Credit Cards – A Travel Hacker’s Best Friend

I love credit cards. When I tell people this I usually get strange looks like I’m crazy and whatever I tell them after is dismissed because of their preconceived notions surrounding these divisive pieces of plastic ( or metal in some cases! ).

Updated March 31st , 2017

In the one year Breada and I have been traveling we have taken six flights on airline miles, three of them in business class, and the total cost was less than $100 out of pocket. We also have seven more flights lined up within the next year, all of which are business class and all we’ve had to pay for were the fees. Not only that, but we have 18 nights in hotels in Europe already booked, which we paid ZERO dollars for. All of this is thanks to strategically choosing the right credit cards before, and during, our trip.

BAScreenshot PP

When people ask me what’s the first thing you should do to prepare for a long term trip I tell them first make sure your credit is good, and if it is then get a solid travel card. I recommend starting off with a no annual fee card like the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Both of these cards give you $150 cash back after $500 spend and they also have 0% on purchases for the first 15 months. These are two cards you can keep for life, which will extend your credit history and increase your credit score.

*The Important Bit* DON’T TAKE THE $150 AND RUN!

After getting the sign up bonus for either the Freedom or Freedom Unlimited (or both!) you would then get a card within the Chase Ultimate Rewards family. These include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and the Ink Plus. Once you have one of these cards, you can convert your $150 cash back into 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points, which are worth far more than the cash back. Between those two cards you would have enough for your flight to most places in the world and all you would have to do is pay the fees, which can be as low as $5.50.

If you would like to sign up for the Chase Freedom card, we would very much appreciate it you used our link here. It’s the same as the public offer, and it would help us immensely. 

After you have your airline points lined up you should look for a good hotel card. I recommend the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) card by Chase for your first. The sign up bonus is normally 60,000 points after $1000 spend, which could get you up to 12 nights at an IHG property during their Pointbreaks promotion or 2 or 3 and a mid-level property. The card comes with a $49 annual fee, but every year you get a free night at any IHG property worldwide.

I’m not going to lie, this card isn’t good for spending money after you make the minimum spend. However, you could put zero dollars worth of spend on this card each year and the card still pays for itself. We just used our free nights at the Intercontinental on Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang, Vietnam. This is considered one of the premier luxury resorts in the world. Average cost is about $400-500 a night. Our cost for two nights? Nothing. $49 for a $500 a night property? Sign me up! 

So if you sign up for the three cards I laid out you’ll have enough points for a roundtrip economy flight for almost anywhere in the world, plus some free hotel nights for your travels. And that is just from these 3 cards!

“ Won’t my credit score go down if I keep signing up for all these cards?”

The answer to that is yes and no. One factor of your credit score is the average age of your account history, which will go down a little bit with every card you sign up for. If you are young and have limited credit history, read this post I wrote a while back on how you can give yourself a little boost.

You will also drop a point or two for each credit inquiry on your account. That being said, your credit utilization percentage is another factor of your score, which will go down with the more credit you get. As long as your average monthly balance stays the same and you continue to increase your overall credit limit, your ratio will go down which will in turn boost your credit score. It’s all about balance, but as long as you continue to pay your balances in full and on time, your credit score will stay about the same. I’ve been doing this for about four years now and my credit score is at a solid 814. 

Credit Karma

For some people this may not be sound advice. If you’re not good with your finances I wouldn’t recommend it. However if you are good with your finances, this can be one of the best ways to travel for free. Over the last couple years I’ve traveled on numerous flights through Europe and Asia on points. Many of these flights are flights I normally would not be able to afford, so for me this is huge. On our current trip alone it has saved us almost $10,000 between the two of us. That isn’t even counting the 18 free nights we have in Europe and our flights home and then back to Asia again next August. 

This is just a basic basic beginner’s intro to using credit cards to travel for free. There are so many things I haven’t gotten into, but I wanted to keep it simple for the average reader who has no idea about any of this. Hopefully I answered some questions, particularly the “How do you travel for free” question I get so often. In the future I will write posts that get more creative and advanced as I go on, but for now I think this will suffice.

If you have any questions please feel free to comment or e-mail.

FULL DISCLOSURE : I have a referral code for the Chase Freedom card, which can help me earn points by getting people to sign up. I did not write about this particular card for that, but because it is a great beginner travel card to sign up for. Do your own research on other websites and you will see it is true. That being said, if you think the advice I gave you was good and want to sign up for it, I would appreciate it if you used the link above when signing up for the card. We make no money on the website, and a referral would help us continue our travels. Thank you!

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4 thoughts on “Credit Cards – A Travel Hacker’s Best Friend”

  1. Dear Anthony & Breada,

    As one who has never traveled outside North America, I continue to marvel at your resourcefulness. Currently, my credit score is 116. Any advice on how I can turn that into a free bus ride from Revere to West Peabody?

  2. Uncle! I thought you forgot about us I hadn’t seen your name in the comments in a while. You can always fly out here to meet us an write it off as a business expense! Big movie market in Asia. Just be prepared to have at least 100 samurai in any movie you write. As for Revere to West Peabody : better get that hitchhikers thumb warmed up!

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