Traveling the world

Credit Card Points: Your Ticket to Free Travel

Possible street sign to show that it is possible to travel using credit card points
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We travel… a lot. We’re on the road approximately 4-5 months per year. How can we afford it – especially on two teachers’ salaries? We have lots of tips and strategies, but one is airline and hotel points earned with credit card spending.

To give you an example of how this works for us, we will be traveling through three countries in Southeast Asia for a total of twenty-seven nights this winter. Twenty-one of those nights were booked with points. In other words, they are essentially free. All twenty-seven nights include free breakfast (based on our elite status). Twenty of those nights include executive lounge access, which provides dinner buffets, desserts, and drinks. While we could have booked all twenty-seven nights with points, it was more beneficial to pay for six of the nights because the value of points was higher than the cost of the stay. Additionally, we earn more points with those paid stays. Win-win!

You may think, “I don’t travel enough to earn all those points”, but the truth is, you don’t need to! Wracking up points the traditional way (taking flights, staying x number of nights in a hotel to get one night free, etc.) takes way too long! There are faster and easier ways to earn valuable points and make your travel dreams possible!

Strategic Spending

Enter: credit card sign-up bonuses! How much money do you spend per month on your credit card? How much could you spend per month? To be clear, I’m not talking about buying things you don’t already buy. I’m talking about concentrating all of your spending strategically onto one card. This strategy only works if you pay your credit card in full every month! If you can do that, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be enjoying the perks of free travel.

I’ve helped a couple of friends learn how to get free travel using credit cards. Nothing makes me happier than hearing about how much money they’ve saved based on my recommendations. Just yesterday my friend Kara sent an email saying the following after some Black Friday shopping success:

Your credit card tips have really sparked a new inclination in me to seek out great savings! BTW, with credit cards, I’m traveling and staying for free in February for my nephew’s wedding in AZ! I feel so proud of that!

Based on my recommendations, Kara got two credit cards: a United card for the miles towards her flight and the American Express Hilton Aspire card for the points to cover her hotel stay. As a result, she has saved thousands of dollars, and she travels in much more comfort with the additional perks the Aspire card offers.

Credit Card Points and Minimum Spends

Example 1: American Express Hilton Aspire

The American Express Hilton Aspire card is one of my favorites. Do not be scared off by the $450 annual fee. Trust me, I get it. There was a time when we would have NEVER even considered a card with an annual fee this high…or had one with an annual fee at all! We would often cancel cards after the initial annual fee waiver was over. Those days are over.

With the right planning, you can get well over $450 in value. Although sign-up bonuses change frequently, right now you can earn 150,000 Hilton points for spending $4,000 in a 3-month period. In addition, you get a $250 credit for charges at a Hilton resort, and a $200 airline credit per year. This already covers the $450 annual fee! Plus, and this is definitely my favorite perk, you automatically get Hilton Diamond status, which means you get free upgrades (based upon availability at the time of check-in) and guaranteed access to the executive lounge.

Lounges can vary in quality and not all properties have them, but when they do, we’re talking free breakfast as well as evening food (enough for dinner) and drinks (including alcohol). This perk saves us tons of money. When we stayed 5 nights (on points) at the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik, we only ate out for one meal (a very disappointing and over-priced pizza) the whole time we were there! In a pricey, touristy city, taking advantage of their executive lounge equaled literally hundreds of dollars of savings! Another Hilton perk I love is you always get your 5th night free on award stays.

Example 2: Other American Express Hilton Cards

If the $450 fee for the Aspire card doesn’t work for you, you can still be in the Hilton game! Amex also has 2 other Hilton cards: the Surpass (currently offering 150,000 points for $3,000 minimum spend within 3 months with a $95 annual fee) and the Hilton Honors card (currently offering 95,000 for a $1,000 spend in 3 months with no annual fee). You won’t get Diamond status with either of these cards (no executive lounge access), but you can rack up a lot of points and still utilize their 5th night free policy.

Jackpot: 395,000 points!

If you really want to rack up points, get all 3! Successfully meeting the minimum spend on all 3 of these cards would give you 395,000 points just in sign-up bonuses! All of these cards earn a bonus of at least 3 additional points per dollar spent (with some categories of spending earning even more), so by the time you complete the minimum spend on all of the cards ($8,000 total) you’d have at least 24,000 more points, which gives you a total of 419,000 Hilton points from 3 credit cards! What does that mean? That’s up to you!

Mega Millions… almost

Have your travel companion open the same 3 cards, and BOOM! You’ll have over 800,000 points! Considering Hilton stays start at 5,000 per night, that has the potential of being over 160 nights in the lowest category properties. If you’re focused on aspirational redemptions, read on!

Credit Card Points Redemption Examples

My favorite redemptions are places we could/would never stay without points. For example, we would never spend $1,000 per night on a hotel. Ever. However, you only need 380,000 to stay in the absolute dream property of the Conrad Koh Samui for 5 nights! It remains one of the most memorable rooms we have ever stayed in.

Every room is ocean-facing and has a private infinity edge plunge pool!

Another aspirational property that we absolutely loved was the Hilton Moorea. We stayed in an over-water bungalow all on points!

*Note, renovations on the Overwater Bungalows are scheduled from December 1 – March 31, 2020 (except for Dec. 22 – Jan. 4)

Credit Card Points Paradise

The Hilton Amex cards are just examples. American Express also partners with Delta and Marriott. Chase has co-branded cards with Southwest, United, Marriott, IHG, and Hyatt. CitiBank and Barclay have cards that earn American Airline miles. All banks issue cards that earn flexible rewards – meaning your points can be transferred to one of many airlines.

This can all be confusing. Which card should you get? There is not one right answer. The right card for you depends on your travel goals. Each bank has different rules and there are definitely essential things to keep in mind when starting to collect points and miles.

If you need a bit of help or guidance, contact us via our Facebook page, and we’ll do our best to help and/or answer any questions you have! Additionally, if you’ve found what you’ve read here helpful and are interested in applying for a card, going through a referral from us is a nice thank you. Referrals mean more points, and that’s always a good thing! 🥰

We aren’t posting a referral link here as offers change frequently, so contact us via Facebook message and let us know which card you’re considering or if you need a specific recommendation based on your needs. Sometimes you can get a better sign-up bonus through a referral. Don’t worry, we’ll always tell you the best way to go. In some cases, it will be better for you to not go through a referral.

Excited and Ready to Learn More About Credit Card Points Travel?

There is enough written about credit card points and how to use them to travel for free to keep you busy for the next year. If you are ready to learn more, here are some articles to get you started. They are all from my go-to website, The Points Guy, where I learned much of what I know.

Beginner’s Guide to Points and Miles
Ten Commandments for Travel Rewards Credit Cards
How to decide whether to use cash or miles for airline tickets

Happy reading!

Vicariously yours,