So you’ve made the choice that you no longer want to pay for travel again. Realistic? More than you probably know. If you’re like most hardcore travelers, you’re always looking for ways to save just a little bit more on trips. Not necessarily for saving money on that particular trip, but to have enough to start making plans for your next trip down the line. Seeing the world is a valid goal and one that I believe is worthwhile in chasing. So what if I told you you could travel more, pay less…MUCH less, and still live the way you currently live, what we call your “regular life”. It is possible and I will give you my small tale which mirrors many others on how you can make this happen. I’ve been asked more times than I can count as of late how it’s possible. Even though several of the people have known about this little hobby of mine for some time, like anything, seeing is believing. Can’t blame anybody for being cautious with what I’m about to tell you, because that very word is the first lesson to be learned when it comes to accumulating points for travel through credit card sign-up bonuses. Cautious.
Credit cards are a big deal. Credit reports are a big deal. And having “perceived” access to a good chunk of money that doesn’t belong to you can be tempting for some folks. But, if you’re aware of the temptations and solely focused on taking advantage of the benefits, here’s how you can get started.
Credit card bonuses come in all shapes and sizes but with so many offers it can get confusing. As I mentioned in last week’s post there are many reasons and myths that people are cautious when it comes to credit cards. It’s a step by step process that first starts with your ability to get a credit card. Maybe you’ve been using your credit card exclusively for some time. That’s how my wife and I got started, with the Southwest Rapid Rewards card. It was the first card we were approved for that focused solely on travel. Once we received the card, we used it exclusively for all of our purchases, and we quite enjoyed that extra flight we received every year on some of our trips. It was so good, we decided to get another one in my wife’s name. At the time, it felt like we were being crazy, but we figured two free tickets are better than one. And that’s how it began for us. Simple and easy. We slowly made our way over the next few years getting a card here or there, mainly the Delta Skymiles American Express credit card that we both applied for and received. This worked well for us, but we were still traveling quite a bit and still spending more money than we wanted. With bigger goals and destinations in mind, something had to give. I had heard about something called credit card churning, but never gave it much thought, due to my fears of destroying my credit. It was after we refinanced our house that I started to give the idea a bit more thought. I’ve mentioned this before and you will probably see the same information from other bloggers who talk about credit card bonuses, but if you’re looking to take out a big loan anytime in the next year or so, I would take care of that first before you get into this hobby.
Anyways, it was a chance meeting a little over a year ago when I finally met and sat down with an acquaintance who had made this his hobby. I was lucky enough to be in the position to listen and learn, and I’m glad I did. The lowdown on the advice I was given and the advice I have taken is to be organized, consistent, honest and driven. Take it as slow as your comfort level allows. Here’s a rundown on how I made my first leap into the churn:
Find the right cards that offer the best rewards for the airlines or destinations you want to travel. That’s a big key to me when I first started. I already had my short list of places I wanted to go and the airlines that could take me there. Next, was finding the sign-up bonuses to make it possible.
Sign up for multiple cards on the same day. By doing this there was little chance of the inquiries making it onto my credit report before another one would hit. My first round I signed up for 2 cards at once just to see what would happen. Plus, I had a bit of anxiety that first time so I wanted to do something I could manage. Two cards fell into that category and they supplied me with the bonuses I needed. The two cards I chose were the British Airways for 50,000 points if you spent $2,000 in 3 months and the Citi American Airlines Mastercard, which offered 50,000 points if you spent $3,000 within 3 months. At the time the BA card was waiving the first year’s annual fee of $95 but it appears this has ended. The Citi Mastercard is still waiving the first year and charging the $95 in year 2. As you will find out, it’s worthwhile to keep up with this information to avoid getting hit with a bunch of annual fees. That defeats the purpose of multiple card bonuses.
Make a spreadsheet to keep up with your cards, because as you accumulate them it will get a bit tougher to keep up. I make sure to color-code my credit cards in my spreadsheet to know when I opened them, which ones have annual fees and when they should be closed before the next year’s fee kicks in. Remember, you’re not doing this to accumulate credit cards, you’re doing this as a way to get points. Opening and closing cards will not hurt your credit in the long run. On average, you may dip a few points after the first wave, but those points will come back as long as you pay your balance from month to month, usually in about 3 months. As a matter of fact, my credit score has increased since I started a little over a year ago. It never hurts to keep one card as a mainstay. That way you can have a card with a long history which can be factored into your score. It’s not a necessity and not really proven either, but it never hurts.
Next, start spending! Don’t spend just to spend. That defeats the purpose entirely. You’re doing this to save money so to invent things to buy would be the worst move yo
u could make. Stay with your routine and spend exclusively on the credit cards. We usually spend on one until we reach the bonus, then move onto the next just to keep it simple. Personally, we haven’t used debit cards consistently in over 7 years. We treat our credit cards like debit cards and I pay off the balances anywhere from 1-2 times per week so it never gets out of hand. Some issuers cap how many times you can pay on a card and others restrict you paying your balance until you receive your first statement balance. The key is keeping up with this information so you can account for the extra money you “think” you have so it’s there when you need to pay off your balance.
If you’re still reading this and ready to take the plunge, keep up with my blog. I’ll give you the knowledge I have learned and introduce you to other bloggers that have even more in depth information. Take your time. Have fun. And move at a pace you feel comfortable. The journey is just beginning and your life changes from this point. That much I can promise.
Live Within Your Means, Travel Beyond Them!