A big (and traditionally expensive) part of getting married is going on a luxurious honeymoon. Personally, I was looking more forward to this than the wedding itself as it was hard for me to stop associating the wedding with frustrating, minute decisions like what napkin colors we wanted. The honeymoon, on the other hand, was easily associated with adventure, fun, relaxation and spending 3 blissful weeks alone with my beautiful wife in places that looked like this:
Since, we had decided to spend quite a bit on the wedding itself, I was determined to keep the costs of the honeymoon as low as possible without sacrificing the fun of being on a honeymoon. To do this, I took on the task of building up another type of savings account…. credit card point accounts. As I initially had no clue on how to credit card hack, I needed some help. I found it while listening to a Mad Fientist podcast featuring Travel Miles 101 course and it’s founders, Brad and Alexi. This course showed me how to get started in building up my credit card point accounts and using sign up bonuses to my advantage.
Armed with this new information, I built up my credit card point accounts over the course of the year leading up to the wedding. I was able to use a combination of Chase, Capital One and Barclay cards to cover our flights from NYC to Vietnam, then Vietnam to Thailand and then returning home to the US. I also was able to use those points to cover some of our hotel costs. In total, I was able to save a few thousand dollars on our trip. Even though I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish, I’m certain that I could have dug deeper into various flight and hotel deals to stretch our points further. However, the time this would have taken was beyond my abilities while working, teaching and planning a wedding simultaneously. Regardless, I was still very happy with the results.
Other than planning vacations, credit card hacking can come in very handy for any emergency travel situations, such as a funeral or other unplanned events. The benefit from these accounts varies depending on the amount of time willingly spent on this endeavor. I am personally of a more lazy approach, where I will continue to apply for new cards 2-3x per year without getting into any manufactured spending and only using our current spending levels to achieve the sign-up bonuses.
For reference: manufactured spending is a technique used to hit the sign up bonuses on credit cards by purchasing Visa, Amex or other debit gift cards with the new credit card then use those gift cards to pay off the bill. This allows them to quickly hit a $5,000 spending needed to receive the sign up bonus on the credit card for just the cost of the debit gift card fees. It’s easy to understand why this method is appealing and perhaps one day I will give it a shot but, for now I am content to use our regular spending habits to accrue bonuses.
The course I mentioned above shows that there are different approaches even between the two creators of the course. Alan tends to be far more active in his hacking while Brad trends towards the more laid back approach. Regardless of how you decide to proceed in your hacking endeavors, if at all, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Pay them off!!
Only even think about this strategy if you are in the habit of paying off your cards in full on at least a monthly basis. If you have a recurring balance, this can be very dangerous to your bottom line. Remember the points aren’t worth it if you have to pay a monthly interest fee to have them.
2. Not all cards are created equal.
There are several factors you want to take into account when looking at credit cards for the purpose of building your point accounts.
– Where can I use these points? Even this simple question can be confusing. If it is a flexible points account, like Chase, then you can use it with a large set of airline and hotel programs. Or, if you had say, JetBlue points then you could use those for JetBlue flights and flight with any associated airlines, like Aer Lingus.
Then there are fixed point cards like the Capital One Venture card or Barclay Arrival Plus card. With these types of cards, you can use your points against any travel purchase for a 1/100 exchange rate or exchange for cash for usually 1/200 exchange rate (these rates can vary per card). You just have to make the purchase with the proper card and then you can “erase” the charges with your points.
– How much is the fee? Some cards have no fee. Others have a recurring $450/year fee. This needs to be weighed carefully against the benefits of having the card to see whether it’s really worth it or not.
– How big is that sign-up bonus? The sign-up bonus is where you will earn the majority of your points so, it is important to always maximize these bonuses when possible. Look for limited time offers and become familiar with what is an especially good deal.
One of the best tools out there for evaluating different credit cards and bonuses has been created by none other than the Mad Fientist. This tool is located here.
3. Stay flexible.
If you have to fly LAX for a wedding on Memorial Day weekend, you may have some problems. Flights will be very highly priced, using many more of your points than you otherwise would have or the dates may even be blocked out for point users to even book at all.
However, if you know you want to take a vacation to Europe sometime in June/July and can be a bit flexible on where you go and when then this is ideal. This allows you the best possibility to create a unique trip where you can utilize the points you’ve earned to maximize your benefit. You may notice that flying out on a Saturday or Sunday takes more points than flying out on a Monday. So, maybe you stay that extra couple of days in Greece (poor you).
There are many different loopholes and nuances to redeeming points. It just takes time and research to get your head around them all. After all, you have worked hard to earn these points so finding the most efficient way to redeem them can be worth the extra hours of research.
4. Seriously…pay them off!
I know that I said this before but, I just want to repeat that if you are unsure if you will be able to pay off the purchases needed for these sign up bonus then it’s NOT worth it. Get yourself in a place where you don’t have credit card debt and are paying off what you do spend on cards every month. Only then would I recommend looking into these strategies.
Alright, this post is far longer than I originally anticipated, but there’s just so much that I have to say! I will wrap this up here and do a second credit card hacking post later on with some tips that I’ve found useful when looking at credit cards and redeeming points.
What are some of your favorite credit cards and point redemption loopholes/deals? Let me know in the comments!