Disclaimer: First, I am not getting compensated in any way shape or form for this post or through the links in this post.
Secondly, there are a lot of different opinions about credit cards in general, and about signing up for credit cards just for the rewards. I’m not going to delve into that here. I’m also not going to talk about impacts to credit scores as those are minimal and a non-issue for me. Signing up for a credit card is a personal choice and I am in now way a financial expert, so swipe at your own risk.
How This All Got Started
When I was in my early twenties I was skeptical of credit card reward programs. After a lot of research I ended up giving the Chase Freedom card a chance and ever since then it’s become my standard to earn at minimum 1% back on every purchase I make. And then came the day that I heard about Chase’s Southwest card with it’s humongous sign-up bonus. But despite my love of credit card rewards… I was still skeptical. After lots of research I decided to give it a try, and I’m so glad that I did because four credit cards later, I’ve managed to rack up a ton of airline rewards, hotel rewards, and general travel money – and I’ve done it without signing up for every card on the planet! I estimate the total rewards to be over $2,500 and probably close to $3K now. When used wisely, that amount will fund a lot of trips!
My most recent card is the Marriott card by Chase. So recent in fact that my bonus points just posted to my account last week. It’s pretty awesome to see my 70K points sitting there waiting for me to use. Between those points and the travel $$ rewards that I’ll use toward rental cars, I should be able to take quite a few weekend trips this year.
I’m not writing this post to point people towards certain cards. I’m writing to encourage people to utilize credit cards wisely in order to fund their travels. I was hesitant at first, so hearing success stories was always reassuring. I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends where they’ve asked me about how I make them work, and people always seem so skeptical, but I wish more people could see how they can work to your advantage.
I already mentioned that I’ve had four different travel reward cards at this point. I want to start by going over my two general travel cards since the way those work will appeal to almost everyone. My other two cards are branded (Southwest and Marriott) so they’re more limited, but they’re also higher value. I’ll get to those later.
Blue Sky from American Express
Requirement: Spend $1K during the first three months. The card has an annual fee that is waived the first year.
Sign-up Bonus: The equivalent of $400 when redeemed toward travel purchases.
I put enough purchases on this card to reach the $1K minimum spend and then I completely forgot about it for awhile. Realizing that my $400 worth of rewards were just sitting there waiting to be used, and that I needed to utilize them before the annual fee came around (I plan to cancel the card before then), I decided to use the card to pay for a hotel stay and some upcoming car rentals. It’s absolutely wonderful to have points that you can redeem toward ANY travel related purchases (airlines, hotels, rental cars, etc). That flexibility is invaluable to me when it comes to rewards. I still have a bit of this money left (but not for long!).
Barclaycard Arrival Mastercard (Currently my everyday credit card)
Requirement: Spend $3K during the first three months. The card has an annual fee that is waived the first year.
Sign-up Bonus: 40K “miles” – Which is equivalent to $400 (when redeemed towards travel it’s actually $440 as I’ll explain below). Plus it comes with a free TripIt Pro subscription and is a no foreign transaction fee card (ie it’s a good card to have when traveling internationally).
This card has a higher minimum spend, so I had to plan ahead for how to accomplish that. For years I’ve been putting all my purchases onto a credit card instead of using a debit card (and paying the card off each statement) in order to utilize rewards, so I was able to make the minimum spend happen without too much work. If you have any business trips or big purchases, those are great ways to reach the minimum spend amount quickly. I pay my car insurance in one big chunk every 6 months, so if I can get a new card right before I have to make one of those payments, that’s another big ticket item that I like to use.
I’ve used this card to pay for an Airbnb stay in Portland and for rental cars. Once again, the fact that I can use it for more random travel costs like these are part of what make this card amazing. All you have to do is purchase something that gets coded as “travel” related by the system and you can redeem your points toward that purchase.
The high reward earning rate on this card also made me decide to keep using it even after I met the minimum spend and I’ve now earned way more than my initial $440 with it. They give you a 10% bonus back whenever you redeem toward travel (you can redeem for other stuff but I never do), so when I redeemed a $100 hotel night I got $10 worth of points back. That aspect of this card is why it’s currently my all time favorite. I keep racking up a lot of points with it, and I keep using them up pretty quickly!
As mentioned, I also have two branded credit cards. I’ll get to those in the next blog post. I can also point out some resources I use to research credit cards that I’ve found to be immensely helpful.
In the meantime, I’m getting the urge to plan a trip using some of the rewards that I still have left!