My Secret to Traveling the World for Free
A few weeks ago, we talked about a recent offer that I received in the mail – one that promised a dirt-cheap trip to Kauai for two hours of my time.
It was a good deal, but as I mentioned in that article, I was just in Kauai less than a year ago, so it wasn’t some must-do thing.
Meanwhile, I’m in Italy right now – taking my mom and daughter across the country from Rome to Venice.
Based on these little tidbits, you might think I spend a lot of money traveling. But that’s not true. I employ one simple travel hack that you can also take advantage of today!
No need to sit through any type of timeshare sales presentation, either!
My Free Travel Secrets
In short, I use generous credit card signup offers to accumulate large amounts of airline miles, free hotel rooms, and other perks at absolutely no cost to me.
Just as an example, when I searched return flights from Venice I was shocked to find the best offers were running $3,000 per person!
Fortunately, I have a lot of American Airline miles from previously signing up for an AAdvantage credit card from Citi and then flying the airline for business trips and other purposes.
With that $3,000 flight only running 30,000 miles, I ended up getting all three of our tickets for free and at a very good exchange rate.
Of course, that’s just one example. Here’s a better one from last winter…
My daughter and I were looking to take a snowboarding trip to Lake Tahoe during the insanely-busy President’s Day weekend.
Well, one of the best places you can stay would be slopeside at Northstar’s Ritz Carlton.
The only problem? Rooms were running roughly $1,500 a night.
Good thing I was able to sign up for two different American Express cards affiliated with the Bonvoy rewards program … including this one.
We ended up using our points for five nights during that long holiday weekend – getting something like $7,500 in hotel rooms for a couple of card signups and points accumulated with our regular spending.
It ended up dumping snow all weekend and my daughter and I were able to go straight from the luxury hotel to the lift chairs and then straight back to a hot tub over and over again!
I’m planning on doing the same trip again this year and just signed up for a third Bonvoy card – this time the business version – to top off my points and get us another five-night stay at the Ritz for free. (One really cool perk of the Bonvoy program is that you get a fifth night free when you book four using points.)
What’s the Catch?
You may know that many airlines, hotels, and rental car companies partner with banks to create special rewards credit cards.
Maybe you even have one already.
But unless you’ve spent a lot of time researching these programs, it’s quite likely that you’re not getting the most out of them.
Most people think these cards are simply good ways to earn airline points or other perks while making purchases.
What they fail to realize is that the biggest windfalls come from signing up — and those offers change all the time.
Recently, I’ve been pretty hot on the Bonvoy cards because of my specific desire to get premium hotels at world-class ski destinations.
But they’re not necessarily the absolute best deal going.
Just as another example, one I’ve mentioned before …
At the beginning of 2013, I signed up for two Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Visa cards — the regular version as well as the business one.
By doing so through a special promotion, I got 50,000 Rapid Reward miles for EACH enrollment.
That’s sweet enough, good for four or five free roundtrip domestic flights.
But even better is that Southwest has a little-known perk for anyone who accrues 110,000 miles in a given calendar year.
It’s a special pass that allows you to take a companion with you on every flight for the rest of that calendar year PLUS the next one. Your companion just pays taxes. And yes, the companion pass even applies to free travel you book with miles!
So just getting those two cards and earning an additional 10,000 miles afterward essentially got me 10 free roundtrip flights plus an unlimited number of additional buy-one-get-one-free flights through the end of 2014.
Even though each card had a first-year annual membership charge of $69, ($138 in total) it was a terrific deal — especially since I was doing a lot of domestic flying.
I ended up taking my entire family to Aspen for a long weekend at a luxury slopeside hotel using more Southwest miles and points from another rewards card.
How to Take Advantage of This Hack Yourself
If you want to take advantage of this particular hack, you can sign up for various Southwest credit cards here. (As with the American Airlines link earlier, we can both earn points in the process.)
Of course, I’m not even saying this Southwest deal is the right one for YOU.
It really depends on what special sign-up bonuses are in effect at any particular point in time, as well as your personal travel preferences.
Some people like to get lots of travel for free.
Others like to use rewards to splurge on hotels or first-class international flights they couldn’t afford otherwise.
The point is that a little investigating goes a long way. Do a quick web search and you’ll find plenty of websites that offer in-depth profiles on various mileage programs and current offers. Two of my favorites are www.millionmilesecrets.com and www.thepointsguy.com. And for the truly obsessive, there’s also www.flyertalk.com.
Okay, but what about the OTHER financial impacts of doing this?
The process of signing up for multiple credit cards just to get bonus rewards is commonly known as “churning”. Most financially conservative people avoid doing this for a number of reasons.
The first is because they don’t want to take on new debt.
But I am NOT advocating piling up bigger credit card balances or making unnecessary expenditures.
Instead, I’m saying you should take advantage of the most generous sign-up offers, put all of your regular expenses on the new card, and pay the card in full to avoid any interest charges or other fees.
That’s just using credit wisely and getting free perks for doing so!
Personally, the reason I used to avoid credit card churning is because I believed it would negatively impact my credit score. But I’ve changed my tune on that. In fact, I’ve seen credit scores go UP after opening a new card!
The reason behind that is how your credit score is calculated. Generally, debt-to-available-credit is a primary factor in how your score is determined, and taking on a new line of credit boosts this number.
So unless you’re planning on getting a major new loan, or your credit score is already lower than average, I wouldn’t worry too much.
And again, even if this particular strategy isn’t for you, it still illustrates the idea that a little knowledge and research can help you live a richer, more rewarding lifestyle no matter how much money you have in the bank.
To a richer life,