Top 22 questions I get asked about traveling for free using miles & points
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Edited: June 24, 2022
Why, how, when, where, what in the world?
I went to my 30th year high school reunion in 2019, so yes, I am totally dating myself now. 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.
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.
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.
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. Why should I use credit card/s to earn points for travel
Purchasing with cash, debit card, or check
It’s really simple. If you buy something today, and you pay using cash, debit card, or check – nothing really happens, no points earning of any kind, you don’t really get any points or cash back. The good thing about paying for your purchases using this method, there is nothing owed since the funds are taken directly from your wallet, or your checking or savings account.
Purchasing with credit card
When you purchase things using travel rewards or cash back credit card, your purchases could earn you one or many of the following:
- sign up bonus points
- airlines miles
- reward points for travel or other award perks such as gift cards
- hotel free night awards
- cashback rewards
Unbeknownst to many, there are different credit cards that also offer added benefits that we, as consumers, forget or simply do not know about. These are some of the perks that are available with various credit cards that could come in handy with protecting your purchases:
- trip cancellation/interruption insurance
- auto rental benefits
- return protection
- purchase protection
- extended warranty benefits
- travel and roadside assistance
- travel accident benefit
- emergency travel medical benefit
So there are many benefits to purchasing with a credit card, and it’s important for cardholders to understand the benefits that are tied with the cards.
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). In 2020, I’ve only traveled ONCE for business. So this tells you that the source of my points earning were not from business travel.
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.
4. How many cards do you have?
In 2018, 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.
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. 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.
In 2020, I went through a mortgage refinance, and was told that my score was over 800. This is not bragging about my score, but it’s a way of proving to you that having these many credit cards have not affected going through a major loan process.
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.
7. Talk to me about meeting Minimum Spend
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. You’re usually given 3 months to meet the minimum spend. things to keep in mind:
a. In most cases, the clock starts on the day the card is approved, so if I have a new credit card that is approved on September 1st, my goal is to meet the minimum spend BEFORE December 1st.
b. If the card charges you an annual fee, the annual fee is NOT part of the minimum spend
c. Plan to spend OVER the required minimum spend – why? During the course of those three months, you might have done a few return transactions, and not remember them. The returned transactions that are refunded back to you do NOT count toward your required spend. So for me, I always shoot for spending a bit more than the required spend.
d, If you are uncertain if you’ve met the minimum spend, or need to know how you are doing with meeting the spend, you can always call the credit card company directly to give you an accurate standing.
e. You can also confirm with the credit card company regarding your deadline to meet the minimum spend
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.
I’ve used my credit cards to pay for property taxes, tuition, utilities, insurance, HOA dues. I make sure to always carry the new credit card with me and use it towards meeting the minimum spend.
9. What other creative ways of meeting minimum spend?
- DINING OUT – 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.
- INSURANCE/UTILITIES – Some insurance companies or utility companies will allow you to prepay.
- RENT – 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.
- CAR PURCHASE OR LEASE – If you plan on giving a cash down payment, you might as well negotiate for the down payment to be taken out of your credit card? That is one quick way of meeting a minimum spend. I’ve heard of dealerships accept credit card down payments up to $3,000 – $5,000. Others were able to negotiate more. One of my buddies used his credit card and paid $10,000 towards a car down payment.
- PROPERTY TAXES – if your property taxes aren’t impounded, your local county assessor’s office will accept payments using a credit with a minimum fee. If it’s meeting a minimum spend, this could easily help knock off a big chunk of your spend.
- OTHER PREPAY IDEAS – you could prepay your gym memberships, steaming services, cell phone bills
- ANTICIPATE UPCOMING EXPENSES (some of my personal examples)
- PROJECTS AT HOME – 3 years ago, we had a major remodeling project at home, installed tiles, wooden stairs, wood floors, new fridge, painted cabinets….we opened up a few new credit cards, charged everything we could on these cards….easily met the spend. And it goes without saying, we paid everything in full monthly.
- COLLEGE APPLICATION FEES – We were in Hong Kong when my son (a senior in high school) called us. He was about ready to send college applications, meaning each application was going to cost over $50- $80 per application. I said apply to as many as you want. We hung up. We applied for a new credit card while in HKG. A week after coming back home, the credit card came, that’s what he used to pay for college applications.
- CHEERLEADING – my daughter was a high school cheerleader, and boy, it wasn’t cheap. The fees for camp, uniforms etc, were over $2,000. So what did I do? I applied for a credit card to help pay for the fees, and easily met the minimum spend.
The idea here is: you’ve got the cash any way and you were willing to pay for those things in full with cash, then why not charge the transaction using a credit card, and then when the bill comes, be disciplined and pay for your bill in full.
Evan during tutoring
10. Do you pay everything with a credit card?
I personally do not carry cash anymore, 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, you can bet that I’ll be using my credit card. 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.
11. How do you know which cards to apply for use and where?
Like many things, there is a strategy with knowing which cards to apply for. In the beginning, I was careless. I applied for credit cards left and right, no guidance, no strategy. There lucrative cards that I learned I should’ve prioritized in getting first, but I didn’t, so I missed out. I encourage you to read and learn from this next entry about knowing your Chase 5/24 Status.
Huh? 5/24???? 5/24 (read it as five twenty four), it’s not a date (not May 24th), nor is it a fraction (five over twenty four). Simply put, it refers to the number of personal credit cards that you’ve opened in the last two years (or 24 months). The Chase 5/24 Rule is for those who apply for new Chase credit cards accounts. When it comes time for Chase to review your application, if you’ve opened five or more new personal credit cards (with Chase and other institutions), your application will be denied by Chase. This applies to both business and personal credit card accounts.
So read the detailed entry on Chase 5/24. And if you have any questions about which card to apply for first, guaranteed, I will be asking you your Chase 5/24 status, and the list of your current credit cards so we can strategize.
12. Do you use the same credit card for every purchase?
No, there are cards that I use mainly for dining like the American Express Gold (personal card),Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. Some cards are great when using them for grocery shopping like 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 that I have access to, click here.
13. 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.
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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
- “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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. “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.
20. 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.
21. What’s your Facebook Travel Group Page
Want to learn more? I encourage you to join my travel page on Facebook, Daddy Travels Miles & Points. We share different strategies, travel deals, trip reports, anything that will allow us to travel for less or for nearly free using miles and points.
22. 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. (offer is subject to change without notice)
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).
– The Chase Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus after $4,000 in spend in the first three months (bonus subject to change without notice)
– Points are transferable to:
- Hotel Partners
- Airline travel partners
- United Airlines
- British Airways
- Southwest Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Flying Blue
- Virgin Atlantic
- Aer Lingus
– 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
– $50 statement credit when you book a hotel using Chase Travel Portal
-$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 Card.
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.
- The Yamaguchi’s European Holiday Vacation
- Stephen & Fiona’s Aspirational Trip to Japan
- $80 Trip to Costa Rica for 2 – Vanessa’s Tale
- Traveling is not just for the rich – Iza’s $11 Trip to Hawaii
- Last-minute trip to Hawaii – Bryan & Emily’s Tale
- The Smith Sisters conquer New York City – Gina’s Tale
- Seeing the world through my children’s eyes – Maricar’s tale