Travel the Free Way: Frequently Asked Questions

Shoshone Falls

A photo I took today of Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls, Idaho

{Today’s post is comprehensive coverage of WorldWanderlusting’s Frequently Asked Questions after this post wears off, we’ll turn it into a page where you can easily reference it in the future.}

As you’re voraciously churning through the pages and posts on WorldWanderlusting, no doubt you’ve have questions surface about how you, too, can “travel the free way.”  These are some of the most common questions we get, along with some good answers.

Doesn’t it hurt your credit?

This question is so popular it has its own post – a very detailed one which describes how credit works and what measures you can take to be sure that your credit score remains strong.  The short answer is: It doesn’t have to. Most of your credit score consists of whether you make your payments on time and whether you keep a balance. Adding credit cards to your history can negatively affect your credit through recent inquiries – a relatively minor factor, which refreshes after two years.  Canceling cards after short periods can shorten your average credit history length, another minor factor.  Also keep in mind that there are three credit bureaus – not all of which are affected with each card application. Even still, we always recommend that wanderlusters hold off on credit applications if major credit-sensitive purchases are on the horizon (a mortgage, vehicle financing, etc.).

How good does my credit need to be?

From credit issuers standpoint, there’s not much difference between the 720 mark and 800+.  Anything over 720 is excellent credit and won’t improve your rate approval incrementally.  If I were in the 730 range, I’d be more sensitive to new applications, but anything over that seems to be sufficient for approval in most cases and also keeps a buffer to ensure you’ll always qualify for the best rate available when seeking credit.

How do Miles and Points work?

We could go on for days about this, and kind of do in this post. The important piece for you to remember is that they are like any other form of currency.  They buy you free travel in varying increments. As you would expect, when there’s less demand (off-peak) your points will buy you more.  They’ll also buy you more if you know and understand the programs well.  That’s where we come in. The programs generally consist of airline, hotel, and bank points – the bank points being the most flexible of the three and some hybrids in there as well. In some cases you can transfer between them, but usually not.

Isn’t it dangerous to travel outside the US?

Absolutely not.  There are unquestionably many places to travel that are far safer than places in most major US cities. Not knowing what areas might be unsafe is a concern, but the same goes for traveling in the U.S.  The Department of State keeps up-to-date information about any travel warnings.  Take a look, and keep in mind that they err on the side of extreme caution. Most places in the world are anxious to host travelers with open arms – they are a major source of revenue – one they protect.

Don’t the miles expire?

Some programs, like Delta, have made points non-perishable (but that doesn’t stop them from devaluing them over time through “inflation.”)  More often than not, programs have an “activity qualifier” which means that you have to have some form of activity periodically (maybe every 2 years) in order to maintain them.  You can have activity by something as simple as booking a hotel, then canceling it, buying a magazine subscription with your miles, or making a small transfer.  Even so, you didn’t get these points to let them sit there.  Use them and then get out and find some more!  There’s a world to see out there.

If it’s this good, why doesn’t everyone do it?

This is the question we keep asking ourselves!  After having countless conversations with people over the years, I’m convinced that many people think they are already taking advantage of credit card travel bonuses because they have a card or two. What we’re suggesting is something much more intense than that.  It’s a way of life.  It’s about opening a portal to the world by something as simple as redirecting everyday purchases from debit cards, checks, and cash, to credit cards that are paid off immediately.

We came into this magical world and opted to create a blog to share it with everyone we could get it to.  At some point, I suppose we could overwhelm the system, but until that day we’ll be sharing the word as far and as wide as we can get it.  Please feel free to pass it along to everyone who you think might listen.

How do I start?

First off, you need to know that for WorldWanderlusters, credit cards are not borrowing instruments. If you can’t restrain yourself from making purchases you wouldn’t otherwise make, you’re not cut out for this. You must know that every payment must be early or at least on time. Never, never pay interest.  You lose when you pay interest. Once you know you’ll be responsible and your credit is in good condition (you can track your virtual score at CreditSesame.com), find a card you like and apply.

Some people start with a destination or two in mind, and that’s great, but we’ve always advocated a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach.  A wallet full of points and miles readies you for whatever opportunities come your way.  If there’s a hotel chain or airline you’re already familiar with, or have points with, start there because it’s something you already know. Look at our Free Travel Credit Card page and see which ones are our favorites at the moment.

Where should I go?

And it begins.  You literally have the whole world at your fingertips. Sheldon and I have traveled to 5 of the 7 continents on frequent flyer miles, and you can too.  Have you read a book about some place that piqued your interest?  Do you have ancestry you could discover?  Any friends that live overseas?  Do you want adventure, history, or relaxation?  Ask yourself these questions and start plotting your attack on the world. Our hope is to constantly feed you ideas.  You can start with our Loops page and subscribe to our 3-times-a-week posts.

How many cards should I apply for at once?

For two years I applied 1 or 2 cards at a time.  More recently I’ve lumped applications into groups of 5 we call an “app-o-rama.” The most important thing is that you never put yourself in a situation where you “have to spend” more money than you’d otherwise be spending in order to meet the minimum spending requirements in time.  As a general rule, we spend about $1000 a month in credit-cardable expenses, so I usually don’t want to be obligated to spend any more than that.  Also, Chase, which is one of the major issuers of great travel cards, will only approve you for one card every 30 days, so you can’t stack two Chase applications at once (unless you’re applying separately for your spouse).

What expenses can I put on a credit card (without an added fee)?

We have a post for this, too.  The shorter answer is that the major ones are: groceries, fuel, utilities, entertainment, and medical expenses. Most major expenses, like your mortgage, vehicle payment, taxes, and others are not “credit-cardable.”  Add up your monthly budget items and determine roughly how much you could spend on a credit card each month.

How many travel reward cards are out there?

Dozens, and they are constantly changing.  In three years, I’ve applied for a number of cards which no longer exist, and new ones have come out each year.

Can I apply for the same card more than once?

Some issuers will approve you in “churning” the same card.  Citi, for example, has in the past approved people for the same card so long as it’s been at least 18 months since the original application.  Chase, however, is a stickler on this and will not issue a bonus any more than once.  Also, keep in mind that there are often many different versions of cards that will allow you even further depth in acquiring bonuses.

Can my spouse apply separately?

Yes, and they should.  I do not like the idea of sharing bonuses. If you add your spouse to an account, it will likely go down as a credit inquiry.  Don’t add them, apply for a separate account and collect the bonus.  Most card applications ask for household income.

Can I get a business card?

There are conflicting reports out there, but in many cases you can get a business credit card for a sole-proprietorship or a business you intend to start.  They’ll obviously expect to know how much you think your business will bring in and other pertinent details.  Also, the spending limit will likely be lower. You don’t necessarily need a tax-id number, though it helps.  Read the fine print and if you feel comfortable, go for it.

How do you manage all of your points?

There are some tools which are effective, though not comprehensive.  Our favorite is www.awardwallet.com , though it can’t track all accounts in realtime.  It’s a great start and you can use it as a basis to get started.  I also keep a google docs spreadsheet that I can update from anywhere.  All of my logins are with the same user id, email, and password.  It makes it very simple to login and check in on rising balances.  I’m a little bit Scrooge McDuck with my points.  I count them greedily. And I love, love, love playing with them to see what they can do for me.

How do you manage all of the accounts?

I also have a Google Docs Spreadsheet that I keep the cards, bonuses, application dates, min spend requirements, renewal dates, and other details in.  It’s really handy and reminds me when I have a card I may need to cancel.  I also set reminders on my Google Calendar.

Most effective, though, is the brilliant online accounting genius of mint.com.  I can login to one database of all of my checking, savings, investment, retirement, and credit accounts.  I can see that with my wife, we’ve had 23 open lines of credit, of which 11 are still open and 10 have zero balances.  If the updating has problems, it alerts me so that I know the information is current.  This tool is integral to the prudent management of all the accounts.

When do you cancel a card?

I always try to cancel a card before I’m up for any kind of annual fee in the coming month.  I say “try” because I don’t always succeed. Often the CSR offers a bonus I can’t refuse (one that more than justifies paying the fee), or offers to waive the fee.  When that happens, I leave it open.  Many cards now have automatic renewal bonuses – like Club Carlson’s 40k points on anniversary.  I like to stay in Category 2 hotels, so that’s like almost 3 free nights a year for me.  I’ll gladly fork over $75 for that.

When speaking with customer service, I am always extremely polite and ask for their help.  You empower them when you ask kindly and they’ll often do whatever is within their power.

If I cancel a card, do I lose my points?

Bank points are bad when it comes to this.  In the American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards programs, you will lose the points if you cancel the card before transferring them to another program or using them.  Chase will also let you pool points through transfers between spouses and businesses.

Most hotel and airline programs have a “once they’re yours, they’re yours” type of policy. They’re buying your loyalty and any effort to claw that back would result in the exact opposite effect. If you’re ever in doubt, call and ask first.

Why do credit card companies offer such great bonuses?

Loyalty.  That’s what it all comes down to.  The issuers are jockeying market share and they’ll happily provide incentives to you if they feel like it’s worth it. They buy these points in volume at a fraction of their value.  They make a percentage of every purchase you make, so they want you to be a committed customer. Co-branded marketing with airlines and hotels also makes it cheaper for them to do as well. It’s a big business and don’t think they’re not making money.  It will help you feel better about being a credit-card polygamist.

What’s the catch?

We’re still waiting to see what the catch is.  Obviously the moment you fall into the trap of using credit cards as credit, you no longer benefit from the relationship. Please, steer clear of that one.  Aside from that, we can’t really say where the drawback comes in.  Having been able to take my family to some amazing places at a fraction of a fraction of what it would otherwise cost, I can’t tell you there’s a hint of regret.

What’s in it for you?

We are building an army of WorldWanderlusters.  More than anything, what we want is a following of adventure-hungry zealots who are going to seize the opportunities, make immortal memories, and tell their friends.  We have an LLC, which we’ve set up because we do make money when you apply for cards through some of the links we have on this blog.  Almost all of that revenue gets rolled into trying to get our reach broader and deeper. At some point, we hope we could earn at least a supplemental income from the advertising on the blog, but in the meantime, we’ll take followers over dollars.

Is there something we missed?  Any remaining curiosities we can satisfy for you? What’s holding you back.  Don’t be shy.  We love questions.  Comment below and let us know what you’re thinking. We would love to help plan a trip for you. Wanderlust with us!

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14 Responses to Travel the Free Way: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Jean says:

    My husband and I are hoping to plan a trip to Europe next May. Any tips for travel and ways we can make it not about the money and more about the experience? We want to use reward points, but are a little hesitant as to where to get started. We’ve looked at the posts on this blog, but are still overwhelmed by the amount of options. Any suggestions or pointers on where to look or go would be much appreciated.

    Thanks!

    • Sheldon says:

      @Jean- Congrats on the upcoming trip. I’m drooling as I consider Europe next April too. What a great time of year to visit, plus you’ve only got to burn 40k AA miles per person to make that happen. What a score.

      It can really be overwhelming. Let me do a post about your very question. Check out tomorrow’s post.

  2. Shay says:

    Hello,
    I was told about your blog and free travel by a friend of yours and I am excited about the possibility of free travel. I have some questions maybe you can help me out with? My wife and I have a six year old daughter live in Boise, ID and I have a true passion for travel and am always searching for the cheapest way to travel and find the most value for our money. My wife has been an extreme coupon lady for about 3 years and to say the least we are frugal. Our favorite type of travel lately has been cruises. The cruise itself I have found some great deals and value but the flights are biggest expense. I am excited to start looking into good credit card offers. Years ago I took advantage of American express deals for Delta sky miles and currently have 216,831 miles on delta. I have always wanted to take a trip to somewhere in Europe and planned on using my sky miles to make that happen. Recently I have wondered weather it would be good to hold on to our miles and plan a trip in the future to Europe or Australia or use them sooner for domestic travel for more cruises or something else. Can you give me some recommendations on how to use my skymiles the most efficient way on delta? We are willing to drive to SLC as it is a major hub for delta to save on miles or money for flights.
    My other question is about having a BK about 9 years ago and even though my credit is excellent over 750 and we pay off our credit cards every month, I have a hard time getting a new card or even get credit limit raise. I have not tried for about a year but not sure when they will finally let me get a card? Do you have an idea on time limits after a BK? My wife and I currently have chase freedom cards and take advantage of all the quarterly bonuses and have $1200 saved up to use how we want. I would like to start taking advantage of all the free flights and bonus miles that I see and get credit card offers for and want to know where to start. Southwest seems to have some good deals with the two free flights ect..My family and I are also signed up for Southwest frequent flier program as well. I am willing to sign up for all the airlines miles plans and try and travel for as cheap as me an my family can. Thank you for starting this blog as I am very excited about all the opportunities.

  3. Shay- Today’s post is for you: http://worldwanderlusting.com/2013/12/23/7-key-tricks-get-skymiles/

    I’ll follow up with answers on the last half.

    Thanks!

  4. Halsey Holt says:

    My husband and I both have enough Southwest points for roundtrip flights to Puerto Rico. However, I think they are set to expire this August (we have been putting off our trip due to being in the nursing and/or pregnant mode for a few years now), and I’m not sure how to make sure they renew. We’d really like to go this fall sometime. Also, I’d love some pointers for free hotels. We have a Marriott card but the only Marriotts in Puerto Rico clean out all our points in one night. Any other hotel card suggestions?

    Thanks for a great blog. Makes me want to travel every day!

    • Halsey-

      Thanks for the great compliment! We had a great time in Puerto Rico and we agree that you need to make it happen soon. Your Southwest Rapid Rewards will expire 24 months from your last activity on the account (not from when you got them). When you login to your account, it will tell you when your last activity date was.

      If you are getting close, there are all kinds of ways you can have activity in order to reset them for 2 years. The best way is just to book a flight (especially because the rate at which you use Rapid Rewards points will change as of the 31st of this month. If that’s not an option yet, you can redeem 3,000 points for a $25 gift card (not the best use of your points, but if it helps you keep them it may be worth it).

      The easiest way to have activity on your account is to use a SW credit card to buy something. If you no longer have the card, you can transfer points from another loyalty program, like Ultimate Rewards. If that doesn’t work either, then just log into you Rapid Reward accounts and click on Rapid Rewards Shopping. Then click on one of the vendors (everything from Home Depot to Macy’s) and buy something you might otherwise buy anyway – like some lightbulbs from homedepot.com. You’ll get RR points and your 24 month clock will reset.

      Now, on the hotels in PR question, we’ve been loving the Barclays Arrival World Mastercard for the flexibility to use it anywhere. You could get that card and have $440 to spend on a quaint B&B hotel that you book through an online travel agency. That way you could also stay at a unique place.

      We loved the bio-luminescent bay in Puerto Rico, so when you go, you have to put that on the list.

      Thanks so much for following… please share with anyone who’ll listen.

      🙂

      Brad

  5. Jarom says:

    My wife stays at home with the kids. When cards ask for income should I just put my income in the box or Zero? I wondered if that wound make it harded to apply for different cards. Thanks.

    • Hey Jarom- Great question. I always enter household income. Having friends who have gone through divorces, I can tell you that whatever income you have is legally for both of you. No credit issuer in their right mind is going to issue a card with zero income and the reality is that your wife has just as much access to (if not more) that income as you do.

  6. Kip Spittle says:

    Hi There,

    I am looking to book a trip to Belize this summer as part of a Service Learning project through Boise State University. With any civic trip, money is tight. I looked into the following credit card offer (https://www.barclaycardus.com/apply/Landing.action?campaignId=1995&cellNumber=5) you had advocated for in December 2014, but I still need to pay out of pocket for my flight (not enough miles). Are you aware of any other credit card that will have enough miles to get me there for free. My goal is to apply for the card, pay the annual fee (i.e. $100) make one purchase to fulfill my area, then cancel the card.. thus getting the flight for free. Any suggestions on credit cards?

    Thanks,
    Kip

  7. Kip Spittle says:

    I am looking to book a trip to Belize this summer as part of a Service Learning project through Boise State University. With any civic trip, money is tight. I looked into the following credit card offer (https://www.barclaycardus.com/apply/Landing.action?campaignId=1995&cellNumber=5) you had advocated for in December 2014, but I still need to pay out of pocket for my flight (not enough miles with this CC offer). Are you aware of any other credit card that will have enough miles to get me there for free. My goal is to apply for the card, pay the annual fee (i.e. $100) make one purchase to fulfill my area, then cancel the card.. thus getting the flight for free. Any suggestions on credit cards?

    • Sheldon says:

      Kip- There is a lot at play here.

      Are your dates of arrival and departure very specific?
      Do you have an established and good credit score with other types of credit history?
      Do you need to fly with your group, or can you book your own ticket?

      You’ll never want to cancel the credit card RIGHT after getting the bonus. That puts a huge black mark on your account with that bank. If you have objectives of doing this stuff long term, you’ll want to keep the cards for at least 11 months before dropping them.

  8. Kip Spittle says:

    Hi There,
    My dates and arrival times for the class are specific (ferry rides to and from islands). I do have excellent credit and would like to fly with my group, but I can book my own ticket. After further checking, the only airline that can get me there in 7 hours (vs. 20 hours) is United for $1205. So that credit card I was looking at was only US Air and American Airlines. Any suggestions for a card that United is affiliated with?

    Thanks,

    • Sheldon says:

      Hey Kip- Booking trips with specific dates is TOUGH when you’re trying to do it on points. If you have specific dates like that the only card that can help is the Barclaycard Arrival. It’ll help you save $400 on the flights, but $800 is still outrageous!

  9. Paul says:

    Hi Brad,
    Enjoyed your info on lds church history tour. My family of 5 is planning a church history tour this summer. We’re from Maui and will be flying (freq. flyer miles) to NYC, then visiting church history sites along the way back to Provo for EFY. We’ll end up in Portland, OR for a week or so before heading home. The single biggest expense on this trip will be the one-way mini van rental from NY to PDX, somewhere between $3500-$4500. Any suggestions that may help with this large expense?
    Thank you & Aloha,
    Paul

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