Point Savvy: You Don’t Need to Spend a Lot of Money to Get Free Travel

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Most people think you have to spend a lot of money to earn free travel. It’s not necessarily true. When you live within your budget, it does take a time.

I’m not going to lie, it takes a lot of energy and finagling to travel for free. You need time to earn your points, and time to figure out where to get the biggest bang for you miles. Like getting to the gym regularly, it also takes discipline. And like going to the DMV, it takes a little patience. What’s important, is that you make sure you don’t buy unnecessary things. Stay within your means and it’s totally achievable.

What most people don’t realize is that the stuff that you already do everyday can earn you free travel. And yes, I am going to tell you that I use a credit card to accrue points. And yes, I do believe that it is much smarter to use a credit card that gives you something back rather than using a debit card. By the same token, I also earn points from my wireless carrier, my cable company, every time I take a train for business, and anytime that I buy a gift online. These are all things that most of us do day in and day out. We all spend money. Some more than others, but we all still spend whether we like it or not.

Here’s a geeky statistic to support my cause: According to the Economic Policy Institute, an adult here in my hometown of Baltimore spends an average of $2,833 a month (excluding travel). If you’re raising a family you’re spending even more, and that’s just everyday life stuff. We’re not talking about having lavish dinners out, buying oversized baubles, or driving a Ferrari – just common people “stuff” like purchasing coffee, energy bars or shampoo. So if you want some free travel, or a much needed vacation, why not figure out how to get there by just doing what you do now.

Because I’m rather passionate about what I do, I often give family members and strangers a like unsolicited advice about free travel and how to get it – whether they like it or not. That said, my most recent conversation about this was with my niece. She lives in Boston, and is married with two little kids. Her parents have retired to Florida, and she enjoys taking her family to visit them when she can. She claimed that it’s expensive to fly, and I agreed that it certainly can be. But it doesn’t have to be. Much to her dismay, and to the dismay of the other 4 family members at the table, I proceeded to outline these simple rules for free travel over lunch.

  1. Have a goal in mind. Whether it’s to get free flights to Florida like in my niece’s case, or a European vacation for your 25th anniversary – set a goal that you can work towards.
  1. Take advantage of loyalty programs that can benefit you specifically. So if your goal is to fly out of Boston, find ways to accumulate points with an airline that has a hub there. It will make redeeming your points easier and more flexible.
  1. Get a credit card that offers a large sign up bonus. This will give you a jumpstart from the get go. There are currently cards in the market giving away up to 100,000 points if you make a couple thousand dollars in purchases.
  1. Use that card for all of everyday purchases (groceries, coffee, utility bills, etc.), and watch the points add up.
  1. Visit your chosen airline’s website, and find out what other companies they have partnerships with. For example, you can currently earn up to 25,000 miles on American Airlines by becoming a new customer with Sprint. That’s a free round-trip airline ticket.
  1. Keep track of your points. Set a few minutes aside every month when you’re paying you bills to track your points, and to make sure that you’re getting all that you’re entitled. After only doing it a couple of times you’ll realize that it’s less of a hassle than you might think.

If you want to travel for free – try it. What do you have to lose but a little bit of time. It may take a while to reach your goal, but just like losing the 5 lbs that’s keeping you out of your skinny jeans – once you get there it is so worth the effort.

Other articles that Point Savvy recommends:

Best Sign-Up Bonus Credit Cards for September 2016

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

  • Enjoy 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit toward an eligible travel purchase.
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases made while traveling abroad
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 16.99%, 20.99% or 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness. There is a fee for balance transfers.

Bonus
40,000 miles

Balance Transfer
0% Intro APR for 12 months

Ongoing APR
16.99%, 20.99%, or 23.99% variable

Annual Fee
$0 first year; then $89

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Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.