How I Used Travel Rewards Credit Cards, Debt Free, To Get 3 Free Flights, $150 Cash, and A Round Trip Ticket for My Girlfriend to Florida.

Want to start traveling but don’t have the money for a ticket? Learn how I used rewards programs to get myself 3 free flights and $150 bucks cash!

To date I’ve been able to use the points I’ve gained from my Travel Rewards Credit Card, both the chase freedom and the southwest rewards card, to get my airfare paid for multiple trips, one being a round trip flight to Costa Rica and also flying to Florida twice…once solo, and the other time with my girlfriend.

Did I mention I have points to spare? About 7,605 to be exact as of this writing.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Points Screenshot

I did this all without carrying a balance. I prefer to save for large purchases and simply funnel the money through a credit card when I’m ready to make the purchase so as to take advantage of the cards rewards program benefits and to also keep the money in savings for as long as possible before required payback. If an opportunity comes along to invest the cash for higher rewards then I prefer to use that, however I always keep enough cash in the bank to pay off any balance I have.

If you’re like me, you want to enjoy traveling as much as possible all while maintaining a certain level of comfort. Some folks are ok with “roughing it” to save money, and I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to refill plastic water bottles to save money while traveling. You can have your cake and eat it too…

Folks that understand what rewards travel is understand that with rewards you can buy things like free food onboard airlines, free nights stays, and free airline tickets.

Yes you heard me right, free whole airline tickets can be had when using credit cards with rewards programs. This is merely only the tip of the iceberg but I’ve included some of my personal cards that I’ve used to get free flights, free points, money back and more.

The Chase Freedom Card

Chase Freedom Card

I’ve mostly only used this card for it’s cash-back for spending, which has more than paid for itself, and it’s not hard to meet the minimum $500 in the first 3 months to get the bonus. 

This is a great card for anyone just starting out and is perfect for someone trying to rebuild their credit. You can use it as a cash lending program to yourself to afford expenses and then take the added savings you’d have to pay down debt faster. 

To date I’ve gotten nearly 30,000 rapid rewards points on it, but the real advantage Is the cash-back and the 0% interest they charge for the first 15 months. 

Here’s what the card offers: 

  • $150 when you spend $500, free money basically for buying groceries. 
  • Up to 15 months 0% interest; low interest loan.
  • 5% cash back on select purchases quarterly, get money for spending on your normal expenses.

Save it, spend it, invest it, doesn’t matter what you do with the cash but it’s yours to keep. I used it to pay off part of my $33,555 in student loan debt in less than 3 years.

In my humble opinion this card is a great way for a new traveler to earn enough cash back in a year to fully offset the cost of an airline ticket to somewhere domestic or even as far reaching as the Caribbean (if you are US based) without having to go into any debt so long as you pay off the card each billing cycle.

I never recommend going into debt for travel, but strategically spending money you would have spent and just funneling it through a rewards card first is a great way to earn yourself a little bonus each year.

So to summarize:

With a minimum spending of $500 to earn the first $150 this is a great way to earn a little extra change towards travel in your first year, and without any fees or 0% interest for the first 15 months I think it’s a no brainer.

Click Here to Apply for the Card and if you are approved for the card you can earn a $150 bonus for spending normally on things like groceries, household items and other necessary expenses.

NEW: The Freedom Unlimited Card By Chase

Chase Freedom Unlimited Card

If you are planning to make a larger purchase for a needed expense, like say buying a new ac unit for a rental property, or doing a full overhaul of your transmission on that clunker that you have because in the long run that car will pay for itself if you resist the urge to upgrade and simply have it paid cash, then you can probably use this card.

What it offers:

  • $150 when you spend $500, free money basically for buying things like groceries, phone bill, internet, and gas.
  • Up to 15 months 0% interest; low interest loan.
  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases, which means you get money for spending on your normal expenses.

So to summarize:

Same perks as the chase Freedom, only a little better, you get 1.5% cash back on all purchases regardless of category. So whether your just using it for groceries, or you put all your expenses on it like phone, internet, groceries, and the occasional big purchase, you can expect to get some whopping points back if you do.

If you’ve already been approved for the chase freedom you might want to check out the freedom unlimited card.

Click Here to Apply for the Card and if you are approved for the card you can earn a $150 bonus for spending normally on things like groceries, household items and other necessary expenses.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Card

screenshot-2016-11-03-08-23-13

When I signed up for the southwest Rapid rewards credit card I got the card when they were offering 40,000 points when you spend $1000 in the first 3 months. Shortly there after they changed the offer to 60,000 points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months.

So I decided it was worth a shot to give them a call and see If I could get the same offer and low and behold ask and you shall receive. I got them to add an extra 20,000 points when I spent a measly $1000 on normal purchases, groceries, cell phone expense, auto insurance, and anything else I needed to buy. 

Pro tip: save a big purchase for when you open your account, i.e. if you are thinking about getting a new laptop for work or you need to buy some work clothes or you will be buying new tires for your car and getting other service work done on your car, why not just funnel the money you have saved through your card and get the points for using it? Just be sure to not carry a balance the next month.

Why do I love flying southwest?

  • The crew members love what they do, and they have a lot of fun at work. They are actually one of my favorite reasons to fly southwest…The crew make every flight a fun one.
  • Their rewards program is straight MON-AY!
  • Spend $1000 in first 3 months get $690 approx.
  • No Blackout dates, and points don’t expire as long as your account has activity.
  • 3,000 anniversary points each year
  • VIP status gets you even more goodies like free wifi and priority boarding.

When you spend $1,000 in your first 3 months you get 40,000 points you can use towards no black out date flights (there is about a .017 rewards point redemption rate so this is about $680 in flight redemption – pretty good).

Also you get 2x points on all SW tickets, money spent at partner hotels, and partner car rentals, as well as no foreign fees, chip protection and fraud alert.

Oh and you also get 6,000 anniversary points each year you stay with SouthWest. 

The only con to this card is the $69 yearly fee but I’ve had friends confirm that you can call and have them wave the fee, if you ask nicely, for the first year. Even after the fee, the $600+ in flight savings easily pays for itself.

Click here to apply for the card and if you are approved for the card you can earn a 40,000 point bonus for spending normally on things like groceries, household items and other necessary expenses, that’s over $500 in flight rewards on Southwest!

What is my next Travel Rewards Credit Card?

screenshot-2016-11-03-08-22-08

The United Mileage Plus Explorer Card

This is another one of my favorite cards and the next one I will get.

Though sometimes a little more expensive, United is one of my favorite major airlines because of their extensive network of flights. They literally fly to every continent but Antarctica. See map below:

united-flight-map

Reasons to get it: 

  • 40,000 bonus points when you spend $2,000 in your first 3 months
  • Priority boarding
  • First bag flies for free (and they have an actual tracking system for the bag so it is located every step of the way).
  • Oh and another thingno pesky foreign transaction fees, damn near ate me alive in costa rica with this one…

I honestly have a love hate with United because of their merger with Continental and the changes that the employees have had to deal with (having personally known a few flight attendants for 20+ years).

If you’ve ever tried to track your bag using something like Lug Lock Luggage Tracker then you know it can be rather difficult. When an airline offers to check your bags they are assuming the risk should your bags get lost, and united uses a point to point tracking system to ensure that your effects are checked at every leg of your flight. 

Though customer service isn’t what they are known for, the 40,000 bonus points on $2,000 in the first 3 months is a good enough reason to get me back in their seats.

Beyond that, they also offer 20% off inflight purchases, 1st bag flies for free, no foreign transaction fees, and 2 united club tickets a year (lounge service!).

Go here to apply for the card: United Mileage Plus Rewards

Some final Thoughts…

I never recommend getting into debt; however, strategic spending on a travel rewards credit card for normal expenses (gas, groceries, car payment, rent) and then paying off your card balance each month is one of the best ways to earn free flights and rewards.

Keep in mind too, there is nothing wrong with having multiple cards open at the same time, if you are smart and don’t use them for petty purchases but instead use them to fund smart purchases that you’ve saved for, then you can reap some major rewards.

I wouldn’t recommend getting a travel credit card if I have a lot of outstanding debt; however, for those who pay off their cards each month and operate on a cash basis it’s nice to get a little reward for your spending every now and then such as free flights, hotels, car rentals and cash back.

Check out my other article on why I gave up using my rewards credit cards for everyday purchases here. Now I only put automated expenses on this card and I simply leave it at home. By automating your expenses and then automating the payments you never miss the money as you already budgeted for it and you don’t see it go.

So don’t think that spending $500 a year on coffee on these cards is going to be worth it, use it when you have a major purchase or expense for your business and then reap the rewards.

What about you, how do you use travel rewards programs (or don’t) to travel around the world? Let us know in the comments below.

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Author: Kristian

At the age of 22 Kristian found myself deep in debt from student loans, credit card spending, a car lease right out of college, and with few prospects and while living in his fathers spare bedroom, he began working diligently to get out of debt. That was 3 years ago, now he writes about how he did it, what tools and strategies he learned to accelerate his growth and get out of debt faster that he ever thought possible. To learn more about how he dug himself out of the $33,555 of debt he was in, while saving over $10,000, and all while doing it earning just above minimum wage check out: Mysimpleonlinelifestyle.com To date Kristian has been to over 14 different countries including Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, Belgium, France, Thailand, Philippines, Hong Kong, China, United States, and UAE. When not working on projects he’s passionate about, or helping local businesses with their marketing, you can often find Kristian reading, training Jiu Jitsu, or eating Thai food.

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