How I Travel for Free with Credit Card Points

Gyeongbokgung Palace
Gyeongbokgung Palace in South Korea

Ask how many credit cards I own. The number may shock you. As of December 24, 2017, I possess about fifteen credit cards. Don’t freak though because I swear I know what I am doing. Or at least, somewhat. I have been fortunate enough to travel to Hong Kong, South Korea, Colorado, and upcoming Spring 2018, Washington D.C. for close to nothing out of pocket.

Contrary to the belief that the way to go is to own as few credit cards as possible, it actually helps to build credit history by having multiple credit lines with various banks. By owning a credit card and having a track record of being able to pay on time, you are in essence creating a positive relationship with a bank. Now multiple that by fifteen and you are sort of fast tracking yourself into building a solid credit portfolio.

Now, I am not advocating to go crazy with your credit cards and apply as many as possible. It took me a lot of discipline, reading, and patience in order for me to plan and accumulate enough flight and hotel points for me to reach the status of being able to travel for close to nothing. Before I go into further detail on how I managed to travel for free step-by-step, I highly recommend reading my previous piece called, Demystifying How to Get a Good Credit Score.

The hard truth about credit card churning

In order to travel for free with credit card bonuses, it requires a lot of planning, waiting, splurging, planning, and then waiting, and a lot more planning. There are certain events and deadlines you must take note of upon getting into this hobby. Realize that churning for credit card bonuses is not for everyone.

I personally thought the hobby of credit card churning was worthwhile because I am still in the early stages of my life and I am not likely to mortgage a house or need financing anytime soon. Thus, I took it upon myself to put my credit score to some use to reward myself. If you anticipate that you are in need of any type of loan within a year or two, I highly recommend you to stay away from any credit card activity (opening or closing) and focus on building a solid credit score. The honest truth about credit scores is that timing actually plays a huge factor if you need to take out a loan soon.

Requirements

You are probably like cut to the chase already. Alright. Without further or do, here are the requirements in order to succeed with this hobby.

  1. You must have a solid credit score preferably above 700+
  2. You have lots of discipline and love to plan
  3. You are able to splurge upon needing to meet a minimum spend for a credit card bonus
  4. You are able to pay your monthly payments in full and on time
  5. You won’t be taking out a loan within 1-2 years

If you satisfy all five of these criteria, you are fit to become a credit card churner without ruining your credit score.

Rules & pointers

Things to take note of are each credit card provider have their own sets of rules, which is why it requires a lot of planning before applying for any credit card. I highly recommend creating and following a timeline. Here are some important rules and pointers currently in place to take note of.

  1. Chase has employed a 5/24 rule, which means that if you opened more than five credit cards within two years, you will automatically be denied for their credit cards
  2. American Express (AMEX) usually has a 2/90 rule, which means that if you are only able to open two credit cards within 90 days. Additionally, AMEX only allows a cardholder to have up to four credit cards max (does not include business credit cards).
  3. Generally when you close a credit card, you aren’t able to reapply for that same product until two years have passed.
  4. If you have over 4-5 hard inquiries, you may need to slow down from the credit card game until they begin to fall out
  5. In order to meet most sign-up bonuses, you must surpass a minimum spending typically within three months

The general rule of thumb is that I try to space my credit card applications between every two months at very least. I have found that it is just much simpler to follow this guideline and then to take into consideration of everything else. Realize that when applying or closing credit cards, your credit score will take a small hit. That is normal. The idea is that you apply for a credit card, get the sign-up bonus, wait a little to let your credit score rebound and if your heart desires, apply for another credit card over the span of a couple of months or even years. I started building credit the moment I turned eighteen so as you can see, it pays to have good credit.

How I meet minimum spending for credit card bonuses

Meeting minimum spending can be very daunting at first glance if a credit card bonus requires over three thousand dollars or more within three months. Here are some ways I achieve minimum spending for these type of cards.

  1. Spot friends for dinner to Venmo back later
  2. Pay for big insurance, utility, or telephone bills
  3. Make a sibling or parent an authorized user and give them a credit card of their own to contribute to meet your minimum spending for your account
  4. Online shopping
  5. Reselling on eBay may be an option but will require a lot more effort

Credit card exit opportunities

There are a lot of very good credit cards with annual fees. You may be wondering how I am managing if a lot of my credit cards have hefty annual fees. In the case for most credit cards with huge sign-up bonuses, the first year is generally waived. You deciding to keep your card beyond a year is up to your own discretion if you think a card is worthwhile. The general rule of thumb is to downgrade an annual fee credit card into a no annual fee credit card. For example, with the American Express Platinum Card I have the option to downgrade my credit card into the no-fee American Express Everyday. By downgrading, you avoid closing out your credit card and having to take a credit score hit. If downgrading is not an option, the last resort is to close out the credit card, which will cause your credit score to temporarily take a hit.

My travel credit cards timeline

  1. Chase Freedom
  2. American Express Blue Cash Everyday
  3. Chase Hyatt Credit Card
  4. American Express Hilton Honors
  5. American Express Platinum Delta SkyMiles
  6. American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
  7. American Express Platinum Card
  8. American Express Starwood Preferred Card
  9. Chase IHG Credit Card
  10. Barclays Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard
  11. Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard
  12. Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

My advice

My advice for those new to the credit card game is to work your way up from easier approval cards to more premium cards. The chances of getting approved are much better. To get a general idea what credit score a certain credit card needs, I tend to search for average approval scores before I apply. By being within the credit score range, you may avoid potential pitfalls without having your credit score taking a beating from having too many hard inquiries. Also, I would highly recommend prioritizing applying for Chase credit cards if they are of interest to you because of their 5/24 rule.

Last but not least, have fun with it! I know this was a lot of information to take in, but when you are on that first free trip, boy is traveling for free an amazing feeling.


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