It’s a new year and I’ve been thinking a lot about how it’s easy to lose sight of the key elements that let us save so much money on travel using credit card points and miles. Today, we dive back into Travel Hacking basic strategy. It never hurts to refresh our memories on how to get great value from the points and miles we earn from travel rewards credit cards.
Goals and Dreams
When I started out using credit card points and miles, my first goal was to redeem American Airline Miles for a free round trip ticket to San Diego. My motivation was that I wanted to take that trip to San Diego to see some dear friends. I saved $379 on the cost of the airline ticket. However, there’s no way to put a price on the experience of spending time with people who mean so much to me.
Everyone has different travel goals and dreams. Before you start down the road of applying for a travel credit card, get clear on what you want out of the hobby. Is there an exotic destination on your bucket list? Do you have a family member or friend whom you haven’t seen in years? What would it mean to give that person a hug? Maybe your goal is to save money on a weekend getaway with your best friends or significant other. The possibilities are endless. Choose one goal to get you started. It will make the savings that much more meaningful. After all, it’s a lot easier to reach your destination if you know where you’re going.
Your Credit Score and Travel Hacking
There’s a myth floating around that having more than a couple of credit cards can hurt your credit score. The reality is that if you use credit responsibly, you can maintain and even improve your credit score while having ten or more credit cards. My credit score has remained in a range of 25 points for the last 12 months. The key to remember is to continue to spend the same amount that you did before starting in the hobby. Responsible spending comes before all else.
Your First Travel Credit Card
Congrats; you have a travel goal and are ready to start! Now it’s time to choose your first (of likely many) travel rewards credit card. It’s no secret here on the Joyful Travel blog that the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is my go to recommendation for your first card. Earning $750 in free travel with one sign up bonus is a big win. However, you may have a specific travel goal that makes airline miles a better first sign up bonus. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me for a recommendation tailored to your situation.
The Sign Up Bonus
When you apply for travel rewards credit cards, it’s the sign up bonus that gives you the point or miles that make up the $500-$1000 value you can use towards travel. Sign up bonuses are “buckets” of points or miles that the credit card company awards you after you’ve met the minimum spending requirement. These can range from 30,000 points or miles on the low end to 80,000 and more on the higher end.
The Minimum Spending Requirement
In order to meet the minimum spending requirement, you are required to spend a specific amount in a 90 day period. Typically that minimum spending requirement is from $3,000 to $5,000. This equates to roughly $1,000 to $1,700 per month in the first three months. For many households, this is an easy requirement to meet. If this is too big a nut to crack, check out this post where I explain How to Meet Minimum Spending Requirements.
You’ve applied for and received your first travel rewards credit card. Then, you met the minimum spending requirement in less than the 90 day window. You did this just to be sure that every charge posted to your account in time. The bonus points or miles have now landed in your account. At this point you have options and decisions to make.
You can redeem the points or miles right away on a specific travel purchase. This can be airfare, hotel, rental car, train and other kinds of travel expenses. If you happen to have Chase Ultimate Rewards Points, it’s easy to redeem your points for travel in the Chase online portal for all kinds of travel.
You may have received a sign up bonus of airline or hotel miles/points. In this case, you’ll head to the website or app of the airline or hotel where you want to redeem points. There, you’ll be able to use your points/miles to cover airfare or hotel rates. There are many options if you have even the slightest bit of flexibility when booking. It’s amazing how easy it is these days to use your sign up bonus.
If you started out with a Capital One Venture Rewards credit card, you have likely earned $560 in travel savings. With this card, you use the card to book your travel with any travel company. Then use the “purchase eraser” within 90 days, to effectively remove the charge from your account. It almost feels like magic!
As we continue to learn Travel Hacking Basic Strategy, you may have a bigger travel goal in mind. In this case, you want to keep earning more points/miles so you’ll have even bigger savings on that first travel experience. Now you have a decision to make.
You can continue using your one and only travel rewards credit card to earn more points/miles. Wouldn’t it be great though, to earn another large sign up bonus? I hope your answer is yes. If so, now you look for your next travel rewards credit card and apply. Meet the minimum spending requirement and receive another large sign up bonus.
Some people want only one kind of point or mile. Others, like me, like to have several types of points and miles for more versatility. An example is a trip I’m taking to Orlando, FL in the spring. I used Chase points to book 5 nights in a hotel but used Southwest Airlines miles to book my round trip flight from Philadelphia.
I have a soft spot for Marriott and Hilton points too. It also never hurts to have some other airline miles of the airline that flies most out of your closest airport. By the way, I’m paying $11.29 out of pocket for my Orlando trip resulting in $1,683.78 in savings!! Can you see my huge smile?
Rinse and Repeat
The process is really that simple. You now have a blueprint for a Travel Hacking Basic Strategy. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Take it one destination and one credit card at a time. To be sure, there are next level strategies to really leverage your points and miles. All in due time. Start at the beginning and figure out your first travel goal and soon, you’ll be realizing crazy saving like I do.