So one of the questions I am asked a lot is “how can you afford so much travel?”. There is no one simple answer to this but using miles to fly expensive routes is one of the biggest helps. When people hear airline miles they usually think it’s the miles they earn from flying. That is the least efficient way to earn miles. There are some great rewards cards out there now that could literally get you a roundtrip ticket anywhere in the world with just the sign up bonus. If you basically have a credit score over 680 and you are not using credit cards responsibly to earn travel rewards, you are throwing money away.
If you are like me when I first started, you just want someone to tell you what the best ones are and break it down for you. I am here for you 🙂
1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
This is my main card and my favorite for many reasons. Starting with they give you 50K miles when you get the card and spend 4K in the first 3 months plus an additional 5K miles if you add an authorized user. They waive the $95 annual fee for the first year. You also get 2X points on dining and travel. Let’s face it, for some of us, that’s where all the money is spent. So you get this card and charge up 4K on food and travel after adding another user (no cost and you don’t even have to give them the card) and just like that you have 63K miles in your acct. Here’s where it gets even better. Chase let’s you transfer those points instantly when you want to use them to any of these partners.
|Hyatt Gold Passport®||Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||United MileagePlus®||Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®|
|British Airways Executive Club||Korean Air SKYPASS||Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®|
|Marriott Rewards®||IHG® Rewards Club|
This means you are not tied to one airline or hotel like so many other cards. Plus if you book your travel through Chase’s portal, they will let you redeem your points at 1.25% of their value.
Other strong travel benefits are no foreign transaction fee. This is a life saver for me cause half my time is spent out of the country and I never want to change currency and get ripped off. They also provide free rental car insurance and travel insurance. Your flight gets delayed 12 or more hours and they will cover your expenses up to $500! Just think if that happened once a year (and it will) how that $500 makes this card amazing. They also double your warranty on anything you buy using the card up to one extra year. If the price drops on something you buy within 90 days and you can’t get the retailer won’t credit you, Chase will. Starting to see the pattern here? You really have to dig deep to see what these cards do and not forget to maximize it. One last superficial thing. This card is sexy as Hell. It’s made of steel and is basically the poor mans Amex Black card. I always laugh at the compliments people pay me with the card like I designed it or something. LOL
- 1.25 – 2.5% Rewards Rate: You earn double points on dining and travel and an additional point if you use the card to pay for airfare or hotels accommodations through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- 50,000 point signing bonus worth up to $625 towards airfare or hotels through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Points can also be transferred to partner airlines and hotels at a 1:1 ratio.
- No foreign transaction fees
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points are also usable for Cash Back at 1 cent per point
2. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
The Barclaycard makes for one of the best everyday credit cards because of its high general rewards rate, which applies to all purchases you make. The card rewards you with 2 miles for every $1 you charge to it. That translates to a rewards rate of 2%-2.1% on all spending (depending on how you redeem your miles). On top of these standard rewards, the Barclaycard also provides users with the ability to earn 40,000 bonus miles, provided they spend at least $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of receiving their card.
No annual fee the first year and they also will give you one year zero interest on balance transfers. Plus when yo redeem your reward they automatically give you 5% back. This card is great if you spend on other things besides dining and travel and don’t want to deal with miles and reward flights. You just charge your travel onto your card and they will credit you the money if you have the points.
- 2.1% Rewards Rate: Regardless of what you spend your money on through the card
- 40,000 mile bonus worth $400 dollars in statement credits on travel
- No Foreign Transaction Fees
3. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card
For those who travel frequently around the United States, the Southwest Card is an excellent choice. Southwest Airlines flies to 85 different airports throughout the country, as well as 11 locations throughout the Caribbean – frequent vacations pots such as Costa Rica and Jamaica. The credit card itself earns 2 Rapid Rewards points per $1 when you make Southwest Airlines purchases directly with the airline, and whenever you book Rapid Rewards Hotel and car rentals. All other purchases earn just 1 point per $1. I value Rapid Reward points redeemed for Wanna Get Away tickets at $0.016, which puts the Southwest Card rewards rate at anywhere between 1.5% and 3%.
Cardmembers who spend at least $2,000 on purchases, within the first 3 months of account opening, will receive 50,000 bonus points. Additionally, every cardmember anniversary users receive another 6,000 bonus points.
- Rewards rate between 1.5% and 3.0%.
- Rapid Rewards points can be used to fly to over 96 locations throughout the United States and Central America.
- 50,000 bonus Rapid Rewards Points for those who spend at least $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
4. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
I recommend the Capital One Credit Card as an excellent travel rewards credit card for people who spend below $30,000 annually (any higher and one of the other travel rewards cards will net you more rewards). Cardholders earn 2 miles on every $1 spent – regardless of categories. This translates to a rewards rate of 2% across all your purchases. The 5% increase in rewards rate (from 2.1% to 2%) you get with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard only becomes worth it if you spend more than $30k, and paying the higher annual fee begins to make sense.
Venture miles earned through the Capital One Credit Card have a number of different uses, though consumers should focus on the Purchase Eraser for maximum value. This means using points to pay down past travel expenses on your bill, like your last vacation, or even your regular train / bus commuting costs. If you choose to get straight cash back from your rewards, you will halve the rewards miles’ value.
- 2% Rewards Rate on all purchases when using miles to pay down travel expenses
- No Foreign Transaction Fee
- 40,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months
5. Chase Sapphire Reserve
I saved this one for last even though this is probably by far the best card to get. It will require a higher credit score, so keep that in mind.
As the name implies, the new card is an enhanced version of the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Everything about the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a step up. There’s a higher sign-up bonus, more valuable redemption options — and, yes, a significantly higher annual fee.
Let’s dig into the details.
Basics of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a general travel credit card that doesn’t require loyalty to a specific airline or hotel chain.
It has an annual fee of $450. But its high rewards rate and top-shelf perks can more than make up for the fee, assuming you use the card regularly.
In fact, the sign-up bonus alone could pay for the first three years of card membership: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That’s $1,500 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
After that, it really does depend on how much you spend. The card gives you 3 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel and restaurants and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
But how much are those rewards actually worth? If you use your points to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, they’re worth 1.5 cents apiece. So earning 3 points per dollar on travel and dining works out to a fantastic 4.5% rewards rate, if you use the points to book travel. Getting 1 point per dollar spent on everything else isn’t too shabby either, when you can turn it into a 1.5% rate by redeeming for travel.
Other perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
Aside from the rewards you get from making purchases, the Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ offers a few other ways to recoup the annual fee.
- Up to $300 in annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases such as airfare and hotels charged to your card.
- Access to more than 900 airport lounges worldwide with complimentary Priority Pass Select membership.
- Credit of up to $100 for the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
So as you can see there are a lot of ways to quickly rack up some free flights. I would recommend getting one of these a year and then cancelling and getting another one the fee is due. this way your credit never takes a hit and you always get new bonus miles without paying annual fees. This is called “churning” and there are a million forums that will show you how to do it well.
The other habit you MUST get into is to start putting every single penny you spend on a card. Of course this entire article assumes you are responsible and pay them off every month. If you do not then points will not save you. Every single drive thru for $5, every candy bar at a 7-11, especially when eating out with friends and they are going to pay cash. Put it on your card and take the money. Those few points here and there will quickly add up to a flight. Just pay the card as soon as you can. I do it every 2 weeks.
Free trips are so much more fun! Happy travels and if you have any questions, just ask in the comment section of this article.