How We Earned $22,000 In Travel Rewards, And How You Can Do It TooPosted on Oct 27, 2012 | 14 comments
Years ago, I had the great fortune of stumbling upon a website that got me started on a serious path to travel savings. The Frugal Travel Guy - run by Rick Ingersoll and crew - taught me how to grab, save, and maximize travel reward points, and since finding this site, I haven't looked back. I started earning and collecting hotel, airline, and credit card rewards in 2010, and today, between my wife and I, we have just under 1 million miles and points. And, as you'll see below, these points and miles should save us over $22,000 on hotel stays and flights as we travel with our family around the world.
This article will show you how to start earning these free travel rewards, and how you can stretch them to your advantage. It's no secret that we are frugal travelers who love a good budget, and so we naturally lean towards making these rewards last on cheaper destinations instead of blowing them all over a weekend in Vegas. But hey, you never know!
Here I'm simply trying to show people how we are using these perks to help our travel dreams come true, and how possibly, you can do the same.
Enjoy, and Good Luck!
How To Earn Free Rewards For Travel
Collecting credit card and travel rewards is a really simple process, and it's nothing new. All we do is look for good sign-up bonuses from credit card companies and send in our applications. We don't borrow money off the cards, we don't send in payments late, and we stay organized. It's easy, and it works. Over the past two years my wife and I have opened up more than 25 credit cards and we have only watched our credit scores go up. We avoid paying annual fees (as you'll see later), and we never pay any other hidden fees. I guess learning the ins and outs of this game does take some time, but can you think of a quicker, safer way to earn $22,000? Trust me - it's worth it if you can do it.
If you want to really get started and dig deep, I recommend looking into Chris Guillebeau's travel hacking articles or The Points Guy for the best deals. The credit card companies change their offers often, and these are good places to stay on top of everything. For my part, I'm just going to give you the basics.
1. You need to have good credit. 700 or better and you're all set. Quickly grab your credit score for free at Credit Karma.
2. When it comes to credit card and travel rewards, it's good to be an American. Right now, the best offers are in the States, but there are a few good ones in Canada and other parts of the world - and more offers are appearing all the time.
3. Your goal is to look for credit cards that are offering very good sign up bonuses. 10,000 points or miles is not a good sign up bonus. 50,000 points is usually pretty great. Don't just take every deal that comes along. Be smart, and go after the cards and offers that work for you.
4. Don't worry about annual fees. If you pay off your balance each month (which you should definitely do), the company will almost always waive the fee. Just call and ask them when the fee is due. I have over 20 cards and have never paid a fee.
5. Most of the time there will be a spending requirement to receive your sign up bonus. Sometimes it can be tough to find a way to spend $3,000 in 3 months. When my everyday expenses won't meet the required sign up spending, I turn to gift cards. I pick up a few hundred dollars in gift cards on my credit card and save them for a rainy day. Sometimes you have to get creative, but there are plenty of ways to make sure you get your bonus.
6. Keep track of your points, miles, and spending. The only way to screw this up is to not pay attention. We created a simple Google document to help us keep tabs on everything, but you can also use something like Award Wallet if you prefer. Know your balances, expiration dates, annual fees. If you have enough money in the bank, set all your credit cards to autopay in case you forget! That has been huge for us. We're not big spenders, but we put everything on our cards and just have them paid automatically each month. Never a late fee.
How We Will Turn Our Travel Rewards Into Travel Savings
Below you will find some scenarios I've created to show how we might spend our travel rewards. Like I said earlier, I've placed an emphasis on trying to stretch the benefits of these rewards by staying primarily in cheaper, point-friendly places. And whereas I can't see us crashing at the Hilton in Scottsburg, IN for a month, the scenarios I've created here will give you a good idea of just how lucrative these points can be.
I pulled real hotel room and flight prices off of each companies' websites and swapped them for rewards points to show the potential value. I haven't included all the reward systems we use, but below are the ones I truly recommend. They have the best sign-up offers, and their point exchange value is fantastic. And just on a side note: I'm not receiving any bonuses or kickbacks from credit card companies for telling you about these offers. We support them because they have worked great for us and probably can do the same for you. Enjoy!
Both Heidi and I picked up this card and got 50,000 points each. It is the easiest card to get started with and has great kickbacks. First off, you get all the points after your first purchase. Buy a coffee and you have 50,000 points. Currently we have 109,000 reward points and stays at Marriott start at 5,000 points. So that's potentially 21 free hotel nights. What a deal!
We have lots of friends in Denver, CO so I looked up what it might cost us to stay there.
TownPlace Suites, Denver. $154.90 a night or 7,500 reward points per night. Doing the math . . . .
We could stay for 14 nights and it would cost us $2,168 or 105,000 points.
Hyatt Gold Passport
The Hyatt Credit Card offers 2 free nights anywhere in the world after your first purchase. This is a great deal, but it doesn't really give you any long-term punch. To really grab some Hyatt points you have to get your hands on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. When I signed up for the card I received 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Now these Ultimate rewards points can be exchanged to Hyatt points on a 1:1 basis. And taking into account that free nights at Hyatt start at 5,000 points a night, this just turned into an amazing deal!
Check this out!
We have 97,000 points (and 4 free nights at any Hyatt).
The Bali Hyatt Resort. $240 a night or 5,000 points per night.
We could stay 19 nights and it would cost us $4,680 dollars or 95,000 Hyatt points.
Most consider this to be the best card out there. If you can find an offer for 30,000 reward points - take it! Hotel stays start at 2,000 points a night, so that free 30,000 can go a long way.
We currently have 46,000 points.
Since Heidi's family is from Victoria, British Columbia, I figured we might spend some time in the city.
Four Points, The Victoria Gateway $152 or 3,000 points per night
That gives us 15 nights and a savings of $2,330.67.
Maybe not as lucrative a points system as some of the others listed here, but that's not to say it doesn't have its perks. Hilton has some very high end hotels and many properties worldwide, but for thrifty travelers like us, the point exchange doesn't work as well as it does with some of the other hotel chains here. Nonetheless, we have a bunch of points and plan on using them.
The trick with Hilton, and maybe some of the other systems here, is to use your points on the low-level properties if you want to stretch them. Case in point:
We have 156,000 Hilton Honors points. We could stretch them on cheaper properties, or use them up on the more expensive places. For example:
The Hampton Inn in Scottsburg, Indiana. $122 a night or 7,500 points a night. We could stay 18 nights and save $2,267.
The Embassy Suites in Glendale, California. $189 a night or 35,000 points a night. We could stay 4 nights and save only $756.
Easy choice for us with the extra nights and savings. We are level 1 people here!
Total savings: $2,267!
The Priority Club Select Visa (Good deal here. 60,000 point signup.)
The home of the Holiday Inn, Priority Club offers some great deals with it's point break offerings - free nights for only 5,000 points. Currently we have 182,000 Priority Club points.
Check out the Suites Tequendama in Bogota, Columbia. $117 a night, but at only 5,000 points we could basically live at this place for over a month. 180,000 points gives us 36 nights. And while I can't see us spending 36 straight nights in a hotel room, I do enjoy knowing we have the option. This is big savings for us.
$117 a night x 36 nights gives us a savings of $4,212!
American Airlines AAdvantage
Citi AAdvantage Cards (Note: Hold out for a real good signup offer with these cards. I got 75,000 AAdvantage miles when I signed up. The deals will come.)
If you're a traveler, you want this card and all the sign-up miles.
We are seriously considering going Toyko sometime in the next few years, and we all know how expensive Japan can be. But get this! We have 250,000 AAdvantage points in our little savings account. And what does 250,000 AAdvantage points get you?
Well, the cost of a one-way flight from New York to Toyko was $684 on Expedia. And for 4 of us, that would be a budget killer. But one-way flights to Japan start at 25,000 miles on AAdvantage. So if we do the math, we could all fly back and fourth from NY to Japan, and still have a bunch of miles left over.
Potential savings for us - $7,000!
The $20,000 Savings Recap
Total Value of Rewards: $22,657
Total Free Nights: 102, give or take.
Total Flights: 10-15 depending on where we go.
So, is it worth it to take a look at some of these cards? OF COURSE! It's a simple process guys.
1) Check your credit.
2) Look for good sign up deals.
3) Pay your bills.
4) Enjoy the rewards.
I'm sure some of you will have questions, maybe doubts, even frustrations. Go ahead, ask away. There's a lot here to take in. The bottom line is that if you can take advantage of this - do it! It's a steal!
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