Yes, you read that right! We’ve flown to New Orleans, Florida x3, Ireland, London, Canada, 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, too! By the end of this article you, too, will understand how to use credit card points to get free flights.
How do you fly for free?
We have flown 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.
To get free flights, you need to sign up for multiple credit cards to receive their sign-up bonuses. Getting 40,000-80,000 points every few months is the fastest way to accrue the miles needed for travel.
If you want to dip your toes in the game, there are a few things you need to consider.
Tips for travel hacking with credit card points
While you may be eager to travel as soon as possible, do NOT get application happy and start applying for every card, thinking you’re going to get a free trip 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.
For example, from my home airport of Columbus, Ohio, Southwest offers nonstop flights to Orlando for about 7,000 points per way (on special). Signing up for a Southwest card that offers 50,000 points will give me approximately 53,000 – enough for three tickets!
The best way to cover all your bases is to get flights that transfer to numerous partners. Chase cards have a reputation for being the best – but more on that later.
Credit card companies aren’t stupid – so you must be wise!
As a side note, don’t be stupid with credit cards. We use 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, drowning under the weight of student loans, or already have credit card debt, 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! Guys, have you been to the grocery store lately? Things aren’t cheap out there!
For our family of 6, it’s easy to hit this minimum spend. Here are some bills that I’m able to pay on a credit card:
- Cell phone bill
- Electric/water bill
- Health insurance (we are self-employed and buy independent coverage)
- Seasonal items – back-to-school clothing, homeschooling curriculum, etc
I have more advice for 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 $700 toward the minimum spend. November is another great time to sign up for a new card because of the cost of Christmas presents and holiday parties. Again, don’t overspend, just put whatever you would normally buy on the card.
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, Chase Freedom, and Chase Business Ink cards. These cards are versatile because as long as each cardholder holds the Sapphire card, the points can be transferred to the Sapphire and then moved to travel partners.
Chase points can also be transferred to:
- Aer Lingus (they are starting nonstop flights from Cleveland to Ireland)
- Air France
- IHG (think Holiday Inn hotels)
- Marriott Bonvoy
Some of our favorite redemptions involve transferring points to Southwest, Hyatt, and United. Chase makes it effortless to move points from your Chase account to these partners, and the redemptions make more sense (usually) than booking through the portal.
Part of 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 Amazon. While this bonus is in place, I made my default Amazon payment method the Freedom card. It’s that simple!
To maximize, the Chase Business Ink card offers 5x points at cell phone and internet companies. Just by paying those two bills on that card, we are accruing 1500 points per month!
The 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, or child (i.e. companion) on any flight for just a few dollars in taxes. To get the pass, you must receive 135,000 Rapid Rewards 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. If you or your partner has a business, it’s best for that person to apply. The 135,000 points must be earned within the same calendar year. The easiest way to do this is to apply for 1 card early in the year (best to do business first because it doesn’t count against 5/24). Meet the minimum spend. At least 30 days later apply for the second card (personal card this time) and work toward its minimum spend. You can read more nitty-gritty details HERE. The Companion Pass is good for TWO years. If you received the pass in February of 2024, your companion would fly free with you for the rest of 2024 and all of 2025.
We didn’t plan on doing much domestic travel this year, so we are saving credit card spots to do the Companion Pass in 2024/2025. The companion can be changed up to three times. If you want to take a getaway with your spouse for one trip and then change to a child for another trip, this is a great option.
Not all points are created equal
It’s easy to receive a credit card offer in the mail or via email and get shiny object syndrome! Don’t do it! The biggest part of travel hacking is sticking with the plan, and getting the most valuable cards first! Don’t use up those precious 5/24 spots on a card that doesn’t offer you value.
Also, why you may be conditioned to think “cash back” is always the greatest deal, usually you’ll get much more value if you transfer the points to a partner.
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 canceling the card doesn’t hurt your chances of redeeming free travel. However, with the Chase cards, once you cancel, you lose the points
One complaint about travel hacking 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. We don’t fit in typical hotel rooms and we may never have enough points to fly in business class. I don’t need to fly 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. We’ve been able to save thousands and thousands of dollars by reading blogs and following the advice of others.
I’m not a 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 enjoy websites like Million Mile Secrets and Travel Hacking Mom.
Take my advice though and BE FLEXIBLE or plan 11 months in advance (when flight schedules are released). 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 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 visit 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?
For more reading: Our favorite winter getaway to Florida for next to nothing!