If pursued actively, travel rewards can help the disciplined spender and traveler make the most of their dollar.
Austin braved the world of travel rewards and has booked an eleven day trip to South Korea, which includes flight and lodging for free! He'll only pay out of pocket for dining and entertainment, which he will charge to his card, of course!
Here's how he did it.
Identify The Target
Most travel rewards systems work on points. Their online portals are the place to explore how the points work. We encourage you to log onto your accounts. See what your point balances are and get excited about your rewards of choice. Cashback, flights, hotels, rental cars, and more are just waiting. Who doesn't like free stuff?
For Austin, he prioritized his goals starting with the big-ticket items:
- Plane ticket = 40,000 points
- Lodging = 3,500 points per night
He applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Freedom, and Chase Freedom Unlimited. The credit card companies want you to spend, so you will. Strategically. Most cards will have a minimum spend in order to receive the “Sign Up Bonus.” The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has a 60,000 point bonus when you spend $4,000 within the first three months of having the card. Austin pays his rent via Venmo. By doing this, along with some other careful purchases, the minimum spend was easy to achieve.
Austin's story is the utopia of travel stories. Though what you see here is a master level play, just remember that we all had to start at the beginning. Get comfortable with your strategized spending plan and strategized redemption plan. Even sub-optimized, we encourage you to start, learn, earn, & experience. Optimization is a day by day 1% improvement strategy.
In other words, the only way to get good at this game is to start. Start now and learn the rules as you go. Any free travel is a win.
But please note; if you cannot pay off your cards in full every month, this is not for you. Paying interest defeats the purpose of free travel!
Maximize Earning Potential
Getting the sign-up bonuses are nice, but it is in a person's normal, regular, everyday spending is where real point accumulation magic happens. We can't stress enough to only use the card on things you would wisely purchase in the first place. Do not let this become an over-spending tool, or you end up missing the point. Plastic becomes your friend for planned purchases, nothing more. And of course, paying it off in full every single month is essential.
Most cards earn points per dollar purchased. Seeking out each card's specific multiples is particularly helpful in mass accumulation. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earns 2X the points per dollar on food and travel. The nice thing is that the definitions of what that can be quite broad. Anything that “codes” to the card as food or travel will count for the extra points.
You'll want to find a card that works best for you and your spending habits.
Spouses can sign up, too. With the Family function, all the points on all the cards can be transferred (combined) into one grand total. Then, you get to redeem those points. Perhaps you don't want to travel, you can take the cash and run. Go for it. For those with wanderlust, get busy booking your priorities as you set out in the beginning.
Though you can't transfer points to a non-famly member, Austin found a way to optimize his lodging. He showed a friend this new-found credit card strategy. The friend was skeptical at first, of course, but then saw the light. He mimicked the plan, and joined Austin's trip. They split the hotel nights at 3,500 points each. Sharing a room works, especially when it is free!
Maximizing Redemption Potential
There are two sides to every transaction. Once you've signed up and spent the minimum in the alloted time, the bonuses will post. You will have accrued multiple times the dollar amount spent, resulting in points, it's time for redemption fun! You'll have hefty five or six digit points balances sitting there, just waiting to be redeemed through the card's portal.
“There is no better feeling in the world than booking an overseas flight and the balance due is $0!”
Once you have that “Balance Zero” moment, you'll be asking yourself how you can get more points through your family's regular purchases.
Fees And Optimization
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has a $95 annual fee, and Austin feels that the benefits far outweigh the cost. Also having the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited allows members to transfer points from all cards into one place. He recommends putting them all on the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited don't have annual fees but do have spending requirements if you want to max out the rewards. The Chase Freedom requires you to spend $500 in the first three months to earn $150 in cash back. And with the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you can earn 3% cash back per dollar spent in purchases for the first year, up to $20,000 in spending (which equals $600 if you spend $20,000 in the first year).
With those two cards, you can change the cash back into points at a 1X10 ratio. The $150 cash turns into 15,000 points.
As a result of all his normal spending, he had 80,000 points to work with.
The Hot Seat
What is your favorite blog?: Marginalrevolution.com is an economics blog that has an interesting perspective on what's going on around us.
What is your favorite article?: Don’t have an all-time favorite but something that has been on my mind recently is the value of time. Your Life In Weeks is a good read.
What is your favorite life hack?: Travel rewards and house hacking as a way to build wealth. Currently working on both!
What has been your biggest financial mistake?: I bought a Bitcoin for $100 back in 2013 and I left it on my old phone. When I turned that phone in and got a new one three years ago, I lost the Bitcoin. I would have definitely sold it when it got up to $17,000 in early 2018. Also not being a more serious saver when I was younger.
What is your advice for your younger self?: Make a plan, even if it is not super in depth. Make sure you save money! Even 5-10% as soon as you start working would give you such a massive advantage. When you reach your thirties and want to start looking to buy a house or do something that requires a decent amount of capital to get started with, you'll have it.
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