Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click the link to Boxed or ClubW and make a purchase, I’ll earn a small commission. These are both services I genuinely use on an ongoing basis and love. All of my opinions of them are still my own.
So you want to travel for free? We’ve established that the key to free travel is to open credit cards and reap the rewards of their massive signup bonuses. The obvious caveat that many people voice is that the cards come with a “minimum spend requirement.” To reiterate, this is an amount of money (typically between $2,000 and $5,000) that you must spend on the card in a given timeframe (typically 3 months from the date you are approved for the card) in order to earn the massive bonus (typically 25,000-50,000+ points!)
If I had to emphasize one thing about this hobby that people outside of it typically overlook is that it takes effort to earn “free travel.” Another thing that people often overlook is that it DOES COST MONEY. That’s why you’ll notice when I describe this site and my objectives with this hobby I will usually say that I accrue “nearly free travel” or “can travel for pennies on the dollar.” This simple change in language depicts a much more accurate representation of what the true outcome of this hobby is.
This brings us to the main topic of this post – a question most people immediately ask when they learn the basis of my strategy to earn free travel:
How do I hit a minimum spend requirement without spending more than usual?
Here are some of the strategies I implement every single month to earn tens of thousands of points monthly. These specific strategies will let you save money while earning credit card points, as opposed to spending more to earn the points. I’ll cover those spending strategies in future posts.
Pick up the tab: Anytime you’re out with friends, offer to make things easy for everyone by putting the bill on your credit card and sorting the cash later. This makes it easier for the staff and makes much less of a scene in the restaurant. I do this all the time and my family is shocked how much free travel I’m able to rack up by charging a few hundred dollars to my card every now and then. What they’re overlooking is that this is making it cheaper and easier to hit my spend requirement, earning me that massive bonus! TIP: Take the itemized copy of the bill and put a persons initials next to each line they ordered while you’re there. Later, add up each person’s line items and factor in tax and tip.
Be the “travel agent”: A study recently showed that booking travel is almost as exciting as going on the trip itself. Personally, I think booking travel is a lot of fun. I love the research of it, planning itineraries, finding unique places to stay on AirBnB, diligently scouring airline deals to get the cheapest tickets to and from where I’m going, etc. Since I genuinely love doing this I have a great arrangement with my friends that when we travel, I’ll be the “travel agent” and do all the planning, booking and communication around the trip. Since I book all of the expenses, they all go on my credit cards and make it lightening fast to hit a new card’s spend requirement. When you know you are planning travel with friends, if you’re willing to do the leg work for it (and you trust that your friends can repay you in a very timely fashion) you can open a new card and very easily hit the spend requirement on it with this strategy!
Prepay your bills: You’ll typically get a large discount of 10%-20% by doing your bills this way. Many finance pros may advise you to keep the money in your bank and collect the interest on it (hence, why the business is offering the discount in the first place) but for me when I do the math, I find I’ll never get the same earnings in interest (less tax) that I am saving off an expense I’d pay anyway.
Here’s some ideas of things I prepay.
- Gym membership: My gym offers a free month, plus lower rates and waived fees if you prepay for the year. As long as you plan to continue to live near your gym and keep going, how can you go wrong with that? Plus, it was an easy $600 in spend.
- Buy in bulk when possible: Since I don’t drive, I’ve become a huge fan of Boxed.com. You can save money by ordering the necessities in bulk and enjoy the convenience of not having to constantly remember to pick up toilet paper. Stock up and add some spend to your card this way. TIP: When you have an Amex card, you’ll often save even more on Boxed because they’ll typically offer an Amex Offer, which is like a rebate on purchases. Just remember that even if you have the great deal on the Amex Offer, you’ll need to put the Boxed order on the card that you’re trying to hit the spend on which means foregoing the discount. (I’ll put a full review together of Boxed up at a later date.)
- Wine Club: OK this one is a huge splurge. I source all my wine from ClubW and they offer a program where you can prepay $480 and get $600 worth of wine. Since I understand that this is already part of my buying habits and I’d spend that anyway, I’ll make the prepayment, use it towards my spend requirement and save $120 in the process on my wine over the course of the year. TIP: They’ve partnered with JetBlue and you’ll earn 1,000 TrueBlue points for every 24 bottles of wine you order. This is on top of the spend and points you’re already getting when you put this order on your credit card so it’s basically free points! (I’ll put a full review together of ClubW at a later date.)
This is a general idea of things you can start to think about before you apply for cards:
- What is the minimum spend requirement?
- How many points will I earn from hitting that spend?
- What are those points worth per point?
- How can I begin to reallocate my spend onto that card to ensure I hit the spend requirement and earn the bonus?
In future posts I’ll be covering more advanced and even some more controversial strategies that will take your spending to the next level.