In case you haven't noticed, we love credit cards. They have helped us both travel for free and be awesome. Some of our best trips in the last three years have come from using credit card points. Points and miles have also been a life saver when we needed a last minute hotel or a last minute flight to get back to family in an emergency. If you're not looking at points and rewards as part of a smart budget, you are missing out.
Using points we've been able to fill up our Insta feed with snaps from some pretty incredible trips. These big dollar trips wouldn't have typically fit into our household budget without stretching us thin. Credit cards and shopping portals are helping us get out of the house and into the world. While points will help you get complimentary flights, hotel rooms, room/seat upgrades, and checked bags there's often a catch. Uncle Sam always wants his taxes. Even with that in mind, these trips cost us less than a couple hundred dollars in taxes (plus beer and food money).
- Took a 9 day trip to Europe for 2 - Round trip flights and hotels all covered by points
- Spent 8 days in Hawaii - Round trip flights and hotels all covered by points
- Flew to Florida for a 3 day weekend at Disney
- Enjoyed beachfront rooms at Port Canaveral on the front end of a cruise
- Partied too hard on Bourbon street in New Orleans
The latest addition to our wallet is the Chase MileagePlus Explorer card. It's not the sexiest card, but it offers a free first checked bag on all United flights. For better or worse, we've been stuck on a lot of United flights lately, so it was a significant savings for us on the baggage fee alone. We also scored a 50,000 point bonus after making $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening. What are we going to do with those points? Softball tournament flights. All trips don't get to be glamorous. 50,000 points is enough for 5 one way segments in their saver class, so we'll save somewhere between $500 - $1,000 on flights this way.
So how do you maximize your rewards? Here's our strategy:
1) If we have a new card with a sign-up bonus, 100% of our spend goes on the new card to make sure we meet the minimum requirement. Take the United card as an example. We're earning one point per dollar on all purchases, plus another 17 points per dollar on the first $3,000 when you consider the bonus.
2) Next we'll grab a card that has bonused spend. For example if you're dining out, the Uber card will earn 4% cash back.
3) Next we'll grab for a card that earns flexible rewards points. Our points of choice are Chase's Ultimate Rewards points, but American Express Membership Rewards are a great second option. Points on these cards can be transferred to partner airlines and hotels, so they can be extremely useful. Our favorite combo would be the Chase Freedom Unlimited + Sapphire Reserve or the American Express Everyday + American Express Platinum. Start your research there. ;)
Wait? How many cards do we have? As many as we need to optimize our travel potential. We are constantly evaluating our reward earning potential, just like we are always evaluating our household budget. It's just part of making good choices. Nothing in life is truly free. "Free Travel" requires some planning. But you don't need 6 cards to be awesome. One good flexible point card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great place to start. Never forget that you need to use your credit responsibility. Only charge what you can afford to pay off each month. Make sure you have a credit score over 700 before applying for rewards cards. Most require excellent credit.
Don't forget that you can go through online shopping portals to earn additional cash back or miles. We always check CashBackMonitor.com to see where we can add some more points to our stash. You don't even need a new credit card to start maxing out here. You can start earning travel rewards for your future trips today just by taking this step.
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