Everything You Need to Know to Travel with Credit Card Points
One of the most frequent messages I get on my Instagram account is, “I’m really intrigued and would love to learn how to travel for free like you do, but I have no idea where to start.”
Let me tell you, I get it! When we were first introduced to traveling with credit card points I was completely overwhelmed. I knew I wanted to travel more and this felt like it might just be the way to do it. But it is A LOT to take in at the beginning!
But now that I have 5 years of traveling for nearly free under my belt, I’m here to help you learn the basics and point you in the right direction so you and your family can start traveling more too! Thanks to travel credit cards, you can not only get amazing deals, but you can start adventuring to places you wrote off long ago due to financial constraints… for nearly free!
Whether you want to spend less on a Disney vacation, or take your whole family to Europe… Credit card points can help!
So let’s get started! Here’s everything that you need to know about how to travel for free with credit card points.
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What Does It Mean To Travel With Points and Miles?
So, what does it really mean to travel with points and miles? It’s as simple as earning points from everyday spending by charging purchases to the right credit card and redeeming those points for nearly free travel!
It involves adhering to a certain set of rules that were set up by each credit card company, airline, and hotel chain and using them to your advantage. These advantages include “free” or discounted travel, such as flights, hotel rooms, and rental cars and even travel perks like airport lounges and skipping the security lines at airports.
While this may sound intimidating at first, it’s actually a legitimate way to upgrade your traveling experience and it is fairly easy to do.
It’s important to note, however, that despite what you see on social media, this hobby isn’t for everyone.
Am I Eligible To Travel With Points and Miles?
There are some important things that you should take note of before I teach you the basics of how to travel with points.
- Your credit score: In order to be approved for many of the best travel rewards credit cards, it’s best to have a credit score over 700.
- You must have no credit card debt: Before you are eligible to earn points, make sure you have addressed any credit card debt you might have. What makes this travel “free” is the fact that you are never paying interest, late charges or fees to the bank. You are meeting minimum spending requirements within your budget and using your daily spending to your advantage.
- You pay off your credit card in full and on time every month: Not only does this increase your credit score and make you more likely to be approved for more travel credit cards in the future, but it ensures that you won’t go into debt for some free travel rewards. Bottom line: don’t spend what you don’t have. Pay your credit cards off in full and on time every month.
- You have a desire to travel more but expensive travel costs are holding you back: If you meet the criteria I mentioned above and the the only real reason you don’t travel more is because of how much it costs… then this is probably a hobby for you! Even if you think you don’t travel enough to make this worth it (let me suggest that this hobby will change that!), everyone at some point or another will need to stay in a hotel room or fly somewhere. So even if you just use the points to visit family or get a hotel for a wedding next spring, this hobby could allow you to do that without breaking into your monthly budget!
Before You Get Started Checklist
Are you intrigued yet? Do you feel like the list above describes you? Then let’s keep going! Here are some things you should have ready to make sure you get started on the right path. The following is a checklist that you can follow:
- You must first know your credit score: You can check your credit score for free using sites like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma. If your score is lower, no worries! Once you start paying off your credit cards in full and on time you should start to see that score go up. Then when you’re ready, come revisit this!
- Know what’s on your credit report: Along with your credit score, its a good idea to check your free credit report. This will give you all of the information about credit cards you have applied for in the past, such as which cards you currently have open and when you opened them. Then once you have all of that information you can download the Travel Freely app (also free) and input your credit card information there. This is one of my favorite apps for keeping track of important info related to our credit cards (we have over 20!).
- Determine your travel goals: It is important for you to have a general idea of your goals and where you want to go. Afterward, you can determine what kind of credit card points are best for you. For example, if your main travel goals are to travel to Europe, don’t apply for a Southwest credit card (they are better for travel within the United States, the Caribbean, and South America).
Travel Points and Miles Basics
Now that you understand the things you need to do and keep track of, the following are some of the basics to travel points and miles. These will help you understand the lingo in the points and miles world and also answer some of my most frequently asked questions.
What is the “Blue Bank”?
If you follow me on Instagram (if you don’t you should! I share my best tips there!), you probably see me say this a lot! The “Blue Bank” is just my code name for Chase Bank. Because I am an affiliate (meaning I make a commission from credit card referrals) I have to abide by a certain set of rules. One of them is that I can’t use the name “Chase” or any of their product names on Instagram.
The good news? I can say it all day long on my blog! But if you are ever watching a reel or story and I use that phrase, now you know what it means!
What Is the 5/24 Rule?
The 5/24 rule is an unspoken rule from Chase bank. What it means is that you won’t typically get approved for a new Chase card if you have opened five or more new card accounts in the past 24 months (from any bank or store!). Because of this rule, it often makes sense to apply for as many Chase cards as you possibly early on in your credit card journey. (Chase Ultimate Rewards are one of my favorite points currencies so this isn’t a bad thing!).
It is important to note that most business credit cards do not count towards this 5/24 rule, whether they are issued by Chase or another card issuer. This means you may want to prioritize business applications over your personal applications when applying for Chase cards or work them into your points earning strategy so that you aren’t filling up your 5/24 slots too quickly! (More on this in a bit).
What Is Player 2 Mode?
What if I told you that there was a way for you to earn credit card points twice as fast? This is where player 2 mode comes in.
Player 2 mode is a term that you will see come up quite often in points and miles discussions. You might also hear someone referring to their player 2 when talking about their earning strategy.
Player 2 mode is when you have a second person playing the points and miles game with you who you can earn points alongside you. Since the banks see you as two separate entities, that means you can apply for the same credit card, therefore earning a second bonus! You and your player 2 can work together to earn points faster in order to earn more cashback or, in our case, in order to travel to more places for next to nothing. You can even refer each other to credit cards you already have and earn a referral bonus which means even more points!
The Importance of Business Cards
A lot of people underestimate the power of business credit cards!
The most important factor that people don’t usually take into account is that business cards will not count toward your Chase 5/24 count. This is one reason you may want to work them into your credit card application strategy.
One common misconception is that you need to have a thriving business with an LLC and a tax ID to qualify for a business credit card. Want to know a secret? You probably qualify for a business card already and don’t know it!
If you have any type of “side hustle” that earns a little extra income in addition to your paycheck, you probably qualify. Here are just a few examples:
- selling kids toys or clothes on Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, Mercari or some other online selling site
- walking dogs
- Driving for Uber or Lyft
When you apply, just make sure you provide accurate details like your expected annual income (it’s ok if it’s only a couple hundred dollars!). You can apply as a sole proprietor and use your social security number to apply. On my first business credit card application I used my sales from Facebook Marketplace as my business and was approved with no problem! For more info on applying for business cards you can check out this article.
The Difference Between Flexible and Fixed Points
There are various types of award currency and these are called Flexible and Fixed points.
Flexible points are an award currency that allows you to convert or transfer points to other travel awards programs. For example, you can transfer Chase points to the World of Hyatt program 1:1 and use the Hyatt award system to redeem points originally earned from a Chase credit card. These kinds of points are valued higher than most currency award options due to the flexibility and multiple amounts of options to transfer and redeem.
Depending on the award currency that you decide to transfer to, you can often get more value for your points by transferring them.
Some examples of these flexible points are Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thank You Points, American Express Membership Rewards, and Capital One miles.
Fixed points on the other hand are the complete opposite. If flexible points have multiple options for transferring your points, fixed points are typically only good for one award program.
Some examples of these fixed points are points earned from Southwest credit cards, United credit cards, or Marriott credit cards. Southwest credit cards earn points that can only be used for Southwest flights.
Why Should I Transfer Points?
Let me first say that we booked our first points and miles funded trip entirely in the Chase travel portal. We didn’t transfer a single point and we still had a great time for next to nothing.
However, if you want to squeeze the most value out of your hard earned points, you will want to understand how to transfer those flexible points we just talked about, to transfer partners. All of the major Banks’ points systems allow you to transfer points earned through their programs to a set list of transfer partners. Each program will vary, and some will even overlap. (More on that below).
Here’s an example: Recently we stayed 4 nights at the Grand Hyatt Kauai in Hawaii. Standard rooms at this resort go for around $1000 per night. If I were to reserve one of these rooms in the Chase travel portal, one night would cost me 80,000 Chase Ultimate Reward Points (you get 25% more for your points if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred).
However, if I transfer my Chase points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio, I can book the same room for 25,000 points per night because that is what it costs within the World of Hyatt program. That is a HUGE difference!!
Different Credit Card Reward Programs
Different credit cards offer different credit card reward programs. All of them have a different list of transfer partners but some overlap! No matter what card you have, it is important that you take note of the different partners that these cards offer. Who knows, you might be missing out on a lot of opportunities!
- American Express: List of transfer partners
- Chase: List of transfer partners
- Capital One: List of transfer partners
- Citi: List of transfer partners
What Is a Minimum Spend?
You’ve probably come across this term quite often especially when looking at new credit card offers!
This term refers to the minimum amount of money that you have to spend in a certain amount of time in order to qualify for the different welcome bonuses that the credit card has to offer.
For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred has a minimum spending requirement of $4000 in 3 months in order to earn the standard welcome bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points. Most families won’t have a problem spending that amount in 3 months (I know ours doesn’t!) but just in case, here are some ideas for how to meet a minimum spend.
Are Annual Fees Worth It?
I hear people say all the time that they just can’t justify high annual fees on credit cards. Unfortunately, that can sometimes mean that they are missing out on travel perks and rewards that far outweigh the cost of the annual fee.
How do you know if an annual fee is worth it to you? Just do the math! Look at what perks and credits your credit card offers, make sure they are things you will actually use, and then subtract them from the cost of the annual fee.
My favorite credit card, the Capital One Venture X, has a $395 annual fee. I realize that number seems high, but every year I also get a $300 travel credit, a 10,000 mile bonus on my card anniversary (worth $100), and airport lounge access for my whole family. With those 3 things I easily come out ahead every year!
All of these annual fees are worth it ONLY when you take advantage of the perks and credits! Once you realize that you aren’t benefiting from those annual fees any more, it may be time to consider downgrading your card to a no annual fee card or even closing that card (make this your last resort if possible!).
So, What Card Should I Start With?
You’re probably wondering what credit card you should start out with. I suggest that you start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.
This is a great card that offers numerous traveling benefits and rewards. The following are the different benefits that you could receive from this card:
- Flexible travel rewards
- A generous sign-up bonus (60,000 points worth at least $750, but potentially A LOT more! Remember transfer partners!)
- Easy to earn points with other Chase cards and combine them all
- a 10% point bonus on points earned each year
- 25% boost when redeeming for travel via Chase travel portal
- A $50 hotel credit
- Ability to combine points from multiple cards in the same household
- Transfer points to airline and hotel partners
- Coverage if your trip is canceled or delayed
- Baggage delay insurance
- High-quality customer service
- Purchase protection
- Bonus earnings on travel, dining, select streaming services, and online grocery purchases
- 60,000 point bonus after spending $4000 in first 3 months
- $50 hotel credit
- 5X on Chase Ultimate Rewards travel, 3X on select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs) and 3X points on dining
- $95 annual fee
The Bottom Line
There’s no doubt that traveling with points and miles is a great way to not only TRAVEL MORE but to TRAVEL BETTER!
While it might sound too good to be true, I can tell you first hand that our family has traveled more in the last 5 years than we have in the last 20 combined. It has, without a doubt, changed our lives.
As long as you follow the tips I’ve shared here, don’t spend beyond your means, and pace yourself when applying for new cards, you too can start taking advantage of credit card points and miles.
Well, what are you waiting for!? Start earning those points! Like I mentioned earlier, a no brainer place to start is with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. But if you already have that card and you want to know where to go next, you can fill out a FREE credit card consultation here. I will give you my personal recommendation based on your credit card history and travel goals!
Keep in Touch!
For more beginner friendly points and miles tips, sign up for our newsletter here! (You’ll probably only hear from me once or twice a month so I promise not to overwhelm your inbox!)
More on Traveling with Points and Miles
- Travel Hacking for Beginners: How to Take Your Family on Vacation for Free
- How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass
- How to Book Disney Hotels with Points and Miles
- How We Stayed at an All-Inclusive for FREE
- How to Organize Your Credit Cards
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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.