Redeem Credit Card Bonuses for Cheap and Free Flights
I’ve seen credit card bonuses work incredibly well for certain people and I’ve also seen them backfire. Before we get into this post, two HUGE disclaimers. One, do your research. Don’t use a credit card for the sake of spending. Use a credit card to get the rewards and then strategically pay it off. Two, I do not in any way endorse the credit cards I mention in this post. I’m referencing the credit cards that have worked well for me. There are more options available in addition to the ones I mention.
With that said, credit card bonuses can be an incredibly smart way to travel and result in cheap and free flights. In September of 2015, I flew to Bogota, Colombia, South America for free. My ticket price was $0.00 and I had to pay $80.00 in airline taxes. That’s it for a round-trip ticket between New York and Bogota – and it was a fantastic trip. I used Couchsurfing to stay with someone for free and ended up spending an incredibly small amount on the trip in total.
Sign Up Bonuses
A lot of travel rewards credit cards have certain sign-up bonuses: “spend $X in Y months and get Z bonus points.” Make sure you can meet the minimum spend on the credit cards and don’t bite off more than you can chew (if you only take out one credit card and meet the minimum spend requirement, that’s better than taking out three credit cards and not being able to meet the minimum spend on any of them).
In my experience, it was challenging to meet the minimum spend on even one card. But once I got the hang of it, I took out additional cards. Here are some ways to meet the minimum spend on a card and get those awesome bonus points:
- If you are making a move or buying new furniture/equipment of some sort, take out a credit card for it. Rather than dipping into your checking account, put it on the card to meet the minimum spend (the minimum spend varies card to card, but is usually $3,000 to $4,000 in a three-month time period). Here’s the kicker: don’t spend money you don’t have. The goal here is not to go into debt; it’s to put the purchases on the credit card so that you can get the bonus points. If you put too much on the card and then pay a lot in interest, you defeat the purpose of the reward. Is it ok to put more on the card than you are able to pay off in one month? Yes, that’s perfectly legal, but do so at your own discretion and while aware of the interest rates.
- Put as many of your monthly expenses as possible on your card. For example, I started to put my car insurance bill on my credit card and paid down the card afterwards.
- Use amazon payments. This is a system that will let you make a purchase with your credit card and then pay yourself back.
- Buy gift cards with the card, sell the gift cards to family and friends for the price you bought them for, and then use the money to pay off the balance on the card.
- If you are down to the wire with not much time left to meet the minimum spend to get the bonus, put your parent’s groceries (or one of their other expenses) on the card and then have them pay you back in cash. This is obviously not your first option, but if it means getting lots of bonus miles and therefore a free flight, it’s worth it.
The first two options are the easiest and most effective, but the final three options are creative solutions if you don’t have to make any major purchases in the near future.
You don’t have to have perfect credit to take out a new credit card, but you also don’t want to be applying for a card with bad credit. A 700 credit score or higher will virtually guarantee you a new credit card. A 670 credit score is on the fence – if you get rejected, call the reconsideration line (see below).
Even with a 700 credit score, you don’t want to take out too many cards at once. Spread out your applications, even if you can meet the minimum spend on all of the cards. The most I’ve been accepted for at one time was three credit cards, but I was rejected for one of them and had to call into the reconsideration line to get it approved.
Suggested Credit Cards for You to Look Into
This is all about spending your money wisely – not spending money you don’t have. If you have both the credit score and budget available to do this, here are the cards that have led me to get cheap and free flights (no endorsement of the individual credit card companies):
- Chase Sapphire Preferred: This card has a challenging minimum spend, but it’s well worth it. With this card’s sign up bonus, I got $500 off my flight this past December from New York to Morocco.
- American Airlines Citi AAdvantage: This is the card that got me to Bogota for free. Great card for everyday expenses.
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express: great for hotel rewards – I spent four free nights at a Sheraton in San Diego because of this card. This post focuses on bonus miles for flying, but this card is a good one. I didn’t even meet the minimum spend requirement on it and I still got lots of great rewards!
- Barclaycard Arrival: This card has a more reasonable minimum spend for the sign up bonus and is great for redeeming cheap and free domestic flights.
- Capital One Venture: I like this card because after taking out the card, making some initial purchases, and then paying the card down, they were quick to increase the credit limit. I can’t guarantee this will happen for you, but it was my experience with the card.
- Chase Freedom: Unlike the above cards I do not have experience using it, but I’ve heard good things.
Once you meet the minimum spend and want to redeem your rewards, you can do so either online or by calling the credit card company.
Please note: I did not put in the precise minimum spend requirements for each card because they are sometimes changed. A quick google search on it will give you the answer.
If you got rejected from one of your credit card applications but feel this was the wrong decision, you can call into the reconsideration line for the card. When you call in, ask to speak to the manager. Remember, you are talking to a person just like yourself. Explain that you are a savvy traveler looking to take advantage of the bonus points on the card, but would be happy to take your business elsewhere. This will usually convince them to approve the card if your credit is semi-decent.
For the AAdvantage Citi card, the one that got me to Bogota, I was initially rejected. I called in twice and was denied. But the third time I called in, I asked to speak to a manager and when I told her why I wanted the card and that I was an experienced traveler, she quickly approved it. These companies don’t want you going to their competitors.
Properly redeeming bonus miles is not a stroll in the park, but it’s not rocket science either. With some planning, strategy, and execution, you are well on your way to cheap and free flights.
For more useful posts on budget travel, please check out the travel section of jeffdspeaks.com/blog
Jeff Davis is a world-renowned author, professional speaker, blogger, YouTube creator, and philanthropist. For more information on Jeff, please visit jeffdspeaks.com or contact his Executive Assistant Meg via firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Davis, jeffdspeaks.com | July 18, 2016