Unless you are a professional business consultant who is on the road 320 days a year, it is unlikely you’ll ever earn enough frequent flyer or hotel points to travel the world for free. But that’s OK! You can still earn enough points and miles to see the world in style by travel hacking.
If you read our tutorial last month, you’ve already figured out how travel rewards programs work. And since you’re not a professional road warrior, you need to hack your way to free travel. This month, we’ll show you how to accumulate travel loyalty points/miles without ever getting on a plane or staying in a hotel.
The key to earning big points/miles is to get a travel rewards credit card. There are two main types of credit cards:
General Travel Rewards Credit Cards
- – These cards allow you to accumulate “points” that can then be turned into free airfare and hotel stays in locations from Austria to Zambia. A number of large banks offer this type of credit card including the Capital One Venture Card, the Chase Sapphire card, and the American Express Platinum Card. With these cards, you can book your travel directly with the card provider (for example, Chase Sapphire purchases accumulate into Chase Rewards Points, which you can then use to book your travel).
Company-Specific Credit Cards
- – Every airline and hotel company has their own travel rewards credit card (all underwritten by Visa, MasterCard, or American Express). These are good option if you are loyal to single brand or have strong preferences. If you live in an airline hub city, you might get a credit card affiliated with that airline.
So, which credit card is right for you? You first need to ask yourself the question – what are my travel objectives? For example, we both work full time and take many vacations by adding time to business travel. This means our airfare is often paid for by our companies, so hotel points are the most valuable to us. Which travel rewards credit cards you choose will be based on your travel priorities.
Travel reward credit cards all work in the same way. First, all cards have a bonus period. Once you are approved for the credit card, you are eligible for a bonus once you meet the requirements. Typically this bonus can range between 15,000 up to 50,000 points once you meet a minimum spend. This minimum spend level is usually something like $2,000-$5,000 over a period of time (we’ve seen as short as one month and as long as six months). Once you meet the requirements of the bonus period, the extra points are yours.
Second, travel rewards credit cards also provide you an on-going source of points/miles by rewarding you with 1-5 miles per dollar (or euro) spent. Some credit cards offer a higher-point-per-dollar rate when spent with them (for example, Marriott hotels offers 5 points per dollar when spent at Marriott locations, 2 points per dollar on all other travel, and 1 point per dollar on everything else). This tiered structure is very common among company-specific travel rewards credit cards. General travel credit cards tend to offer a fixed point level.
While most travel hacking tips tend to be the most beneficial to North Americans, it’s worth noting that travel rewards credit cards are not limited to Americans or Canadians. Nearly every major airline has a travel loyalty credit card (Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, etc.). There may be more restrictions on these in some countries, but they are offered.
Next month, we’ll share our top travel hacks you probably haven’t thought about trying.