|Photography by Anne Cabo San Lucas|
As I’ve stated numerous times throughout the years on The Frugal Travel Guy blog, credit card sign-up bonuses provide the largest amount of free travel of all the techniques I use – often thousands of frequent flier miles/points at once. Capital One, for example, recently offered 100,000 frequent flier miles with an approved credit card. That’s huge. And enticing. But beware: This can be a loaded gun for many folks who can’t seem to handle it.
Using credit cards for free travel, or any other reason, requires discipline and the ability to pay off your monthly balance in full at the end of every billing cycle. Interest rates on credit cards are huge, late fees massive, and both have gotten more Americans in credit trouble than any other credit instrument. This free travel technique is not for everyone. You know yourself better than anyone. So before you begin to apply for credit cards for frequent flier miles, honestly answer these questions:
1.Do you manage your money well?
2.Do you have a budget?
3.Do you live within your budget?
4.Are you easily distracted and make impulse purchases?
5.Is your source of income and repayment dependable and reoccurring?
6.Are you just getting by on part-time work?
The decision to use credit card sign-up bonuses for frequent flier miles and points cannot be taken lightly. One mistake or one late payment will haunt you for years. Tread lightly; be honest with yourself an, ultimately, your creditors.
Which travel credit card should you apply for first? That depends on the credit score you have established based on your limited history with a retail charge card and small installment loan. You need to know that score number. You’re looking for these target minimums: 700+ on a FICO scale or 800+ on a Vantage Score Scale.
These are the scores we strive for long-term. If you’re young or you haven’t used credit much, it may be too early for you to have this high of a score. If so, you’ll have to begin by apply for a less-than-premium credit card. Don’t worry. Your time will come if you pay on time. I have free trial offers for viewing your credit scores on my blog. But you must remember to cancel within the free trial, after you get your report and scores, or you will be charged monthly. I use Truecredit.com to monitor my credit and pay for it every month. To me, it is a worthwhile expense.
If your scores are less than the target range, but over 650 on an FICO scale and 725 on a Vantage Score scale, consider applying for a credit card that does not require a premium score but charges higher interest and fees. Remember: You are paying off the card in full every month or borrowing just a small amount to establish a credit trade line. Your interest expense will be minimal while you establish this trade line. These cards, when offered by the airline’ websites, typically offer you one mile for every $2 spent on the card. That is your indication that you are looking at the right credit card for your less-than-“good” credit score. Premium cards pay at least one mile per $1 spent. Stay away from those unless you have premium credit score. You will within six months if you pay as agreed.
If your credit file shows scores lower than the 650 or 725 ranges, check your credit report for accuracy. There may be an error on the report, such as a medical collection, that you missed. Or it could be that trade lines you’ve established are not reporting to the three major agencies. In the event of errors, get them corrected right away. A collection is bad, really bad, and needs to be cleared right now.
If you have lower credit scores, I suggest you talk to your bank about a secured credit card. Not all banks will offer them, but when you find one that does, here is how they work:
With scores of 700+ FICO and 800+ Vantage Score scale I apply for other cards for the sign-up bonuses. I have had over 100 credit cards and they have taken me literally around the world on the sign up bonuses. I would consider using them every day if they gave me as much as the SPG card. Until I find that card, all the other credit cards for which I apply are for the sign-up bonus only. I meet the requirements of the sign-up bonus offer and then put the card away until the annual fee comes due in one year. I cancel at that time after asking for a retention bonus to keep the card. If I don’t get the retention bonus, I cancel the card and they don’t charge the annual fee.
The now with a good score on hand, next step is time. Continue to pay on time. Continue to use your credit in a responsible manner and you’ll see your scores improve over time. Your credit file is aging. That’s a good thing. Creditors think of it this way:“He’s paid his bills on time last month” or “He’s paid his bills on time for the last five years”
Which of the above is a better credit risk? The person with the time and credit history on his or her side, of course.
I just checked United.com and found fares from Traverse City and Savannah as low as $518 as far in advance as next February. As always, these fares come and go quickly. So if Hawaii is in your plans, look and book now. Tickets are typically $800-$1000 each. Other airlines may be involved in this fare war as well.
25,000 Membership Rewards Points, $200 Airline Incidental Credits, and 1 Year’s Lounge Access.
IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card
- Annual Fee: $49 fee waived for the first year
- Foreign Fees: No
- Card Type: Hotel
The IHG Rewards Club Visa is often cited as one of the most underrated hotel credit cards, with good reason. The official offer is for 70,000 points after $1,000 spent within three months, with the first year’s fee waived. The card comes with an annual free night certificate that can be used at any IHG property, including Intercontinental hotels - making this certificate worth upwards of 50,000 points. This is far more generous than some other hotel cards, which limit the categories in which free night certificates can be redeemed.
Cardholders earn 5 points per dollar at IHG hotels; 2 points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants; 1 point per dollar everywhere else. Moreover, you’ll get a 10% rebate on award redemptions, up to 100,000 points per year. The card also comes with Platinum status, though that doesn’t get you much with IHG. Still, this is a fantastic card to have in your wallet, with benefits that far outweigh the already low $49 annual fee.
- Earn 70,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of account opening
- Enjoy a free night of card membership at over 4,700 hotels worldwide
- Earn 5 points for each $1 spent at our hotels
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants
- Bonus points redeemable at hotels such as Intercontinental® Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts and Holiday Inn®
- Automatic platinum elite status, as long as you remain a cardmember
- $0 introductory annual fee the first year, then $49