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How I Use Credit Cards to Book Free Flights (and you can too!)

november 1, 2018

For way too long my perception of the world of travel rewards seemed too good to be true, like a trap of debt and hidden fees or some elusive club reserved for those with a high income. But let me tell you, if I have one regret in terms of my last 4 years traveling internationally it’s that I waited 3 years to begin reaping the benefits of these cards. In 9 months, using 3 travel cards, so far I have booked 4 round trip international flights for free (except twice, when I paid marginal taxes and/or booking fees) - saving me over $3000! My spending habits have not changed and it has only taken minimal organizational efforts. Interested? Of course you are. Here’s what you need to know:

 

Sign-up bonuses

The key to racking up miles (aka, free travel money) is to take advantage of sign-up bonuses offered by credit cards. Most cards offer between 30-60k miles when you sign up for the card and meet a minimum spending requirement (usually $1000-5000) in a defined area of time (usually 3 months). From my experience, 30k can consistently get you a round trip flight within the US or a one-way flight to most international destinations. Many cards offer other bonuses, such as free travel insurance, airport lounge access, TSA pre-check reimbursement, and more!

 

Reaching Minimum Spending Requirements

I put EVERYTHING (no cash or debit) on my rewards cards to take advantage of the mile bonuses and then pay it all off with my debit card at the end of the month. Doing so I have never had issues hitting the minimum spend to reach the sign-up bonus, but I also try to pick up new cards, just as I know a big expense is coming up. For example, I got my first 2 cards right before tax season and put my owed balance on those cards. Then I got my 3rd card just before I knew I’d be needing a new laptop. I’m now in the market for another card to use for all my Christmas shopping. If your expenses are quite low, there are tricks such as buying gift cards for places you go to regularly and spend enough over time, such as grocery stores or gas stations.

 

Daily Spending Rewards

On top of the sign-up bonuses, you earn miles on every purchase you make, usually $1 = 1 mile, but some cards offer double or triple miles in certain categories, such as restaurants or gas. Depending on your spending habits, these points can add up quite quickly.

 

Payments & Yearly FeeS

Now the catch with these cards is the cost - but this only applies if you are not proactive about making payments and canceling cards at the correct time. These cards have high interest rates, so there’s no point getting one to earn the rewards, but then fail to pay off the balance each month. You’ll be losing money in the end. Additionally, the cards with the most generous rewards usually have a yearly fee of at least $100, BUT it’s almost always waived during the first year. So the strategy is to sign-up for a card, get your bonus miles, use them, and then cancel the card before the year is up.

Credit Score

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Opening and closing cards so frequently is terrible for your credit score. That is false. Here is a good article debunking this myth. Essentially, the total amount of credit accounts (opened and closed) has a very low impact on your overall score. What’s much more important is payment history, derogatory marks, and credit utilization ratio (the amount of credit you use in relation to how much credit you have in all, experts advice staying below 30%). From personal experience, my credit score actually went up a few points, likely because my credit utilization ratio went down.

 

The cards i use...

Right now you can earn 60k miles with the Delta Skymiles American Express Card by spending $3000 in the first 4 months of card ownership:

With the United MileagePlus Visa, you can earn 40k miles by spending $2000 in the first 3 months of account opening:

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I have since also signed up for the Capital One Venture Card, offering 50k miles after spending $3000 in three months of opening:

If you guys are interested in the above cards, please use the links attached in this article - I do get bonus miles for referrals on the first two (Thanks in advance!). Also, I am looking to open a new card in the next month, so if you have one that you recommend, let me know and I’ll use your referral! Finally, if you have any additional questions, send me a line or comment below!

 

Happy spending and safe travels!

XOXO, L