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How we travel for FREE or nearly FREE

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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,
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.
Kyoto, Japan 2019

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:
  • Know your travel goals (where/when you want to go, how many in your party will be traveling) – read next section below
  • Learn and know your Chase 5/24 Status (don’t know what this means? READ THIS ENTRY.
    • This is important in planning your strategy.
  • Determine which type of reward you’re looking for (air, hotel, cash back, etc.)
  • Identify the card/s 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)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2017

What kind of credit card should I get? What are your goals?

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.

What is your Chase 5/24 status

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

My answer then is what is your Chase 5/24 status? I asked this earlier, and if you still have not answered this question, I suggest reading this ENTRY before you go any further.

“Wait, I don’t know what 5/24 means?” Again, please read this ENTRY (click here).

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)  (no active referral link at this time) and the Chase Sapphire Preferred*. These are both great cards that have gotten lots of use for my family and those who want to get in on earning travel rewards.

Where have we gone with our Chase Ultimate Rewards

Why are they my favorites? I’ve been able to use them to get many airline tickets and hotel stays. We’ve taken many trips where we used points with Chase and we paid $11 per person in fees (between 2014 and 2018).


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 always paid in cash.

New York City


International Trips

travel for FREE or nearly FREE
Machu Picchu – April 2018
Nara, Japan 2019


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 & Chase Sapphire Preferred

Side by Side Comparison

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

***Please see the update notes/changes below)

travel for FREE or nearly FREE


  • March 2019, the bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred increased to 60,000. The annual fee is $95 and is not waived on the 1st year.
  • In 2020, the annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve had increased to $550.

What do they have in common?

So let’s dissect this information.

travel for FREE or nearly FREE

***NOTE: Chase Sapphire Preferred is currently offering 60,000 bonus points (Nov 2020)

Both cards offer a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards (as of March 2019 – Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a 60,000 bonus – subject to change). 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 Chase Sapphire Preferred charges $95 annual fee , while the CSR charges $550 annual fee. That’s a big difference. But before you set the CSR aside because of it’s $550 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

NOTE: As of March 2019 – the annual fee on the Chase Sapphire Preferred is NO LONGER waived with the increase to 60,000 bonus.

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?

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 48 months 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.

Maddie and I at Guimaraes, Portugal

Why I think applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the way to go?

(updated with COVID-19 in mind)

We are in a pandemic in 2020 (and it is unknown when this crisis will end). With COVID-19, not many of us have been traveling the way we were used to. This also means, we’ve not been having all of the opportunities to maximize the travel benefits linked the premium credit cards. So when I’m asked, “should I apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve with an annual fee of $550 and bonus points of 50K, or, should I apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred with an annual fee of $95 and bonus points of 60K? For me, especially with today’s crisis, I’d go for the card with the lower annual fee and BIGGER bonus. You can always upgrade or do a product change after one year of owning the CSP and get a CSR. This will allow you to earn the bigger pot of 60K vs 50K bonus with the CSR.

How can I begin earning points to travel for nearly free?

I updated my favorite travel credit cards. I’ve also written this recently:

However, if I were just starting out, there was always one card that stood out, perfect for a lot of those who are getting into the game.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a perfect starter card. With its 60,000 bonus points, those points alone have gotten us two tickets to Hawaii, just as an example. The sign up bonus alone can be worth as much as $1,000 or more in travel.

– 1000,000 Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus after $4,000 in spend in the first three months (as of May 2021)
– Points are transferable to:

  • Hotel Partners
    • Hyatt
    • Marriott
    • IHG
    • Ritz-Carlton
  • Airline travel partners
    • JetBlue
    • United Airlines
    • British Airways
    • Southwest Airlines
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Flying Blue
    • Virgin Atlantic
    • Aer Lingus
    • Iberia

– Points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal
– Primary rental car collision damage waiver
– Earn 2X points on all travel and dining
– $95 annual fee

If I were just starting out in earning miles and points, I suggest starting out with this card,  the Chase Sapphire Preferred. We have two upcoming trips in 2019 and we’re very excited.

To apply for my favorite Top Travel credit cards that I use most, click here

Lastly, here Reader Success Tales that I featured on my site.

Amsterdam 2018

For more deals, follow me on my travel page on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter

Editorial Disclosure – The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

5 thoughts on “How we travel for FREE or nearly FREE

  1. What a good rundown. I’m always curious how others got started too and I had a similar process as you.

    And yeah, I’m addicted to the Priority Pass! There’s nothing like taking a shower in an airport between two 9 hour flights!

    1. Thanks for the feedback. It does take time to acclimate. Lots of moving parts. I don’t profess to know it all. I don’t. I book the deals that work for me and my family and we’ve been very happy with the outcome. Any questions, please let me know.

  2. Hi on your priority pass if your wife travels alone can she still use the priority pass or do you have to be flying with her?

    1. Hello…good question. I’ll answer this assuming there’s only ONE Priority Pass card in the house (and it’s under my name). So yes, in this case, if she travels alone, and she has no PP card to her name, she is not able to use the PP lounge. In our case, my wife and I have different credit cards under our own respective names – cards that have given us our own access. We have a big family. One PP card can only cover up to 2 guests for free (with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, other cards only allow 1 guest per card). I’d like to also invite you to join me on my Facebook page, and you can ask travel-related questions with my little group.

  3. I can’t breath with so much enthusiasm I feel as kept reading on… I can’t really wait anymore to get started on earning points/rewards the smarter way! Thanks, Jason and God bless you and your family in all your endeavors and adventures.

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Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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