How To Travel For Free With Reward Points

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A few years ago, I asked a good friend how he could afford to travel all over the world. At this point, he was in his mid-20s and had been to about 30 different countries.

His response?

Credit card points.

At the time, I was just starting my career as a financial expert. All I knew about credit cards was to avoid them, so I was suspicious of the whole thing. However, with time he taught me how to rack up points without ruining my credit score. Since then, I’ve gotten over 13 free flights just from one airline.

Here’s what you need to know about how to travel for free with credit card points:

You need to have a good credit score to qualify.

Because the rewards on these credit cards are sweet, they do require a good credit score just to qualify. Travel hacking experts cite that, for many of these cards, you’re looking at a credit score of at least 700 to qualify.

Figure out where you want to go first.

Most people who want to start using airline miles make the mistake of signing up for the first card they see.

I made that mistake. I got a Delta Skymiles card and quickly learned that the industry nickname is “SkyPesos.” Why? Because it’s known to be a terrible rewards program. While it did get me a free flight to St. Louis for a conference, that was about it.

You have to first figure out where you want to go and then pick the best program that will help get you there. For example, I’ve gotten free flights all over the continental U.S. and Mexico thanks to the Southwest Rapid Rewards program.

Sign up for credit cards during really good promotions.

The key to racking up lots of points quickly is to wait for the good credit card promotions. For example the Chase Sapphire Reserve just hit the market and they are offering 100,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months of opening the account. This is what is often referred to as a “Spend Goal” during promotional periods.

That is a ridiculously good deal by industry standards. First, because 100,000 points as a sign up bonus is practically unheard of. Second, because most people could hit the spend goal easily just by paying their regular bills with the card.

As an aside, this particular credit card also has great benefits. You get a $300 annual credit for any travel expense which I already used to book a roundtrip ticket to San Juan, Puerto Rico. In addition, you get a $100 credit to put toward the Global Entry Fee and you get 3x points for travel and dining.

Try to be flexible.

Another key to traveling for free with credit card points is to be as flexible as possible with your dates so you can squeeze as much as you can out of the program. I was able to get a roundtrip ticket to Mexico for less than 20,000 Southwest miles because I could leave on a Tuesday and not come back until 10 days later. If I’d tried to book a weekend flight, it would have cost me much, much more.

Use the points!

The last step is to actually use your points. Don’t be one of those people who rack up all these airline miles and then lets them just sit there, or worse, expire. You can use a free point tracker like AwardWallet to stay on top of expiration dates so that you actually use the points you’ve worked hard for.