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If you’ve ever asked yourself “how can I travel for free?” you probably have also asked “should I get a travel credit card?”. The two tend to go hand in hand. But no worries, friend. I’m spelling it all out for you in this post–why you NEED a travel credit card if you want to travel for free.
Hey! There are affiliate links sprinkled throughout this post. If you purchase something through a link, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you! That helps me keep this blog up and running 🙂
Since delving into the world of travel hacking, I’ve used my credit card points to get from NC to Colorado for $60, to the USVIs for $10, and redeemed for multiple free hotel stays. It seems too good to be true, but the truth of the matter is if you’re using credit cards but NOT using points–you’re leaving “free” money on the table. If you want to learn how to travel for free, you need a travel credit card!
Before diving in, I do need to state some disclaimers. I am not a financial expert. I share what works well for my family and me because I want you to be able to travel more without a huge vacation bill! So, I recommend talking with a financial advisor if you have one. Or just a trusted family member or friend. 🙂 Just covering my ass here, people.
I also need to state that if you cannot pay off your credit card bill in FULL each month or struggle with credit card debt… This post is NOT for you. There are plenty of other ways to save on vacation and I share them all here on this blog–and plan to share more in the future! Get your financial life in order and ensure you are not in debt before beginning to travel hack.
Final word of caution: if you’re going to be tempted to spend money you don’t have to hit point bonuses or spend minimums DO NOT open a credit card!
If you need more money tips or budgeting ideas, check out this post. I also LOVE Choose FI, The Budget Mom, and The Avocado Toast Budget for more financial resources and tips.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can get into the fun stuff! Who doesn’t love “free” travel?! I say free in quotation marks because I feel it’s a bit misleading to say it’s truly free. It is points you earn after spending on a credit card at a very limited value (usually 1 cent per dollar). But either way, it’s money NOT coming out of your pocket!
Let’s take more vacations, shall we? And let’s take more FREE vacations at that.
WHAT IS A “TRAVEL” CREDIT CARD?
There are many many credit cards on the market and it can be hard to determine what’s what. A travel credit card, specifically, provides extra points/miles for purchases related to travel and/or allows you to redeem for travel at a special rate. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.5 cents when redeemed for travel versus 1 cent for other redemptions.
Obviously, businesses such as airlines or rental cars that provide credit cards are travel cards. The con here is you typically only get good value when redeeming with that particular business. However, there are a multitude of amazing travel credit cards that are not through an airline. Examples include Chase Sapphire, Capital One Venture, and American Express Platinum.
I typically recommend a credit card that isn’t through an airline but from a major bank, such as Chase. This allows you more freedom when selecting airlines and hotels because you don’t HAVE to redeem at a specific business. Also, many of these larger banks have transfer partners with various airlines and hotels. Transfers allow you to redeem at potentially better point values.
Long story short: going for a travel card with its own travel portal provides you more flexibility.
If you are super loyal to a specific airline or hotel, by all means take out their credit card and get that elite status, baby!!!
Any way you slice it, the secret on how to travel for free is taking out a credit card. And being strategic about it.
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF A TRAVEL CREDIT CARD
I feel like I could just write “free travel”!!! And that will be the end all be all. But you know me, I’m a bit more long winded than that.
For those of us with student debt, mortgages, and full time jobs, prioritizing travel is just straight up difficult. I have dedicated much of my life and this blog to help you do just that. One of my biggest not-so-secret tips? Travel credit cards. When you have the points and don’t need to budget an extra $1000+ for vacation, it becomes much more doable to book that PTO. I’ve also noticed we are MUCH more eager to take weekend trips when we can redeem points for free hotel stays. Sometimes a weekend trip can add up so much and then we question if we even want to go!
Aside from redeeming for flights and hotels, most credit cards also have other perks such as rotating discounts in certain categories. Depending on the card you get, you can also get airport lounge access, rebates on hotels, Uber credits, and more. The benefits usually well exceed just getting points.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT TRAVEL CREDIT CARD
It’s not just about snagging the hottest travel credit card.
Many travel credit cards are very appealing with their spending bonuses and airport lounge access. But you have to consider if you’ll:
- Actually use the perks it provides (which usually comes with a higher annual fee)
- Spend in the categories that reaps the most points
Big travel cards like the Chase Sapphire and American Express Platinum have the best perks. However, ONLY if you are actually spending on TRAVEL (not daily spending like groceries or gas).
However, cards like the Citi Premier offer extra point bonuses on things like gas and groceries. While we’re in a season of staying at home, we may choose to double down with this card versus a card where we only get 1 point per dollar at the gas pump.
When selecting a credit card, consider your lifestyle. Where are you spending the most money? Look for cards that provide extra point bonuses in those categories. You can usually do a simple Google search. Sites like The Points Guy or Nerd Wallet also have great resources and card comparisons.
Another thing to consider is the point bonus. Most credit cards will offer a very large point bonus if you spend a specific amount of money in a set amount of time. For example, Chase Sapphire typically offers 40,000-80,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. This is where I give you another word of caution. DO NOT take out a credit card just for the point bonus and then spend more than you actually have!!!
We usually open new credit cards around times when our spending is higher, like Christmas. Please please please don’t go into credit card debt just to get extra points. It is not worth it! It is automatically making your “free” travel worth whatever interest you will be paying (usually between 17-25%, yikes!).
If you’re eager to learn more about how to travel for free, check out my post on travel hacking!
WHICH TRAVEL CREDIT CARD IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Alright, ready to get started on accruing points for your next vacation? Of course you are! Before you go, make sure you get my FREE guide to my favorite travel credit cards. Most of the cards included are ones I’ve tried myself and love!
You can always email me to ask questions before taking the plunge too! I’m available at email@example.com
Comment below: Do you have a travel credit card? What’s your favorite?
PS–want to know my personal favorite credit card right now? The Capital One Venture X. We have LOVED the flexibility and earning potential of this card. Get 75000 bonus points once you hit the spend minimum! (worth over $1000 in travel!)
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