Making $8k in Travel Hacking
Over the last year, my wife and I have continued our experiment with credit card / travel hacking. We have learned many things during the months and still have a ways to go.
I wanted to use this post to share the learnings and mistakes that we have made in order to help you to make more informed decisions on your own path.
$8,000 from six cards:
- 3 personal cards in my name
- 1 personal card in my wife’s name
- 2 business cards
We did not necessarily apply for a card as soon as one was completed. Instead, we applied for cards as special bonuses were advertised. The exception would be the two business cards which we selected for reasons that we will share below.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
For anyone who has read our previous posts, you are aware that we started this process with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card while Chase was still offering an amazing 100k sign-up bonus. Once mine was close to complete, I referred my wife and she got one as well during the same 100k bonus offer. I also received 20k for referring her.
Chase South West Cards
From there we went after the South West Companion Pass which included a combination of the southwest business and personal cards. We covered the companion pass strategy in our first travel post so I am not going to go into detail on that process here.
Chase Business Ink
After completing the companion pass, we did not see any great deals or special bonuses. In order to keep the momentum going, we decided to go with the Chase Ink business card due to the fact that it does not have an annual fee and pays out a 75k bonus. A fun fact about this card is that they advertise it as a $750 bonus; however, Chase pays it in points. This is a great benefit because the points can be transferred to the sapphire preferred card and get the 1.25x multiplier. This makes it more like a $938 bonus.
Chase Marriott Bonvoy
Finally, Chase and Marriott were doing a short special this summer for 5 free nights (up to 50k/night) on their Bonvoy Boundless card. Unfortunately, I waited too long to refer my wife before the deal went away otherwise we would have applied for her’s too.
With all of these rewards and fees put together, here is what our journey looked like:
* Depending on the value of the room selected
There are a few things to note about the table above:
- You can see that we were big fans of Chase
- Values are estimated based on the points guy and others. We have spent some of our points already (Chase and Southwest) and can confirm that we got a 1.25x conversion.
- We have not yet used any Marriott nights so the true value we receive will be determined at a later point
- Our estimated value over fees it 1100%
- This does not take into consideration that we have the companion pass for my wife during 2022 & 2023. Through this benefit, anytime I buy a plane ticket she gets one for essentially free.
- Our “required spend” to achieve the bonuses is higher than our previously disclosed $2k/month and is due to annual expenses that we do not account for in our monthly numbers
Our Thoughts on the Process
Overall we have be pleased with the results. We took a week long trip to Maui earlier this year and paid for the Air BNB and Plane tickets with points / miles. The Air BNB was part of the Chase “Pay Yourself Back®” program which received a 1.25x multiplier. We also were able to book a hotel in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a few days this summer prior to going on a reunion trip with friends. Even with both of those trips, we still have a significant stash of points for our trips planned in the near future.
In farness, for anyone thinking about starting down this path, I want to review the Pro’s / Con’s / Opportunities that we have experienced:
- If you have a decent credit score, you can follow this process and get “free” travel by using credit cards for planned expenses.
- The points that you accrue during this process are tax free.
- There are many other perks that come with the various cards such as travel insurance, TSA precheck, etc.
- Budgeting requires more effort. Managing a budget for multiple different cards is a pain in the ass. We ended up getting the Mint App by Intuit so that we could track all transactions in one place.
- Credit cards aren’t due until the following month. This means you have to account for you credit card spending this month with your other bills for next month. I am not a fan of this process. This is another reason that you should not play around with credit cards until you have a solid foundation for your budgeting process.
- Statement Closing Dates: new cards may have different statement closing dates. You need to pay attention to this or you could accidentally miss a deadline which will impact your credit score. I think you can request to have the date changed but I have not tried that yet.
- Transferring Auto-Draft Accounts: If you are really trying to optimize, every time you get a new card you have to remember to transfer all of your automatic payments to the new card. Not a huge deal, but it is about 30-45 minutes of your life every time.
- As mentioned above, most cards come with many side perks used to attract people. We went into this process with the intent of only going for the 80/20 rule and therefore definitely left some value on the table.
- If a great offer becomes available and you can afford the spending limits, it will not last forever. This happened to me as I waited too long before referring my wife to the 5 night Marriott Bonvoy card. On the other hand, I can say that I would rather have missed it than jumped in too soon and felt obligated to over spend.
It has been a fun process and I am glad we started when we did. I am not sure if the bonuses that we were able to take advantage of will ever come back or if they were just an attempt from the banks to get everyone spending again after the COVID lockdowns. Either way, the timing worked out and we started racking up points quickly. We will continue to keep an eye out for more deals but we are now slowly phasing the cards back out.
I decided to hold onto the sapphire preferred for another year because we still have a stash of points to use. We downgraded my wife’s to the Freedom Unlimited to avoid the annual fees and will most likely downgrade or cancel all the remaining cards over the coming months. I have been told that this could affect our credit score so I will let you know how that goes.
Oh, and one more thought. I have been asked how signing up for these cards has affected my score. It has been up and down. The downside correlated more with credit usage than anything because my initial cards had low limits. The very low dip is where our annual expenses hit and therefore we used up a significant amount of our credit usage. Here is the snapshot for the journey-to-date:
It jumped up substantially in the last couple of weeks. This appears to be due to multiple months of low and consistent credit usage.
I hope that this was informative and helped you understand the risk and reward of credit card & travel hacking.
Until Next time, continue to Choose Beta