Our family of five hasn’t paid for a flight in three years – Here’s how you can, too!

Yes, you read that right! We’ve flown to New Orleans, Florida, Ireland, and Texas and paid only a few dollars in taxes. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, we’ve also saved thousands on flights to Australia & Canada. I’m hoping that by the end of this article you, too, will understand how to use credit card points to get free flights.

So, how do you fly for free?

By racking up credit card miles in the most calculated ways! We bought into the “travel hacking” community and followed the advice of others to get cards that work for our family.

If you’re wanting to dip your toes in the game, there are few things you need to consider.

My hubby has the biggest smile because he didn’t have to pay for one ticket to Ireland. Ha!

Tips for travel hacking with credit card points

Do NOT get application happy and start applying for every card, thinking you’re going to get a free trip to here, there and everywhere. Write down some travel goals. Do you want to take the kids to Disney in the next year? Maybe you work on accruing points with an airline that flies to Orlando. Maybe you’re set on exploring Europe’s small cities? You’ll need to do some searching on the web for the typical cost (in miles) of those flights and multiply it by the number of family members you have.

As an example. we’re currently researching a trip to Germany and Austria. I know that is 60,000 miles round-trip in economy at the cheapest level. So, at a minimum, I need to get 300,000 United miles.

Listen to the experts

Follow the guys and gals who know what they are doing. I’m no financial expert, and we really don’t play the debt game (more on that later), so I’m not claiming to give you all of the advice on credit scores and the like. My go-to site for all things travel hacking is 10xtravel.com. I also check-in now and then with websites like Million Mile Secrets.

Be wise

As a side note, don’t be stupid with credit cards. We use the credit cards just like we would use a debit card. We make a budget every month and only put the expenses on the cards that would come out of our account anyway! Most credit cards will require a “minimum spend” of anywhere from 1k-5k in order to get the sign-up bonus! You’re really only signing up for this sign-up bonus.

Keep track of what you are spending so you don’t miss out! But also, don’t charge more than you can afford! I hesitate to even recommend credit card hacking because I know that not everyone has self-control. If you’re struggling to pay your bills, or drowning under the weight of student loans, you need to get your financial house in order before starting this hobby.

Hit those minimum spends

Again, credit cards require a minimum spend to receive the sign-up bonus. The minimum spend tends to be the thing that friends and family tell me that they don’t think they can hit! They’d never be able to spend $5000 in 3 months to get those points!

Here is my advice on meeting those numbers: Think about signing up for the card around the time that a big bill is due. Our car insurance gets paid every 6 months and we are allowed to pay by credit. That’s $500 toward the minimum spend. Put all your groceries onto the card. We budget roughly $700/month for our family of 5. Now you’ve got $1200 on the card. Your Verizon bill can be paid with a credit card. There’s another $200 unless you know something I don’t know. Spectrum cable. Gas. Any birthday/Christmas presents. Our electric company even allows auto-pay to a credit card! If I’m adding based on our current bills, that is $1900 after one month.

Olen has been on 25 flights! He rocks the in-flight magazine and crocs look.

Get the right cards

In the points world, Chase cards are the big kahunas. You need to know a little rule called the 5/24 rule. Chase will not approve you for new cards if you’ve had 5 new cards in the past 24 months. It doesn’t matter where you got the credit cards- they could be Kohl’s, Old Navy, American Express, etc! There are some exceptions for business cards, but, again, don’t begin haphazardly applying for cards that may hurt you in the long run.

Our favorite cards have been the Chase Sapphire, Business Ink, and Freedom cards. (Comment below for a special sign-up link). The Chase points are very versatile. They can be used like cash to pay for a ticket, or they can be transferred to travel partners.

For example, for our trip to Ireland – I found tickets for just under $500 per person. In cash, this would have cost us $2500. But, when redeeming Chase points for travel through the travel portal, you get 25% more value.  Our flights were almost $500 per person, but instead of 250k points (at 1 to 1), it was closer to 200k. We used the sign-up bonuses from the Chase Ink Preferred and the Chase Sapphire (130k) combined, plus our typical spending for a year.

using credit card points for free flights
Here’s the statement from Chase after I redeemed our points for Ireland.

We’ve learned how to maximize our Chase credit card points, too. For example, the Freedom card has quarterly spending categories that give you 5x points. Right now the category is gas. While this bonus is in place, my husband is putting all of his gas (he does sales) on our shared card. The Chase Business Ink card offers 5x points on cell phone and internet. Just by paying those two bills on that card, we are accruing 1500 points per month.

As I mentioned before, Chase points transfer to brands like Southwest, United, and Hyatt. I used 40,000 Chase points (plus $95 in tax) to fly from one-way on United from CMH-SYD back in October. We’ve transferred points to Southwest to top up our accounts so we can fly to Florida. The versatility of the Chase points makes them very family-friendly.

Southwest Companion Pass

Our other favorite hack has been combining two Southwest credit card bonuses to earn their coveted “Companion Pass.” The Companion Pass allows you to bring a friend, spouse, child (i.e. companion) on any flight for just a few dollars in taxes. To get the pass, you must receive 110,000 Southwest points within the same year.

The thing that makes this a little tricky is that you’re no longer allowed to get two personal cards. So, if you or your partner has a business, it’s best for them to apply. Also, the 110,000 must be earned within the same calendar year. The easiest way to do this is to apply for 1 card early in the year (business or personal). Meet the minimum spend. At least 30 days later apply for the second card (whatever version you didn’t apply for the first time) and work toward its minimum spend. You can read more nitty-gritty details HERE. The Companion Pass is good for TWO years. So, say you received the pass in May of 2019, your companion would fly free with you for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020.

Right now I have the Companion Pass and Brian is listed as my companion (you can change it up to 3 times, but I never have), so when I book a flight on Southwest, I only book the flight for four. After the booking is completed is when you add the companion. Currently, round-trip domestic flights on Southwest costs $11.20 in taxes. So yes, for our family of 5, we spent $56 on a flight to Florida or New Orleans!

Will I have a wallet full of credit cards?

Maybe. In reality, you’re going to cancel most cards before being charged the annual fee (known in points circles as “AF”). There are a few cards worth hanging onto (we have kept most of our Chase cards), but usually, once you’ve received the points, you’ll cancel the card. On airline cards, the points go to your airline account, so cancelling the card doesn’t hurt your chances at redeeming free travel. However, with the Chase cards, once you cancel, you lose the points.

One complaint plus some more advice

My frustration with the world of credit card points is that most blogs and commentators do not talk about what it takes for families to travel on points. I don’t need to fly first class in a lay-flat bed (although that would be nice), I just need to get us south during the winter. It’s my hope that I can inspire families that they, too, can join in the world of credit card points! Like most hobbies, you just have to get STARTED.

The most important thing when working with points is you must be FLEXIBLE or you must plan 11+ months in advance. If you want to take a dream vacation 2-3 years from now, RIGHT NOW is the time to begin signing up for your first card and accruing those miles. If you need to vacation in high season, you must book 11 months in advance (when most airline schedules release), to get the best options! Don’t wait until the last minute and find that you either don’t have the points that you need or the availability is gone. The only reason we found that great deal to Ireland and were able to cash in our points is because- 1. we already had the points in our account and 2. our schedules are flexible because our kids aren’t in school.

Now, tell me – how do you feel about using credit card points to obtain free flights? Do you have any more questions about travel hacking?

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Get free flights for your family by accruing credit card points!  How our family of 5 has flown multiple times by only paying mere pennies in taxes.

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11 thoughts on “Our family of five hasn’t paid for a flight in three years – Here’s how you can, too!”

  1. Apparently, our family has a lot to learn! We have taken a few huge trips for free using points, but the Southwest companion pass always seemed out of reach. I did not know that you could combine the points from two cards to earn the pass. Also, doesn’t applying for and canceling cards hurt your credit score?

    I’m intrigued!

    • No, it doesn’t hurt your score! We’ve been doing this about 5 years and my score has improved 50 points (I’m hovering around 800). The biggest thing is to keep the card you have had the longest, OPEN. I have a Capital One card that I got in college that I will never close! And yes, you could totally get the Southwest business card for your blog, then a couple of months later go for the personal card and try for the Companion Pass. The only restriction is that you couldn’t have received the bonus in the past 24 months. Hope this helped!

  2. Hmmm. I don’t know. I mean, I guess for me this seems like you could get into trouble if you’re not super disciplined about it. The way my parents did it was just to save the money and then buy the tickets, and for my sister’s wedding, we’re all flying to Colorado, and we’re just using Dad’s frequent flyer miles and cash.

    • Absolutely. It can be risky. But 10x travel suggests using a spreadsheet to track cards and we use that. I think for families, it’s really helpful to do the credit card hacking – we’re not buying 1 or 2 tickets – we’re buying 5. This allows us to travel more than we would normally. We can travel but still save for retirement, our home repairs, etc! It’s obviously not for everyone (like I said, if people don’t have their finances in order, I don’t think they should get into the game), but for families like us who are great at budgeting and have some self-control, I think it’s the way to go.

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