Top 19 questions I get asked about traveling for free using miles & points

I recently went to my 30th year high school reunion. I got to see many of my friends and classmates. Fortunately, many thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, because of Facebook, we’ve all managed to stay in touch over these past 10 years. We had our 20th year reunion in 2009, Facebook was already in our lives which helped spread the word to our classmates. Fast forward ten more years later, Facebook is still around to keep us all connected.

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One unforgettable trip to Iceland for $99 one way from Los Angeles

No, this is not a post about Facebook or social media. But through this social platform, my friends, classmates, acquaintances, followers, and family are all somewhat aware of our busy travel lifestyle. I just happened to be quite vocal about the deals I get, and have helped quite a few friends, including some of my classmates get started in traveling for nearly free.

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Girona, Spain 2018

Whenever I go to a gathering or casually meet up with a friend or family member, 90% of the time, we end up talking about miles, points, travel, and credit cards. They’d recall a recent posting or entry I’ve created on my blog, something I shared on Facebook or Instagram. I have to say that this points-earning hobby had given me an opportunity to reunite with many of my classmates way before our reunion. Some were just plainly curious, while others took things to heart, followed my tips to the T, and have since began traveling for nearly free.

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We flew first class on Cathay Pacific to Taiwan

It’s interesting, what do I get asked a lot? So I thought I’d come up with a list of Frequently Asked Questions about me and this travel hobby.

1. How do you get all this time off?

You’re on vacation again? How much time off do you get? I actually lost count and don’t keep track of my vacation days anymore. I must get over 6 or 7 weeks or something. I better check. I’m not one to take time off and just stay home. I make sure we have something planned. While long vacations are great, we also do not rule out short vacations of 7 days or less. We don’t mind taking red eye flights. We travel at night and when we wake up, we are in a new city. This saves us a day by not using up the entire day by traveling. We also try and travel in between holidays so it doesn’t count as another work vacation day. So as you can see, we do whatever it takes to be flexible.

Stayed for free at the Park Hyatt Paris worth nearly $1000 per night

2. Do you earn a lot of points because you travel for work?

I don’t travel for work anymore. I used to travel quite a bit back in 2014-2015, but that all stopped. In the past three years, I’ve only traveled three times for work (once to Indiana, and twice to Florida). So this tells you that the source of my points earning were not from business travel.

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Business trip in Maryland allowed me to visit Washington DC
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My old job got me traveling back and forth to New York City and New Jersey

3. So how in the world do you earn all of these points?

I started applying for one credit card which led to another. My wife and I go on a two-player mode. I apply for one under my name, I get the bonus points. She applies for one under her name, and she, too, gets another bonus. We also use our cards for specific needs. I’ll go over that further down below.

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Spent 3 nights at Disney Aulani 2014

 4. How many cards do you have?

Last year alone, we booked 8 trips all over the world, and used nearly two million points. It wasn’t all because of one credit card. But we have over 15 credit cards (gasp). Some folks I know have more. But it’s not about having all of these open credit cards, it’s knowing the value that these cards give you. I don’t claim to know all of the benefits of my credit cards but I have a good high level understanding of what they can do for me.

How we traveled using nearly 2 million points in 2018

 

5. How’s your credit score?

One easily assumes that having all of these credit cards have got to affect our credit score negatively. Actually, since starting this hobby, I’ve only seen my score rise instead of my credit score going down. Without divulging my actual score, I can tell you that we had no problem purchasing two new cars and one of them, we were given 0% interest rate. You have to have excellent credit rating to be offered with a 0% interest rate.

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6. What’s the secret? How do you stay organized?

It’s really no secret. I call it Credit 101. While we have a lot of credit cards, we don’t use all of them all the time. Our goal is to always pay our cards in full and on time. If we charge $1000 during a billing cycle, we pay $1000 when the statement comes out. We don’t like paying the minimum amount, and we despise being charged with interest. We keep a spreadsheet that shows our due dates and the amounts that are due and we make sure they’re all paid timely.

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7. Talk to me about Minimum Spend

First and foremost, many of these cards are mostly used during the first three months within opening the account. Why? When you sign up for these points-earning credit cards, most of them offer bonus points as long as you meet the required spending within the first 3 months of opening the account. Once we meet the required spend, and have earned our bonus points, we then make a decision to put the card/s away or keep using the card.

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12 of us flew for free to Japan using points

8. How do you meet the minimum spend?

What does it mean that you have to meet a minimum spend? Let’s call it “I scratch your back, you scratch my back!” The credit cards with bonus offers have certain conditions that you have to meet before they award you with the bonus points. I’ve seen minimum spend as low as $500 within three months. The most common ones are in the $1,000 – $5,000 range. If you’re not a big spender to begin with, this task could be very daunting. But for us, whenever we apply for a new card, we channel all our efforts in using that card during the first three months.

Hong Kong 2018

9. Do you pay everything with a credit card?

I personally do not carry cash, and very rarely do I get cash from the ATM. I’m all about using my card on all my purchases. As long as there are no fees tied to using my card, I’ll be using it. I’ve used my credit cards for just about anything imaginable – from dining, shopping, gasoline, insurance, utilities, travel, family activities, etc. You can also pay your taxes (personal income tax) and property taxes with a credit card. Any of your monthly recurring bills can also be set-up to pay with credit cards. I can go on and on.

With a big family like ours, when our grown kids have their own expenses, we use our new credit cards with their purchases. They have so many expenses from football, cheerleading, tutoring, sports activities, tuition, books, etc. You name it, these kids are not cheap.

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Evan during tutoring

10. What other creative ways of meeting minimum spend?

When you go out with your friends and family, offer to pay for the bill using your credit card, while they give you the payment in cash. Just make sure to pay that credit card bill in full when the statement comes. Some insurance companies or utility companies will allow you to prepay. There are landlords that might allow you to pay for your rental using your credit card (with a slight fee). You just need to outweigh the costs of using your card vs. the benefits of the points that you will earn.

11. How do you know which cards to use and where?

There are cards that I use mainly for dining like the American Express Gold (personal card),Chase Sapphire Preferred,and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Some cards are great when using them for grocery shopping like American Express Everyday Preferred, and the American Express Gold (personal card). Other cards are best used when you book travel-related transactions. Other cards give additional bonus points or cash back whenever there are special bonus offers. We have cards that get used mostly at Costco, or gas stations. There are certain purchases that earn me a lot of points when I use my card at office supply stores. Nancy, bless her heart, would label our credit cards as a reminder to use them properly, she reminds me where to get the best bonus points earning potential with certain cards. For a list of my favorite travel rewards cards, click here.

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Thanks to my American Express Platinum, we got free access to the Centurion Lounge in Hong Kong

12. How do you deal with Annual Fees?

I have credit cards with no annual fees. I also have cards with annual fees as low as $49 to as high as $550. So how do I justify paying for these annual fees? For instance the card that charges me $450 annual fee is my Chase Sapphire Reserve. During the first year when I got the card, I earned 100,000 bonus points, received $300 annual travel credit, $100 Global Entry fee waiver, Priority Pass airport lounge access, and so many more benefits. I also earn 3 points per dollar every time we go out to eat. I knew what I was getting into when I applied for the card and I made sure to take advantage of the perks that come with the card.

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Dnata Lounge in Singapore, thanks to Priority Pass from Chase

There are credit cards that charge me annual fees of $49 to $95 but every anniversary, I get a free hotel night stay. I’ve been able to get more value out of those credit cards when I redeem them with hotel night’s stay worth nearly $200.

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We used our free nights and got a Presidential Suite upgrade at Grand Hyatt Washington

13. What’s the lesson-learned on Annual Fees?

The lesson-learned is to not let annual fees deter you from getting points earning credit cards. Learn what the cards offer and make sure to take advantage of the offers and benefits.

14. How can I  do exactly what you’re doing?

I’ve heard this mentioned to me many times. “I want to book the same trip, the same type of flights, etc.” My suggestion is don’t “be like me” – but I always remind those I come across with to be clear with your goals. You can’t just have a goal and say you want to travel a lot moving forward. But you have to have clearly defined goals.

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Princeville Resort, a five-star hotel on Kauai, free 2-nights stay – thanks to points.
  • “I want to take my family of four to Hawaii during Spring Break 2021. How do I fly all of us for nearly free? What do I need to do get our accommodations all covered by points as well?”
  • My fiancee and I are getting married and we have to go to Paris for our honeymoon in the Fall 2020. Where do I start?
  • We are remodeling our kitchen and will be spending $20,000. What cards can I get to help me earn points? I plan on paying for our remodeling in full.

I did not accrue all these cards at once. I paced myself. It’s not a sprint. It’s more like a marathon. There were times I slowed down, and times when I picked up the pace. But we all got to start somewhere. So I suggest starting with one card.

Our private pool villa in Bali

15. Do you close your credit card accounts?

This is a very good question. Here’s what I do:

Cards with NO annual fees – I leave the card untouched, put it away, I don’t use them.

Cards WITH annual fees – I evaluate the need to keep the cards some of them offer free hotel night’s stay every card anniversary so it somehow washes the fees away. If the card does not have any good enough benefit for me to keep, I call and ask the bank if there’s a card with NO annual fees that I can downgrade to, or do a product change.

  • Retention offer – when the card company knows that you have an intention to close the account, at times, they could entice you to keep the card in exchange for additional points or statement credit. Just ask
  • No downgrade, no retention offer – if I know I’ve exhausted all my efforts with this card, then I close the account.

16. How do you maintain earning lots of points?

Fortunately, for those of us here in the US, there are many credit card companies that offer generous amount of points. There are different bonuses being offered from time to time. If we only relied on one credit card (and there’s nothing wrong with that), we wouldn’t have been able to take all these trips around the world. Owning different credit cards opened the door of travel opportunities for us. Remember, my wife and I used to have just 1 or 2 credit cards, but that’s all changed.

About opening new credit cards, before you open up new cards left and right, make sure you read this entry that I wrote.

The Chase 5/24 Rule: 9 Things You Need to Know

17. So, with the current pandemic, I get asked nowadays, do I still earn points?

The answer: a resounding YES!!! My travels may be on hold, but I still have regular day-to-day expenses where I have a choice – I could (a) pay in cash; (b) pay by check; (c) pay with a debit card; or (d) pay with a credit card. Folks, the daily spend continues (big or small purchases lead to earning points. So yes….the answer for me is (D) pay with a credit card. Again, to those who are new to this, my strategy is to pay with a credit card that will garner me with the most points, and when the credit card statement comes – I pay the balance in full by the due date.

18. “But, you’re not traveling much these days, so what’s the gain for earning points during the pandemic?”

Some cards give you the option to cash out the points. For instance, with our Chase Sapphire Reserve, 100,000 points would normally be worth $1,000 in cash, there’s a special right now where you can cash out at 1.5x value = $1,500. You can also use some of these points to pay your bills, to pay yourself back. So yes, it’s not just utilized to pay for trips, but some credit cards have the option for you to channel those points back to pay your bills.

19. Which credit card should I start with?

Once you have clearly defined travel goal/s, and you’ve read my post about Chase 5/24 rule, the next step is to get your first credit card that will help you accomplish your goals. There are many credit cards out there. The points earned with my Chase credit cards have been my favorite for many years. These Ultimate Rewards points could be used for airfare, hotel, car rentals. Here is the Chase credit card that we started with. I really believe that it’s the perfect starter card. You can use it on a regular basis which can earn you these Ultimate Rewards.

Chase Sapphire Preferred (click here)– earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards.  

The Chase Sapphire Preferred (click here) is a perfect starter card. With its current 60,000 bonus points, those points alone have gotten us two tickets to Hawaii, have gotten us to many countries and cities in Europe and Asia, just as an example. The sign up bonus alone can be worth as much as $1,000 or more in travel (based on my experience).

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You gotta swim when you stay for free at the Park Hyatt New York

– 60,000 Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus after $4,000 in spend in the first three months
– 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

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Using my free night at the Intercontinental Hong Kong worth over $1000 per night

If I were just starting out in earning miles and points, I suggest starting out with this card,  the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

For other cards that have helped us travel for nearly free, I recently I updated my favorite travel credit cards. I’ve also written this recently:

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

 

Maui 2016

 

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