This is the fifth post in a series. You can read the first four 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.
Yesterday, we looked at how to maximize your points-earning by signing up for various hotel and car rental promotions. You may be wondering how to do the same with airlines. Airlines sometimes run lucrative promotions, but that is the exception rather than the rule. The main thing you can do to maximize your points-earning here is to fly as much as possible on one airline. The reason for this is that you will build up both a miles balance, in addition to status with the airline. I am always shocked when people tell me that they “airline hop” and that they aren’t loyal to one airline because they “don’t really care.”
Here’s a little trick that might change a few minds.
Normally, you need to fly 25,000 miles on United to earn Silver Status with them. You need 50,000 miles for Gold Status. That’s a lot of flying. However, if you fly on United or US Airways and credit your flights to Aegean Airways, you can earn Silver Status in the Star Alliance after only 4,000 miles, and Gold after a total of 20,000. That’s huge. I wrote a post about this awhile ago, so if you are interested in the details, you can find a longer description there.
Again, it’s all about being organized and doing some advance planning.
Speaking of planning, let’s set our timer for 10 minutes and get to work. We are going to sign up for our credit cards today, plus we are going to look at a couple more ways to stay organized.
Our goal is to enjoy a vacation in Aruba for a family of four – without spending any money. We want to plan this vacation entirely on points and miles! The couple in our example do not want more than one credit card in their wallets. We took a look at the best points/miles earning cards and decided that based on their travel goals, the best cards for them would be the British Airways Visa and the Club Carlson Visa. You can read more about how we figured that out here.
Maintaining a stellar credit score is of utmost importance. If you are curious about what your credit score is, you can check it for free at Credit Karma or Credit Sesame. If your score is over 760, you’ve got excellent credit, which means that you have access to premium offers and the best rates. Each time you apply for credit, your score drops 3-5 points with each credit inquiry. However, it ticks back up within 2-3 months. I wrote a post about this here if you are interested.
Personally, I have a credit score in the low 800’s. I’ve actually seen my score rise over 20 points since I started this hobby. I typically apply for 2-3 cards every 4 months or so. I reevaluate what is in my wallet each time I apply for credit, and cancel cards if I feel like I’m not getting enough value from them. I will never cancel my oldest cards, because they anchor my credit score, but everything else is fair game.
Some people are not interested in having multiple credit cards. While the fact remains that credit card sign-up bonuses are the easiest way to rack up hundreds of thousands of points/miles, you can easily build up a respectable stash of points with only one card. You just need to make sure it’s the right card for you. I am always shocked when people tell me that they have a bank credit card that doesn’t give them any rewards, or that they use a debit card for all of their purchases! It only takes a few minutes to reevaluate the cards in your wallet, but it definitely pays off.
- Tip: when you sign up for a credit card that has a nice bonus attached to it, make sure to take lots of screen shots as you go through the application process. That way, if there is ever any question about what kind of bonus you signed up for, you will have the information (and the proof!) right at your fingertips.
I’m going to fill out the two credit card applications now and see how much time that takes. I’ll pause along the way to take screen shots. (I’m not going to press the “submit” button, of course).
Okay, that took a total of 5 minutes and 21 seconds. I am a fast typer. 🙂
Now I’m going to set up an account at mint.com, which is an easy way to keep track of all of your credit cards, bank accounts, and loans (car, mortgage, etc.). This is a great tool if you’ve got multiple credit cards and want to make sure that you can see all of them at once, on one page. It’s kind of like Award Wallet for your finances. As I mentioned before, I’m all about setting up systems. That way, I don’t have to think too hard or do too much work.
Okay, I set that up. At this point you could spend some time adding in various accounts, but for our purposes, I’m going to stop here. I just wanted to make sure to talk about mint.com and how it can simplify your points and miles collecting.
I’ve got some time left on the clock, but I think I’ll stop here for today.
Points and miles collecting can be easy when you have all your accounts in one place and you don’t have to spend a lot of time searching for account numbers and trying to remember your passwords. After applying for two powerhouse credit cards, we set up an account at mint.com so we can keep track of those cards (and our other financial info!) at a glance.
We also learned about a way to quickly earn Silver or Gold status in the Star Alliance, which includes United and US Airways.
Tomorrow we will wrap everything up. I’ll provide a few last tips on how to squeeze every last point and mile out of all of your everyday expenses, so you can start traveling for free…or at least for lots less.
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