Here’s a BIG cheap travel trick: Credit card bonus miles! Accumulating airline frequent flier miles has been around for decades, and having a credit card that gives you miles for every dollar spent has also been around for years. But unless you already travel a lot or spend a lot, it can take a long time to accrue enough miles to go anywhere. The key to traveling for free sooner is to sign up for credit cards that offer great bonus miles.
The Magic of Credit Card Bonus Miles & Points
My husband and I were messing around with an American Airlines Citibank card for years getting one mile per dollar spent. It was enough for two free tickets to go see our family every Christmas. Additionally, we had a Starwood American Express card that we had used for three years to accumulate 100,000 points that we used on our around-the-world trip. I’m certainly not complaining about those free goodies but one day I read an article about credit card bonus miles and points and I couldn’t believe I never knew about this before!
An Introduction to Getting Credit Card Bonus Miles & Points
Most credit cards have some sort of sign up bonus IF you know where to look for them. If you just call Citibank to sign up for a card, you are probably not going to get any bonus. Believe it or not, that’s how we got our AA and Starwood cards; just called up to apply for the cards and got no bonus. What a waste! The trick is to keep an eye out for the best bonuses. All cards run bonuses but they only run great bonuses every so often. (I promise I will post when those great bonuses come out.)
Airline Miles, Hotel Points and Other Points
Almost every airline has a credit card to get miles, as well as major hotel groups like Marriott, Starwood, Carlson Club, etc. There are also more general cards that enable you to use the points for airline tickets, hotels, etc. as well as merchandise. We now have Captial One and Chase Sapphire Preferred that we’ve been able to use for hotels and airline tickets, and to transfer to our frequent flier account–these cards are extremely flexible! All of these cards have sign-up bonuses.
Our Tally of Bonus Points in 2011
In less than one year, here is what we accumulated from credit card sign-up bonuses:
Chase Sapphire Preferred
50,000 points (My account)
50,000 points (My husband’s account)
We spent the points on 2 RT tickets from Los Angeles to Nashville. I transferred the remaining points into my British Airways account for 2 more RT tickets.
Capital One Venture
50,000 points (My husband’s account. I will wait for another big sign up)
We spent the points on 3 nights at the Bellagio in Las Vegas plus 2 nights at a moderate hotel in Tuscon.
Citibusiness American Airlines Visa
75,000 miles (My account for my business)
We spent the points on 2 RT tickets from Los Angeles to Hawaii that will will use in October.
Citibank American Airlines American Express
50,000 miles plus a statement credit for $150 on an AA flight
We haven’t spent them yet but are planning to go to South America next year.
Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards
50,000 miles (My account)
50,000 miles (My husband’s account)
We spent the miles for 2 RT tickets from Los Angeles to Chicago and 2 RT tickets from Los Angeles to Nashville,
Chase British Airways Visa
50,000 miles (My account)–I will get another 50,000 on the first anniversary of the card
We haven’t used them yet but will in South America next year.
CREDIT CARD BONUS MILES & POINTS IN 2011 — 425,000!!!
Warning About Signing Up for Credit Cards
Of course, nobody needs to tell you the dangers of having too much credit card debt. Actually, my husband and I do not have any credit card debt–we pay all our cards off in full every month. However, most of these great sign-up deals also have a minimum spending requirement that you must meet in the first three to six months to get the bonus points. We only sign up for a card when we know we can meet the spending requirement without over spending. For example, right before a vacation or Christmas is a good time for us because our spending naturally increases, or when we have big purchases we know we are going to need to make, like when we remodeled our bathroom.
Additionally, do not sign up for credit cards when you are trying to obtain a mortgage, refinance your home or buy a car with financing. Doing so may affect your credit score. However, for all those cards we got so quickly, our credit scores have not dropped a single point.
Developing a Credit Card Strategy
If signing up for bonuses sounds like a good idea to you, you will have to have a strategy to get the most cards with the least impact on your credit. Your income will need to be more than $25,000 per year and your credit score will probably need to be around 700 (maybe less if you make a lot of money.)
The general strategies include:
–Sign up for several cards at one time, then wait a few months before signing up for more cards. You will have better luck getting approved than if you try to get one card every month.
–You and your spouse should each get your own cards for maximum bonuses.
–Wait for fantastic bonus offers because once you have that particular card you will have to wait a few years to try to get it again with a bonus. For example, an offer of 20,000 American Airline miles with a Citibank Visa is not even enough for a round trip ticket and then you will have to cancel that card and wait a few years to get another one, potentially missing out on a great deal in the future, such as 50,000 or 75,000 miles.
–Make sure you meet the spending requirements associated with the offer.
–Keep track of when you get the cards and when the annual fees are due. Often the card automatically comes with one free year but you will have to ask for a second free year. (More on this strategy in a different post.)
–Some cards come with an annual fee charged up front so make sure the bonus is worth paying the fee. For example, I think it was worth the $69 fee I had to pay for 2 free round-trip tickets earned by getting the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards card.
I promise to write in more detail about how to accrue bonus miles & points and post when I see an incredible offer. Honestly, the offerings have been weak lately but I’m sure it will pick up soon…just in time to plan for your next trip!