If you’re new to the world of travel credit cards, you’re probably wondering how to best stretch the initial bonuses you can earn as far as they can go. After all, free travel is hard to beat, and some rewards can put $750 or more in your pocket towards your travel plans after you meet a minimum spending requirement.
To get the most out of credit card signup bonuses, you need a few essential travel strategies under your belt. Don’t worry - they’re not that complicated.
In fact, credit card bonuses are pretty easy to figure out. Plus, the right combination of travel credit card perks and rewards programs will put you on a path to unlock free airfare, hotel stays, and other travel perks.
Are you ready to make your travel dreams come true? Here are the free travel strategies using credit card signup bonuses you need to know.
Pick Signup Bonuses to Fit Your Lifestyle
The first thing to understand is that the perfect credit card doesn’t exist. Each signup bonus and strategy for earning rewards points is a little different. Depending on your spending habits, one card might be more lucrative than another.
If the majority of your travel includes hotel stays, for instance, the Hilton Aspire credit card can earn you 14x points on Hilton purchases. In addition, you’ll get a whopping 7x point reward when you book flights with airlines or through AmExTravel.com.
But for the casual traveler, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is often the best credit card. This is because of the highly regarded Chase Ultimate Rewards® program that gets you 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Credit Recommended (660-850):
- Intro Rewards Bonus
- 60,000 bonus points
- Rewards Rate 1
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants, including delivery, carryout and dining in
- Foreign Trans Fee
- Annual Fee
- Regular APR
- 15.99% - 22.99% Variable
- Credit Recommended
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
Your best bet is to pick credit cards with the bonuses and perks you’re more likely to use. A few additional factors to consider include:
- Amount of the signup bonus
- Minimum spending requirement to earn the bonus
- Bonus categories to earn more points
- Free travel credit
- Annual fees
- Whether foreign transaction fees are waived
- Other perks like free checked baggage and travel insurance
Use Your Card for Everyday Spending to Rack Up Points
Most credit cards come with a minimum spending requirement to unlock the signup bonus, and the easiest way to get there is to use your card for everyday purchases. If you put your credit card to work paying for living expenses like utility bills, gas, groceries, and entertainment, you should have no trouble spending enough to earn the introductory bonus.
Plus, some cards offer bonus categories for a chance to earn more points, such as additional rewards on entertainment or grocery spending. Over time, you’ll start racking up the points when you use the right credit cards for each purchase.
Transfer Reward Points to Hotel and Airline Partners
If your travel plans change or you want added flexibility in how you spend your points, implementing a strategy to transfer your credit card signup bonus can make it happen. That way, if you’re saving points to earn a free flight but decide to take a road trip instead, your points can easily transfer to partner hotels to get you free hotel stays.
One of the most well-known brands for the best points transfers is Chase Ultimate Rewards®. This program lets you move your points to select airline and hotel partners at a full 1:1 value.
And if you combine your bonus points with other credit card offers, such as adding your points from Chase to Southwest Airlines Visa’s 40,000 points signup bonus, your options for free travel can grow to staggering heights.
Earn Separate Signup Bonuses as a Couple
Two people scoring credit card bonuses are better than one, and maximizing your points when you’re part of a couple requires having a strategy in place. The first key to making this work is to not add each other as authorized users for your new accounts.
While no rule strictly prohibits this, having your name as a cardholder can complicate your ability to earn a signup bonus if you decide to apply for the same card your partner has.
Another strategy to haul in more points is to use the refer-a-friend feature to refer your partner. This way, you’ll get additional points for referring a new cardholder, and they’ll still cash in on the fantastic signup bonus offer.
Whether you make a plan to spend your points together or separately, implementing the points-transfer strategy alongside the referral and signup bonuses can get you more bang for your buck.
Don’t Carry Your Debt from Month to Month
This credit card strategy might be obvious, but it bears mentioning because the effects of not paying your credit card off every month are so detrimental. The interest you accrue and end up paying can cancel out any free travel you earn.
Essentially, any balance you carry from month to month and pay interest on is the equivalent of throwing money out the window.
The only way to make your free travel strategies work is to avoid racking up debt by paying your bill in full every month. That means you should consider opening a new credit card only when you can commit to not running yourself into a financial hole.
Collect Signup Bonuses More than Once
If you apply for a new account with a credit card you used to have, you could collect a signup bonus a second time. But there’s a right way - and a wrong way - to make this strategy useful for earning free travel.
Keep in mind you shouldn’t cancel your card and apply for another account for the sole purpose of profiting from the signup bonus. This practice is called “credit card churning” and is generally frowned upon by credit card companies. Plus, opening too many cards in a short time can hurt your credit score.
But if you had a credit card in the past and genuinely want to give it another shot, signing up for a new account could put lucrative bonus points in your pocket.
Some cards, like the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, have rules that make it nearly impossible for previous customers to earn another signup bonus. And Chase’s 5/24 rule limits your ability to qualify for a new card if you’ve had five or more new accounts opened in the past 24 months.
The real bummer is the 5/24 rule applies to several of Chase’s co-branded cards, too.
However, you could double dip on signup bonuses from Chase if you’ve opened less than five new cards in the last two years and if you meet other timing requirements that vary from card to card.
Ongoing Strategies to Earn Even More Points
The trick to maximizing your credit card signup bonus points is to have the right strategies in place before you start trading them in for free travel. If you know what you’re getting into ahead of time, planning how you’ll use your rewards points can make them more valuable.
And as you continue to earn points toward free travel, be on the lookout for special offers to earn extra cash back or points for specific purchases. For example, if you know American Airlines has flights to places you commonly go or would like to go, you may consider taking advantage of the 10,000 bonus points + $50 statement credit that the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card credit card offers.
- Credit Recommended:
- Regular APR
- 15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
- Annual Fee
- Credit Recommended
- Cash Advance APR
- 25.24% (Variable)
- Penalty APR
- Up to 29.99% (Variable)
- Late Payment Fee
- Up to $40
- Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- No Annual Fee
- Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services
- Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
- Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
- Save 25% on inflight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights
- The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 15.99% - 24.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Also, a lot of credit card companies have online shopping portals that let you collect additional points when you buy through them. Since those rewards are on top of what you get from making purchases with your card, you’ll be cashing in free travel before you know it.
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