If you're financially stable and have good credit, you could be taking advantage of credit card rewards programs to score free flights and hotel rooms.
Some super-savvy credit card gurus are going so far as to strategically apply for multiple credit cards each year, racking up enough rewards points to fund regular luxury vacations. If you play your cards right, you could be one of those people.
Follow this credit card rewards plan, and you'll be going on a family vacation with free flights and hotels by next year.
Hacking rewards programs without killing your credit
Before getting started, you need to meet the following requirements:
- You have good credit
- You don't have credit card debt
- You don't plan to finance a major purchase soon
- You have at least $1,000 in monthly spending that you can put on a credit card (this can include bills)
Applying for too many credit cards in a short period of time can take a toll on your credit. While this plan spaces out credit card applications so that your credit score only sees a small, temporary decrease, you shouldn't be doing it you don't have a FICO score of at least 720. This gives you enough wiggle room to weather a 20 point decrease in your score and still qualify for these credit cards.
You also shouldn't apply for credit cards if you plan to finance a major purchase in the next two years. If your credit score drops even slightly, you won't qualify for the best interest rates on things like home loans and car loans.
Finally, you need to have a decent amount of monthly spending you can put on these credit cards as most of them require you to spend a certain amount, usually somewhere between $1,000 and $4,000, in the first few months in order to qualify for the sign-up bonus.
The most important rule of all is this: never spend more than you normally would in order to reach a minimum spend requirement, and always pay off your balance in full each month. Going into debt would completely cancel out any rewards you gain.
The one-year rewards plan for earning a family vacation
Many rewards credit cards offer sign-up bonuses to new cardholders, as long as they spend a certain amount. A typical offer from an airline credit card might be 35,000 miles if you can spend $2,000 in the first three months.
You'll be applying for four credit cards in total over the course of a year, targeting these sign-up bonuses. If a card has an annual fee, you can cancel it at the end of the year after achieving the sign-up bonus. As mentioned before, you want to space these applications out, so apply for one every three months.
You'll want to choose your four cards in the beginning and plan out your applications strategically, according to the following guidelines:
- Look for large sign-up bonuses
The key to getting big rewards is finding the best sign-up bonuses. Most credit cards run limited time promotions in which they offer a larger sign-up bonus than usual. While a typical offer is around 25,000 to 35,000, you're going to be targeting offers of at least 50,000 points or miles. If you really do your research, you can average 75,000 points per sign-up bonus. Go for banks that are giving out the most rewards to customers.
- Choose your rewards programs wisely
You'll want to pay attention to the rewards programs as well as the sign-up bonus. If an airline is offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 miles but they don't fly out of your home airport, that offer is useless to you. The rewards programs from your different credit cards should be compatible too. Having half your miles with one airline and half your miles with another doesn't work very well unless you want to put the kids on a separate flight.
Many rewards programs offer flexible points that can be transferred to a number of different airlines and hotel chains. Consider pairing a credit card with flexible points and a credit card from one of its partner airlines or hotel chains. You'll want to use two credit cards to target free flights and another two to target free hotel nights.
- Apply for any Chase credit cards first
JPMorgan Chase has implemented a 5/24 rule on their credit cards which says that if you've applied for five or more credit cards in the past 24 months, you cannot be approved for a Chase credit card. That's why you'll want to start with any Chase credit cards on your list, especially you've already applied for a few cards in the past two years.
Exceptions to this rule include business credit cards, which may not count toward your 5/24 limit because they don't usually appear on your personal credit report. Applying for a personal credit card and a business credit card is also a great way to double your points within the same rewards system, and you don't necessarily always have to be a business owner to qualify for a business credit card.
- Pay attention to the minimum spend requirements
Make sure you can meet the minimum spending requirements for the sign-up bonus on any card you apply for. You can also plan your applications in a strategic order according to the minimum spend requirements. For example, if you tend to do a lot of holiday shopping in the fall, apply for the card with the highest minimum spend requirement in September or October.
- Look at other perks offered by the card
Apart from the sign-up bonus, many travel credit cards offer additional perks such as airport lounge access, a free night on your card anniversary, or free checked bags. If the card has an annual fee that kicks in after the first year but it offers a free anniversary night, it might be worth it to apply for that card first and pay the annual fee on your card anniversary to add an extra night to your vacation. Some rewards programs even give you a night free after you book a few nights with your points (for example, a fifth night free after you've booked four).
If you manage to average 75,000 bonus points for each card, which is possible, you would have a total of 300,000 points spread across a couple different rewards programs. When redeemed properly, your points are worth at least $3,000 in travel spending. Many rewards programs offer points that are valued at 1.5 cents each, giving your points a value of $4,500.
Want to save even more? Leave the kids at home and go on two vacations.