So, you’re ready to start earning free travel with credit card rewards. That was me six months ago. I had finally gotten over my aversion to annual fee credit cards and decided to start some low-key travel reward hacking.
Before I applied for any new rewards credit cards, I began with a little research. I wanted to open the best travel credit cards that would help me earn valuable points and miles as quickly and as easily as possible. In the end, I earned more than 300,000 points through American Express and Chase. Here’s how I did it.
Step 1: Finding the Right Credit Card and Sign-Up Bonus
As I read advice from respected travel reward enthusiasts, two cards stood out to me — the The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Many experts agree that Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership Rewards are two of the most valuable types of credit card points you can earn. This is especially true because points from both cards transfer easily to a variety of airline and hotel partners, which may offer a more valuable rate of return.
Slick Tip: If you dislike the $550 annual fee on the Sapphire Reserve or the AMEX Platinum, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card , with its $95 annual fee, might be a better fit. Plus, it’s offering a generous sign-up bonus for new cardholders.
Before you apply for any new credit card, you should check your three credit reports and scores. Since I check my credit every month, I knew my three reports were error-free and my excellent credit scores meant I could apply for whichever card offer I thought was the best deal. (If that sounds like bragging, I promise it’s not. I’m a credit expert by trade. My credit rating should be excellent. If it’s not, I’m doing something wrong.)
If your credit isn’t in great shape, you can work to improve it. In the meantime, it’s best to avoid applying for credit card offers that don’t fit your credit score range (good, fair, bad, etc.).
Step 2: Meeting the Spending Requirements
Once you qualify for your ideal credit card offer, you’ll need to meet the initial spending requirement on the account to earn a sign-up bonus. These are the spending thresholds I had to meet on three of the new credit cards I opened:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®: Spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening to earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Spend $5,000 in purchases in your first three months to earn 75,000 Membership Reward Points.*
- Chase Ink Business Preferred℠: Spend $15,000 in the first three months after account opening and earn 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points.
*I earned 100,000 in Membership Reward Points through a targeted Amex Platinum Card offer, but you can currently earn a 100,000-mile bonus with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.
These welcome and sign-up bonuses alone totaled 260,000 points. But to reach the spending thresholds above, I had to be strategic.
- I didn’t open the credit cards all at once. Instead, I aimed to earn one single sign-up bonus at a time.
- I funneled all household spending through each new card. When I opened a new card, all of our family’s spending went on that account (except for the Chase Ink Business Preferred). My husband and I both paid for groceries, gas, certain utility bills, and even recurring payments (like Hulu and my kids’ sports tuition fees) with each new account until we reached the spending requirement.
- I timed credit card applications before major purchases. In April of 2019, my family of four and I decided to take a last-minute cruise over spring break. We already had the money in our vacation savings fund to pay in cash, but I opened the Sapphire Reserve, so the $2,100 in cruise line fees could help earn a sign-up bonus. Then, I paid the card off in full to avoid interest. I later repeated the process with the Chase Ink Business Preferred when I needed a new MacBook for my business. With the Amex Platinum, we spent $800 on a new washer and dryer after our family’s 17-year-old set stopped working. We paid off the purchase from a household-savings account we contribute to monthly.
- I travel frequently. In the last six months, I’ve traveled at least once a month — primarily for business, but often with my family as well. Those travel purchases earned many valuable points.
Step 3: Be True to Your Budget
I realize that $14,000 worth of spending is a lot. (In my case, $5,000 of those purchases were business expenses.) In reality, $14,000 in spending won’t be a realistic goal for everyone, and that’s OK. Maybe you shouldn’t aim to earn 300,000 reward points in six months. Perhaps for your budget, it may take 12 or even 18 months to meet those spending thresholds, in which case, you’ll need to time the opening of each new credit card appropriately.
If you want to win at the credit card rewards game, you need to be 100% committed to never overspending just to accumulate points and miles.
Some people earn far more points than I do. But I don’t try to keep up with their earnings. I never spend extra money to chase credit card rewards. Doing so would only set me up for financial and credit problems down the road. If you want to win at the credit card rewards game, you need to be 100% committed to never overspending just to accumulate points and miles.
Step 4: Earning More Points
In addition to the 260,000 points from welcome and sign-up bonuses, I earned 82,000 additional reward points. This brought my six month total up to 342,000. The extra 82,000 points came from regular credit card spending.
However, I aim to never earn just 1% cash back or rewards on purchases. With the Sapphire Reserve, for example, I earn 3% on dining. My Amex Platinum card gives me 5X points on airfare purchased directly through airlines. My Chase Freedom card helps me earn 5% cash back or points in rotating quarterly spending categories. When making purchases, it pays to think about which card offers the greatest return.
My 3 Favorite Rewards Cards for Earning Points
Do you want to give my strategy a try? Below you’ll find the credit card details and applications for the cards I used to earn 300,000 points in six months. You’ll also find a few popular travel credit cards for beginners.
- Best for Ultimate Rewards Points: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Best for Amex Membership Rewards Points: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Best for Additional Chase Points: Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Bottom Line: Earning Travel Rewards the Easy Way
All things considered, I’m still somewhat new to the world of travel rewards hacking. I don’t use detailed spreadsheets to manage my account balances, and I don’t follow a complicated system. I do, however, use AwardWallet to automatically track all of my points, miles and benefits in one place.
My point is this: If I can earn more than 300,000 credit card reward points in the space of six months, many others can do the same. You don’t have to be a travel rewards pro to get started, especially if you already have a good credit rating. You can learn and earn as you grow.
Currently, I have plans to earn another sign-up bonus before the end of the year. Holiday spending, which I’ve already budgeted for, will help me meet some of the spending requirements. Once the new points have been added to my total balance, my goal is to book four round-trip flights to Europe for an amazing family vacation in the future. Wish me luck.