Here’s an issue a reader needs help with. In this case, the “reader” is me. 🙂
Now that we are close to 1) having both kids far away from where we live (we are in CO and will have one kid each in VA and LA) and 2) once we have no kids at home, we’re going to travel a bit more, I’ve started to think about travel hacking.
Between the four of us we’ll be frequently jetting all over the U.S. (and various tropical locations — more on this in the months to come) and I’d rather travel for an extremely reduced rate (or even free) if I could.
But is travel hacking “worth it”?
I’m not sure, and that’s where I need your advice.
Travel Hacking Overview
For those of you unfamiliar with travel hacking, here are the basics as I understand them:
- You open a credit card with a large bonus of travel points (and there are a variety of points programs).
- You spend the required minimums on the card (not spending money you wouldn’t have otherwise or carrying a balance, of course) to get the bonus points.
- Once you qualify for the bonus, you cancel the card (as long as you don’t lose the points — some points you need to have the card to use) and move on to the next card.
- Once you accumulate enough points, you begin to redeem them for free (or close to free travel). There are a whole series of hacks here too so you get the most from your points.
I’ll let those of you more experienced in travel hacking fill in the gaps, but those are the highlights from my standpoint.
Worth It or Not?
So here are my thoughts in wondering whether travel hacking is worth it or not:
- On the plus side, who doesn’t love saving a TON of money on travel?
- On the minus side, It takes a TON of time and effort (you have to get the cards, track them, track the spending, cancel the cards, redeem the points, and on and on). Besides I’m not sure it’s that much more cost-effective (especially when you factor in the time issue) than opening up cash-back credit cards with big cash bonuses and simply paying for your travel.
So this is where I need your thoughts.
Do you think travel hacking is financially worth the time and effort? Why or why not?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Travel Hacking Resources
Before I close this post, I wanted to share some travel hacking resources I’ve come across just in case any of you want to dig a bit deeper into the subject:
- The Choose FI podcast on travel rewards is a GREAT place to start. I’ve listened to it once and plan to go through it at least one more time.
- They have a follow-up podcast that details what they call the “Chase Gauntlet”, which is basically running through several Chase Bank cards to get a ton of points.
- They also have a travel rewards page in case you want to read instead of listen.
- Travel Miles 101 has a great (and free!) email course on travel hacking. They also have a Facebook group that discusses how to make the most of cards, points, redemptions, etc.
There’s still a lot to learn but these seem to have laid a great foundation for me.
Yes it’s worth it. We have credit scores in the 800s but I am 49 and dh is 52. Retirement is probably 10 years away. We will be going to Amsterdam, Brussels, Bruge, and Paris for 11 days and will have to pay for one night of hotels. Everything else (plane fare, hotels) is taken care of by points. This allows us to not tap savings for a trip of a lifetime. We read a lot and we’re not into it as much as many others. Pay attention to the 5/24. Pay attention to the quarterly bonuses. It probably took us 3 years to get to this point and now that we have spent the points we will start over. Also remember that points programs can be changed with no notice.
jane janice says
My credit score just got raised from a range of 400 to a score above 750 with the help of a hacker i met from an old friend. My credit report was low and it gave me problems renting an apartment. I shared my problems with an old friend of mine on facebook then she told me about the good works of a hacker she uses in fixing her credit score among other things. She told me what the hacker is capable of when it comes to anything that has to do with hacker.I mailed him for help and he fixed my credit report in few days than i expected.Reach him at spystealth(.)org(at)gmail(.)com.
[email protected] says
It is totally worth it and you don’t have to spend much time on it either. I just wrote about how we are travel hacking to Colorado (to the new MMM Headquarters) next month! http://www.makesmarterdecisions.com/travel-hacking-way-colorado-planning-first-retirement-trip/
For the most part, we stick to Chase cards to earn Ultimate Rewards – which can then be transferred to other travel partners or used to rent cars (we’ve found them much cheaper at times! And I wrote about that on my site too.) We use most of our points on Southwest Airlines because we earned (hacked) a Companion Pass. We’ve done that twice. I fly free (except for about $11 in fees) on my husband’s points. You don’t even have to pay in cash. And it’s good for two years.
We both have over 250,000 American Airlines miles banked too. Those came from great 100,000 mile point bonuses a few years back. We each got two cards. With our rentals and with being able to pay for college (with no cc fees) – it was easy to meet the minimum spending.
There is a lot to learn and some great sites to help you learn it. If you want more information, just let me know. I’m happy to share 😉
You know, I live in Colorado. 😉
[email protected] says
I did! We’re flying into Denver on Southwest and then we’ll head to Longmont. Can’t wait! One thing I was going to add to my post – we earn thousands of extra points each year using shopping portals too. EASY STUFF. We need something at Lowe’s/Home Depot – and we go online and order it through a shopping portal. We’re already looking at what we’re going to buy online most of the time – and it’s one extra click. A $30 item becomes 100 points/miles. And they go get it off the shelf for us and it is waiting at customer service (and HD always gives us a bottle of water too for using online.) Start simple – and ask questions 🙂 Lots of folks out there to help. If you don’t like it – just switch back to cash back.
I’m assuming you’re getting the best price by using the portal, right? Which one is it?
[email protected] says
The portals take you right to the store website – so it’s the same price as if you would buy it in the store (online or in person). We always go for low price first. You just get extra points by clicking through a portal first. Works for cash back credit cards too – so you should always use a portal when you can (or something like Ebates or BeFrugal). Check this out as an example for Lowe’s. We would look at this – then go to our Chase Account and click through to get to the Lowe’s website to earn 3 points/dollar rather than 1. This stuff would be easier to explain over a beer 😉
[email protected] says
Would have helped if I included the example…
It is worth it to a degree. We had two sons in college and the one son’s college had a agreement with a hotel chain for a special rate. We got the rewards card and used it for that purpose and we got some free nights. The other sons location required different rewards programs at two different hotels chains because taking him to college was more of an “event” requiring more nights stays and not just a quick weekend and the first sons hotel chain was not even in the second sons locations. In all it was beneficial as we did use them .If you use it quite frequently you will get a benefit.
When I was traveling back and forth from LA to Detroit I think I had 6 trips back and forth so signing up for the airline travel card got me more rewards and a few flight free. However seeing that I am not traveling as much I have used all the points and let the card go. I had the card for 1 year and canceled it when they wanted to charge me a fee for the card.
With son number 2 almost done with college we will evaluate keeping the rewards cards as we might not use them enough. The first hotel chain for son number one we let laps as it is now too expensive and not that rewarding of a program so that was a 4 year run.
So if you are going to do the traveling any way you might as well get the rewards but for me it did come to a point that unless we are actually using it more than once a year than it may not be worth it to keep it.
Most definitely. Card cash back can also be incorporated into travel hacking. I clear around 3k of travel money from hacking a year. I spend maybe three to four hours a year on it. After a bonus we just switch cards. At renewal most cards prenotify and provide a refund if closed within a few weeks of fees, so just read your statements. You should do that anyway to avoid identity theft. Then ten firm minutes on a call to downgrade or cancel. That’s it. Point usage is not unlike shopping for the best deal. I do that anyway so that time is not unique to travel hacking.
How do you transfer points when you cancel a card (so you don’t lose the points)?
[email protected] says
You don’t always have to transfer them. Depends on the program bank/number of cards you have, etc. I have five Chase cards right now and I can cancel one and all my Ultimate Rewards (UR) stay in my UR account.
D. Davis says
Totally worth it in my opinion. Have been a “travel hacker” for years, and it has saved us thousands of dollars, and given us incredible perks we would not have received otherwise. A few tips I have learned:
1. Loyalty pays – pick a provider (airline or Hotel brand) and stick with it as much as possible. This can be challenging depending on where you travel, but it pays off.
2. Point values change regularly, and without warning. The flight that was 25,000 points yesterday can be 50,000 tomorrow. Book early whenever possible.
3. Even without the credit card, there are ways to earn points for most loyalty programs outside of the standard method. Examples include Bonus offers, Surveys, etc.
4. Most hotel programs allow you to combine points from multiple accounts, at low or no cost. This works well for us, as my wife and I often travel separately.
5. Look for “points and cash” offers. Last year I got 2 nights at a Hilton hotel for 1/4 of the points it would have normally cost, just by ponying up $20 cash for each night.
6. For hotels, use your loyalty to get free stuff. Ask when you check in for free breakfast, room upgrades, free bottled water, etc. Doesn’t cost anything to ask, and you never know what you might get. This works especially well if you have stayed there previously, although many times just being a member of their loyalty program is enough.
7. Don’t use the travel Credit cards for every purchase. If you take some time with it, you can calculate an approximate value of each point earned, and figure out what % you are getting back. Often I find that my standard cash back card gives me a higher %. Figure out how to maximize travel benefits without losing out on how much you earn back.
My current favorites:
Airline – Southwest – The Rapid Rewards Visa from Chase is a bit pricey, but we fly enough that it makes it worth it. 5,000 bonus points each year helps, and the fact that Southwest flight point values are typically lower (and variable with route and flight times) make this a good value for domestic travel.
Hotel – Hilton – Credit card is not worth it. Don’t get enough points to do much with. We simply maximize our points by trying to stay with Hilton brand as much as possible.
Hyatt – I also have the Hyatt Chase Visa card. $75 annual fee, but it comes with a free night each year, which is worth at least $50 more than the fee. These are really nice hotels, that are typically located in business travel type locations. This makes them great for weekend stays, as they are usually cheaper.
Hope this helps!!
Very helpful. Thanks!
Jeff B. says
We don’t stay in Hyatt’s much so I cancelled the Hyatt Card. We manage to travel enough to use our Marriott and Hilton cards. I am getting 40,000 points for the bonus on Southwest only spending $1,000. Our Flood insurance and deposit on a cruise covered that. With the Chase Sapphaire, we were able to instantly transfer points to our United account to upgrade to First Class to fly to South America. The cash part was only $500 a person. Not bad for a 10 hour flight. It isn’t hard to manage. Two airlines and two hotels and a main credit card. Most are on auto pay so I don’t forget to pay a balance. We use the free hotel nights so it pays for the fee.
Capital YES, it’s worth it. The Travel Miles 101 course is eye opening. Two big realizations for me – 1, if done right, you’re getting around a 30 to 35% rebate on your purchases. MUCH larger than the 1 to 3% of regular reward card usage. 2, this money is tax free. $10k worth of travel rewards equates to $15k of earned income for me… which definitely makes it worth my time to keep track of the details. We’ve become so disciplined with our spending (prior to travel hacking) that we haven’t had issues with overspending, which was always one of my fears with 100% credit card use. Go for it!
“you’re getting around a 30 to 35% rebate on your purchases. MUCH larger than the 1 to 3% of regular reward card usage.”
I hear this quote often, but when it’s used it compares points cards WITH the sign up bonus to cash cards WITHOUT the bonus.
If you get cash cards with cash bonuses, those add up to 30% to 35% as well, don’t they?
Depends on the offers and the cards. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be turned into cash, but when used for some airlines or hotels, go a lot further than the cash. More bang for my buck.
I guess I have the contrarian opinion on this. I do not think its worth it to take the hack approach. Credit card companies offer these benefits for a reason. And charity is not one of them. They make money when you do not pay attention, when you inadvertently pay a bit late, when you do not meet one of the special clauses that was in the tiny writing in the terms and conditions, etc. The amount of points needed to redeem a free trip or a free hotel is so large that its probably cheaper to figure out a way to get a discount through AAA or other organization and pay yourself. For example, I recently accumulated some points with a major hotel chain and decided to cash in some points for an overnight weekend trip at one of their lower end hotels. The best deal with points was 30,000 points, which roughly translates to $300. The room rate was $125. So using points did not make sense because you could use the points on something else. By the time I decided what to do , several hours had gone by. I could have been doing something more productive with my time. My recommendation when it comes to credit cards is to get one that gives you something you routinely use (cash back, discounts on groceries or gasoline) and don’t bother chasing points. One last thing, the lure of the points is such that your behavior changes. You start justifying in your head purchases that you would not otherwise make in order to get the points. Also, once you use the points, you will get the upsell and usually end up paying some cash. Ultimately, I do not think its worth the effort and the energy can be spent on more profitable activities that can then fund your trips.
I’m thinking many of the hacking sites us the retail price when telling how much they saved.
In your example above, they say they saved $300 when the real savings is $125.
Then again, I’m new to it and not completely sure.
I’m not worried about fees, charging more, etc. I think that happens to less disciplined money managers but I’m way past that point now.
Appreciate your thoughts as I have considered many of these points myself.
Jeff B. says
When you get the bonus points for signing up, that is almost free money. We get certifcates for free hotel rooms every year and manage to use them. I could ditch the United Card, but it guarantees Group 2 boarding with the free checked bags. Never paid late on the cards. Never had an issue using miles with airfare or hotels.
I completely agree with this assessment. I see people, including in the comments section of this post, throwing out numbers with reckless abandon.
They neglect to include that:
* Often they’re talking about stuff they wouldn’t choose to pay cash for (like “I saved $6000 on a first class ticket to Europe!” when a coach ticket would have cost $500)
* They /always/ neglect to account for the cash rebate they’d have gotten on a bog standard 2.5% cash back card
* They use the retail price to value what they got, rather than the internet price
Are they really saving money if they have to fly a red-eye flight to use points when they’d have otherwise chosen to fly during the day (at the same cash price as the red-eye, but no mileage seats available)?
These programs are like the tax code. A more complex tax code complicates and distorts the decisions you make. People take out mortgages to “save money” on their taxes. They calculate the tax benefit of having kids or not. They decide to work more or less because of marginal rates. They move to low-tax states to geographically arbitrage their 401k withdrawals. They hire accountants to deal with the complexity.
These programs are the same. People make decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make because, like it or not, even smart people cannot deal with complexity. Cash cuts through all that.
Great comment. I feel the same way. I have used some of these cards for very specific purposes and they can save you some, but I find that there is a lot of fine print and sometimes it’s not worth the hassle (those who view travel hacking as a hobbie will disagree). I also think that I indirectly spend more trying to meet the requirements. I find my usual will power balancing wants vs. true needs draining.
Something else that is becoming more popular esp. as rate are kicking up is the bonuses for deposit banking accounts. A couple could net several thousands per yr chasing those bonuses and there’s no spending trap to fall into.
This is EXACTLY what I’m wrestling with as I decide what to do…great points!
This is going to make me sound like your Grandpa’s Grandpa but for me personally (34 year old entrepreneur and recent reader of your blog) I have to look at who I’m doing business with. My wife and I have been very involved in our local community teaching personal finance to folks and I have seen many cc companies take advantage (rate hiking) people over the years. Some of these could have been avoided by responsible decision making but some could not have been avoided. My wife and I don’t own a single cc for that reason. I always say it’s important for me to not do business with snakes because they tend to bite. Even the little innocent garter’s that my son catches are opportunistic attackers (: I think we have to remember that the cc companies wouldn’t do it if it weren’t MORE than worth it. My two cents which may be worth less than that (: Great article and discussion. God bless
I transferred one of my brokerage accounts from TD Ameritrade to Scottrade, and they gave me a $10,000 bonus. I think spending my time doing that stuff is a better return than the travel cards.
I have been travel hacking at least 12 years. When you it’s new to you, it takes some time to learn. But now it’s just part of my life. I don’t apply for as many cards as I used to but when a good deal comes up, both my husband and I will each sign up for one and then we sign up our business if possible. The most recent one we signed up for was the Chase Sapphire card that offered 100k sign up bonus (bonus has since been reduced). 200k points to travel!
We don’t cancel cards, we downgrade to no fee cards. But true travel hackers close the accounts and reapply in 24 months again. That requires more upkeep. We keep cards so we can take advantage of 0% offers (to take advantage of other types of “hacks”).
I hope you earn points or cash with your daily credit card?? Surely you already use credit cards, right?
[email protected] says
We got the same 100K bonus (hubby and I) and we keep them too and downgrade for the 0% offers. Just used two the other day 😉
Jeff B. says
I flew to South America with the 100K points I got from Chase Sapphaire Reserve. I have a Hilton Card, a marriott card, United and Southwest.
Scott McGovern says
What type of 0% offers do you see? Can you give examples?
I do, but I use cash back cards now. Details here:
We’ve done some of the “hacking” on a limited basis but find it to be difficult to manage the different cards since my husband tracks all of our spending by deducting the credit card charges directly from our checking account as they occur. At the end of the month our credit card bill is covered already and we have a better idea of exactly how much money we have spent at any point in time. Deducting several different credit cards can be tricky.
That aside, the one credit card we use consistently is our SW Rapid Rewards. From what I can tell, the advantages of this card with the companion pass which you usually get easily the first year due to the 50,000 mile bonus is better than those of other credit cards. The other bonus is that SW Rapid Rewards always has seats available. If there is a seat you get it. The two drawbacks that you need to be aware of is that you the owner of the card and your companion need to fly the exact same itinerary. This isn’t a problem usually for us as we travel together. The other drawback is that SW has an extensive network in the US and Caribbean but no other international flights.
Finally, while SW is literally the Greyhound of the Skies, their service is generally better than that of many other airlines in the US, their staff friendlier and they don’t charge for 2 bags per person, which saves money as well. I fly them exclusively for business which helps rack up other miles too.
I think I will work the system for the SW companion pass for sure — sounds too good to pass up.
Try to get the Companion Pass early in a calendar year. It is then good for the rest of the year and all of the next year.
Dads Dollars Debts says
I have used the Southwest card and received a companion pass the last 2 years. This means anywhere I fly, my wife flies for free. Not a true travel hack, but I have enjoyed the perk and it is easy to use (no time spent monitoring accounts, etc.)
Another answer of “it depends”. Meaning, it depends on what you are really looking for as each question will give you different answers.
Are you looking to max out airline travel?
Are you looking for cash back/rebates/rewards?
Are you looking for hotel stays paid for?
Focus is the name of the game.
If you are looking to travel on airline points, Southwest has hands down the best deal going with the Companion Pass. Essentially, when you reach the tier status, your companion flies for FREE on every flight you book regardless of how you paid for it. Every dollar you spend, you get points which in turn are for tickets and keeps the process going.
Marriott or hilton credit cards, points roll up very fast.
Rebate cards are nice but the cash back is a gimmick. There are some cases where you’d have to spend $100,000 to make the 1.5% back worth it. that’s only $1,500.
Regardless of what you choose, the power is sticking to 1 method and attacking it until you reach the levels you need.
Definitely worth it. Hotel cards in particular. Last year I signed up for two different Hilton credit cards, paid my existing expenses (including college tuition payments) within the allotted time period, and came up with Gold status and over 100K points.
That translated into 4 nights at the Hilton Orly in Paris. I was greeted personally by the manager, who, because of my Gold status, gave us free full breakfasts. For the four of us that translated into 100 Euros per day. Instead of making instant oatmeal in our room, we fed two hungry teenage boys a daily breakfast buffet.
We also received the annual free night certificate, and I stayed at lower point hotels in the US later in the fall, receiving Gold benefits, without ever spending a paid night at a Hilton property in 2016. The annual fees totaled about $165 for the two cards. I cancelled one at renewal, kept the other for $95 and will be using my free night next week at an Atlanta hotel that would otherwise be $175.
That’s just one example. I’m writing this from Memphis, where we are staying at a Marriott for free en route to Atlanta, where we’ll spend the entire time for free at Hilton properties.
The key is focus — in 2013 we focused on airline miles and flew four of us round trip to Europe for $400 in fuel surcharges. Last year we focused on hotels because our travel dates were less flexible.
I do have the Hilton Honors Amex and use it for hotel stays as it gives me 5x points.
It worked GREAT when I was traveling for work so much. Not so great now that I stay in hotels much less.
Marjorie Helms says
Totally worth it!
For my family (hubby, me and two boys now 13&16), we live in Colorado and love to go to the beach. We took a ‘once in a lifetime’ two week vacation to the Bahamas in 20 and fell in love with it! We used planned spending from an inheritance – about $10K. We stayed at a Comfort suites (next to the Atlantis) because of the price difference but we still had full access to Atlantis water park and beach. This led us to a free vacation in Phoenix/time-share sales trip. My husband wasn’t keen on the idea but when he sees what great luxury travel we are doing on low $$, he joined me. I learned that it would take me 4 years and $18K (to buy in) to get a week free at Comfort Suites. This is NOT a great deal so started looking closer to how to get back to the Atlantis for free.
Done! We are going back this Christmas with 7 free nights and first class tickets round trip using the Total Rewards program through Caesers Palace (3 of the free nights are from Marriott credit card points). When in Vegas with my sisters in April (and $5K on hand), I worked the system over the 3 days playing $1 slots to get the points (and bonuses) for the trip. Statistically, I should only lose $350 with a 97% payout.
Obviously, this requires discipline and stopping when you reach your point goal for the day (the program gives 10K tier credits when you spend $5K) Luckily, I hit a $14,500 jackpot about an hour in on the first day so was able to try a lot of different things ($5 slots? $20 slots?) to see what worked best. My husband and I golf and love spas and Total Rewards gives a lot of free travel to their high rollers. 🙂
With the extra winnings, I purchased 4 first class round trip tickets (watch skyscanner for prices – mine RT Denver/Nassau were under $1K each) so the vacation is basically free.
This summer, we took a month and drove across Canada starting in Seattle where one of my sisters lives and ending in MN where all my in-laws are. Vancouver BC, Jasper, Banff, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg. Everywhere we stopped be used Starwood hotels. I used this chain because I have been a fan of both Marriott and Westin for years and they have lots of hotels overseas. For many of the chains, if you maintain a certain status for 5 years, you are granted that status for life.
Some advice? Don’t take early luxury trips ‘for the kids’. We waited to go to Disney/Universal studios until the boys were 11 &14. Younger and they don’t remember the trips when they are older. Going camping or to Grandmas is the best when the kids are young. Now that they are teenagers and it is time to explore the world.
Also, read the fine print. When I scoured the Starwood promotions, they had a ‘birth year’ rate that isn’t obvious at first. This means in Vancouver BC, we spent $650 CA$ the first night at $CA62 the second 2 nights. And we were upgraded to a gorgeous suite on the bay (2 BR and 2 bathrooms!) because of our gold status. The other thing the gold status gave us was free calls to the US which saved $$$$.
We are planning an ‘around the world’ trip on the United/Star Alliance system and Starwood hotels in the summer of 2019. I expect to reach platinum in the Starwood system and 1K on United. I am also expecting to become Seven Seas in the Total Rewards system. Then the boys are off to college and my husband and I retire. 🙂
It does take time to travel hack but I love it. As with anything else, it is about making your money work for you!
Wow. You should write a book of tips!!!! 😉
The Golden Thread of Truth says
Maybe I will
Worth it now that your kids are in college and you are “retired”. Prior – usually not.
I started card/travel hacking a few years ago, and all the contrarian views are correct to a point. Many bloggers compare the points “price” for first class or business class tickets, when in reality I would NEVER pay cash for them. They also compare the points “price” to that same flight in cash, when in reality most of us are not that brand loyal – we would take the cheapest tolerable route, rather than only Delta or only American. So the valuations online tend to get inflated.
Same with hotels – I have spent my “free weekend nights” in nicer hotels than I would normally pay cash for, so I don’t value them at the nominal rate of the hotel – I value that at the cheapest “acceptable” room available.
That said, I keep a spreadsheet of savings I have generated from credit cards compared with my cheapest alternative in cash, and I have saved about $12K in the past 2.5 years. Does not account for my time spent doing this, but to be honest I love doing it so it is more a hobby than work.
I am now stationed in Hawaii, and pay for about half of our flights with points and half with cash.
I also get certain CC fees waived for being on active duty, so YMMV.
Sounds like I have a free place to stay in HI now! You have extra space, right? 😉
Hold that thought! We have had so many visitors this summer that another group may lead my wife to divorce or murder! ? Check back next year
FYI, we do live in CO. Maybe you wife could be tempted by a trip here. 😉
100% worth it if you are financially responsible. If you’re on this site, then its likely you can handle finances reasonably. As far as tracking new cards, its as simple as using Mint or Personal Capital to make sure card activity is correct and in check. Put together a little spreadsheet with the minimum spend requirement, days left to meet it and how much you’ve spent towards it. After that its simply spending money as you normally would.
Using points can be a bit of a game to find the best deal, but in the end this was basically free travel anyways, so trying to optimize your point use is completely up to you. Like most things in life, you can spend as little or as much time as you want to stretch your dollar/points. Once you have done it a couple of times, you will know the first place to go for points use and it will become second nature to look at point values.
There is a Reddit community on this:
In my opinion: meh.
Get a good cash back card. For years I used the Schwab 2% card, now I use the USAA 2.5% card. Put everything on it. If you don’t qualify for that (my dad was in the military), I think there are still 2% cards.
That gets you 75% of the way there for zero effort.
The next 15% starts to take effort, and the last 10% takes a lot of effort. Starting down that path is a slippery slope, akin to chasing yield at high interest savings accounts.
Every few years I get sucked in and I always regret it.
Last year the Chase Sapphire Reserve card was offering $1500 in travel credit with some pretty nice perks to boot. So I bit. Here’s where that extra 15% starts to come in to play. If I pay for travel or restaurants on that card, I get 3% back, with a 1.5x points multiplier if I book later travel through their portal (for an effective 4.5% back). That’s the 15% I mention above.
Then I got the Chase Freedom 1.5% back card, which points can be transferred to the above Reserve card for effectively 2.25% back. That’s an extra bit of effort.
But you know what? Last time I flew, the flight I found on Chase’s portal was more expensive than what I found elsewhere (the airline I ended up on wasn’t available through Chase). And often I book hotels last minute; trying to do that through Chase is a pain. The real hackers find the best frequent flier deals, then move points from Chase to those programs, and book that way.
But the possibilities quickly bifurcate. Now instead of exchanging dollars for a service, at a price that is easily determinable by looking at kayak.com you’re having to jump through hoops at a dozen different websites to look for mileage tickets or points for hotels, worrying about blackout dates, etc…
Some people view this as a challenge, and don’t mind spending their free time on those activities. For them it’s more enjoyable then going to a movie or reading a book, so of course they don’t mind doing it. I’ve tried it, and found myself spending hours trying to optimize the last couple dollars, and realized that for me, keeping it simple and getting 75% of the way there is the better approach.
Cash never expires. Cash value is not at the whim of the accounting department at a random airline or credit card company. Cash is universal.
So I’m back to using my 2.5% cash back USAA card. Getting cash, paying for stuff in cash. My Chase Rewards account has 111,331 points in it that I’ll have to use eventually.
Sounds like there is a biz opportunity for some expert hackers to act as travel agents for those who just want to earn bonuses, but don’t want to bother learning all the rules and tricks to optimize travel.
Yes it does!!!
Great points (no pun intended.)
I have a 2% cash back Fidelity card and other cards that earn me up to 5% in various categories, so I earn 2.5% to 3% cash back each year.
This is why I’m wondering if the added time is worth the reward.
I have not used my USAA card in years because it’s only 1% cash back, I will ask them about the 2.5% cash back.
I’ll say one more thing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
If you’re rich, the time and mental energy is better spent elsewhere than on this incremental yield. If you’re not rich, you won’t qualify for most of the best programs anyway.
There’s probably some space there in the middle for moderately affluent people with a stay at home spouse who doesn’t mind managing rewards programs as a hobby. But it’s like clipping coupons. You’re not going to get rich doing it, and it’s likely to result in some mistakes along the way that may negate much of the supposed benefit.
David Little says
It is a big world and there is a lot to see.
We collect points, largely via an Aeroplan program card… This gives us (typically) 2-4 flights per year (Europe, N.A., and S.A. are the destinations in play). Net value of $1.5K to $2K per annum.
Any way I slice it, useful, but not a factor.
Our energy is best focused on going, doing, experiencing. Figuring out the best restaurant for a dinner in Lima, this October, is where value is found! (post Machu Picchu, post the Amazon rain forest, and more).
La Red restaurant in Lima is very good, local food, good prices.
The only travel card we use is the Southwest reward card (they fly most places we go from DIA). And it only makes sense when the points are free for the new-cardholder teaser. So we get a new card and cancel before the renewal fee. We bounce back and forth between my name and my wife’s. I did the math and our standard 2% cash-back Visa cards accumulate the same fare “value” as the SW card when the SW card is used for non-travel purposes, so we don’t use the SW card for daily charges. What I mean by “value” is the SW miles for a $100 purchase will buy about the same amount of travel on SW as the $2 back on Visa, and we don’t always travel by SW. Especially since Frontier has been giving flights away for $20. The new-card, cancel-card game hasn’t hurt us–still have credit scores in the mid-800s. And, honestly, I think we save more money by my wife’s willingness to shop for fares and deals than we do from any kickbacks; costs vary so much that a bit of time on websites pays huge dividends.
You can pick and choose your “travel hacking” activities. Here is my targeted feedback, designed to achieve maximum benefit with minimum investment of time.
-First, you can use credit cards with ongoing benefits that you don’t need to cancel. (As others have commented, this feels more ethical than always cancelling cards quickly.)
-Two of the best blogs are “View from the Wing” and “One Mile at a Time”. (Ben Schlappig, who writes “One Mile at a Time”, is earning a good living from his blog, and from his award travel booking service. He’s got about ten people working for him.)
-As others have commented, the Southwest Companion Pass can be an enormous benefit if your travel patterns fit its “profile”. Google it for lots of info on how to earn and optimize it. (The Southwest Premier card has a $99 annual fee, but gives you 6,000 Southwest points every year, which almost offsets the fee. For me, it’s a keeper. However, some prefer to cancel it so they can get the signup bonus every 24 months.)
-And many feel Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points are the best transferable currency. They transfer to Southwest, United, British Airways, Hyatt Hotels, and other partners instantly. They can also be used to purchase revenue tickets on the Chase portal at 1.5 cents each (if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card) or 1.25 cents each (if you have Chase Sapphire Preferred). (The Reserve has a $450 annual fee, but if you travel much you get $300/year rebated back to you in travel credits, making the effective annual fee $150. And the card earns triple UR points on travel and restaurants. The Preferred has a $95 annual fee, earning double UR points on travel and restaurants.)
-If you frequently stay in one place for 4 nights or more, the Citi Prestige card has an awesome benefit – it will rebate the cost of the 4th night of hotel stays booked through Citi Concierge. I’ve used this benefit 7 times this year, saving over $1,500 – and I’m a rank amateur compared to some travel hackers. (You can use the benefit in various ways. In my case, I sometimes use it to save money; sometimes to stay at nicer hotels while staying within my budget, and sometimes in place of using hard-to-earn Starwood or Marriott points.) The card has a $450 annual fee, with a $250/year airline credit, making the effective annual fee $200. (The card earns 3x points on travel. Points can be redeemed on the Citi portal for 1.25 cents each toward airfare, or can be transferred to various partners, which most feel are inferior to the Chase partners.)
We use the IHG Mastercard (Holiday Inn brand of hotels). My husband and I each have a separate card. We use them in conjunction with the IHG membership. It gives us one free night at any of their hotels per year for each card and we use the cards for everyday purchases to rack up points. When we do stay at a Holiday Inn and pay for it using either card, we get 5 points per dollar spent from the credit card and additional points for having the membership. The fee was $49 per year for each card, waived the first year (don’t know if they are still offering that). We each got sign up bonuses of 70,000 each for a total of 140,000 points and 5,000 additional points each for adding each other as authorized users. We are not planning to cancel them to move on to other cards at this time. The points can be used for stays at any IHG branded hotel for sure and possibly for flights, although I have not looked into that as much. The bonus points go a long way towards making the card worth it.
I really enjoy your blog, and have learned a good deal from your posts along with some new ideas. Keep up the good work. I’m torn on the travel hacking, mainly because of all the work and cards you need to have to really make it work out (from the reading I’ve done on the subject). We did take the advice of “The Points Guys” and Mad Fientist last year and applied for a received the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It’s definitely helped us so far, and we are trying to ratchet up the travel in the coming months. We hit it at the time where we got 100,000 bonus miles for hitting the spend level in the first 3 months. Plus our daughter is getting married shortly so all the charges for that are on CSR. We also took advantage or getting part of our Global Entry paid (which gets us TSA Pre Check as well). Even the $495 fee is partially off-set by the $300 travel credit you get each year. Anyway, no way is this close to what the real travel hackers do but it’s a start.
If you want some more helpful tips and a nice way to look at travel cards to find what might be best for you check out Mad Fientist. Here is a link to his resources page. http://www.madfientist.com/resources. Best of luck with the path you chose on this.
That was a simple, but comprehensive explanation of travel hacking. Maybe, that will be a project for the fall. It seems like a great way to save on travel if you don’t mind doing some research and paperwork.
Let me start by saying I have been a long-time reader of this blog and your previous blog. I have optimized my cash rewards based on your recommendations…so I have the same or similar cards as you. Each quarter, I print a wallet size reminder for my wife’s wallet and my wallet for which card to use depending on the quarterly categories. I never saw the value in collecting miles at 1 mile per $1 spent.
But in the last six months, I’ve also become a big fan of Choose FI, Mad Fientist, Travelmiles 101, etc and have decided to take the travel rewards plunge. I missed the “do it for the sign-up bonus” (period). So, I’ve taken the plunge in the last three months and hit the bonus for three Chase travel cards, mostly from summer vacation travel and then regular spending.
What I’m trying to figure out is how to optimize the opening, closing, and minimizing annual fees. Focusing on Chase cards and staying within the 5×24 limit for me and my wife, I have taken the Choose FI spreadsheet and tweaked it a bit. Also, you don’t want to open a card, get the bonus and close the card right away…this could trigger repercussions from Chase (have to read the small print). To me, it’s probably best to start with one person (e.g., me), open a card, spend the minimum amount, put the card aside, open another card and repeat until I have opened 5 chase cards. I have focused on United Miles and Chase UR cards. What I plan to do is to close the card at the end of the first year before the first/next annual fee. At the end of the year on my card, I’ll open that same card for my wife and hold for a year. Once she hits 5×24, it’s back to me opening the same card. This way, I will always have a like card and can transfer the points between cards and hopefully minimize annual fees. Make sure points transfer between cards before closing a card and missing out on the points…and you have to have Southwest cards open to use the points. Others have commented that the Chase Saphire Reserve has a large $450 annual fee, but gives a credit of $300 for travel expense. So a micro optimization, is to make sure that when you open that card and earn the bonus is timed to be when you would normally travel and spend $300…but not a big deal to spend $300 later in the year you hold the card.
One comment on Chase Southwest cards. The 110,000 points was easier to achieve with just bonuses on the two cards before one of the cards dropped the bonus from 60,000 to 40,000. Now, it would take you a few more months (depending on spending) to achieve the 110,000 SW points to collect the companion ticket. As someone else mentioned…the amount of time to use the companion ticket is when the 110,000 points are earned…to optimize this, all the 110,000 points have to be eared early in a calendar year.
I have not tried to redeem anything, but that seems like the most challenging part and time consuming part. I would only use miles/points for what I would normally buy (not using miles/points for first class just because I can). The interesting part of this is I might commit to using points/miles (United, 11 months before travel to get super saver rate), before getting to the sweet spot of flight discounts (6-9 weeks before travel). But, you can’t always optimize everything.
I have also not thought about hotel cards yet, because we normally just find the best deal for hotels or use a timeshare (another can of worms) when we travel. Some of the hotel cards don’t affect the 5×24 rule, I may open hotel cards between the end of my year of opening cards until my wife can start her 5×24 year.
As far as if it’s worth it for me, time will tell…but you can already tell that I have consumed some time thinking about this.
Hope that helps. Look forward to you blogging about your decision and experience.
I love this comment AND the one right after it!
Both are well-stated and have completely opposite opinions!!!
For those with little to no money trying to stretch their budget, this hassle might be worth it … might! Once you reach financial independence part of the point is to free up your time to spend on the things that matter to you rather than using it to chase dollars. If you already have the money you need to coast to the end, why would you put up with extra hassle and trade precious time which is extremely limited as the sand falling through the hour glass gets less and less with each passing day to acquire a very small amount of extra money which you already have enough of.
(as a disclaimer I am not saying once you reach FI you would never trade time for money. I am still working to expand my real estate business and make more money and that takes time. However, there are two things that are different about that. 1. I enjoy working on my real estate business, it is not a hassle. 2. The amount of extra money I can make as my business expands is quite significant which I can use to enhance my life, set up my kids better, support causes I believe in, etc. We are talking 7 figure or greater types of changes over the rest of my life time. Those are changes that will matter. Saving a few hundred extra dollars a year on travel (if it is even achievable) versus cash back is not a savings that will even be measurable at the end of my life.)
In addition, you typically end up having to make inferior choices as mentioned above with black out dates, travel restrictions, etc with respect to the ways they will let you spend the points.
I have honestly never understood the fascination with travel cards. It seems like people are seduced by the concept of free travel, but it is no more valuable than cash back that is applied to other things especially when you can easily get a couple cards that get you 2+% on pretty much everything with basically zero effort, zero time commitment, zero hassle. That’s a lot of zeros and I like zeros.
Travel points are vastly inferior to cash. Why would I want something the lets me buy only certain things at certain times, and certain places when I could have cash which lets me buy anything, anytime, at any place.
The answer could come back that I was going to spend that money on travel anyway. Really? Are you sure? When you have the points you know you need to use them so you do. Could things change and maybe you weren’t going to do what you thought? Could you have been thinking you were going to travel differently, to different locations, stay in different accommodations, at different times but changed your plans to fit what would work with your points? I am sure that happens regularly if not almost always. A key word in financial independence is the second word. Points aren’t independence and freedom, they are constraining and restrictive. Cash is freedom.
Can you work out a way to get slightly more travel points value than cash value. I am sure you can. After all the downsides to points versus cash would anyone guess that I would care? Not even remotely!
Now that’s a post I can get behind!! Thank you Apex!! Well said and thank you for the logical point of view.
Yes great point.
Money is fungible, points are not & time is precious.
Wow, you got a lot of inputs, ESI.
I am waiting for your analysis and summary. Cheers ?
I’m in general agreement with the “it’s probably not worth my time since I have better things to do crowd.”
That said, I do like to learn new things and (oh BTW) I have a personal finance blog, so travel hacking gives me something to both experience and write about.
I’m still sorting out what we’ll do personally as travel is going to be a huge part of retirement for us. I’ll certainly keep you all informed as things progress.
One thing that has kept us from travel hacking is concerns about our credit rating. Won’t it hurt our rating to keep opening and closing up credit card accounts? We currently have two airline cards, one cash back and one points card but thinking of opening another. Our credit is over 800.
Supposedly opening these cards only hits 10-15 points and that is temporary.
That’s based on estimates from others doing this — not my own experience — so YMMV.
I think I opened 3 cards in 2017. My scores, always in 800s, maybe went down a bit (7 points) for a month, but them went up to highest it’s ever been. I just would NOT open credit cards if you’re about –in the near future, apply for any sort of loan. I also closed a few cards, so that may have impacted negatively a bit too.
One thing to note, is I make no income, just household income through my spouse. You totally can, and should, apply for your own cards, to establish your own credit history. When it asks for income, I put 0, and when it asks for total household, I include my spouse’s salary.
I did a few times with different airlines credit cards because my family is in Hong Kong, getting overseas air tickets are easily US$1000 per person. Since airlines use a fixed amount of mileage to redeem a ticket (different class requires different mileages), I can still spend 65000 mileages for a round-trip ticket which could cost $500 or $5000 in retails. Because of this, I just recently signed up a Delta credit card with AE instead of Chase.
One good news for international travelers, you can still spend 65000 mileages for multiple locations. For example, US > Tokyo > Hong Kong > US, still 65000 mileages. So, it’s good for us to have a side trip on the way to see family.
In order to spend the least amount of mileages for the tickets that you want is to book as early as possible. This class will only have limited seats per flight and it will definitely help if your schedule is flexible. I booked my last trip to US was almost 10 months earlier, and ultimately had tickets with United’s partner ANA which offered amazing services and food (retail prices was US$6000)!!
When we moved back to the US last year, we also used the rest of mileages with Delta for two one-way tickets (miles + cash), spent about US$500 for two tickets. Delta’s mileage doesn’t have expiration date, so we still had mileages to use after five years living in Hong Kong.
I usually apply only one card at a time between my husband and I because I don’t want to over spend and buy stuff that we actually don’t need. Sometimes we still need to pay from our pockets because of emergency flights, then will get the cheapest tickets available and put the mileages to its program. Will still get the benefits eventually.
We don’t want to over-do this but I’m a fan of it for sure!
I like to do international travel and adventure travel. In the past 12 months we have been to Paris (surprise trip), Kenya and Tanzania on a photo safari, Christmas Markets cruise for Christmas and New Years’ from Basel to Amsterdam, Mexico for 2 1/2 weeks on cultural and history tour, Japan for 2 1/2 weeks for spring cherry blossoms, 12 day luxury cruise on the Silversea from Lisbon to northern France, and Breathless Resort in Punta Cana (annual surprise wedding anniversary trip). In addition we do 4-5 domestic vacations per year. I like to get BEST pricing but not go cheap but luxury is a consideration.
These are some of the strategies that I employee for my travel.
1. Plan far in advance….I typically work on a calendar 12 to 18 months out. This gives best pricing and as an example at OAT provides a 10% discount if paid in full 15 months in advance and locks in pricing. We have a trip to Venice and Adriatic cruise in November and then to Italy lakes region with OAT. Working with OAT that allows a breakaway, we are flying from Milan to Casablanca and then back home and the upcharge on the airfare was only $50 per person and we go back home via Africa for 2 weeks in Morocco by stacking trips.
2. If I see a deal or a special promotion, I look for a reason to go to that destination. I got a email special promotion for various voyages in 2018 for a Silverseas (have used them several times) cruise that would fit into my 2018 surprise anniversary trip plans (Do not tell my wife!) for late July next year. It is a Baltic Seas cruise for 10 days. The promotion was 10% discount if paid by 8/31/17 and free airfare or first class airfare upgrade to Copenhagen and out of Stockholm for $1200 per person if booked by 9/30/17. I’m paid in full for first class air on a cash rebate credit card (3% on travel with Visa Costco), and my wife will be surprised again for our 23rd anniversary! I have not missed a surprise trip during our marriage. What fun! Another example for finding a reason to go to a particular destination: My wife and I were in a SkyClub lounge and starting talking to a lady. Found out she sets up trips to Morocco, lives in Minneapolis, and has a home in Marrakech (starting point for our adventure). After trading emails and website views we now will have a 14 day private tour of Morocco (our 5th trip to Africa) this December and much lower cost than other tours and at our own pace with a driver. We have always thought about a tour of Morocco and this sealed it.
3. Loyalty and Ask for upgrades (If you don’t the answer is always no), or put your self in a position for upgrades. I have 2 million lifetime miles on Delta and a platinum member, Diamond with Hilton and VIP with OAT. I focus on only a few companies to build loyalty. Example: my wife and I were upgraded to first class this year on a return from Amsterdam, a return from Paris (these are comfortable lay flat seats), First class to and from Dominican Republic, first class to and from Milwaukee all this year for both of us. Status pays off and I work to maintain Delta platinum status (75000 miles a year). 18 months ago we spent 20 days in Honolulu. I used American Airline miles to get first class tickets both ways for us, and then checked in to the Embassy Suites where I booked the lowest cost room. With my diamond status and I asked and they upgraded us a top floor (27th) that has a corner wrap around balcony with great views of Waikiki . Another upgrade we received this year on Silversea cruise. We booked a 400 sq foot suite with a balcony. When we boarded this June, they said we got upgraded to a Silver Suite which had 800 sq feet, with a separate bedroom, walk in closet, laundry service, living and dining areas, butler, etc. We were in heaven! When I asked the agent about the change she said that the cruise line double booked the room I had special requested and they moved us from 603 to 1103!
4. I use Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT)for my major adventure trips, (https://www.oattravel.com). The company is out of Boston and specializes in small group (10 – 16) travel all over the world. Trips are 2-3 weeks and use local guides with a lot of activity, plus visits to a home for a meal and a local school to interact with locals. We have been on 17 trips with them and have 2 more paid for. Loyalty helps with OAT. With so many trips with the company we get the best rooms in boutique hotels, for instance last year in Florence we got a 2 bedroom suite which is almost unheard of a block from the Duomo and near the David Museum. These trips are much lower cost than on your own and you do twice as much activity. They provide 10% discount (sliding scale) if paid 15 months in advance, provides a 6% credit on your next trip if taken within 12 months, and if we do multiple trips in a year, $700 off per couple for each trip after the first. I stack these credits to get major discounts.
5. I focus travel on Delta and use a Delta credit card. Living in an Atlanta suburb helps. I have 2 million lifetime miles which provides for lifetime Gold status (upgrade seats, free baggage, early boarding, etc). I have over a million miles to use someday and starting to work it down with domestic trips. I request Delta or SkyTeam partners when traveling with OAT, Silversea, Bookit.com, or other travel plans. I work hard to maintain my platinum status with Delta. Need 75000 MQM miles per year, and I get that by getting 20000 MQM miles by spending $50000 a year on the Delta card, which also provides another 50000 Delta miles, and by multiple international and domestic trips each year. I think the cost is $199 per year and I get a complimentary domestic travel companion ticket per year which is worth $300 – $500 to me. I pay in full each month and also use other cash back cards from Costco (4% gas, 3% on restaurants and travel) and Fidelity (2%). Anyway with platinum I can upgrade to Delta Comfort seats (more room, better food, drinks, better entertainment experience, early boarding, dedicated overhead bin, etc) when I book, select bulkhead seats for us, get free TSA prepass for security screening, and can use Sky Priority lines for check-in domestic or international as well as Sky Priority for passport control and first off checked baggage. I also have an Executive SkyClub membership for Delta and partner lounges. This really provides a nice quite environment when checking in 3 hours early for international flights and domestic. WiFI, food, adult drinks, newspapers/magazines, showers, resolution desk, clean restrooms etc. I also focus on Hilton for loyalty but also use others such as IHG and Marriott (I like Ritz Carlton Club Floors). I have about 800000 Hilton points to still use.
6. Monitor prices. Example I used Bookit,com for the Punta Cana resort. It was a surprise anniversary trip so I felt expense was not a major factor. Anyway the 6 day/5 night trip was about $4000 with air for an upgraded room/suite with 1300 sq. feet, ocean front. Several months later I saw they had an email promotion. For $50 change fee they refunded me about $600. That was nice. About a week before the surprise trip I checked again after seeing another promotional email. Contacted the agent and she said that after a $50 change fee I would get refunded $956. We ended up with the best room in the 700 room resort and paid less than many others with a smaller and a no view room. Another example: I saw Honolulu Embassy Suites for January 2018 for 20 days at $356 plus tax per day…A few days later it was $313 plus tax per day…I booked it on the Hilton site with no cancellation fee and selected dates that had best Delta pricing for non stop flights in first class (I used Delta miles for my wife and paid for mine to work on 2018 platinum status – and first class is double miles). The next day prices were back to $356 plus tax for the lowest cost room. I will check in early and ask for an upgraded room with my diamond status and get a ton of Hilton Honor points and saved almost $1000 because I acted on a few days the cost was lower…and will continue to monitor prices to see if I can do better.
7. I have used my Hutchinson Island, Florida timeshare to great advantage. It rents when I don’t use it but now retired, use it every year. Have been an owner for 34 years. Where else can I get a beachfront suite with full kitchen/living room, 2 bedrooms 2 baths. sleeps 6 with a stunning million dollar view in a late February week for the $1250 maintenance fee (which I charge on my cash back 3% cc)?
We love to travel for the fun, the learning and adventure, and to have a great memorable experience. I have been in 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico, 6 continents and 61 countries, with 3 more to add this year. But is more enjoyable to know that with planning and using these strategies the cost can be lower, which means more money to travel!
Living the Dream – Glen
We have used a cash back card for years — but don’t earn nearly as much as you folks say you do. However, I did use a lot of $$$ rewards for Christmas shopping last year on Amazon, which was a huge help! And when rewards reach a certain amount, I choose to apply it to the statement, so I’m using it that way — and never carry a balance.
Early in the year in vacation planning mode, I did secure an airline card, and it has already paid for itself with its meager miles/perks. My daughter was homesick one weekend, and used miles to fly home, rather than a 6 hour drive; my son finished a road trip (passenger) at her place in Chicago, and we used miles to fly him home from there. So, the $80 airline fee/tax, miles; vs $300+ last minute flights were worth it so far. I did stick all our vacation reservations on that card to build points, however we ended up flying a different airline–so they are still there for use, and I’m sure will use them over the next couple of years. Other than that, I don’t travel hack….
David B says
Lots of great comments. I cannot put in all the effort to continually switch cards, but I have switched from Amex Platinum to Chase Sapphire when they had the 100k points bonus (they only do 50k now). My wife and I both did it and we paid for a first class trip to Europe for a few weeks with the miles. I travel for work so am a Platinum member with American. I try to fly only on American (although I like Delta better) to make sure I am maximizing my points.
To maximize your rewards without having to overly manage the process, I recommend being loyal in 3 areas:
1) Pick a hotel rewards membership (mine is SPG which has now merged with Marriot) and am a Platinum level (free upgrades, breakfast, etc.)
2) Credit Card (mine is currently Chase which has a high $ redemption rate) but I call Amex every few months to see what they will offer me to come back. Once I think it is worth it I will probably switch back
3) Airline rewards (I selected American because of the # of flights out of my airport) select the airline you use the most.
Being loyal to those products and in addition I own a time share (points not weeks) enables me to take 2 trips per year from free. One with my the entire family (6 of us) and one for my wife and I (to get away from the kids..lol).
Keep up the good work ESI!!!
Not for me. I like to keep things simple, I don’t care to have multiple cards, chasing sign-up bonuses, opening/closing accounts, etc. Maybe I’m losing money but whatever. I got the chase sapphire reserve for 100k points, but I’m actually fine using it for pretty much all purchases because doing the math, for me, it’s still offers pretty good value in terms of points as compared to other rewards cards while still keeping thing simple. As far as spending points, I don’t put much effort in maximizing points. The Chase portal isn’t always the best, and I’d be willing to go directly through the airline/hotel, creating an account with them and transferring points to that account if it’s a better value, but I don’t try to maximize points thru the use of alternative companies or partners. Maybe I’m not getting the best use of my points but whatever. It’s not because I don’t have the time or have more important things to do either, it’s just that I don’t want to. I’m not one to care about getting the absolute best deal possible, “free” money, etc. There are certainly some out there who enjoy that much more than I do, and some who will go to great lengths to get it (not necessarily with credit card rewards, but generally speaking).
I think playing the game is totally worth it. Someone said they keep it simple with just the Chase Reserve. Well, just add the Chase Unlimited to it, get 1.5% back for anything that the Reserve doesn’t get 3% back and easily transfer your Unlimited points to Chase Reserve when you log in to pay your bill. Someone else said they just keep Southwest—we cancelled our Southwest cards and get 1.5% or 3% or 5% back on Chase cards that we almost always transfer at no fee to Southwest to score even more free flights! I’ve used Chase Reserve points for a car rental—the primary insurance coverage still applies!, and one United flight, but other than that, I always transfer my points to Southwest. I didn’t know how to get the Southwest Companion pass when we had the Southwest cards, and missed out. Now both hubbie and I are at 5/24, and I will try to get the SW companion in 18 months.
I use Chase Freedom for quarterly 5% offers
Chase Reserve for travel 3% and sometimes Restaurants (both of us got 100K bonus)
Costco Visa for Gas at 4% if no 5% quarterly offer
Have Discover for 5% quarterly offer—getting 5% doubled this quarter to 10% on restaurants, will max out on 5% amazon in fall quarter–which will get doubled to 10% as first year of having card–will buy $2000 of gift cards to use over time
Amex Cash for 6% back on groceries—buy gift cards if can’t spend $6000/year on food
Hubbie and I each got 2 Hilton cards when offered 80K and 100k each in the spring. We know have 360K to get lots of free nocs–recently found a Hampton for 10k points/noc in Rural IN–so big win there! Will keep $75/year Hilton card 2nd year to take advantage of free noc each in as expensive hotel as we can find.
IN 2017, 4 of us flew free to FL 3 times, free to Utah once, and have already booked spring break next year free, and on Aug. 28, plan to book on SW for free to Las Vegas next May to explore National parks. All Southwest (best value on points except one United flight) On that vacation 7/9 nights are free (choosing to stay at Grand Canyon N. Rim and at Zion).
Chase Reserve–$450/year-$300 travel credit/year-$100 TSA/Global precheck every 5 year. So at most costs $150 year, and to get primary auto renters insurance and great travel insurance is huge. Will prob drop my card and keep hubbies.
Bonuses are the big key. So our travel will dry up as we’ve reached 5/24, for Chase. But for 2 years, have paid off big.
Yes Chase Reserve gets 50% bonus on booking on their site–but I find Southwest is sometimes almost a 50% bonus as I can get one way flights for as little as 3K. United doesn’t do that!
FYI, credit score for both of us in 800s, and do not recommend game if planning to apply for loan soon.
I keep a spreadsheet of all my credit cards, and frequently check to make sure I’ve paid them in full each month. I am a stay at home mom, so this is one of the ways to maximize our household income–or at least allow us experiences we wouldn’t normally be able to do.
For shopping, try to always use a portal—often Upromise, for college—I use for 5% back on Kohls and Walmart.
Also have Kohls credit card–to frequently score free shipping, extra $off and often 30% off.
I need to think of what travel card to open next—Capital one or Starwood? We did each have Barclay—but cancelled before fee charged.
If you want to play the game, don’t get spouse as signer on your card, as that would count on spouse’s 5 cards/24 months Chase rule. Chase has many of the high bonus cards. Instead, each of you apply for card on your own. Try to qualify for Southwest companion pass first. You can use points to get a flight for you, and your companion still flies for free! Sign up for 2 of Southwest cards.
Best value ever? Back in 2005 when we used 25k points each to fly Northwest TO Anchorage, then after exploring Denali, took cruise and flew out of Vancouver. That was an amazing deal. Yes, paid for cruise, but at each stop, shared rental SUV with in laws to explore on own which saved lots.
I think in the United States the credit card rewards are infinitely better than the ones in Canada. I’m in Canada and I still think travel hacking is worth it. It takes a lot of effort to find cards that don’t have an annual fee but the free flight (you just have to pay taxes) makes it worth it. I recently redeemed two tickets to Hawaii and saved about $600.