Credit Card Travel Hacking

Gen Y & Z are seemingly obsessed with “hacks”. I know my 12-year-old son is always talking to me about various “life hacks” that he sees on TikTok. But one of the original life hacks is using credit cards for travel hacking—basically, using credit cards to the fullest to try to get things like free travel.

There are whole websites dedicated to this, but I just wanted to touch on it today. Essentially it boils down to this: always use a credit card to pay for stuff because you can earn points and miles that will help you in the future. Credit cards can also come with a whole slew of benefits that I’ll be addressing in next week’s blog, but for today, we’ll talk about points and miles and how to earn them.

Pretty much everything has reward points these days. They end up being a type of currency. Some cards earn you cash back, some earn you miles, and others earn you points.

Here are the main 3 ways to earn them:

  • Get a big bang for your buck with sign-on bonuses. One of the best ways to earn is to apply for a new credit card with a big welcome bonus. Usually, the card wants you to spend a certain amount of money within a set amount of time, and then you’ll get an extra number of points/cash/miles as a bonus. A good way to take advantage of this is if you know you’ll be spending a lot of money at any point in the year, like at Christmas. If you normally spend $1,000 on Christmas presents each year, why not sign up for a credit card that will give you a bonus if you spend that $1,000 in a couple months?
  • Earn points for stuff you regularly buy by using your card. Just using the card will earn you points, miles, cash back, etc. And sometimes the card will have a special feature going on, like earning twice as many points by spending at restaurants.
  • Use a shopping portal. Several cards have their own shopping website where you can earn extra points, or you can use a site like Rakuten. Basically, if I want to buy some clothes at Gap, I shouldn’t just go to and shop. I should either first go to Rakuten, where I click on the Gap link so I earn cash back, or I can use the Delta SkyMiles credit card website, where I can click through to the Gap, and earn Delta miles on my credit card. It’s all about getting the most stuff out of the dollar you were going to spend anyway.

The other thing to remember is that you should pay off your credit card monthly—only use the card as a method of convenience and a way to earn points. Now, when I was younger, I got into some trouble with this, because what would happen is I’d use my credit card and then “forget” I charged things, and then I’d get the bill at the end of the month and all those purchases added up to some astronomical sum that I wouldn’t have the money to pay. I fixed this by setting a reminder to pay my card every week. With online payment, it’s very easy to link your bank account and then just make payments to cover your purchases all the time, and you can stay on top of what you spend.

Happy travel hacking!

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