**Disclaimer** The practice of earning and burning travel reward points is not for everyone. Please spend responsibly (and don’t hold me responsible if you don’t)!
Y’all know my biggest dream since forever has been to travel the world with my kids and y’all know we’ve actually been doing it.
How?? We didn’t come from wealthy families. We aren’t wealthy ourselves. But one day a handful of years ago I was, yet again, browsing books on how to travel the world with kids in tow and I decided we could do it, I just needed to do two things first:
1- Start a side hustle.
2- Earn free travel.
You already know that to accomplish #1 I write an article every single work day and squirrel that money away, only for it to see the light of vacation days.
You also already know we use travel points to pay for at least half of our airfare and accommodations. What you may not know is HOW we get the hundreds of thousands(!) of travel points and HOW you can, too!
Yep, we’ve all heard about credit cards that offer points that can be redeemed for miles, such as Delta Skymiles American Express. What you may not know is how easy and how fast it is to earn enough travel points to pay for almost all of a $21,000 vacation. Trust me, it works. I’ve done it.
Twice…on top of a few other smaller trips.
There are millions of other people around the globe doing the same thing. Yes, it’s a THING! An entire worldwide community is getting free travel because credit card companies and travel brands want us to get it! It’s not against the law. It’s not dishonest. It’s not taking advantage of loopholes. It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s been created on purpose, for a purpose (to make money, obviously).
Maybe it’s generosity making me tell everyone that you, too, can go on enviable vacations. Maybe it’s guilt. Either way, take what you want from this and leave what you don’t. The credit card game is not for everyone, but is it for you? Let’s find out!
This is by no means an exhaustive guide. There are professional point earners who already write plenty about this hobby and I suggest you look to them for the real advice. That’s exactly how I learned a few of the tricks of the trade and they’ve worked for me.
Here are the masters I follow:
Now, I haven’t gone crazy on this hobby as doing so can quickly turn into a full-time job. There are a thousand ways to optimize the programs (including being a small business owner, which I am not). I just choose and use what works for me, and that is this:
- I have a rough idea of the type of vacation I want next (where, when, what).
- I browse credit card travel reward offers (they change often). I use the above links for help with that.
- I do a little research to match specific airlines/hotels to the vacation I’m planning.
- I choose the card I want and I open it in either my name or Rob’s name and add the other as an authorized user.
- I pay our bills and everyday spending on that one card until we reach the required spend (usually $1000-$4000 in 3-4 months), which always happens depressingly faster than I think it will.
- I pay off the balance of our card every two weeks.
- I collect points and redeem towards travel.
- I repeat until I have what I need to pay for the vacation (minus whatever cash savings I’m willing to spend on it).
- I either close the card before the annual fee is due (if it has one) or I keep it open in order to make my debt-to-income ratio climb and the length of credit history grow.
It’s really not that hard. Really. Plus, the benefits are beautiful.
You may scoff and say I’m screwing up our credit. Quite the contrary, actually. We have excellent credit since we pay off our bills twice a month and have a scary amount of credit available to us. The vast majority of credit card applications are only soft inquiries and don’t effect our credit history or credit score whatsoever.
Now it’s time for the demonstration portion of this post. I’m using real numbers here, because I hate it when people don’t get real and don’t give real info. Yes, I spend real money on our trips, but the money I save is SO MUCH bigger, as you’ll see. If only one or two people are travelling to inexpensive locations, you’ll get a TON more mileage out of points. However, for a family of five traveling to Europe and the UK, they only go so far.
For simplicity’s sake (and word count), I’ll just illustrate our latest example from our UK road trip.
|Delta Nonstop SLC-London for 5 People||$13,391||$0||No joke, this is a $3k flight!
Cheapest flight I can currently find for the same time next year is $3450 for 5 people and 2 stops
|Delta Nonstop Boston-SLC for 5 People||$881||$0||Cheapest flight I can currently find for the same time next year is $715 for 5 people nonstop|
|London Hotel for 2 Nights (2 Rooms)||$795.40||$0|
|Outside London Hotel for 1 Night||$139.79||$0|
|Cotswolds Hotel for 1 Night (2 Rooms)||$342.81||$0|
|Reimbursements for Other UK Accommodations||$661.87||$0|
|Edinburth Luxury Hotel for 1 Night (2 rooms)||$548.58||$0|
|Boston Hotel for 1 Night||$454.06||$0|
|Car Rental Upgrade to Volvo||$116.07||$0|
|Credit Card Application Fees||$300|
Obviously, if I was paying out of pocket, I wouldn’t have chosen such expensive flights and hotels. However, when paying with points, the difference in “point cost” between crap/inconvenience and luxury/convenience is minimal so it’s usually well worth it to upgrade and give yourself a good time.
This took 4 different credit cards (Delta Amex Platinum, Hilton Ascend, IHG, Capital One Venture) and all but the Venture we each got in our own name. Across all cards, it took us only 9 months to earn the approximately 660,000 points it took to pay for the above expenses.
Here’s a little tip: It’s legal and expected to use household income, rather than personal income, on the applications so both heads of household qualify for their own card, doubling the points earned.
Other bonus benefits we’ve received from credit cards:
- TSA pre-check (super short security lines)
- Free airport lounge access (free food and a quiet place to relax before or after the flight)
- Silver Elite status on Delta (comes with a few small perks)
- Free checked bags
- Various elite status with hotels which come with perks like free room upgrade, free breakfast, late checkout, etc.
- Car rental upgrades
Sure, some of you may be able to forget about all this and just drop the dough, and that’s fine. It’s just not my style. I actually hate spending money! Like, hate it. What I love is value. If I can spend less than 1/3 of what it would normally cost to have an incredible trip, then count me and my family in.
In the end, how much did we pay for our 16-day trip, all in (2 additional UK flights, 8 additional nights of accommodations, a few train/uber rides, basic car rental, gas/parking, lots of food, a few paid activities, and souvenirs) for 5 people?
Last year’s 17-day European road trip through parts of France, Luxembourg, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, and with stops in NYC came in at only ~$4,000 cash. That’s less than what most families pay for a week-long trip to southern California with 3 days at Disney (which we’ve also done for much less with points).
Sorry if this article sounds salesy (it’s the content writer in me). I’m not making a buck for this post. I just happen to have the travel bug and it’s contagious. I also find it slightly depressing when people don’t follow their travel dreams because they think it’s too hard or too expensive.
Do your own research and come to your own conclusions whether or not this is something you want to try. I just wanted to offer some real world experience to those of you who think it’s impossible…because it’s far from it.
Questions? Follow the above links to the Points Masters (because I’m not one of them) or hit me up. I promise I’ll be overjoyed to gush travel reward information at you.
May you and yours be blessed with many merry memories for years to come!