Traveling is one of the most rewarding and thrilling experiences you will ever take part in. You see things you never saw, talk to people that are different than you, eat foods that you’ll never forget, while looking at scenery that you may only see once in a lifetime. Sadly, for most it’s nothing more than a pipe dream.
Many people had dreams of traveling Europe for three months, or a goal to visit every Major League Baseball stadium. They live in Kansas and want to swim along The Great Barrier Reef. They long to see something tropical and maybe adventure to see an active volcano. But those dreams never become reality. There are many reasons for never traveling, family, work, or the biggest reason, money.
As someone who didn’t grow up with much money, traveling seemed so far out of reach. The idea of spending a summer living on the Florida coast wasn’t anything I imagined. Jumping on a plane to walk around the famous Seattle fish market wasn’t something that was in the cards for me. And I certainly wasn’t expecting to ever sit on Laguna Beach and watch the sun set over the Pacific. The best part is that I’ve done all those things and it cost me little to no money.
I’m not talking about getting good deals by using a booking agent. I’m talking about straight up free travel. How do I do it? Credit cards.
I learned about credit card points from a friend who was jetting off to city after city each week, just to “hang out.” It was a pretty simple concept, credit cards will give you enough points to travel the world and stay at great hotels just for hitting a minimum spend over a specific amount of time. For example a company might ask that you spend $3,000 over three months and in exchange give you 25,000 plus points to an airline or hotel.
While spending that amount may seem difficult, when you add up everything you buy each month, like groceries, clothing, or paying your bills, it’s easy to see how spending $3,000 over three months isn’t as hard as you think.
Some credit cards offer better points than others, like the Amex Starwood Preferred Guest Card. The card gives you 10,000 points after making your first purchase and another 15,000 points after spending $5,000 within the first 6 months of using the card. The card is nice because you can use the points for more than just a hotel. You can transfer points to use on airlines as well. I funded an entire trip to Seattle using this card and it only cost me $5 after using all the points.
The way it works is pretty simple. The more credit cards you get, the more you can travel for free.
But won’t having a bunch of cards hurt my credit score?
Protecting your credit score is extremely important. There are people out there who say that your credit score doesn’t matter. Those people are straight up wrong. A high credit score allows you to get lower interest loans and more credit. Credit scores are made up mostly of past financial actions, but can be slightly impacted by what you are doing now.
One factor that determines your score is your debt to credit ratio. If a credit card allows you a $10,000 credit limit and each month you only use $2,500 of it your credit score improves. The reason is because a credit card company recognizes that you are being smart with your resources and not purchasing too much with credit.
When I first got out of college I had poor credit. I didn’t have any assets except a car which I missed a couple payments on, because I forgot to send the check. I then applied for a great credit card, so that I could start building up points. I was denied. I ended up getting a more basic card instead Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card.
Over time I was approved for more and more cards and now I have the top cards you can get and never get turned down for cards. The best part is since I have so many card with a high credit limit I use less and less credit and continue to build my credit score. Because of credit cards I have an excellent credit score, proving they don’t hurt your credit score.
It’s all about how you use your card.
Credit cards can get you into a lot of trouble. But that is only if you use them wrong. The first thing to do when you get your card is to setup your account online. Set the card to auto pay a certain day each month. Then use the card as a debit card.
Each time you use the card, deduct that amount from your checkbook. That is how much you have left to spend from you bank account. Then each month auto pay will take the owed amount from your bank. It’s a simple matter of watching how much you have in your bank account.
That’s how you build up points and don’t miss payments. When you miss a payment that is how you get in trouble with owing money and dropping your credit score.
If you use the card like a debit card it makes racking up points pretty simple.
Which card should I get?
The card you get depends on your goals and credit score. As I mentioned earlier, the better your credit score is the better your chance of getting a great card is. I have been turned down for cards that later I was accepted for once I built my score up. As far as the type of card you get, that depends on what you want to get out of it. Some cards are great for cash back, but since this is a travel site I assume you are looking for a card that allows you to travel more. The best cards for traveling are:
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Benefits: 40,000 points when you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months and an additional 5,000 points when you add an additional cardholder. $95 annual fee waived for the first year. Points transfer 1:1 to Continental, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club and Amtrak. No foreign transaction fees.
Starwood American Express Benefits: Earn up to 25,000 bonus points. Get 10,000 Starpoints® after your first purchase on the Card, and an additional 15,000 after you make $5,000 in eligible purchases on the Card during your first six months of Card Membership. Redeem your Starpoints for flights with over 150 airlines with SPG Flights and stay at over 1,100 hotels in nearly 100 countries worldwide. You won’t experience any restrictions or blackout dates with your travel arrangements, either. There is a $0 annual fee for the first year, then $65.
Barclaycard Arrival Benefits: You receive 40,000 miles when you spend $3,000 within the first 90 days. There is an annual fee of $89 that is waived for the first year. You also earn 2x miles on all purchases and get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel.
Capital One Venture Card Benefits: 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months, equal to $400 in travel and the $59 annual fee is waived in year one. You receive 2 points for every dollar spent on everything and each point can be redeemed for 1 cent for travel.
Southwest Rapid Rewards Card Benefits: This might not be the best overall card, but it is much easier to be approved for than those mentioned above. 25,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in your first 3 months of opening your account. There is a $99 fee applied to your first bill. So you will end up spending $1,095 in the first 3 months to get the 25,000 points. You will also get 6,000 points each Cardmember Anniversary. A great starting point to those new to credit card points.
The credit card points world can be a rabbit hole. There are many ins and outs that allow you to get more points easier. Continue to check back to find new ways to travel the world for free.