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How to Travel for Free with Your Credit Cards

We all want the opportunity to travel for free. 

One of the best ways to travel for free is to take advantage of the credit card offers out there. They often offer deals for points and credits that you can basically use for your future trips.  

Sounds amazing, right? And of course, I’m talking about more than just a couple of hundreds. 

If you didn’t take the credit card offers seriously, now it’s time to reconsider. As long as you play smart, you can win the free travels!

I’ve opened many credit card accounts over the past few years. As of now, I have 7 active credit cards across Chase, American Express, and CitiCard. I’m sure your first impression toward me might be very negative. :/ Well, it sounds like I am in credit card debt or something. But I’m NOT. I keep track of every single credit card and never spend more than what I can afford. 

If you consciously keep track of your credit cards, you can still live in a budget and take the benefits of the credit card offers out there.

Since August 2014, I’ve gained points worth of $6,650. $5,850 out of 6,650 were gained after September 2016 when I intentionally started earning the points. The way I calculate points to dollar amount may not be very accurate, of course. I just wanted to show the approximate amount as specific as I can. I do keep all the records of benefits and costs in an Excel sheet.

Taking the benefits of the credit card offers, I flew from Texas to Asia twice for free. Flew to San Diego and stayed there 5 nights for our honeymoon for free, paid for three night stay in Holiday Inn when my mom flew to Texas. What else. Well, I can still fly to my home country, Korea three times for free (and I just haven’t done so). Domestic flights within the States can be easily paid with the remaining points that I have. 

Now I am at the stage where I can travel anywhere for free with the credit card points I’ve already gained.

Before I started collecting credit cards, I would sometimes make a credit card to receive an introductory offer and would be just okay with it. My thought was, well, I got a $700 worth of points and that’s good enough. 

But think about it. What if you can get thousands of dollars worth of points? Why wouldn’t you take that benefits? 

how to travel for free with credit cards

If you want to take the advantage of these credit card offers, I encourage to remember the following basics. 

Of course, there are many articles and posts on the internet you can read for specific credit card offers. Sometimes, however, I wish I knew where to start before jumping into this game.

For instance, I lost an opportunity to apply for a credit card that brings $700 value for a limited time, because I just applied for a merchandise credit card that only gave me $50 credit with 20% off of my first purchase. I was excited to save around $100 back then, but because of it, I didn’t get the $700 value credit card.

Each bank and credit card company has different rules, and I wasn’t aware of it back then. Of course, you don’t have to remember all the rules to receive these benefits. 

My point is that there are so many credit cards that bring you $500 or more. So if you can, aim for the big fish. 

Aim for the introductory benefit

Again, aim for the big introductory benefit over $500, and NOT the points you accumulate over time or a small introductory benefit. 

A typical introductory benefit would be like this

“You will get ___ points if you spend (more or less) $3,000 for the first 3 months after opening the account.”

All you need to do is spend $3,000 using the credit card, and receive the points. You might be required to keep the credit card for a year or two. You might be required to pay for the annual fee. But that’s it! Pay $99 annual fee and receive $500 value. You still gain $401 out of this example deal.

Of course, you might claim that your current credit card already has a good offer such as cash back bonus from your spending. Well, it’s no harm to accumulate credit card points, but if you can only have a few credit cards (and banks typically restrict the number of credit cards you can have), why not going for a big fish?

Many credit cards offer $500~1,000 worth of introductory benefits. Some credit cards offer 1-5% return of your spending. If you want to accumulate $500 from your 5% spending, well, you will have to spend $10,000. That’s when you have a best luck to spend the category that works for 5% return. If I can afford to spend $10,000, I would apply for two credit cards and get at least $1,000 worth of points for travel.

There was a time a couple of years ago when I was only making $10,000 a year as a graduate student (and yes, I don’t know how I survived). I decided that, whatever I have to spend, I would want to make the most out of it. So I started studying all the credit card introductory benefits, and with $10,000, I was able to open three credit cards and fulfilled the first 3 months of spending. I couldn’t open more because I wasn’t able to spend more than $10,000 for a year. With the three credit cards I opened, I was able to travel for free so many times. Without it, I would have spent more than a couple of thousands for the flights and hotels.

Build up your credit (or trust) with banks

So you understand why we need to aim for the big fish. Then, why can’t every one of us make these credit cards? Banks are not dumb, and they try to screen you if you don’t have enough credit card history (or if your annual income is too low).

Typically, credit cards with these high introductory benefits are less likely to be approved if your credit card history is short. 

For instance, Chase Sapphire cards typically offer at least $500 worth of points, but if you don’t have a history of Chase credit card usages, Chase won’t approve you for the Sapphire card. 

A safe step you should take for your future Case high-end credit cards is:

  • First, open a Chase checking account.
    (If you use this referral link, you can get a $200 credit for your checking account and $150 for your saving account with qualifying activities.)
  • Second, apply for the Freedom credit card (which is easier to get approved with less introductory benefit), and wait at least for 6 months before trying your new card with the introductory offer.

Of course, the baseline is that your credit score is with a good standing and your annual income qualifies for the credit card.

If you are interested in these introductory benefits, even if you don’t want to start playing with the credit card offers just yet, make sure to at least keep a good credit history and build up a trustful relationship with the banks. You need a year or more of a history of healthy credit card usage before you get into these cards.

Be patient (even if the bank disapproves your credit card)

I’ve seen many times that people take the rejection too hard. Yes, they can reject your credit card application.

I understand that it is shocking as you might think you have a credit score higher than 700 and have had the checking account with the bank for many years. But, what you should always avoid is applying for the same card over and over hoping that one day you will get approved.

In fact, you should not apply for the same card for a while if they have rejected you just now -because there should be a reason why they had to reject. Perhaps, you never had a credit card with them. In that case, go get an easy credit card and build a trust with the bank. Perhaps, you just canceled a credit card a week ago. In this case, you need to wait.

It’s not an ego game to see who wins eventually. If you find the rejection letter, be patient. Being disapproved doesn’t mean that yourself is disapproved. Each credit card has different rules and criteria to screen the users. If you accumulate history of many rejections, it will only harm yourself. Your credit score will be lower, and you will have many hard credit check records. The bank has nothing to lose. So please, don’t try to win the bank just yet. Be patient, and you will eventually win. 

Good luck with your new journey!

There are so many things to talk about regarding which credit card to start and how to manage the spending obligation, but I will save these for later. This post is more for an overview of where to start if you want to join the credit card game. If you have all three points understood and set up, you are ready to go. Once you have your first good (high-end) credit card, your second or third credit cards will come easily based on your existing credit cards. It just takes time to build the “first” trust with the banks.

If you have been seeing Chase Credit card offer, but have not built the “first trust” with Chase, your first step is to make checking and/or saving account with them. If you use this referral link, you will get a $200 credit for your checking account and $150 for your saving account with qualifying activities. 

Good luck with your journey for free travels!

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How to Travel for Free with Your Credit Cards
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