Guest Post by Jason Field
By this point, you’ve hopefully been putting a lot of thought into figuring out how to intelligently limit your expenses, invest your savings and put yourself in the best financial position possible to ensure a better future for you and your family.
But one question you might be asking yourself is, where am I going to find the money to travel?
Fortunately for you, there are a lot of ways to travel the world at minimal-to-no cost.
Does this mean that you’ll be stuck staying in crummy hostels? Absolutely not. Will travel options be limited to sitting middle seat on a red-eye flight to Cleveland? In December? Who wants to do that?
Depending on your ability to utilize the travel hacks discussed below, you can stay in some of the nicest hotels in the world, sit in first class if you so choose, and travel to any destination that interests you.
The last time I actually paid for a flight or hotel was about 10 years ago, and I vow to never pay for either of those things again. As I often tell my friends when we discuss travel hacks, anybody who pays for travel is, to put it bluntly… an idiot.
Just kidding! What I mean to say is, anybody who is informed, such as you will be shortly, and still chooses to pay for their travel is not being as efficient with their money as they could be. Money that, as you know by now, could be used to pay down debt or invest for your future.
Let me first give you a brief background on my experience in travel hacking. By the age of 25, I was a millionaire (in travel points). That’s enough points for 20 round-trip flights to Europe, 40 round-trip flights to LA, or a one-month stay at the Four Seasons hotel in NYC.
My points have taken me to places such as California, New York, Florida, Mexico, Greece, Italy, Israel and Spain just to name a few. And yes, Cleveland too.
For most of us, traveling is either a passion or a necessity, but we often find ourselves in situations where we feel we are jeopardizing our ability to save in order to do it.
It doesn’t need to be that way.
There are some simple steps you can take to begin accumulating your own nest egg of travel points without negatively impacting your financial goals.
And by far the easiest method is to sign up for the right credit cards.
Before we dive in, I must make clear that travel hacking is not for everybody. As this playbook has stated numerous times, carrying excess credit card debt is a big no-no. Credit cards used the right way, can be a tremendous tool, but they are only effective if you pay your balance in full each month with zero exceptions.
Having a credit card should not alter your spending habits in any way. If you find you might be guilty of that, I would advise against utilizing travel hacking at this time.
For those that want to learn more, keep on scrolling.
If you use cash (or a debit card) on a regular basis and are under the age of 70, we need to talk. Seriously.
Sure, there are a handful of reasons why a debit card might make sense for some, however, you are missing out on a number of tremendous benefits that only credit cards offer such as:
- Most credit cards offer fraud protection so that in the event of a stolen card, all purchases will be reimbursed to you with almost no questions asked. Have you ever heard of a bank refunding somebody for money stolen out of their checking account without a full-blown, time-consuming investigation? I sure haven’t.
- Ever purchased something that never arrived? Was damaged? Was getting a hold of the seller impossible? Or the seller refused to give you your money back? No problem. The credit card company will refund you for that, too.
- Credit card companies offer a host of other perks including (but not limited to):
- Concierge services
- Airport lounge access
- Trip protection
- Luggage protection
- Cash back
- Dining rewards
- Discounts at restaurants and stores
- Ability to be used overseas, at no cost
I could give you 100 more reasons why you should be using a credit card, but the most important reason, hands down, is because you can accumulate points!
Points are the key to free travel. And the best way to accumulate points is with the right card.
Finding the one
When choosing a credit card, the two most important factors to consider are the spending bonus and the annual fee.
Spending bonuses are where most people accumulate the bulk of their points. Credit card companies regularly have promotions where you can receive a large sum of points after a certain amount of money is spent with the card within a specified period of time.
For example, The Southwest Rapid Rewards Card offers 60,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 within the first three months. 60,000 points can get you at least a few domestic round-trip flights.
Pretty cool, huh? But it is extremely important to not inflate your spending just to get these glorious bonuses. Instead, simply put all of your spending (groceries, utilities, gas, insurance premiums, ubers, gym membership, entertainment, etc.) on a particular card in order to hit the spending limit.
The key is to spend your money as you normally would and rack up the points that way.
While usually insignificant when compared to your travel savings, many credit cards come with annual fees. Annual fees for the most effective credit cards generally range between $50-$100, but many credit card companies will waive these fees for the first year.
It’s important to think about what you’re getting in return for your annual fee, including the points (the ability to accumulate them quickly and spend them easily, and in a way that meets your goal) and some of the other perks I mentioned earlier.
Excellent starter cards
- Capital One Venture – 50,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 within the first three months. $59 annual fee, waived year 1.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 within the first three months. 5,000 additional points for adding an authorized user. $95 annual fee, waived year 1.
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus – 40,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 within the first three months. $89 annual fee, waived year 1.
Frequently Asked Questions
How will this impact my credit score?
It’s true that each card you open and close will have a slight impact on your credit score. But I have opened and closed over 15 credit cards and have found that while my credit score has fluctuated some over the years, it is still in great standing.
Many fear that opening and closing cards will have a detrimental impact on their credit score. This is simply not the case as long as you pay your balances on-time, in full, every month.
How long should I keep my cards?
If you are opening the credit card solely for the spending bonus, I recommend that you close the credit card once the bonus points hit your account or a few months before the annual fee kicks in. But before canceling a credit card, make sure that you will not lose your points/benefits upon closure of the card, or use them up before you do.
How many cards should I have at one time?
I recommend that you have no more than four cards opened at one time.
What if I have a credit freeze in place?
No problem. Read this.
How can I learn more about the best cards available right now?
Which points and perks are the most valuable?
The Chase Ultimate Rewards points are typically the most valuable. They can easily be transferred to a ton of travel partners including United, Southwest, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Hyatt, Marriott, and a whole bunch of others.
Accumulating credit card reward points offers you the ability travel the world without negatively impacting your savings rate. Starting now, you have an opportunity to grow your points balance so you can take that trip you’ve been dreaming of. Yes, for free.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need help getting started.
Travel well, my travel hackers.