Want to travel the world at prices you can afford? We’ve been all around the world for (mostly) free. Here’s our list of strategies and deals that will help you travel the world for free too.
ONE: Earn Free Flights and Hotel Stays from Credit Card Companies
- Sign up for credit cards
- Get free miles and points as a bonus
- Cash those points and miles in for nearly-free travel
The credit card industry is competitive and they all want more customers. To encourage new customers to choose their cards, rewards cards throw in point and mile bonuses to new customers, often enough for free flights and hotel stays.
Some great bonuses available now?
50,000 points from Chase Sapphire Preferred
Sign up for this card, spend $4,000 on it in 3 months and you’ll get 50,000 free Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. Those points can be transferred to major airlines and hotel chains and redeemed for free flights and free hotel stays. They’re worth roughly $625 in travel when booking directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal.
Ultimate Reward points are highly valued for their ease and flexibility of use. These points can be transferred over to over 10 major airlines and hotel chains and redeemed for free flights and chains. You earn more points the more you spend — 1 Chase Ultimate Rewards Point per $1 you spend on all purchases, and 2 of those points for money you spend on travel and dining purchases.
But these deals don’t always last for long. One of the big-headline new cards from the past year has been the Chase Sapphire Reserve card which offered 100,000 bonus points for new customers who signed up (and a $450 annual fee to pay for every year you use the card). Now it’s reduced by half to 50,000 points, which is the same point bonus you can get with The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which comes with a much less hefty $95 annual fee, waived the first year.
50,000 points from The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
- This card also gives you 50,000 points, but for spending only $3,000 on the card in the first three months that you have it. The sign up bonus of 50,000 points is worth $500 when redeemed toward travel and the $89 annual fee is waived the first year.
- And it’s another great travel card that helps you earn free travel as you spend. This card effectively earns you 2% back on all purchases as long as you redeem your points for travel expenses.
These two cards are just a sample of the many credit cards that are available to help you travel the world for free.
TWO: Use Your Good Credit to Earn As Many Points As Possible
As long as you have a good credit score and are good at and comfortable managing many credit card accounts, you can apply for card after card to earn hundreds of thousands of points to fund your travels.
The effect a single application has on your credit score is pretty minimal. In the short term, you’ll probably see your score decrease by about 2-5 points. As long as you pay off your credit cards on time, never miss a payment, and keep your credit utilization in check your credit score will remain a valuable tool to help you travel for free. Check out our Rookie Guide to learn more.
THREE: Earn Points Every Time You Spend Money
Whether you’re spending money on groceries, gas, business expenses or travel, make sure you’re using a credit card that gives you the most points for your dollar. For example, the Hilton Honors Surpass card earns you 6X points at U.S. grocery stores and U.S. gas stations.
The average household spends around $6,000 dollars per year on food, which will give you another 36,000 free Hilton points (enough for up to seven free nights) just for using only this card to buy groceries and gas. Add that to the generous sign-up bonus, and that’s an additional 15 free nights (Hilton redemptions start at 5,000 points for category 1 hotels) — more than enough to keep the spending/earning cycle going to keep you in free hotel nights for quite a while.
Even better, does that grocery store then sell gift cards to some of your favorite merchants (e.g. Best Buy, Target, etc.)? Instead of earning 1X points using your credit card at those retail merchants, purchase gift cards for them at the supermarket instead and earn 3X or 5X. Use those gift cards for your shopping at other retailers. Gift cards are not excluded from bonus points!
In addition to using gift cards for in-store purchases, you can shift your online shopping habits by using shopping portals such as TopCashBack, BeFrugal, FatWallet, eBates, or BigCrumbs, where in addition to the points you’ll earn from your credit card spend, you’ll earn 1, 2, 5, or 10+ points per dollar spent, just by using a link through these sites! My favorite website to compare the earning from various shopping portals is CashBackMonitor.
FOUR: Get A Card With Flexible Rewards
Like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. They currently both offer 25,000 SPG points for the sign up bonus.
Not only can these points be used for Starwood hotels, but they can also be transferred at a 1:3 ratio to Marriott and used at Marriott hotels and transferred to a large number of airline partners.
SPG points transfer to most of their airline partners at a 1:1 ratio, but a 5,000 mile bonus is offered when you transfer in increments of 20,000 SPG points. This effectively means that SPG points transfer at a 1:1.25 ratio to a huge number of airlines.
FIVE: Book Cheap Flights
Airfare continues to get more reasonable, and if you are flexible in your travel dates and/or where you want to travel, you should consider keeping your eye out for cheap fares. The Flight Deal and Fare Deal Alert are two of the best websites for U.S.-based travelers.
You can still pair booking cheap flights with credit card based free travel strategies. The Barclaycard Arrival World Select MasterCard, mentioned above, could be used to cover the cost of an inexpensive flight you have booked.
SIX: Make Sure You Use All of Your Card’s Perks
The Platinum Card from American Express is a great card. It has a pretty hefty $550 annual fee, but currently offers a 60,000 Membership Reward Point sign up bonus.
Beyond the sign up bonus, the ongoing perks of this card might make it worth keeping if you’re a frequent traveler. It earns 5 points per dollar spent on airfare purchases, offers American Express Centurion Lounge Access in addition to a Priority Pass Select Membership which provides access to a network of over 1,000 lounges worldwide.
You also have free access to global wifi hotspots through Boingo, $200 per year in statement credits for airline incidental (checked bag fees, seat selection fees, etc), and a $100 statement credit for Global Entry (which includes TSA PreCheck).
Still have questions? Check out our Rookie Guide or let us know in the comments!