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Curious how to use credit card points to travel? This introduction to travel hacking explains the basic concept.

Guest Post by Pam of Travel Hacking Moms

So much world, so little time!  That is how I feel about travel.  I have a list that continues to grow of fascinating places I want to travel to.  If only travel wasn’t so darn expensive!  What if I told you I have traveled to Hawaii, Greece, Italy, Puerto Rico, London, Istanbul, Chile, Thailand, Vietnam, and Amsterdam over the last couple of years and only paid a fraction of what the trips would cost.  And I traveled in business class seats for most of my flights!  What?  How in the heck was I able to do that?  Let me introduce you to the world of travel hacking.

A Beginner’s Guide to Travel Hacking

Travel Hacking is the incredible, lucrative hobby of applying for a credit card that offers bonus points for spending a certain amount of money on that card, in a certain amount of time.  Those points are then used for free to almost free travel to destinations you choose.  Usually, the offer is “spend $3000 on this card in 3 months and earn 60,000 points”.  The key is doing this over and over again with different credit cards.  Let me walk you through the steps of travel hacking.

5 Essential Travel Hacking Tips for Beginners featured by top travel blog, The Common Traveler: image of wallet with credit cards to use in travel hacking

Signup for a Credit Card

There are many cards that are available to apply for and get bonus points.  On our site, Travel Hacking Mom, we offer free credit card consultations and give recommendations for the best credit card offers out there at a given time.  One of our favorite first cards is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card that offers 60,000 Ultimate Rewards (the name of their points) with a $4000 spending requirement in 3 months.  With those 60,000 Ultimate Rewards, you can then go through the Chase Portal and transfer these points to airline or hotel partners.

If you want to stay for free at a hotel, choose a hotel-branded card like Marriott, Hilton, or Hyatt.  Have a particular airline you fly out of at your local airport?  Choose that airline-branded credit card.

Meet the Minimum Spend

Remember that amount you need to spend to get your bonus points?  That is the minimum spend you have to meet, usually in a 3 month time.  The key is to put everything on that card.  Do not pay with cash, a debit card, or checks for your purchases during these 3 months.  Put all your usual spend on the credit card you just opened.  It is really easy to meet the minimum spend when you do that!  Groceries, cable, fuel, utilities, entertainment, gifts, etc. add up each month and you will be surprised how easy it is to meet this spending requirement.

5 Essential Travel Hacking Tips for Beginners featured by top travel blog, The Common Traveler: using credit card at checkout to earn credit card points for travel hacking


Once you get that bonus or are close to getting the bonus, it is time to open up a new credit card and repeat what you have done before.   The key to lots of free or nearly free travel is opening multiple accounts and receiving multiple bonuses.

Another important thing to remember is to never apply jointly if you are married.  You want those bonuses for both people.  My husband doesn’t like to travel as much as I do so I have even more points to travel with since we sign up for cards separately. (Lucky me!)

Planning Trips Using Points

There are two thoughts on planning trips using points.  One is to decide where you want to go and then decide what points you need to get there.

The other option is just to collect points and then make them work for you.  This is my way.  I just keep getting more points (we currently have over 2 million) and, when I’m ready to travel, I make the points I have work for me.  I love having a lot of points available so I can travel at a moment’s notice.

Annual Fees

Annual fees are part of the deal with credit cards.  Some are waived the first year, some are not.   If I am getting 60,000 points from a credit card, I will happily pay the fee.  When the annual fee posts the next year, I reevaluate if I should get it again or cancel my card.

5 Essential Travel Hacking Tips for Beginners featured by top travel blog, The Common Traveler: image of Sunset in Hawaii

An Example of Travel Hacking: Trip to Maui Using Points

I want to give you a simple scenario that you could use for a trip to Maui.  United Airlines charges 45,000 miles for a round trip ticket to Maui.  I can get that ticket by opening up the United Airlines Explorer Card which will give me 40,000 miles after a $2000 spend in three months.  After I meet the minimum spend, I will have 42,000 miles.  I just need to continue using that card till I spend another $3000 and I will have my free ticket.

I could also open my favorite card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card.  It gives me 60,000 miles after $4000 minimum spend so I will have 64,000 miles.  I can transfer 45,000 Ultimate Rewards to United Airlines for their miles and have my ticket that way.  I might even sign up for my husband for that credit card and take him along!

Hotels in Maui

Hotel Branded Credit Cards are great to make your trips even cheaper.   One of my favorite places to stay in Maui is the Marriott Wailea Beach Resort.  The resort is a category 6 property. The standard rate is 50,000 points a night, off-peak is 40,000 and on-peak is 60,000 a night.  I would plan my stay to be off-peak so 160,000 points total and I would get the fifth night free on an award booking. Five nights will be free if I have 160,000 points!

I would apply for the Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card that gives me 75,000 points after a 3,000 spend. I would also have my spouse apply for the same card.  We would have 156,000 points after meeting our minimum spends.  By spending just $4,000 more on one of our cards, we have the points for our stay.  We could also transfer some points leftover from our Chase Sapphire Preferred card that we didn’t use for our flight, into Marriott points.

Earning Credit Card Points

I have now opened four credit cards and completed minimum spend on them which takes about 3 months per card on average.  I use those bonus points for a couple’s trip to Maui and we will only be paying taxes and fees on our airline tickets and hotel stays.  If I stay in a less expensive hotel, we can probably do it with three credit card bonuses. You could also find free hotels with points from Hyatt or Hilton if you want to stay in a different place.

 Whenever I have a big expense coming up, like tires, Christmas, medical bills, etc. I open up a new card because I can meet that minimum spend quicker.  Because I put literally EVERYTHING on my credit cards, I can usually get a new card every 2 months.

5 Essential Travel Hacking Tips for Beginners featured by top travel blog, The Common Traveler: close up of pins on map of the world (out of focus)

Travel Hacking Tips: the Bottom Line

Travel hacking is easy to do.  You just use a credit card to pay for your normal spend, collect bonus points, and book free or nearly free travel.  I have done this over and over again and you can too!  If you need help, we are always available at Travel Hacking Mom for questions or free consultations.  What are you waiting for? Get out and see more of the world (cheaply)!

Pam Iorg and her daughter, Alex Payne, are the authors of the blog Travel Hacking Mom.  Their mission is to teach beginners how to travel hack and travel for free or nearly free.

Have you tried travel hacking? What do you think of these travel hacking tips? I’m looking forward to using points for future travel, including more Southern Caribbean cruises.

Happy travels,

Annick, The Common Traveler

Curious about using credit card points to pay for travel? This introduction to travel hacking will explain the basics you need to know.
Curious about using credit card points to pay for travel? This introduction to travel hacking will explain the basics you need to know.