More often than not, our enthusiasm about free travel with credit card rewards is met with skepticism. A very common line of thought is that credit cards are dangerous. The world has rightly taught us that anything that sounds too good to be true, is. The probable conclusion for most people, then, is that you risk too much in applying for credit cards for the reward that is given.
We have to contend with spammers who wallpaper Facebook and website sidebars with fake offers of free iPads, Southwest flights, and Disneyland tickets. Naturally, we get lumped in with these clowns despite our clamors of innocence and even people who know us well and comment on our photos with wistful wishes don’t truly understand just how real and easy all of this is.
As someone who has racked up more than $10,000 in free travel rewards in the past two years while my credit score has increased, I’m telling you that credit card travel rewards are real and obtainable. In fact, it’s remarkable how little effort is required relative to the benefits. You only have to be willing to spend the time and effort to make it happen.
You see, somewhere in the world there’s an experiment going on right now. To the practitioners (usually teenagers), it’s a hilarious game, but it’s really a psychological experiment. It’s called “Poop Dollar,” and it consists of wiping currency with excrement, placing it in a public place, and monitoring passersby. It’s generally played with one-dollar bills and the reason is that it lasts a little longer that way. We’re all inclined to stoop down and pick up money – happily singing the “finders-keepers, losers-weepers” refrain in our head. Yet at the moment we realize that a Washington has been sullied by a smelly substance, we’re likely to quickly cut it loose – “I’m not going to submit myself to that for a buck…” they pitch it to the ground and the game begins anew. However, at some point, there’s a guy out there… a guy who’s willing to cope with the crap in order to enrich himself – even if it’s only by $1. At that point, the giggling teenagers have to dig into their pockets to continue the game.
The point I want to make in this is that at some level, all of us would be willing to deal with a little hassle for free money. Honestly, I’d drop the dollar, but it doesn’t take much more to get me to capitulate… at the five-dollar level, I’d snatch it up and promptly take it to the sink (I know, there’s something wrong with me). At the 20-dollar level, I’d not only grab it, but I’d also dance a jig.
How much hassle are you willing to endure for free travel?
The bulk of the “hassle” for what we’re showing you to do consists of these three things:
- Learning the system – seeing what offers are out there, how much rewards are worth, and what rewards will take you the places you want to go.
- Applying for cards and other promotions.
- Responsibly using your purchases to meet spending requirements and other terms of promotions, diligently monitoring, and paying your balances in full.
A commitment to take on these duties won’t take much more than a fraction of the attention you give one of your other hobbies – but you’re also afraid of what you’ll risk.
What do you Risk?
This is the most important question to ask yourself. If the answer to this question is, “not being able to get a mortgage for the home we’d like to buy,” or “accruing thousands of dollars in debt that will strangle us,” then don’t think another second about it… it’s not for you. But the reality is that to at least some degree, you control these risks.
We always advise people to never make purchases on a credit card that they would not make with cash. We also urge followers to pay off balances on time and in full. The moment you miss a payment or have to pay interest is the moment you lose and they win.
Even paying your accounts on full and in time, though, there’s a chance that seeking these rewards will cost you some points off your credit score in the form of recent inquires and/or the average length of time you have your accounts open. Any time you’ll be needing your credit for important purchases, you’re better off playing it safe.
Now, given all that, we want you to know that this blog is about travel advice, not financial advice. We’re cultivating a following of travel-thirsty wanderlusters.
Calculate the Value of the Reward
I understand that not everyone has the unquenchable desire to see the world that Sheldon and I have… and that’s okay. But free flights and free hotels have some value to everyone. Maybe the only reason you want to travel is to visit friends… Even so, these rewards have real, tangible value to you.
As we’ve mentioned, we like to calculate the value of hotel rewards by the number of Category 2 hotels the bonus will obtain for us. We like to look at flight rewards in terms of the number of domestic flights (though we have a habit of looking outside the US for travel adventure).
In any case, what you know what you risk and what the potential reward is, you’ll be in the position to make a rational decision… unless you’re of the female gender… in which case your decision will still be an emotional one (teasing, teasing, teasing… our favorite WW fans are women).
I am telling you, once you start to grasp the amount of money that is out there for the taking, you’ll be obsessed with the hunt… you’ll be seized by “wanderlust…” interestingly enough, that’s exactly our objective. But if it comes at the cost of your financial stability, that’s not what we’re after. We want you to use your credit responsibly – that is of paramount importance.
To offer just a taste, here are some of our recent success stories.
- I took my family to Colombia for $574.
- I went to Roatan for 35k Delta points and $10.
- My wife and 4 friends went to LA for a long weekend – all paying only a $5 booking fee, each.
- Sheldon and Shae spent 11 days in Alpine Europe, spending only $900 out of pocket (all inclusive).
What are your success stories? Where are you headed? How much are you saving? We’d love to hear your comments.