerts – Opportunities to Travel for Free
I find the best deals by signing up for free travel email alerts from airlines and hotels. Not everyone wants to spend their free time going through email offers, and for those people, it’s all about understanding what type of flight and hotel deals tend to offer the best return per point or mile.
The best values on points and miles are typically available with the more luxurious flight tickets and hotel rooms. There are good domestic flight and budget hotel room deals available using rewards for free travel. However, miles are usually worth the most when they’re used to book first-class international flight tickets. Points are best spent on rooms at the higher-class hotels. Spending 20,000 miles on a plane ticket that would have cost me $400 is a good deal. But spending 90,000 miles on a first-class international ticket that usually goes for $10,000 or more is a much better deal.
The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card offers excellent rewards helping cardholders earn free hotel stays fast. Earn a 60,000 point signup bonus and Platinum Elite Status. Furthermore one of the most appreciated benefits of this card is the anniversary gift. Every year cardholders are awarded a free night stay on their yearly anniversary. Unlike a spouse, IHG never forgets.
Using Cashback Cards to Earn Free Travel
I’ve spent most of my time talking about travel reward credit cards because they’re far more complex than cashback cards. Cash back credit cards can also be a useful tool in earning free travel. Just like cards that earn points, there are cashback cards that earn more than 1 percent back on each dollar spent. Lastly, some offer a flat rate of 1.5 percent cashback per dollar spent. Others earn 2, 3 or 5 percent for spending in specific categories.
With a cashback card, I can use the cashback I’ve earned for meals at restaurants for free travel. I could even put it towards flights and hotels. I could use reward points to book a flight, and then use my cashback to pay for meals and accommodations on my trip. Or I could skip the flight entirely and take a road trip to a fun resort town, and then use my cashback for my hotel there. These are some of the ways I get travel discounts.
Have Bad Credit? You Can Still Travel Hack With Cash Back Credit Cards
You can still travel hack even if you have really bad credit or no credit. Hard to believe but it is true. The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a credit card application for bad credit. It allows you to earn cash back. All that is required is a $200 deposit that is typically refunded after seven months of on-time payments. There is no annual fee or any other credit card fee. Use the cash back rewards for free travel or anything else. Also, you’ll be improving your credit score in the process.
Follow These Travel Credit Tips and Earn Free Travel
These are the ways I’ve traveled while spending very little money. I recommend starting with one or two credit cards and getting the signup bonus offers that come with them. After that, it’s all about putting those rewards to use in a way that brings the most value. It’s always tricky starting out selecting my first travel credit card. It took some time as I learned the ropes, but now I can make the most of my spending and use my rewards to take exciting trips when the opportunity arises.
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