Is Scoring Free Trips Using Credit Cards Worth It?

Are you intrigued by the stories you read of people who enjoy free travel by using credit card points and miles? Do you dream of making this a reality but are unsure if it is possible or even how to start? Today I am going to share with you my reality regarding free travel. 

carribbean free travel

A few years ago, my wife and I took a 2 week long trip to the Caribbean. We paid a total of $237.50 for first class flights and hotel accommodations. As awesome as this sounds, I’ll tell you why we haven’t traveled using credit card point and miles since.

Our Goal Of Free Travel

A little over a year before we were married, I was surfing the internet and stumbled upon a story about a couple who travel the world for basically nothing. They churn credit cards and use the rewards they earn to pay for their travel.

As a person who loves to get deals, I was curious to learn more. I quickly found there was a huge community of people who do this very thing. Convinced it was possible, I called my fiancé to discuss.

Since we both had the goal of achieving financial independence, traveling for little to nothing was perfect for us.

So I started to learn the basics of how we could pull this off.

Getting Free Flights

The first step in the process was to secure the flight. We knew where we wanted to fly to in the Caribbean and had a rough idea of when we wanted to go too. But everything would ultimately come to down to the possibility of flying for free.

Since we live near a major airport that is a hub for US Air (now American Airlines), we decided to concentrate on this carrier for our free flights.

We signed up for their frequent flier program and got to work. Luckily there was a business trip coming up and we were flying over to Ireland for a wedding. There was an opportunity to earn a decent amount of miles right away.

I researched the miles needed for a first-class round-trip flight to the Caribbean. 

I found that we could get a round trip first class flight at the end of May for a total of 80,000 miles per person. This seemed possible, so we forged ahead.

What We Did to Try to Earn Free Travel

Here are the steps we took to reach this goal.

  • Opened a US Air credit card. My wife opened the card since I was self-employed and we figured it would be easier for her to qualify. She did and earned 50,000 miles as a result.
  • We used the US Air credit card for travel. Since the card offered 2 miles per dollar spent on flights, we used it to book my business trip, her business trip, and our trip to Ireland. These totaled close to 5,000 miles just accounting for the price of the tickets.
  • We used the card for everyday purchases. It also offered 1 mile per dollar spent on everyday purchases. We made it a point to put larger purchases on this card to build up a miles balance.

My wife now had 55,000 miles just for signing up and booking a couple trips. She stood at well over 60,000 when you account for the miles she earned for flying to Ireland and for her business trip.

With my wife now well on her way to earning enough miles, I needed to get to work earning my own miles.

Earning My Miles

I found a website that allowed me to take short surveys and take part in trying new products and services in exchange for points. These points could be converted into miles with US Air.

During my free time, I started to take the surveys and watching videos for easy points. But I needed more. I slowly began to try the new products and services as these offered many more points. Note that I only signed up for products and services that offered a free trial and I made sure I canceled before I had to start paying. I also made sure I was going to earn the points if I canceled during the free trial period.

The site also allowed me to link my credit card so I would earn points at local restaurants.

The only other thing we did was to take advantage of buying miles when US Air had a sale. They would offer a set number of miles, plus bonus miles for a low price. Since we were short on time, we decided to take advantage of this when the price was right. Right before the holidays, they offered a big sale that allowed us to buy a total of 10,000 miles plus 5,000 bonus miles for $175.

If we had more time, we would have skipped this option and continued to earn points to try and earn the free travel.

In total using these strategies, we were able to reach our goal of 80,000 miles per person to get round trip first class flights. The cost of the tickets were $237.50. If you add in the price we paid for the miles we bought, the total comes to $412.50. Seeing that the full price of a round-trip first-class ticket was $1,549, we felt successful.

Hotel Accommodation

What about the hotel you ask? This part was more luck than it was a strategy. While I would love to tell you we churned some credit cards for points or found some insider trick to earn rewards, this wasn’t the case.

The truth is we both were users of American Express cards for a few years, even before we met. Since we used these cards for our spending, we both had a healthy amount of points. We simply used these points to cover the cost of the hotel.

Our Overall Experience

Was getting to travel for a lot less thanks to credit card rewards worth it for us? Not really.

I put a lot of time and effort into researching credit cards and determining the best use of our time. I put a lot of work into taking surveys, watching videos, and taking part in free trials.

As a result, we have not tried this strategy for free travel since. The process wasn’t exciting or fun for us. It felt like work trying to figure everything out.

This isn’t to say it doesn’t work. I am certain people do travel for very little money out of pocket all the time. It isn’t for us. I am glad we tried it though. I am sure we made a lot of beginner mistakes. We probably could have done a couple things differently and gotten better results with less effort.

What We Do Instead

But for now, we are happy scoring a good deal on a trip and leaving it at that. We still use credit cards, but we stick with cash back cards. The strategy is a lot simpler and there is virtually zero work involved, other than remembering which card to use. Since we have been doing this for a couple years now, we know which card to use without thinking.

What do we do with the cash back we earn? We use it as a statement credit to pay our balance and then transfer the money we would have used to pay the bill into an investment account.

There the money grows, allowing us to comfortably pay for travel in the years to come.

Author Bio: Jon helps people improve their finances one day at a time at his blog Compounding Pennies. By making small changes every day, you will see a massive change over time.

Mary Renking

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About the Author

Mary Renking
Mary writes about how to book travel with award miles & points, reviews top travel credit cards, and basic rewards news.

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