A few weeks ago I mentioned that I booked a free trip to Boston! By free I mean that we did not pay for our airfare, hotel, or rental car; we used credit card reward points. I actually used rewards from four different credit cards to earn my free trip. It doesn’t always work out that way, but in this case it did. I used one card to pay for our airfare to Boston and for our rental care, another for our airfare home, a third for one of our hotels, and the last card for another hotel (we decided to try out two different hotels in two different parts of the Boston area to see where we preferred to stay).
If you’re new to using travel credit cards, you should read my Travel Credit Cards 101 post. But basically how travel credit cards work is: you can receive a sign-up bonus in the form of miles or points when you sign up with a travel credit card. You also earn miles/points for using the credit card on your purchases, but the sign-up bonus is where you are able to earn the most miles/points in the shortest amount of time after meeting a minimum spend requirement. Then you can redeem your miles/points to use toward travel expenses. Each credit card is a bit different though. Some credit cards are general travel cards that can be used on various travel expenses like airfare, hotel, cruises, rental cars, etcs. Other cards are more specific, even brand specific, and can only be used for certain travel expenses. For example, I have a Hilton card that I can only use on hotels within the Hilton chain. I love the flexibility of the general cards, but the brand-specific cards often have some great perks. Luckily though, you don’t have to choose just one! I have several travel credit cards that I use, both general and specific. You can read about one of my favorite general travel credit cards, the Capital One Venture card, here, and you can sign up for it here.
In this post I want to tell you about another card I use and teach you how to use more than one card at a time. Another general travel credit card that I use and like is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. (Wow, that’s a mouthful!) It is very similar to the Capital One Venture, but it also has a few differences. Once you sign up for the card, you will earn 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days. 50,000 miles is equivalent to $500 in travel. Additionally you will earn unlimited 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. So if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days, you will receive the 50,000 mile signup bonus, as well as 2 miles per dollar on all of your $3,000 that you spent. So you actually now have 56,000 miles. You can redeem your miles for most travel purchases (i.e. airfare, hotel, rental car), but you do have to redeem them for a minimum of 10,ooo points at a time with the Barclaycard, (which is equivalent to a $100 travel expense). Not all cards have a minimum redemption.
Many travel credit cards charge an annual fee that is often waived the first year. The annual fee for the Barclaycard is $89, but it is waived the first year. In order to avoid the annual fee during your second year you have a few options. You could potentially downgrade to a more basic card that doesn’t carry a fee by calling the bank associated with the credit card before the end of your first year. You could also pay the fee if you deem the card to be one that is worth keeping. Or you could cancel the card altogether near the end of your first year; just be sure to cancel on time and use your miles before then. Once you close the account you will lose any unused miles.
So how do you redeem the miles for travel? Very simply; you purchase your travel, such as airfare, with your Barclaycard. Then you can logon to your online account and redeem the miles. You will see a charge for your travel expense on your credit card statement, and once you redeem your rewards, you will see a credit on your account. And with the Barclaycard, you actually get 5% miles back each time you redeem any miles. So if you redeem 10,000 miles, you will receive 500 miles back to use on a future redemption.
Now the trick to maximizing your rewards is to use more than one credit card at once. Since you get the most miles/points from the signup bonuses, it is advantageous to sign up for a credit card, meet the minimum spend, and earn the signup bonus, then turn around and sign up for a different credit card as soon as you’re able to and start working toward the minimum spend on that card. If you are unable to meet the minimum spend with your regular, everyday purchases, DO NOT buy things you don’t need or can’t afford. This isn’t worth going into debt over. DO put every possible expense that you can on your credit card though to help you meet the spending requirement: gas, groceries, cell phone bill, entertainment, etc. Anything that you are allowed to use a credit card to pay for and anything that you would have purchased anyways should go on that card. Some expenses, like a mortgage, cannot be paid for using a credit card. You also need to pay off your balance on your credit cards each month IN FULL to avoid additional fees. If you can’t pay off your credit cards, then you are going to accrue interest and go further into debt. This would defeat the purpose of earning miles for free travel.
So once you have earned signup bonuses on two different cards, you now have about twice the money to spend on travel. When you meet the minimum spend on the Barclaycard you will have at least 56,000 miles. And with the Capital One Venture you will have 46,000 miles. So between the two cards you’re up to 102,000 miles or $1,020 that can be used toward travel! And you don’t have to stop there! I have several different travel credit cards that I’m currently using.
Keep in mind that you typically need to have good credit to qualify for these credit cards. And always use credit responsibly!!
There’s a bit of a learning curve to get started using travel credit cards, but we’re here to help! Let us know what questions you have!