MY TRAVELS IN THE PAST 30 MONTHS:
- 2017 – Ireland for 2 and Brazil for 4
- 2018 – British Virgin Islands for 2 – Croatia for 5 (3 in economy and 2 in business class)
- 2019 – Australia for 4 and 3 flights for 4 within Australia
- All of these…plus numerous domestic flights for 1-4 people….and all for pennies.
People are always asking me about how I can afford to travel as much as I do. Easy, I rarely pay for airfare!
How? Through airline shopping portals and strategic credit cards.
All of the airlines have special shopping portals – essentially you just go to the shopping portal and click on the link to the store you want to shop at and you are taken to the store to shop as normal…but earn airline miles too! Just Google “airline of your choice shopping portal”.
This gets really lucrative when stores you shop at (like Apple) have bonus days. For instance, I purchased my new iMac last year on the day that the American Airlines portal had a bonus day to earn 6 miles per dollar instead of the usual 1 mile per dollar. From that one purchase, that I was going to make anyway, earned me almost 25,000 miles! 18,000 miles from the $3,000 purchase of my computer and another 6,000 American Express Membership Rewards due to the credit card that I used. More on that in a minute.
Most of the online shopping portals have Chrome extensions that you can download so that a little notification pops up when you are shopping so that you don’t forget to earn your points! So easy! Again, just Google “airline of your choice Chrome shopping extension”.
The real heavy lifting comes from the strategic credit card arsenal that I have though. Not only do I earn great bonuses when opening new cards, but I also earn significant points from my regular day-to-day spending.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Always make sure that you can pay your credit card balance in full each month. Free travel isn’t really free if you have high-interest rates on debt.
- Choose your credit cards based on where you want to travel or which airlines/hotels you often use – as well as which cards offer the most earning power for the things you usually purchase.
- Don’t go on a crazy credit card opening rampage. Many of the banks are putting hurdles in place to prevent people from signing up for cards only for the sign-up bonus. For instance, Chase will only approve you for most of their cards if you have opened less than 5 cards in the past 24 months (from ANY bank). Ninja trick – Business cards from most other banks don’t count in the 5/24!
What about your credit score? While hard credit inquiries do lower your credit score for about a month, I’ve found it only lowers it a few points and quickly jumps back up. Also, having a plethora of credit card accounts doesn’t hurt your credit score so long as you pay them off in full and you aren’t carrying a large balance on them. It actually may HELP your credit score as you have a lower debt to credit ratio the more credit you have. If you have any long-standing credit cards (you know, that one you signed up for in college?) you may want to keep them open, even if you don’t really use them and assuming that there is no annual fee, as credit history is a factor so you want to have a few long-standing cards.
When considering what you want your credit card lineup to look like, the first thing you need to determine is what “currency” do you want to collect? The two best, in my opinion, are American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards – both of which allow you to transfer your points directly to airlines. That is where the magic happens!
For instance, if I earned 60,000 points on a cash back card – I would receive $600 cash back. However, I could also take that 60,000 points and book a business class ticket to Europe that would normally cost $3,500. I like that math better.
Ok, this is where it gets good. The Chase and Amex points. Each of these programs has a variety of cards that work together to make your everyday spending turn into free travel quickly!
Let’s start with American Express –
I have two business cards with American Express – The Business Platinum Card and the Business Blue Plus card. The Platinum card has a pretty hefty annual fee, but it includes lots of perks – such as airport lounge access, gold elite status at Hilton and Marriott properties, 5x points for airline and hotel bookings, and $200 in airline incidental fee reimbursement per year…just to name a few. I actually had my car towed to the shop last week as a perk from this card for no charge. It’s totally worth it for me, you may not agree and that’s ok because there is are plenty of other incredible cards in the Amex arsenal.
Next up – Amex Gold Card. I don’t have this one, but it’s on my wishlist – mostly for the 4x earning on dining out and groceries – two things that I spend a lot of money on! The Business Gold card offers 4x earning on the top two spending categories – airfare, advertising, computer hardware/software, gas stations, restaurants, or shipping. The card automatically applies the 4x bonus to the top two categories each month – you don’t have to claim them in advance!
The lynchpin – The Business Blue Plus card is a NO FEE card that earns 2 Membership Reward points for every dollar spent on anything, for your first $50,000 in spending each year. This is crazy awesome. You can use those points for money back or (my favorite) to transfer to airline partners. If you want to earn Membership Rewards – this card needs to be in your wallet.
There is a personal blue card too, which also earns 2x Membership Rewards on every dollar spent, but you need to have a premium card (Gold or Platinum card) in your lineup to transfer the points earned to airlines – not the case with the business card. Even if the business card is the only Amex card in your wallet you can transfer your points to the travel partners.
One of my favorite uses for Membership Rewards is transferring them to British Airways and then booking direct American Airlines flights through the BA site. The sweet spot for British Airways miles is short direct flights – for instance, for my family to fly around Australia this coming spring we are going to use British Airways points to book on Qantas. It will only be 4500-7500 miles per flight per person! If I turned that in for cash, it’s only worth $45 -$75….or I can use it for a $200 flight!
If you want to apply for any American Express cards, you can use this link. It takes you to the Business Platinum page, but at the bottom of the page, you can choose to explore other business cards and all of the personal cards.
Ok, now onto Chase Ultimate Rewards –
I love Ultimate Rewards. They can transfer to United Airlines, which usually has fairly decent award availability and some good alliance partners. All of my personal spending (and some business spending) is focused on this currency.
For business, I have the Ink Preferred. This earns me 3x points on travel, shipping, and social media advertising. This card also has incredible insurance – from primary car rental insurance (most cards only offer secondary), to trip delay and cancellation insurance, and much more. This card is worth every penny of it’s $95 annual fee to me.
This card has an 80,000 sign up bonus! That is worth a minimum of $800 in travel, but could be worth much more depending on which awards you choose. This is the best signup bonus that Chase currently offers. I recommend signing up for this, keeping it for a year (yes you will pay a $95 fee), and then if you don’t use all of the perks for the fee, call and downgrade it to the free Ink Unlimited.
I want to round out my business spending with the new Ink Unlimited card – which has no annual fee and earns 1.5 points per mile. If I didn't have decent social media advertising spending, I would just downgrade my Ink Business Preferred – but since I want to keep that one I need to wait until I'm under the Chase 5/24 to apply for this card. This will be a great card to use once I pass the 50K spending threshold on my Amex Business Blue.
For my personal spending, it all goes on either the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Freedom Unlimited. Like the Ink Unlimited, the Freedom Unlimited has no annual fee and earns 1.5 points on every dollar spent. The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points on all travel and dining and has the very best insurance in the industry. Primary car insurance, trip delay and cancellation insurance, medical evacuation insurance, and so much more.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $450 annual fee, but includes a $300 travel credit that is automatically applied to your first $300 spent each year on any travel charge. It also includes airport lounge access and a Global Entry application every 5 years. The effective annual fee of this card is $150 after the travel credit – so the insurance and those other perks are worth the extra bucks. If the Sapphire Reserve isn’t the right fit for you, the Sapphire Preferred may be.
The key for both American Express and Chase is that you have a no annual fee 1.5x or 2x earning card AND a premium card. When you have both, that allows you to transfer the points you earn from the free card to the premium card as the premium card is the one that allows you to transfer the points directly to airlines.
However, there is one more trick up my sleeve, especially for those of you that have easy access to places that Southwest flies. I don’t use this a ton anymore as Southwest flights aren’t as convenient out of Charlotte but I flew them a ton when we were in Pittsburgh. Actually, this card allowed me to earn enough points to earn a Southwest Companion Pass – which allowed me to have someone fly with me for free for almost 2 full years on Southwest! This card does have an annual fee, but you also earn Rapid Rewards that are equal to your annual fee on your anniversary each year. So it’s a wash.
If you want to earn the Companion Pass – sign up for a personal Southwest card AND a business Southwest card – depending on what the signup bonuses are that puts you in easy striking distance to the 120,000 miles needed for the Companion Pass. If you do this early in the year, you get the pass until the end of the NEXT year….almost 2 years of free companion flights!
I know that this is a lot – but I love helping people travel for free! 🙂 If you decide to add any of these cards to your wallet, I would appreciate you using one of the links listed if there is one for the card you want. I don’t earn money from these links, but I do earn a few extra points…which I love as much as chocolate martinis!
Thanks so much and let me know where you are planning to travel!