How To Travel For Free: Game Changer

travelingEarlier this year when a family emergency came up I only had enough miles for a free plane ticket from Hawaii to the mainland.  I used it on my mom and paid around $1000 for my wife’s ticket.  Those miles were accumalated during my travels from work.  We’ve gone on some nice vacations that I’ve saved thousands on due to points I’ve earned.  (Nice perks for being away from home). We put everything on our rewards cards and get miles for purchases like everyone does.  I was happy to accumalate 15-20,000 miles/points a year this way, combined with my work points it would come out to around 60-100,000 hotel points or frquent flier miles a year.  70% of our “free” or discounted vacation was points earn from my travels. I joke with my wife that it took me 10 years to accumalate my Marriott points and three years of dating her to drain it.

I first heard of travel hacking from several blogs sometime last year.  Travel hacking is where you open credit cards or “churn” them for the rewards so that you can get free travel from the sign up bonus.  Some had high spending requirements but once met you would get some nice bonuses.  After reading up and visiting several chains in Hawaii i started thinking about travel hacking.  I realize now that this is a game changer. Credit cards aren’t evil, used responsibly they enhance your cash flow and can improve your life.  Collecting the rewards to go on nice vacations at a minimal cost to relieve stress is improving your life.

Why this is a game changer for me, and it should be for you also.
To build your finances you need to invest in gamre changers. Real estate is one of them. Never having to pay for travel again is another.  We love to travel and I’m always glad to spend points to reduce the cost. I will pay for trips or nights when the value for my points don’t match up. I value all miles or points at a minimum of 2 cents per point. Anything less than that I will pay for out of pocket. Don’t waste your points on anything less. An example is a United ticket to Boston from Hawaii is around $950 or 45,000 miles, at a value of 2.1 cents per mile. 950/45,000= 2.1 That’s worth it, a ticket to LA costs around $475 on sale which comes out to a penny a mile. 475/45,000= 1 cent. In this case I would pay for it out of pocket.

When I traveled to Hong Kong for a five day stay at the JW Marriott we got 3.4 cents to the point which was a great deal.  Now that I started laying out my “travel hacking” strategy with my work points I plan to never pay for travel again.  My goal is to generate at least $4000-$5000 in rewards a year. 

Since I fly United I had a United Explorer Card.  Since then I got the much better Chase Sapphire with the 45,000 point bonus, Chase Ink Business with 50,000 points, my wife and I both got the Barclay Arrival Mastercard, and she got a United Card.  With all those cards we needed to generate a minimum of $15,000 in spending otherwise you don’t get the sign up bonus.  Enter the American Express BlueBird card and the vanilla reloads that allowed me to charge $21,000 in six weeks.  I have $10,000 a month in mortgages that I now technically pay with credit cards.   Now that CVS no longer allows credit card purchases for Vanilla Reloads that door has closed.  There are other opportunities like loading a gift card with a pin onto Bluebird, since I’m not a travel blog I won’t go too much in depth. I’m going to use various strategies that will allow me to “pay” all my mortgages via credit card, which means at least 120,000 points a year!  That doesn’t include my regular spending which is additional points.

I know most people don’t have that much expenses.  You can generate $24,000 in spending from Amazon Payment.  Jacob from Cash Cow Couple has a great post on this.  You can also use money orders using gift pins, go to this travel blog to learn more.   So far in three months with the value of points and extra spending I’ve earned a little over $4,000 in travel, I know this will drop because my sign up bonuses are counted in this. There are still a few cards I’m going to sign up for as my goal is to get around 400,000 total points this year.

Time is a valuable commodity.  How much is this taking of my time.    I probably spent 40 hours reading and 20 looking for and loading all the vanilla reloads and gift cards.  (Trial and error as Hawaii doesn’t have major chains like the mainland with a wide assortment of vanilla reloads.)  Gift cards ang loading have fees associated, net after expenses I made around $45 an hour.  I’ve looked into a few other things and determined to spend at most 10 hours a month working on this, if successful I will never have to pay for travel again.  Beats any other side hustle I can do in my limited time.   (Although every blogger knows how much money we all make from this)  Which of course in my case its negative since I make no money from this, I’m better off working in an Indonesia sweat shop.

Are you travel hacking?  What major trip do you want to do this year?


  1. We paid for our trip to Europe later this year with credit card rewards, other than the $200 we had to pa in taxes for our flights. We also paid for our flights to Vegas next month and our hotel. Now that Vanilla Reloads are gone, I have to buy Visa Gift Cards at the grocery store, which is kind’ve a drag….but it’s worth it!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted…Hybrid Cars: A Foolish Attempt to Save MoneyMy Profile

  2. Nice Charles…since you also travel for work, you can definitely rack up a lot of rewards points. No hacking for me this year since I might have to apply for a mortgage, plus I don’t plan on traveling too much with a baby. I did get the Chase Sapphire and used the points at the Grand Hyatt in Macau. 15,000 points per night which usually costs over $300. Not bad! Also signed up for the Citi Premier and got 2 free roundtrip domestic flights to go to a friend’s wedding.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Is it REALLY Okay to Take Paternity Leave?My Profile

  3. I just started travel hacking in December and since then have become very interested in how I can cut the costs of travel. Right now I’m trying to win a trip to Hawaii through a referral contest, which isn’t exactly travel hacking but is still a creative way to travel. I’m crossing my fingers I referred enough to take the top spot – and the trip.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…How to Get Up to 3 Free Las Vegas Hotel Rooms a MonthMy Profile

  4. We are visiting your fine state this summer on points and miles. I also will never pay full price for travel. If you have to pay bills anyway, might as well get rewards.
    Kim recently posted…Miche Handbag Review and GiveawayMy Profile

  5. I once thought I want to travel hack (2000), and got a delta card. Over three years I accumulated 30K points, I paid off the card and forgot about it. Guess what happened I lost all the points. Don’t get a delta card, the points expire or at least mine did back in 2004.
    EL @ Moneywatch101 recently posted…The New MyRA AccountMy Profile

  6. Charles,

    I’m with you — Real estate and travel hacking compliment each other in so many ways. With real estate, the cash flow will buy you freedom and free time. The expenses you can use credit cards to pay for to earn you travel points.

    Now you have free time and a million points for travel, hotel, etc… It’s a no brainer, really. The more properties you buy, the more points you earn… And let’s not forget about more cash flow either!
    FI Fighter recently posted…Always Learning: I Still Don’t Really Know What I’m DoingMy Profile

  7. We’re fairly new to the travel hacking game, but Brad at Richmond Savers is helping us navigate the waters. We’re getting 8 free nights in Buenos Aires and Montevideo next month using some SPG points, and then should have both airlines and hotels covered for our trip to Europe next summer. Travel hacking really can be a game changer. :)

  8. I’m travel hacking but some people are doing a much better job than me. Still, it’s getting easier and easier as I get the hang of it.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Making Bad Emotional DecisionsMy Profile

  9. Hmm…great points to ponder. I am not into credit cards for fear of becoming “swipe-happy” but when the time comes that I am sure I will have the kind of discipline to use one responsibly, I will keep in mind what I learned from this post.
    Jen @Sprout Wealth recently posted…Make Money Series – The Basics of Affiliate MarketingMy Profile

  10. It’s great that you can pay your mortgage with credit cards. Another great one would be college tuition.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted…Frugal Fitness: Honey Whole Wheat PizzaMy Profile

  11. I’ve used points to travel for the past couple of years. I learned how to double or even triple points. By using the credit card to earn points, rewards card of retailer and purchase online.

  12. I liked your pointing out not to use travel points if they are going to be valued at less than 2 cents, and just pay for ticket with cash. The difference in value when you cashing in tens or hundreds of thousands of points can be huge.
    Bryce @ Save and Conquer recently posted…Grok’s Tip #15: You’re doing it wrong: Figuring your stock/bond splitMy Profile

  13. Kay @ Green Money Stream says:

    We just started our travel hacking and it’s working well so far. It’s just another way that being financially stable (having a good credit score) can pay off!

  14. I just got a card that included 15,000 miles, plus $100 after I spend $500. The first $495 was on my initial ticket purchase. I think I should be able to get at least 3 of 4 flight legs of my next vacation free.

    But often, if you cannot be flexible with dates, it’s too much trouble I think.
    No Nonsense Landlord recently posted…Long Distance Property ManagementMy Profile

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