How to Travel for Free Using Credit Cards

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Traveling is one of the better parts of life but let’s be honest, it can be difficult saving up for a vacation.

There are many costs involved with traveling… The airfare, the hotel, the food… It can all be extremely overwhelming and costly.

But imagine not needing to wait for that yearly bonus or that check from your rich uncle on your birthday to be able to travel whenever and wherever you want to go.

Traveling for free is actually quite simple by using travel credit cards to earn and redeem travel rewards.

These credit cards have some amazing perks, and if used in the right way, can help you travel anywhere you want to go for free or for an extremely discounted cost.

Before You Get Started

I want to start off by saying if you have a history of not being able to handle credit cards wisely, this travel hack will not work for you. You need to start off with a good credit score, and the ability to pay off your credit card(s) right away after you use them.

One of the best ways to check your credit score is with Credit Karma. I have been using them for years to keep on top of my credit score.

With Credit Karma, you can also determine which credit cards you are likely to get approved for before you even fill out an application.

Also, if you already have credit card debt, I highly recommend not applying for additional credit cards until all other debt is paid off. This would be counter-productive and will not save you any money on travel.

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How to Use Credit Cards for Free Travel

There are a few steps to take when using credit cards for free travel:

1. Apply for a credit card (or two)

There are many different credit card options out there and it is important to choose one that is right for you. You will need to determine how you like to travel and start looking for cards that will maximize your free travel.

The two types of travel reward cards are:

General Travel Reward Cards

These are general rewards cards that will offer higher rewards on all travel purchases.

If you like to make travel purchases through different brands (like hotels and airlines), then this type of card might be best for you.

You can choose how you want to use those rewards and book your travel with the card issuer, through third-party vendors, or you can usually transfer them to other travel programs.

Brand-Specific Travel Reward Cards

If you are loyal to a specific airline or hotel branch, a brand-specific card might suit you best.

Airline Reward Cards

If you are loyal to one airline company and prefer to fly when you travel, an airline rewards card might be worth looking into.

If you earn enough rewards with your card, you will be able to fly anywhere you want to go for free.

Hotel Reward Cards

Just like with the brand-specific airline rewards cards, you can also apply for brand-specific hotel reward cards.

You can use these brand-specific cards to maximize your rewards and redeem them for free hotel stays at your favorite hotel branch.

You don’t have to stick with using just one credit card, either. Having multiple travel reward cards will help you maximize the number of perks and free opportunities you can earn, just as long as you can pay off each card in full each month.

For example, you can use a brand-specific credit card for your flight, another brand-specific credit card for your hotel, and then a general travel credit card for ride-sharing and meals.

2. Earn the sign-up bonus

The next step is to maximize your earnings by securing the sign-up bonus when you get approved for the card. Sometimes, these bonuses can be so valuable that you may be able to earn a free flight or a free hotel stay with just the sign-up bonus alone.

When you are applying for a credit card, check to see if they offer a sign-up bonus. This is the quickest way to earn points and maximize your earnings upfront.

These sign-up bonuses will require you to spend a minimum amount within a certain timeframe. In order to reach this minimum balance, it is helpful to use the card for purchases you were going to make anyway.

For example, you could use the card for bills, groceries, and other necessary spending items and then pay the card off right away.

Then, you can continue to use the card for normal expenses each month to continuously earn rewards and perks.

4. Always make sure to pay your balance in full

This step is crucial to your success in earning free travel. If you overspend on your card and are unable to pay the balance off right away each month, you will end up paying interest on the card which is ineffective when trying to earn rewards and free travel.

Paying off your balance in full is also extremely important if you have more than one card. It will take some organization to keep track of your credit cards to make sure they are paid off in full each month.

Keeping a credit card tracker on hand or setting up automatic payments will help keep things structured.

As stated before, if you are known to overspend with credit cards or use them irresponsibly, credit card hacking for free travel might not be the best option.

5. Redeem your rewards and use them to travel

The next step would be to use your points/rewards for free travel through the card’s booking service or redeem them for a statement credit.

If the card you chose does not let you book directly through their system, you will need to redeem them for a statement credit. This means that you will be required to pay for your travel accommodations with your credit card and then use your rewards to credit your account.

Some cards have a very specific purpose such as using your points for flights or hotel stays, however, some cards offer other travel perks. For example, some offer perks specifically for luxury travel such as private access to airport lounges. This is where you can sit comfortably in a quiet area away from other people and eat a luxury-type meal while you wait for your flight.

Others might offer hotel room upgrades, waived baggage fees, and more.

6. Be Prepared for Other Costs

Traveling for free isn’t always free. There are other travel costs that you will want to be prepared for.

These other costs can include:

  • Food:

    Eating out on vacation can become pricey, especially if you are traveling with your family. You can cut the costs of food while traveling by grocery shopping when you arrive at your destination and cook as many meals as you can (if you have access to a kitchen). If a kitchen or microwave isn’t readily available, you can also meal prep and bring snacks and premade meals to avoid needing to eat out.

  • Airline Taxes:

    Most airlines charge taxes and/or fees that would not be covered by travel credit card rewards. These costs are usually required to be paid out of pocket, however, the amounts are typically minimal.

  • Hotel fees:

    Just like airlines, hotels will usually have some hidden charges/fees that are not covered by travel credit card rewards. This may include resort fees, parking fees, room maintenance fees, etc. Again, these charges are usually nominal but are nice to be aware of when traveling.

  • Activities and Excursions:

    Some general travel credit cards will allow you to redeem points on certain activities and excursions, but most of the time these will need to be paid out of pocket. You can avoid these larger expenses by trying out free activities in the area you are traveling or seeing what excursions might be covered under your credit card’s reward system. You can check your general travel card’s guidelines for getting a statement credit on excursion purchases while you are traveling.

  • Annual Fees:

    Another hidden expense that is not directly related to your travel is the annual fees for travel credit cards. Some cards do not require any annual fees, but most of the popular ones do. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (more on this below) requires a $550 annual fee. However, when you look at the overall benefit you will receive from cards like this, it is well worth the annual fee. You can usually get the annual fee waived for the first (and sometimes second) year of owning the card.

The best travel credit cards for free travel

As stated above, there are a few things you should look for when searching for travel credit cards that will work best for you.

You should look for:

Annual fees. Most of the best travel cards have some sort of annual fee, but if you are not comfortable paying for this type of expense, you will need to find a travel card that does not require a yearly fee.

The type of rewards you will use most often. Make sure you pick a card that will benefit you the most based on your favorite type of travel. For instance, if you prefer to fly rather than drive, try looking for a card that will allow you to fly for free. If you are loyal to a specific hotel branch, you could apply for their brand-specific credit card to earn points for that hotel.

The best rewards. Some credit cards offer better rewards than others. It is important to research different cards and pick one that suits your travel needs the best.

Here are the top picks for the best travel credit cards:

Best overall card:

Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best overall credit cards to use for free travel.

The card offers:

  • 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after you open the account
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit
  • 3X Points on travel and dining worldwide

Learn more here.

Best for flights:

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is the best credit card if you love flying with Southwest. This card has an abundance of perks and offers and it is extremely easy to earn free flights.

This card offers:

  • Earn 65,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 7,500 anniversary points each year
  • $75 Southwest annual travel credit
  • Four Upgraded Boardings per year when available
  • 20% back on inflight drinks and WiFi

Learn more here.

Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card 

Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card is another great credit card option if you love flying with Delta Airlines.

This card offers:

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases on your new Card within your first 3 months
  • In addition, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 3 miles per dollar on Delta purchases
  • Earn 3 miles per dollar on purchases directly with Hotels
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar at Restaurants including takeout and delivery and earn 2 miles per dollar at U.S. Supermarkets

Learn more here. 

Best for hotels:

The World of Hyatt Credit Card

The World of Hyatt Credit Card is the best credit card if you typically like to stay at Hyatt hotels when you travel.

This card offers:

  • Earn 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $6,000 total on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening
  • 9 points total per $1 spent for Hyatt stays and experiences including restaurants and spas
  • 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent for getting around with local transit and commuting
  • 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent for dining out at restaurants, cafes and coffee shops
  • 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent for taking off with flights purchased directly from the airline
  • 2 Bonus Points per $1 spent for staying healthy with fitness club and gym memberships
  • 1 Bonus Point per $1 spent for wherever life takes you

Learn more here. 

Hilton Honors American Express Card 

The Hilton Honors American Express Card is a great hotel credit card if you prefer to stay at Hilton Hotels while traveling.

This card offers:

  • Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership
  • 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio
  • 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations
  • 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card

Learn more here.

Best for Business Traveling:

Chase Ink Preferred 

The Chase Ink Preferred is one of the best business travel cards to have.

This card offers:

  • 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. That’s $1,250 toward travel rewards when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Reward your business with premium travel rewards. Earn 3X points on travel and other select business categories
  • 25% more in travel redemption points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel

Learn more here. 

The Business Platinum Card from American Express 

The Business Platinum Card from American Express is another great travel credit card for your business needs.

This card offers:

  • Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 all on qualifying purchases on the Business Platinum Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
  • Get 1.5X Membership Rewards® points per dollar on each eligible purchase of $5,000 or more with The Business Platinum Card®
  • 1X Points on other purchases

Best Travel Card with No Annual Fee:

Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card is one of the best credit card options that does not require an annual fee.

This card offers:

  • 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months – a $200 cash redemption value
  • 3x points on eating out and ordering in; gas stations, rideshares, and transit; flights, hotels, homestays, and car rentals; popular streaming services
  • 1x points on other purchases

Learn more here. 

If you decide on a great travel credit card, use it often, and pay it off on time, you will be able to travel for free (or close to it) every single year.

I would love to hear from you! Are you planning to use credit cards to travel for free? Have you ever tried doing this in the past? Let me know in a comment below.

Happy traveling!

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