Last year I finally got interested in the wonderful world of credit card hacking. It always sounded scammy before and hey, credit cards are bad right? How can you just sign up for cards and magically travel for free? There’s no free lunch.
Turns out, actually their is and it’s delicious. In a later post I’m going to go in to the details of the process, but the basics are:
- Sign up for cards with special bonuses
- Spend money you would have spent anyway to hit minimum requirements for the bonus
- Collect those points
- Rinse and repeat
I finally took the plunge when a few friends decided to sign up for the British Airways Chase card, which at the time offered a 100k Avios points signup bonus.
For those not aware, this is a huge number of points. So I took the plunge and signed up for my 2nd credit card (I had the same first card since I was 18).
The card showed up, I spent the required $2k in the first 3 months. This didn’t take any extra effort, I just switched all my spending to the new card.
It is good to note that BA is a distance based system, so use this calculator to see how far your going to know how many points it will take.
So now I have a 100k in points? What do I do now? Well they sat there for a long time, because what they don’t tell you is that Avios are notoriously hard to use. You need to book them way in advance and you need to book them through a partner hub. For BA, their primary partner hub is United. I live in Houston, which isn’t very United heavy, so I basically have to fly out of Dallas.
Houston to LA
The first time I had the opportunity to use them was for a family reunion on Caitlin’s side in wine country outside LA. Amazingly, the points worked for the exact days we needed and out of Houston, which is really hard with BA, because their partner airline is American. Unfortunately their hub is in Dallas, so most reward flights have to be booked through their, costing extra, precious points, so I was super excited to fly out of Houston direct.
Booking those flights saved us somewhere in the range of $600-800. I pulled some flights from Houston to LA on Thursday / Sunday for comparison.
As you can see it doesn’t actually take many points to get there. 10,000 points each way, for a grand total of 40,000 for the 2 of us to go Houston – LA roundtrip. That alone was worth the signup. That vacation cost the sum total of Disneyland tickets, a rental car and food. Free flights and we stayed with family.
Houston to Brazil
Now after that trip I had a work flight in first class (living it up!) that added some additional miles to top my account back up. I then transferred 25k points from my Starwood Amex (a later credit card sign-up) over the my BA account, bumping my total back to 100k.
This gave us just enough to book our dream vacation of 2014. Rio! Flights are always the most cost prohibitive part of traveling for only a week or two, so to be able to do this, allowed a vacation we wouldn’t normally dream of taking. For 50k points each we were able to fly roundtrip for a grand total of $107.
For comparison, that trip today would cost about $2,600 for the two of us.
This lowered the cost of our trip dramatically and made it super affordable.
So I did cheat a bit by topping up my account from my account from my AMEX and I did get a work flight to London with a lot of points. So if you want to strictly talk about this one sign-up, we managed to get $2,600 in flights (minus $100 annual fee), and if you add in LA, that’s a sum total of $3,000 – $3,400 in flights for doing absolutely nothing but spend what I already would have spent.
All this for a 5 minute sign-up and changing nothing about my spending habits is as close to free money as I’m going to find. I was definitely hooked, and I’ve since signed up for another 5-6 cards and canceled several older ones as they hit their anniversary (and I would have been charged for another annual fee).
In anther post I’ll do a follow-up with the basics of travel hacking and points 101. So what about you? Do you travel hack and credit card churn? Any amazing trips for free? Let me know in the comments.
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