How To Travel For Less

How To Travel For Less

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Welcome to the world of credit card points. It’s been my hobby since 2013, and has deeply enriched our lives. I’m glad you’ve decided to give it a try, and am excited for the journey you’re starting. There is a ton to learn. Don’t let that stop you. I was really confused at the beginning too. I think I texted or called my brother-in-law eight or nine times a day when I started. The material below is designed to help you learn the basics. Things will make more sense as you continue reading and applying what you learn. You’ll be off on most triumphant adventures in no time.

The Basics

Banks want customers, more specifically credit card holders. They make a ton of money off people who rack up balances and pay them interest. To entice more customers, they have created their own rewards programs, or partnered with other companies’ rewards programs, and made them part of their credit card offers.

All offers follow the pattern below:

  1. Sign up for the card
  2. Spend a certain amount of money on the card in a certain time frame
  3. Get a sign-up bonus

That’s the credit card rewards points game in its most simple form. The following questions are what muddy the waters.

These are the questions I will address throughout this website. You’re not going to learn it all at once, even if you read my whole website and retain it well. The best way to learn is by doing. I always encourage people to start with one card and learn the process with it. Then expand to other cards within the same bank as the first. Then expand to other banks. Doing so will help you learn the ins and outs of this hobby, and give you greater context for when you expand to more cards, more banks, and more rewards programs.

Decide How Far You Want to Take This

I see no downside to this hobby. Since beginning, I’ve been able to take my wife on three dream vacations in three year, we’ve been able to take some shorter weekend getaways as well, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I paid for a rental car. Most people save for years to see the places we’ve seen. The sad part is once they get there, they stress about money and aren’t able to indulge in the finer things. It’s much easier to drop $400 on a 1-hour paragliding experience in France if you haven’t just spent $5,000 on airfare.

That being said, I’m me and I know I may look at the world differently than you do. I personally prefer to get as many credit cards as possible and get all the points I can. But you don’t have to. “Go big or go home” isn’t a saying that makes much sense in this hobby. If you just want to sign up for one card, get its sign up bonus, and then only use that card to help cover your flights, that’s okay (and still much better than always paying full price).

I’d encourage anyone to get involved, but I always give a quick disclaimer. If any of the below sounds like you, then think twice before jumping in.

  • I hate budgeting and keeping track of my money
  • I have a hard time paying bills on time
  • I spend too much money with credit cards
  • I plan to take out a large loan within the next two years

This hobby requires tracking points within multiple programs. If you struggle to maintain a simple budget, then you may not have the patience to track your points.  Fortunately, there are apps that help with tracking, but it’s preferable to have the ability to track things on your own as well.

If you don’t pay your bills on time, this hobby will not save you money. If you can’t control your credit card spending, this hobby will bury you in debt. The whole idea is that you put all your purchases on credit cards (the same amount you’d be spending as if you were using cash), and then responsibly pay the whole balance each month. Free travel isn’t exactly free if you’re paying more in interest payments and late fees than you would have paid for your airfare and hotels. Get your spending under control, and I’d love to have you come back.

If you’re planning to take out a loan in the foreseeable future, proceed with caution. I’m not going to tell you not to get credit cards, just be warned that it could affect your credit score and cause you to have a higher interest rate. This isn’t a hard rule. I have only seen my credit score go up since I began. A lot of others have had the same experience. But credit cards scores aren’t an exact science, and I cannot guarantee any outcome. If in doubt, wait until you’ve closed on your loan, and then come back.

Determine Your Travel Goals

While your destination does not have to be set in stone before you apply for your first credit card, it is important to know your particular tastes for travel.

  • Where do you want to travel?
  • Do you want to travel domestic, foreign, or both?
  • Do you prefer to stay in lavish resorts, or would you rather live like a local?
  • Do you have an affinity for any particular airline or hotel?

The answers to these questions will guide you in your credit card strategy. For example, If I want to travel to Thailand, I’m going to find out which airlines fly there and what hotel chains are prominent so I know which cards to sign up for.  If I only want to travel domestically (and I live in the United States), I’ll probably just get Southwest Airlines cards and try to get their companion pass.  If I prefer to live like a local, I’ll probably book all my accommodations through Airbnb.  So I’ll skip on any hotel cards, allowing me to focus my plan on just getting airline points. If I am a huge fan of American Airlines, I’ll start with the Citi AAdvantage cards and then get the Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Card.

Knowing the answers to these questions will help guide you as you progress throughout this hobby.

Understand Bank Points Vs. Co-Branded Points

As you progress through this hobby, you’ll come to view points the same way you do cash in your bank.  They truly become currency.  Just as varying currencies around the world are compared to each other through exchange rates, you’ll see that the different reward programs have their own currencies and relative values compared to each other.

That being said, all points will be awarded to you by the banks that issue your credit cards. The points awarded come in two categories:

  1. Bank Points: points within the bank’s reward program
  2. Co-Branded Points: points within another company’s program

Bank Points

Bank points are points within the bank’s own rewards program. The benefit to bank points is that they are flexible. Each bank has its own way of redeeming points for travel value. Some banks are robust while others are simple.  It can be as robust as a portal where you can browse different ways to spend your points straight through their website, while also offering the ability to transfer points to other company’s reward programs (such as Hyatt, Marriott, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines etc.), or as simple as redeeming travel purchases as a travel credit on your monthly statement.  I like bank points because of all the things you can do with them.  You can book travel easily through bank portals, rent cars, purchase excursions, or transfer to a partner rewards program (usually this method has the most value).  The only downside to bank points is that if you ever cancel the card (which I’ll explain why you might want to in another post) you lose all the points.  You can transfer all the points to a partner before you cancel, but once you do that, you’ve lost the flexibility.

Co-Branded Points

Co-branded points are still awarded by the bank, however the points awarded are for another company’s rewards program. This occurs when a bank co-brands with a hotel or airline. The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard is a co-branded card between Citi Bank and American Airlines.  Citi Bank issues the card and awards the points; however, the points are in the form of AAdvantage points, American Airlines’ rewards program. There is obviously no flexibility with these points as you can only use them for American Airlines. However, the benefit is that they usually go a lot further, meaning the currency usually has a higher value. Another benefit to co-branded points is that you can cancel the credit card, and still keep the points. This occurs because when you cancel the card, you are ending the relationship with the bank, not the co-branded company.

40 Replies to “How To Travel For Less”

  1. I’ve never really thought about the places I wanted to travel to, I’m only 20 and I’m kinda focusing on just making money at the moment. But being said do recommend any places for me to visit in the future? I’ve always seen myself moving around and living in places for months at a time to really experience the country instead of going for a two week holiday. I’m hoping to be a full time internet marketer so I would just need WiFi.

    1. I commend you for focusing on your career first and foremost, and I wish you the greatest success. What your doing will certainly afford you the opportunities to be as mobile as you want if you work hard at it.

      The tips on my website will definitely help you with your airfare as you move from country to country. As far as locations, I would recommend Europe. I’ve visited five European countries so far and I’ve only scratched the surface. What I like so much about Europe is there are so many cultures within a relatively short distance of each other. You could spend a few months there and get exposed to so much…. the food is great too.

      Good luck with internet marketing and happy travels.

  2. I love your site, I love the post about the certain travel rewards cards. That is really helpful, it’s amazing how much points you can acquire when you use your credit card to buy everything then they have the added bonuses Not sure if Alaska Airlines would fit in there somewhere? Have you heard of them? I found them to be good.

    1. Hi Dawna

      Yes, Bank of America does have an Alaska Airlines business and personal card.  Each has a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. I don’t about these from experience, just because there have always been deals that worked out better for me, but I’ve heard good things.

  3. Thank you for s great article regarding credit card rewards and the great tips. I have been thinking a while now, to apply for a credit card and will probably go for one that offers travel points. I’m the sort of person who likes to hang out with the locals and not that worried about staying in hotels. Therefore, the travel rewards will do me fine.

    1. Thanks for the comment Rina. If you prefer to live like a local, you should check out Airbnb here. Then you could turn your credit card focus just to airline reward points and not even worry about hotel cards. 

      Regardless of how you choose to approach it, I hope your travels are great. Feel free to let me know how it goes. 

  4. Wow I believe You and Kendra Are Really In for an Awesome Adventure In The Future. I will have To CONSIDER trying out Your Traveling Method.
    I really enjoyed Your Website. Thanks Dustin Keep Up The Great Work!
    Jesse

    1. Thanks Jesse. I hope you decide to give it a try. It has deeply enriched my life and I hope it can yours as well.

      Thanks for the kind words. Let me know if you decide to try it.

  5. Thank you for providing such helpful information. I love to travel, and am always looking for creative ways to save money! I plan to visit Europe within the next few years and these tips will certainly be used to help me reach my destination!

    The explanation between the different points systems also helped clear up a bit of confusion I had about how to determine which points system I would wish to use.

    1. Good to hear you found some helpful tips Maria. 

      We’re excited for you to dive in and enjoy all that the credit card rewards game has to offer. Be sure to come back and tell us about your travels.

  6. My wife and I love to travel. It looks like y’all have been to some amazing places. We too have to try to budget our expenses to take our dream vacations. We use points off of our credit cards to help us pay for our trips. There were some cards on your top traveling credit cards page that I will have to look into.

    1. Good to hear Andrew. I’ve found credit card points to be the most effective way to travel for those of us that don’t have unlimited resources. I hope you’re able to dive in and be able to take your wife on more trips. Be sure to come back and let me know how it goes.

      Thanks for the comment. 

  7. Love your site and suggestions… I don’t think i will be doing much paragliding in my retirement but your reviews on country are wonderful.

  8. Love the post! I love to travel but unfortunately I haven’t been able to go on trips recently because of other expenses! I think I’ll be able to handle this because I love to budget and pay my bills on time. Thank you for this guide, I’ll follow it to the T when I plan my next vacation. 🙂

    1. Hi Derek. Unfortunately life likes to throw unexpected expenses in our way sometimes. One nice thing about credit card points, though is that it gives the unexpected expenses a silver lining. It’s never fun to have your furnace go out and have to drop 2 grand. But when you know it’s going to get you 2,000 rewards points (or better yet, counts toward a sign up offer that gets you 50,000) it takes the sting off a bit.

      Let me know if you have any questions as you plan your next vacation.

  9. I have never really thought about doing it this way. But makes a lot of sense, as a lot of the airlines take away any miles earned after 12 or 24 months. That is really not enough time to save up the miles required in my opinion. Using cards to get miles seems like a great idea I have lots of cars, but none with miles 🙁

    1. Hi Matt’s mom. If you want to start collecting serious points head over to our Top Travel Credit Cards page. It has links to all of the best current offers. And one thing to keep in mind, the points only expire after that much time without activity on your account. So as long as you’re using your credit card, the points will never expire. I’ve also got a page that goes into more detail on that right here. I believe you and I had a discussion on it yesterday, but wanted to post the link for anyone else reading through.

      As you dive in to the credit card travel game, feel free to stop by with any questions. I’m excited for you to get started. It opens up a whole new world of travel possibilities.

  10. I have always wanted to visit other places, especially out of the country since I have not traveled much outside of the state I currently live in. I have thought about visiting Sweden, India, Canada, the UK, and more.

    I never really thought about the idea of having multiple cards to rack up rewards points but that sounds like a great idea for those who would want to travel while also saving money.

    It does sound like an overwhelming amount of info to learn about it but could most certainly be worth it for those who would like to save money traveling.

    1. It’s the only way to travel in my book. Traveling is much more enjoyable when it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to get to your destination. And it frees up your budget to spend on more experiences while you’re there. 

      True, there is a lot of information to take in when starting. Just take it one card at a time. Most cards have really similar features and online portals. So once you get used to one card or bank, the next one become easier. 

      Feel free to stop by with any questions. 

  11. A FAQs page for credit card advice? I wish I had this when I made my first VISA one. It’s really convenient to have all this information on credit scores, rewards programs, and how to juggle multiple credit cards for personal and business uses. Thanks for showing me how credit age, payment history, and derogatory marks. Budgeting is always tricky when you first try to curb spending.

    1. Hi Chuw5. Thanks so much for reading a few of my posts. I hope they provided information that will be helpful to you. Let me know if you decide to get into earning more travel points, and if you have any questions about it. I’d be happy to help out.

  12. Great blog…and learning tool. I never really took the time to educate myself on credit card points. As a former financial person I always warned clients about the over use of credit cards. It’s a slippery slope for some people but you do make a lot of sense. I like the idea of taking advantage of what they offer for our business.

    1. Hi Karen,

      I always tell people that if they have any problems with credit card debt, then this hobby isn’t for them until they learn how to use them responsibly. There’s absolutely no benefit to free travel if you’re paying up the wazoo in interest payments.

      However, done responsibly this hobby can provide tens of thousand of dollars in travel benefits. Being in finance, I’m sure you could pull it off. If you have any questions, feel free to drop by. I’d be happy to help in any way I can.

  13. Hey there,
    it’s a life goal for me to be able to travel the world and i think it would be do so in the cheapest way possible so when im done i dont regret spending all that money. I think this card is a brilliant idea and look forward to getting one soon because it’s a wise idea for those who love to travel but dont want to spend a fortune doing so.

    1. Hi Tiffani,

      This is hands down the best way to travel. Even if you have enough money to spend, it’s much nicer to get your destination for free, and then drop the money on hella fun experiences while you’re there.

      Let me know if you have any questions moving forward.

  14. Interesting post! I would LOVE to travel. I live in Hawaii and I know most people wish they could come here, but I wish I could get off this rock sometimes. We’re finally planning our first family vacation to Disneyland and Universal Studios this coming October.

    I only have 1 credit card which is a cash back/merchandise type. Do you think this type is worth having? I believe I can redeem points for some travel, not sure. I also have a debit card in which I earn Hawaiian Miles. I’d love to travel off this island at least once a year.

    1. Hi Mary,

      Thank you for reading. It’s funny how the grass is always on the greener side. I loved my time in Hawaii, but I can totally see how you would get antsy to leave living on an island. Your trip to Disneyland sounds fun. We love Southern California.

      I’m not sure what kind of credit card you have, but if you’re getting value from the rewards then it’s probably a keeper. If you’d like to get more rewards cards, you can find a list of my recommendations here.

  15. Sites like yours are always up my ally because I enjoying traveling so much for my job.
    Even when I was not working I was traveling.
    Being a military brat you just learned to always be on the move.
    Never having enough money to pay all the bills at once you learn to travel for work and still come home to a nice real meal.
    The simple things in life right?

    1. Haha. Yep.

      I really loved when I was traveling for work because I could double dip into rewards programs. I’d get the points for flying, but I’d also get points for putting the bill on my card and then getting reimbursed by my company. It was the best of both worlds.

      Thanks for reading Advent Voice.

  16. Kendra, thank you so much for making me aware of a feature my AAdvantage cards and Citi cards had that I never investigated. I use to travel with business quite frequently so never had to worry about keeping my travel points active. Since I’ve retired my travel has decreased significantly. Now I know that by using either of these cards for online shopping I can keep my travel reward points active and growing! You have also given me some great ideas for using credit cards for travel adventures.

    1. Ann,

      I’m so glad this was helpful. I hope you can keep traveling using your reward points. AAdvantage points and Citi cards are some of my favorite ones as well. Good luck and if you have any questions I’d love to help.

  17. Hi, Dustin. I love to travel. I got inspired by the novel “Around The World In 80 Days”. I am 21 years old working as a marketer. I love nature and scenery. My ambition is to travel all around the islands in the World. This is a useful post for me personally. Do you also recommend booking hotels on any countries?

    1. Hi yoguRJ,

      Thanks for reading. Best of luck to you in seeing the islands of the world. If I’m understanding your question right, then yes, I absolutely recommend using credit cards to book hotels. Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, SPG, IHG, and Club Carlson all have great cards you can use to rack up points. Check them out on our Top Travel Credit Cards page.

  18. I am glad I stumbled onto this page. It fits in perfect with my long term retirement goal. I plan on retiring in the Bahamas or the Caribbean. This will work perfect when I start visiting other countries. I’ve always hated credit cards. I feel they take your cash away. But after reading your site I now see the positive spin on credit cards from your perspective.

    1. Hi Lesa

      Yep, all you have to do is mentally tie your credit card to the amount of money in your bank, then it virtually turns into a debit card. And then you can enjoy all the benefits without having to pay out the wazoo in interest.  Thanks for reading and commenting.

  19. I love to travel, and I do so as often as I can. I love finding new places and meeting new people where ever I go.
    Problem is, traveling is not always cheap!
    I just read your article “How To Travel For Less”, and I found it be very insightful, I even picked up a few tricks!
    i will be saving your site so I can return when I am planning my next trip.
    Thanks for a great post1
    Cheers,
    Brendon

    1. Hi Brendon,

      Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you found new tricks. We love this method of travel, and we want to help as many people learn how to do it as we can. It just makes me sad when I hear people tell stories of how they scrimped and saved for 10 plus years to be able to take a trip when you can easily get enough points to take a dream vacation in just one year.

  20. I love your formula for travel on reward points, and as someone who has done most of his international flights using points, I know that they are perfect for that. I am curious about using points for rail passes, however. I always buy rail passes (eurail pass, britrail pass and JR pass in Japan) when I travel, as I enjoy rail travel in countries with good passenger rail systems, and I HATE driving in other countries where I don’t fully ‘get’ the local rules.
    Do you use points for these passes, or do you know if that is generally an option?

    1. Hi Steve,

      Most of our points have been for flights and hotels. Every now and then we use them for rental cars and excursions, but they’re redemption value is the highest for airfare. Amtrak used to be a Chase partner, but unfortunately isn’t anymore.

      One card you could use though is the Barclay Arrival card. As long as you use the points for something that they define as a travel purchase, you can redeem points for a statement credit. The purchase does need to be at least $100 in order to qualify. We’ve enjoyed using that card for things that you can’t typically cover with points. Like one time, we gave that card to the hotel front desk when we checked in. We ended up being able to cover most of our meals since we ate at the resort and charged them to our room. Food is something you can’t usually cover, but that little trick helped us do it.

      I hope you’re able to give credit card points a try. Let me know if you have any more questions.

      Take Care,

      Dustin

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