This is the sixth and final post in a series. You can read the first five here:
My goal: to show how easy it is to travel for free using points and miles. You don’t need lots of spare time, disposable income, or credit cards. I’m going to “bust” those myths by planning a 4-night family getaway to Aruba for free using points and miles, in an hour or less (10 minutes/day for 6 days), using only 1 credit card sign-up bonus per adult (I’m using a fictional family of four in my example), and no additional spending.
Today I’ll discuss a few tips and tricks that will help you earn the maximum amount of points and miles for every dollar that you spend.
Vanilla Reloads and Bluebird
There are some bills that just can’t be paid with a credit card. Car loans, mortgage payments, and student loans are all good examples of these. Until recently, there was not much you could do about it – you just had to pay the bill and wave goodbye to your cash. However, within the past year, two new products have hit the scene and made it possible to earn points for every bill you pay. These products are Vanilla Reload cards and Bluebird from American Express. I wrote a detailed post on how to use these points-earning tools; you can read it here.
The main point is that if you run all of your spend through a credit card, you will be able to earn many thousands more points and miles. In our fictional example, the family spends $3,500 a month. Let’s say that $2,000 of that spend is a mortgage payment. This means that without using Vanilla Reloads, the family would be able to put $18,000/year in everyday spend on their credit cards. However, with Vanilla Reloads, that number increases to $42,000!
Of course, Vanilla Reloads are not stocked everywhere. Until recently, they did not exist in the San Francisco Bay Area. If this is the case for you, don’t despair! There are still other ways to increase your credit card spending. You can read my post about this topic here.
Of course, the Vanilla/Bluebird combo is only an excellent method to use as long as you are very conscientious about your bills, credit card payments, etc. I am not advocating running up a huge credit card bill if you cannot pay it off in full every month!
Another way to increase the points and miles you earn on everyday spend is to always go through a shopping portal when you shop online. Currently, my two favorites are TopCashBack (that is my referral link – thank you for using it!) and Ev’Reward. You can maximize the points you earn on each purchase – sometimes by as much as 10, 20, even 30x!
Don’t leave money on the table by skipping this easy step! I find it especially easy because I simply bookmarked both of the sites, so they are just a click away. If we set our daily 10-minute timer right now so you could do this, it would take you less than a minute. I know, because I checked.
Plan Your Trips Around Promotions
A couple of days ago, we signed up for several promotions. The juiciest ones by far were the Club Carlson 3x points promo and the Marriott Megabonus promo. Let’s see how we can stack these with some planned business travel in order to earn tons more points.
In our fictional example, each adult in the family goes on at least one business trip per quarter. If each trip is 2 nights long, that is a total of 16 hotel nights per year paid for by someone else. (We are going to assume that there is some choice involved here and that these folks can decide where they’d like to stay).
From the research that we did earlier, we learned that a Club Carlson award night at the Radisson in Aruba costs 50,000 points. Our traveling family will earn an 85,000 point sign-up bonus from the Club Carlson Visa. The card will also provide them with another two free nights (one free night with each award stay, plus a free award night each year on your cardmember anniversary). So they need 15,000 additional points in order to reach a total of four free nights.
That is where the Club Carlson promo comes in. A $300 stay at a Club Carlson property will earn you at least 18,000 points during the 3x points promo (normally Club Carlson members earn at least 20 points/dollar, and during the promotion it is 60 points/dollar). So with just one business trip, our family can fulfill their goal of a free getaway to Aruba – all using points and miles.
Stacking promotions throughout the year is a great way to build up a stash of points and free nights that you can use for getaways throughout the year. The Marriott Megabonus promo is another great example – with every two stays during the promotion period, you earn one free night to use later.
Bottom line: it’s always a good idea to register for hotel promos and try to plan your stay around them. It’s a quick and easy way to really boost your points balances…so that you can travel for free on points!
If you’ve been following this series, I hope you enjoyed it and learned a few new tricks. I also hope that you are inspired to plan your own free trips using points and miles!