In the previous sections of this travel hacking course we covered the importance of joining all forms of travel reward programs as well as why you should be aware of what’s on your credit report. Now, it’s time to dive in head first into earning free travel.
There’s only one exceptionally efficient way to acquire points and miles without flying on an airplane or staying at a hotel. That begins with applying (and being approved) for the best credit cards for travel rewards. Yes, I said credit cards plural. But if you’re new to this, it’s okay to warm up with one solid credit card offer.
What’s the Right Travel Credit Card For Me?
Credit cards for travel offer consumers and small business owners the ability to earn points and miles at a rapid rate simply by using their credit card for daily purchases. The right combination of travel credit cards can net even the most novice travel hackers heavily discounted and more often than not completely free travel.
The key, my friends, begins with having a decent credit score and being responsible with your open lines of credit. If you don’t have excellent credit, and you’re not able to maintain an excellent credit profile, you won’t be able to apply for the best credit card offers and you risk damaging your financial well being.
That being said, I currently have over 5 travel credit card accounts open and I actively maintain an 805 or higher credit score. So trust me, it’s possible to own numerous rewarding credit cards and travel for free. Just don’t be an idiot and pay your balance off every month.
The Best Credit Cards for Travel 2016 – What Do They Look Like?
The best travel credit cards are ones that come with large signup bonuses while offering efficient methods for point accrual over the lifetime of your credit account.
Taking this a step further, many lucrative travel credit card offers come with numerous other benefits. These range from free checked bags, car rental collision coverage, extended warranties and points back on redemption – just to name a few. It depends on the card, which brings me to my next point…
The right travel credit card for YOU depends on 3 things:
Your spending habits. This piece is two-fold. Your spending habits include (A): how much money you typically spend in any given month. And (B): what kinds of purchases you typically make. As an example, if you only spend $500 per month, you’re not going to want to apply for a credit card that requires you spend $1000 in a month in order to acquire the signup bonus. Secondarily, you want to pick up a card that allows you to rapidly accrue points based on the types of purchases you make. As an example of this, if you eat out at a lot of restaurants, or spend a lot of money on travel, you’re going to want a credit card that rewards you in earnest for this kind of spending. Ideally a credit card that gives at a minimum 2x points per dollar spent, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
The kind of rewards you want. What’s more valuable to you at this stage in your life? Does a cash back credit card make more sense? Or does a credit card that offers transferable points and miles to major airlines, hotels and car companies give you a better return?
The airline & hotel brands you’re looking to earn loyalty with. If order to truly get the most value out of travel hacking, you’re ultimately going to want to build loyalty and earn status with a select few brands. That means spending, earning, flying and or staying with brands you want to build status with as often as possible. Consider applying for a credit card that is co-branded with a major airline or hotel that you’re looking to build status with. At the same time, there are flexible travel credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire, which offer points that can be transferred into a wide range of travel reward programs. Using a card like this in conjunction with specific co-branded credit cards can help elevate your status level rapidly. This is a common and lucrative strategy leveraged by the best travel hackers in the field.
What’s in My Wallet?
Over the past few years, I’ve slowly been accumulating an arsenal of credit card products that are geared towards giving me flexibility in reward redemption. At the same time and more recently, I’ve been honing in on a select few airline and hotel brands that I’m looking to quickly build status with.
This is hands down the best credit card on the market currently. It’s also one we’ve talked about in detail on this website before. The Chase Sapphire comes with an incredibly lucrative 50,000 point signup bonus, which is attained after spending $4,000 in your first 3 months of being a card member. In addition, it offers 2x points per dollar spent on travel and restaurant purchases – two categories which I spend on in earnest. It comes with dozens of other perks and you can see our very detailed review here.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $625 in travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named a ‘Best Credit Card’ for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Sleek metal card design
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- $0 foreign transaction fees, plus chip-enabled for enhanced security and wider acceptance when used at a chip card reader
- 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs at full value — that means 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equal 1,000 partner miles/points
- Travel confidently with premium Travel Protection Benefits, including Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Trip Delay Reimbursement and more
Credit card tip: Don’t cancel your credit cards unless you’re paying an annual fee. The credit bureaus actually like to see consumers with multiple lines of credit open that are all in good standing. This raises your score significantly. Even if you stop using a particular credit card, keep it open. The only exception to this rule is if you’re paying an annual fee for the card.
Starwood is considered by many travel industry professionals to be one of the best hotel brands out there. Starwood properties are typically quite luxurious, and their rewards program is quite… well… rewarding. I applied for this credit card when they had a 30,000 point signup offer available, which typically comes about once per year.
Starwood also offers great flexibility in the way of transferring earned points to most major airlines. At the same time, it’s an American Express product, which means by default you get access to “hidden benefits” like purchase protection and warranty extensions on big purchases.
- Get 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on international purchases.
- Receive free in-room, premium internet access. Booking requirements apply.
- Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
- Get free nights at over 1,200 hotels and resorts in nearly 100 countries with no blackout dates. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
- Terms and Conditions apply.
This is the first travel credit card I ever applied for. I did so because at the time British Airways (in partnership with Chase Bank), was offering a 100,000 point signup bonus. Yes, you heard that correctly. What that number meant to me was 2 round-trip tickets to Europe. After I earned the signup bonus, I used it to travel to Spain.
What this card didn’t offer was much else other than the signup bonus. That being said, after I attained the bonus I kept the card for a year and then canceled it before the annual fee was due. Credit card companies don’t like when you do this, and I only recommend it if you feel you’re not getting value out of the card anymore.
- 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
- Plus earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios when you spend $15,000 on purchases within your first year for a total of 75,000 bonus Avios.
- Every calendar year you make $30,000 in purchases on your British Airways Visa card, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket good for two years.
- In addition to the bonus Avios, you will also get 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Pay no foreign transaction fees when you travel abroad.
- Chip Technology allows you to use your card for chip based purchases in Europe & beyond, while still giving you the ability to use your card as you do today at home.
While the Discover “More” is no longer offered by Discover, a similar product dubbed the Discover IT is now available. This was the second credit card I ever applied for, and I did so because I wanted flexibility in my rewards earning. This particular Discover card offers 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories. For instance, this quarter I’m earning a 5% Cashback Bonus at Restaurants & Movies up to $1,500 in Purchases Now through 6/30/2016.
Basically, between this credit card and all of my others, I’m maximizing my reward earning potential by spanning the spectrum in categorical spending. So, as an example, when I’m at the movie theater, I’m obviously going to use my Discover card because I’m getting more back than with any other product in my wallet at that particular location.
- You could turn $200 into $400 with Cashback Match™. We’ll automatically match all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year. New cardmembers only.
- Earn 5% cash back in new bonus categories like gas, restaurants, Amazon and more – up to $1500 every quarter you activate. Plus, unlimited 1% cashback on all other purchases.
- Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.
- 100% U.S. based customer service.
- FICO® Credit Scores for free on statements and online.
- No annual fee
- Click “Apply Now” to see rates, rewards, FICO® Credit Score terms, Cashback Match™ details & other information.
One of my most recent acquisitions, I applied and was approved for one of Barclaycard’s most recent credit card offers. Applying for the JetBlue Plus card made sense for me because I fly JetBlue a lot. It has a revenue based reward redemption program which makes for straight forward redemptions. It’s also my preferred domestic carrier, and you’re able to book reward flights sometimes for as little as 5,000 TrueBlue points. That being said, I value this card on the signup bonus alone at over $400. In addition, booking travel on JetBlue if you have this card can earn you up to 12x points per dollar. That’s insane if you fly JetBlue often. It also comes with free checked bags and 2x points on restaurant and grocery spend, in addition to all of the other benefits below. Checkout our complete review of the JetBlue Plus Card.
- Earn 30,000 bonus points after $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days
- Earn 6 points per $1 on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per $1 at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
- No blackout dates on JetBlue-operated flights & redeem for any seat, any time on JetBlue flights. – Points required for an Award Flight will vary based on the published base fare at the time of booking.
- Points awarded in your TrueBlue account don’t expire and earn and share points together with Family Pooling
- Earn 5,000 bonus points every year after your account anniversary
- 50% savings on eligible inflight purchases including cocktails, food and movies
- Enjoy all Mosaic benefits for one year after you spend $50,000 or more on purchases after your anniversary date
- Get 10% of your points back every time you redeem to use toward your next redemption
Remember how I mentioned you should attempt to build loyalty with a select few airlines and hotels? Well, I’m working on building loyalty with American Airlines (and obviously JetBlue per the above). The Advantage credit card gives me a 30,000 point signup bonus after spending only $1,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. That’s an easy spend threshold to hit. In addition, it gives me priority group 1 boarding access and a free checked bag for myself and up to 4 other travelers on my reservation. Also, 25% off inflight purchases and the ability to earn miles without actually flying on American.
- Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
- First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
- Enjoy Group 1 Boarding on American Airlines flights*
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases.1
- Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
- Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
- Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back — up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*