How we travel for FREE or nearly FREE

I received an email from one of my DaddyTravelsNow readers. I thought I’d write an entry on how we travel for FREE or nearly FREE Here’s the email:

Hi Jason,
I really enjoyed reading your article about your and your wife’s travels to Peru. I found your articles to be quite informative and well written. I probably have amassed 600,000 points on various credit cards, but don’t really know what to do with them. You probably had the same problem, but just dove in, made your mistakes, and learned from that.
 
Have you ever written about how you started using your points to travel? It might be a good experience for someone like me, who doesn’t want to waste what few points I have, to read something like that. I think an article like that would be most interesting for newbies like myself.
 
Your comments would be most welcome!
 
Thank you,
XXXXXXXXX
And it never fails. I would get a text or private message from friends, family, and acquaintances, who want to sit down and talk to me to help them get started in earning travel rewards. This then prompted me to write this new entry and I’m hoping it will help those who are considering getting a travel rewards credit card, but with the plethora of information out there, just do not know where to begin. I don’t profess to know it all, because I don’t. If I were starting out today, these are the tips that I would be giving to myself – my advise how to get started.

How exactly did I get started with earning travel rewards

In 2014, I began traveling a lot on business, and thought of ways to maximize my points earned from flying and my hotel stays. I did realize though, that even if I were to travel a lot, I’d probably only get a free airfare or a few free nights with hotel stays. It raised my curiosity in possibly finding other ways to supplement my desire to travel outside of work. It just snowballed from there. Since I’m a huge fan of going to Hawaii, I applied for a credit card that could give me a free ticket to Hawaii. I also applied for a Marriott credit card since all my business trips had a nearby Marriott for me to stay, I had no discipline per se, I applied for “whatever” card appealed to me, I had no guidance, I was pretty much on my own. I made mistakes along the way, cards I should have applied for first, but looking back, I have no regrets because with the little growing knowledge I had with credit cards, it had allowed me and my family to travel around the world for nearly free.

travel for FREE or nearly FREE
My kids wandered around NYC in 2015.

 

Caveat: Credit 101

I feel like I have to keep reminding my readers about this. With you applying for credit cards, I am not suggesting that you should apply, spend $2,000 dollars during one billing period, and only pay the minimum amount. NO. I am not suggesting that. Nor am I suggesting that you spend on frivolous things just so you can earn the points. Definitely not. This endeavor will only work if you spend wisely, pay on time, and in full every month. Plain and simple. If you spend $2,000 this billing cycle, then you pay $2,000 when your billing statement is due. Capiche? Good!

Simple steps to earning rewards from credit cards

Before taking a leap of faith with credit card applications, these are the steps I take when I’m about ready to apply for a credit card:
  • Determine which type of reward you’re looking for (air, hotel, cash back, etc.)
  • Identify the card that could give you those rewards
  • Know the sign-up bonus offered by card/s (typically awarded in points, and some, in cash, some given in free nights with hotels)
  • Apply for the card, and once approved;
  • Meet the required minimum spend (usually, you’re given 90 days to meet the minimum spend)
  • Once the minimum spend is met, you will get the sign-up bonus added to your account
  • You can begin using these bonus points, or free nights, or cash rewards (whatever it is that you were supposed to get)

What kind of credit card should I get?

I’m always asked “what’s a great card to get?” There’s really no perfect fit because we all have different needs. So I turn around and ask, “What are your goals?” Are you looking for rewards that could get you:
  • airline tickets
  • hotel stays
  • rail
  • car rentals
  • cash back rewards

There are cards that I’ve used that can give you all or most of these rewards. Some cards are best used for hotel stays. In my experience, I’ve used my credit card points that have allowed my family to get airline tickets and hotel stays for nearly free. We have certain cards we carry today that also give us cash back rewards. So it all boils down to your goals. There is no one-size-fits-all, but from my experience, there are credit cards that I’ve used heavily and have been fortunate to travel around the world with their perks.

So the question now is, “Jason, if I want to get started, which credit cards would you suggest I start with?”

Two of my favorite cards to travel for FREE or nearly FREE

I have a couple of top picks. If I knew then what I know, for those who are just starting out, I always recommend getting one of these two cards. It will all vary based on your needs and travel goals.

These two Chase Sapphire cards are perfect starter cards. The Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) and the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) are both great cards that have gotten lots of use for my family and those who want to get in on earning travel rewards. Why are they my favorites? I’ve been able to use them to get airline tickets and hotel stays. My list is growing:

chase-sapphire-preferred
Image courtesy of Chase
sapphire_reserve_card
Image courtesy of Chase

Where have we gone with points earned with Chase

We’ve taken many trips where we used points with Chase and we paid $11 per person in fees (between 2014 and 2018).

Hawaii

travel for FREE or nearly FREE

We go to Hawaii yearly, the years I mentioned above were the visits that allowed us to use our travel rewards. All other years prior to that, our airfare and hotel stays were paid in cash.

New York City

International Trips

travel for FREE or nearly FREE
Machu Picchu – April 2018

We’ve traveled to other places such as Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Singapore, Malaysia, Toronto, Canada, Washington DC, and Philadelphia – and we used other types of credit card points other than Chase Ultimate Rewards.

So yes, as you can see, these points earned with our Chase cards have been quite valuable to me. Oh and by the way, this is not to say that by signing up for these cards that you could avail of all of these trips with just  50,000 bonus points. I just found a way to make my points earned work for me and getting all these points is another story. But for now, let’s focus on you getting started with these cards.

 

Chase Sapphire Reserve & Preferred

Side by Side Comparison

Look at the program details between these two cards and you’ll see similarities and differences.

travel for FREE or nearly FREE

What do they have in common?

So let’s dissect this information.

travel for FREE or nearly FREE

Both cards offer a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards. In order to get these bonus points, you have to meet the required spend of $4,000 within the first three months. When you travel outside the US and use these cards, you will NOT be charged a foreign transaction fee (other cards charge as much as 3% on top of your purchase).

What are the key differences?

Annual Fee – the CSP charges $95 annual fee (waived on the first year), while the CSR charges $450 annual fee. That’s a big difference. But before you set the CSR aside because of it’s $450 annual fee, look at the side-by-side comparison below. For me, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a more robust, feature-rich credit card that caters to the kind of consumer I am, and the kind of traveler we are as a family.

travel for FREE or nearly FREE

Value of points when redeemed with Ultimate Rewards Portal – that’s a lot of fancy words. The CSR get a 1.5 cents value, while the CSP gets 1.25 cents. When you book you travels using Chase’s UR portal, the points earned with the Reserve is worth more than the points earned with the Preferred.

Dining and Travel – every time we use Reserve for Dining or Travel-related expenses (ranging from hotels, airfares, Uber, cab, train, timeshare, parking, etc.), each dollar spent gets us 3 points vs. 2 points with the Preferred.

Annual Travel Credit – if you have the Reserve, let’s say you booked a hotel stay worth $350. After a couple of days, Chase will issue a $300 credit back to your account.

Global Entry/TSA Precheck – to those not familiar, Global Entry allows for an expeditious processing once you return back on US soil. Those pre approved no long need to wait in long lines. You just go to a kiosk type of machine, scan your passport, answer a few questions, and you’re done. The application fee for Global Entry is $100, and when you use your Chase Sapphire Reserve, after a few days, you will see that $100 charge get credited back to you. Along with Global Entry approval, you also get TSA Precheck approval which allows you to use a specific TSA Precheck line at the airport, and when you go through security, no need to remove your shoes, jacket, or laptop. This line is typically shorter than the regular line.

travel for FREE or nearly FREE
Global Entry

Airport Lounge Access via Priority Pass – this one is definitely one of the best perks we’ve been using and many thanks to Priority Pass access that we got with our card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Nowadays, you could find our family going to an airport lounge before every flight. We get to eat, drink, relax for a bit, surf the net, or doze off if needed.

travel for FREE or nearly FREE
Image courtesy of Priority Pass

Again, it’s all based on your needs. For my family the $450 annual fee charged by the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a no- brainer since we tend to use the benefits to the fullest. Others might be content with getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and that is perfectly fine, it truly is one of the best cards out there. As I mentioned, there is no one-size-fits-all.

Can you apply for both?

There were reports that some applicants were able to apply both cards on the same day, met the $4K minimum spend on both cards, and were able to get the 50,000 bonus on each of the cards, therefore, 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards on both. You may be able to try this strategy, and am very interested to know if you were successful in doing so.

Up until the middle of 2017, you could apply for both cards and get them with no issues. Now, you can only apply for one. In my wife’s case, prior to mid 2017, she got the CSP in December 2015, and then got the CSR in Dec 2016. This did not present an issue back then. Chase had since changed their policy. You will have to wait two years from the last time your bonus posted before you can apply for the other card. This means, you have to choose wisely which card will best suit your travel needs. If you apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred today, and a few months down the line you realize, “Hmmm…I would like Global Entry?” Or, you might want to get access to airport lounges. At that point, Chase won’t allow you to get the Chase Sapphire Reserve.  Again, choose wisely

As mentioned, there are hundreds of other cards out there, however, having been doing this miles and points journey for the past four years, these two credit cards are the two perfect starter cards that I highly recommend for you to consider.

To learn more about the credit cards that we use in our family that has allowed us to travel around the world for nearly free, click here.

Any questions, just ask.

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