In the last 9 months, I flew round trip from Boston to Tokyo for free, flew from Portland, OR to Los Angeles to Boston for free and rode the Eurostar train from London to Pairs for free. That’s a savings of about $2,000, which I earned by using credit cards.
I’ve done this without changing my spending habits. The travel I’ve done in the last 9 months for free comes purely because I stopped using cards that don’t count and started hacking the travel credit card rewards system. I use my credit cards for everything – groceries, utilities, etc. I pay off all of my credit cards each month making a modest income. And as of the time of writing, I am sitting on 130,000 miles — enough to potentially travel 5 times back and forth between Boston and Tokyo.
For the last year or so, I’ve been experimenting with credit card offers as a travel hack, or way of making travel affordable. There are a lot of offers out there, but I’m very selective because I don’t want to dig myself into a hole of bad credit. As a caveat, I’m not a financial expert, so please make your own informed decisions.
If you want to travel abroad, there are two ways your credit cards can work for you:
- First, make sure that your credit card does not charge a foreign transaction fee.
- Second, make sure that your card is giving you points for your purchases.
The cards that I currently use for travel purposes:
- Bank of America Travel Rewards Card — Sign up bonus: 10,000 bonus points if you make at least $500 in purchases in the first 3 months of card membership. Regular benefits: You get 1.5 points for every dollar you spend. Points can be redeemed for various offers, but the best deal is to get a refund on travel-related purchases. Fee: No annual fee. No foreign transaction fee. Bottom line: You can get the bonus points quickly, get refunded on travel and don’t have to pay an annual fee. It’s good if you don’t want to be loyal to just one airline because you can get travel rewards for any kind of travel. I just redeemed approximately 15,000 points to get refunded $150 from my ticket purchase for the Eurostar train from London to Paris.
- Citi Platinum AA Advantage / Mastercard — Sign up bonus: 30,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of card membership. Regular benefits: 1 point (AA mile) for every dollar you spend. There are some bonuses or perks relating to AA, but check the link for those. Fee: $95, waived for the first year. Foreign transaction fee of 3%. Bottom line: It’s good for accumulating American Airlines points to use for free travel later. Don’t use it to purchase products abroad. If you spend over $30,000/year and keep the card for over a year, you get an extra $100 voucher to use on AA flights. Last year I used 60,000 AA mile points for a round-trip ticket Boston-Tokyo.
- Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard — Sign up bonus: 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. Regular benefits: Earn 2x points on all purchases. Redeem points for travel-related purchase refunds. Fee: $89, waived for the first year. There’s also a no-fee version. Bottom line: It’s good if you don’t want to be loyal to just one airline because you can get travel rewards for any kind of travel. You get the most points from this card compared to the other two. I got the bonus points, then claimed $400 in refunds on my recent flights from PDX to LAX and LAX to BOS.