By the time this is published, I will have just gotten back from a trip to Mexico. If you were following me on Instagram, you know I had a good time enjoying Cancun and visiting my friend and Rachael Kay Albers in San Cristobal, Chiapas. What you might not know is that I didn’t pay a cent for the roundtrip international ticket. In fact, I only paid $78 in taxes. I’m able to do this by accumulating and using points for free travel.
I’ve covered travel hacking on the blog before, but now I want to dive in deeper by explaining how I was able to rack up over 250,000 points for free travel. Actually, at the time of writing this I have exactly 273,820 points spread across airline loyalty credit cards, one Chase rewards card and some hotel points. Below you’ll see a snapshot of what my current Award Wallet account balance.
Get Comfortable With Using Credit Cards
My main source of points is credit cards. Quite frankly, it’s the easiest way to rack up points.
The main objection I hear (and one I was worried about for a long time) is that handling multiple cards will ruin your credit score. That’s not actually true. If you pay your balances in full each month and keep your debt to credit ratio low, you’ll be fine.
In fact, I know travel hackers whose scores actually improved once they started managing multiple accounts. Many of them are flaunting 800+ credit scores. I’m around 782 which is considered excellent credit.
The reality is you must maintain a good score to get the most enjoyment out of points for free travel. You won’t even qualify for these programs unless you have at least a 700+ score.
Here’s how to manage multiple accounts without ruining your score:
- Pay your balances off in full each month.
- Keep the cards you aren’t using for points anymore active with a small charge and set it to autopay. For example, I have Netflix charged to my Southwest card and that’s it. Reason being that I’ve got more than enough Southwest points so I’m working on other programs. This shows that the account is still active and you won’t run the risk of having it cancelled on you (this happened to me with Bank of America once).
- Keep your debt to credit ratio low. I’m talking less than 20 percent.
The key to remember is that credit card companies are banking on the fact that you’ll overspend for the purpose of “getting points” so they can make money off of you in interest charges. Since interest charges can either devaluate or cancel out your points, then the banks and airlines hope they’ll make money off of you without having to really give up free service. Your “free flight” ends up costing double or triple if you don’t pay off your balance in full. At the end of the day, credit cards are a game and it’s up to you to stay sharp.
How to Get An Insane Amount of Points Quickly
It’s not enough to just take out credit cards. You have to know how to actually work them to your advantage. Here’s how:
Wait For the Promotions
Last year I flew on American Airlines and I heard the pilot advertising their card where you would get 30,000 points for free travel. I was thinking “Psssh! That’s nothing. I’m going to wait until there’s a good deal going on.” Occasionally, these credit cards will increase their bonuses so you end up gettingg way more bang for your buck.
Two months later British Airways had a deal for 100,000 points and Chase Sapphire had a promotion for 50,000 points. So, the first step is to hold out for the good promotions.
For example, I got 50,000 Avios points on British Airways just for spending $2,000 within the first three months. I met that easily just with expenses. I get an additional 25,000 for spending $10,000 in the first year and I’m nearly there – again because of my regular expenses I have to pay each month anyway.
Have Trusted Authorized Users
My parents are authorized users on all my cards. They use the Chase Sapphire to pay for groceries and when we go out to eat as a family because we get double points.
By combining forces we were actually able to get free flights for a family vacation back in 2014. We went to New York and Philly and we didn’t pay a dime for flights for four people.
Note, this only works with people you know have a good track record and if you have a plan in place. It’s also not the only way to rack up points but it certainly helps.
Use a Credit Card For Everything You Can
Back in 2013 I went to the World Domination Summit in Portland with one of my best friends. He’s the one who taught me all this travel hacking stuff and he nearly chopped my hand off when he saw me paying for something with my debit card.
He shot me a dirty look and half-jokingly said “Don’t ever do that in front of me again. I’ve taught you better than that.”
Ever since then I pay for everything I can with a credit card. Not only does it help me accumulate points for free travel while I pay for stuff that needs to get handled anyway, it also helps with all of the following:
- Consolidates your bills.
- You get certain rights and protections you can’t get with a debit card.
- Some credit cards come with extended warranties.
- Makes it easy to autopay bills.
- Simplifies finances. All the bills are paid with credit cards and then I just pay the credit card. So much easier than checks, checking account withdrawals and all that jazz.
Granted, there are some things that still require me to use debit or checking. My health insurance for some reason won’t allow me to pay with credit card. Can’t seem to pay my taxes with a credit card either (I wish! Can you imagine how many extra points I’d get?). But for everything else it’s basically credit cards.
Be Smart When You Have to Spend Additional Money
For my short stay in Cancun, I needed to stay in a hotel. Since I already had some SPG points and because I knew I’d be staying at an SPG hotel later in the year for a conference, I simply stayed at a Westin all inclusive in hopes of cashing in points for a couple of free hotel stays down the road. If I was going to have to pay, at least I get something out of it that can help me when I travel later.
It’s not that hard to start accumulating points for free travel. If you can be responsible with credit cards, and have to pay for regular expenses each month anyway, you might as well get something out of it.