96. How to Use Your Credit Cards to Travel for Free

June 22, 2023

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The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn’t cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don’t personally use or believe in.

Demystifying Travel Hacking with Credit Cards

If you’ve ever wondered what it means to pay for your seat upgrades, first class, or even entire trips “with points,” then this episode is for you! Today, Tori breaks down how she uses her credit card points to help support her love of traveling and takes advantage of travel hacking to get things like free lounge access, upgraded flight status, hotels, and more.

In the episode, Tori breaks down:

  • How to choose the best credit card if you want the best travel rewards

  • How to know if an annual fee card is worth it for you

  • One super secret to getting more bang for your buck when it comes to points


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[00:00:00] Hello Financial feminists. Welcome back to the show. Your girl got covid. I am recording this with a sore throat and a stuffed up nose. I feel the same way I did last year when I got covid. I almost got it at the same time.

[00:00:17] It was like end of June last year. And we’re recording this, in early June, and your girl got the vid. I am thankful for vaccines get fucking vaccinated and, I’m gonna stay in my house. And what’s crazy to me is that C D C I Googled what I, I mean I’m supposed to do now because, you know, it’s been a while.

[00:00:35] I, I wasn’t sure what the guidelines were. They told me that after day five of symptoms I could go out into my normal life. And I was like, that seems too soon. Cuz technically I’m on day five right now and I feel contagious as fuck. So, uh, I am planning on staying home for a couple more days. And surviving off of canned goods and frozen stuff from Trader Joe’s.

[00:01:00] And I’m excited to see what kind of, meals I end up inventing with, with my limited amount of groceries. But I’m so excited to see you today. We kind of have a sexy episode, that has a sexy title and a not so sexy execution, which is the fact that I am traveling to Europe this summer. And I am flying for the first time in business class, lie down flat seats.

[00:01:31] You may or may not know this about me. You know that I travel a lot, but you might not know that I don’t sleep on planes. I am a terrible, terrible sleeper on planes. I can sleep in a car just fine, but I cannot sleep on a plane unless I have like not slept for a day. So when I flew to Australia with Christine last year, I think I got on a 14 hour flight about two or maybe three hours of sleep, and it wasn’t good sleep.

[00:02:01] I also just have a body that’s broken. I am in chronic pain, so I have to get up and walk around a lot, which is not conducive to sitting for a very long time and trying to sleep. So I am so stoked to be flying nonstop from Seattle to Paris in July, which is peak season. Business class.

[00:02:23] Here’s the catch. I did not pay for business class. A just business class seat for myself would’ve been $14,000. However, I am getting it for just the taxes and fees, which is about five to $700 a person. I am flying business class to Europe, lie down flat seats, meals, uh, alcohol, little eye masks that they give you entirely on credit card points.

[00:02:57] Last year, friend Moon two, two K 22, with Christine, I flew to Australia economy, but still Australia, which is normally Seattle. Australia’s like a $2,000 flight on miles and credit card points again. You can do this, you can do this listening, you can fly, you can get free shit using your credit card points.

[00:03:20] First a couple common misconceptions cuz you just heard that and you’re like, but I don’t travel a lot. Or like, I, Tori I don’t, I don’t go on world speaking tours and I’m like, I totally get it. So first, one of the myths is you have to be a big traveler in order to take advantage of points.

[00:03:35] Not true. Not true. You can travel, you can like plan a big trip for like once a year or even once every other year, whether that’s international or domestic. And you can use points. And if you use a credit card strategically. You don’t have to be this like traveler that’s going all of the time.

[00:03:55] You also don’t have to use a fancy travel rewards credit card to get free travel. Now that’s great if you do have a travel rewards credit card. We’ve talked about the benefits of these in the past. We also have the ones we recommend linked down below travel rewards cards. Think of the ones that are like metal.

[00:04:15] Like an Amex Platinum or a Chase Sapphire reserve. These are travel rewards cards where they give you not just points, right, but they’re giving you like free TSA precheck and lounge access and you know, maybe double or triple points on travel related expenses. Travel credit. You can, you redeem points for travel.

[00:04:36] Through just a general credit card that gives you points. It doesn’t have to be a fancy travel rewards credit card if again, you’re not somebody who travels all the time and won’t get the benefits of that. I have tried to get my parents to sign up for one of those travel rewards cards and they’re like, but we don’t travel enough.

[00:04:52] They do a lot of like road trips, that’s their thing, but they don’t fly a lot. And I’m like, you can still take all of the points that you’re earning from your like general cash back card and redeem them for travel. And the last thing. You don’t have to have a full amount in points. That’s another common thing I hear is like I am booking this flight business class to Paris and back on points, but there are plenty of options that are like your points plus a little bit of cash.

[00:05:22] You don’t have to have the like hundreds and hundreds of thousands of points if you don’t have them. Like you can do a combo of points and cash or pooling your points. We’ll talk about all of that in this episode.

[00:05:36] One of the final myths is that a huge annual fee is not worth it. And I wanna debunk that hard. My Amex platinum card has a nearly $700 annual fee, and you’re like, oh my God. I just vomited into my mouth a little bit. My other big travel rewards card, which is my Chase Sapphire Reserve, has almost a $500 annual fee.

[00:05:59] Why do I sign up for these cards in the first place? Because they pay for themselves almost immediately. Let’s break down that like $700 Amex Platinum fee. For me it makes sense because I get TSA pre-check, a $75 value and clear $125 value completely for free. Cool. We’ve just like almost cut it in half immediately.

[00:06:23] Right. That’s not, half math is hard, but We also get a $250 travel credit immediately that travel credit can be used on a hotel, it can be used on a fli
ght. I get I think a $200 airline credit. I get, lounge access and for the amount of times that I fly, that is saving me the cost of a $25 salad and an $8 water bottle.

[00:06:47] Right? Anytime. I’ve also been able to shower at these airport lounges or take a nap, and truly that is priceless. When you’ve been traveling all day, there are so many benefits with the card that it basically pays for itself. So don’t get turned off by an annual fee. That’s super high. If it will make sense for you.

[00:07:06] Now, that’s the asterisks, right? If you’re signing up for a card with a huge annual fee and you’re not gonna use all of the benefits, or you’re not going to have it pay for itself, might not be worth it for you, right? But there’s a reason why I have chosen to invest in those cards, and it’s because I basically earn that back immediately upon using the card.

[00:07:28] And of course I remember another myth after I said the last one was the last one. The other myth, I think, is that people, believe that this whole thing is super complicated and that you need like a portfolio of credit cards and some people take this that seriously. Ultimately, If you would like to become obsessed with this, you can. I know people who have redeemed millions of dollars of flights using credit card points and done it responsibly. Right. I know those kind of people. I am like a, knows more than the average person, but is like I got other shit to do.

[00:08:03] My friend Janelle, Janelle on a jet will drop her info below. She was the one actually who helped me book this flight to Europe. I probably could not have done this by myself, but she is very good at this. She knows a lot about this. So as you’re going through this episode and you’re like, I don’t know that, and I would like to learn more, Google will be your friend.

[00:08:24] People like Janelle will be your friend. There are, there is so much that you can learn if you want, but also you can be super casual about this, right? You can just say like, I wanna redeem my points in a way that feels the most useful for me. That’s great. That’s cool. That is travel hacking. You can like travel hack like a fucking pro or you can just be like the casual travel hacker and both things are gonna be fine.

[00:08:46] Right? It’s just like, how much time do you wanna spend doing this thing? You don’t need to be the most pro travel hacker in the world to take advantage of these benefits.

[00:08:55] Okay. First we need to understand credit card travel rewards programs. We need to understand how these work.

[00:09:02] It’s going to be different depending on your card. Right? We were talking about like travel rewards, credit cards specifically versus just your general, general credit card that offers rewards, but credit card travel rewards programs can go from anything to like airline specific cards. Like I have an Alaska Airlines card.

[00:09:23] That was one of like my first more fancy cards that I got. It gives me obviously, points and miles, specifically for Alaska Airlines. You can get a Southwest card, right? You can get a Marriott card. You also can get cards that are just these general redeemable points for hotels, flights, car rentals, even just like cash back or gift cards, right?

[00:09:48] I’m thinking of like a Capital One quick silver card. Again, all of these are linked down below in the show notes, but Capital One Quick Silver Card just gives you one and a half percent cash back on every purchase you make, right? So that cash back can be redeemed as just like a statement credit, or also for things like travel flights, rental cars, hotels, et cetera.

[00:10:11] It’s really important when you choose a credit card, it sounds so obvious, but choose a credit card that makes sense for you. I don’t fly United. Sorry, United. I will never, ever fly you again after the New Orleans incident of 2018. I will never fly you again. It’s so, it does not make sense to get a United Airlines credit card.

[00:10:32] Right. Even if it has like the best sexiest offer in the world because I’m not gonna use it. Right. On the flip side, just like I was talking about with my parents, for them they don’t feel like it makes sense to get a card that offers them T S A precheck and all of that stuff. If they’re not flying that often.

[00:10:49] So really find a credit card that makes sense for you, not just the one that feels like the most sexy offer ever.

[00:11:01] Let’s talk about how we can earn credit card points. I’ve mentioned this before. I do not have a debit card. I do not own a debit card, eh, I do have one. Technically, it’s in a drawer, but I don’t use it. I do not use the debit card. I never have. So when we think about putting.

[00:11:18] All of our purchases, right? I put all of my purchases on a credit card. That means that I get points for every single thing. I put my electric bill on my credit card. I put meals, I put, um, you know, any purchases for H F K, the business. They all go on a credit card. I’ve said this once, I’ll say it again.

[00:11:39] Please make sure with all of these strategies that you can use your credit card responsibly, meaning that you’re paying your bills on time and in full. Strategy doesn’t work if you are in credit card debt or you are likely to go into credit card debt, right? I’m only putting things on a credit card that I can actually afford, but I am putting everything on a credit card.

[00:11:58] I’m putting everything on a credit card, so I am earning points and miles on things that I already spent money on, right? They’re just making me more money, which is great.

[00:12:10] In terms of the strategies of getting more points, in addition to just your everyday purchases, a lot of credit cards, especially as their introductory offers, right before you sign up, will give you 30,000, 50,000, a hundred thousand extra points if you spend like $2,000 or $3,000 in the first couple months.

[00:12:33] This is not your like permission slip to spend a bunch of money that you normally wouldn’t spend, right? But it is your permission slip to, maybe be strategic in when you sign up for one of those cards, maybe you’re about to move and you know that, you’re gonna have a bunch of moving costs. You are paying movers, you’re renting a U-Haul.

[00:12:52] Also, you have a brand new couch you need to buy. You can be strategic and sign up for that card right before you’re going to do that. Right? You can be strategic in signing up for a card that’s gonna give you a huge bonus around times that you know you’re gonna be spending extra money. Oh, I need a new laptop, cuz mine broke.

[00:13:11] Perfect opportunity to responsibly sign up for a new credit card. Put your new Mac book on the credit card and reap those benefits, right? Earn the free points that they’re gonna give you. Just make sure that you’re spending. Thoughtfully, right? This is not your excuse to go out on a crazy fucking spending spree that you do not plan for.

[00:13:36] Another favorite little hack that I love when you go out to eat with friends, say, I got the check and you can just Venmo me. Suddenly, that $400 meal that normally would’ve been split like seven way
s now all goes in your credit card and you just get a Venmo. Do this with friends that you know are gonna pay you back, but perfect way of like getting more points, right?

[00:13:57] Of earning that, introductory offer, right? One of the biggest other hacks I can give you is open up your cards with the same bank or the same carrier. So I have my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, right? That is my personal card. That was like my first really fancy card that I signed up for. It’s metal.

[00:14:20] It’s a, again, lounge access. It’s great. When it came time to open up a her first $100K credit card, right? A corporate card for business expenses. I wasn’t gonna go to, you know, a completely separate bank. To open that credit card, I was gonna open it through Chase because your points can pool, you can pool your points, right?

[00:14:44] So I can have 250,000 points with my personal card and maybe 500,000 points with HFK and suddenly I have 750,000 chase points. That gives me a lot more flexibility and options than like splitting your points up into different banks and different places. Same thing with like my Amex card. If I choose to open up another business card, I’m either doing it through Chase or I’m doing it through Amex because it compliments what I already have, right?

[00:15:10] That way we can pool our points If you are, uh, legally partnered with somebody, credit cards don’t put necessarily yourselves on the same credit card. Do that plus open up a different credit card so you can still get all of the benefits, right? You could get the like three, let’s say 30,000 extra points if you sign up for one credit card in both y’all’s name.

[00:15:35] Or you could get 60,000 points if you sign up for two credit cards in both y’all’s names, right? That’s another little hacky way. If you still need to, you know, make sure that you can put purchases on that card, put both of your names on it, right? But that way you can take advantage like times two of the benefits that they’re offering and that like introductory bonus, just make sure they’re at the same place so you can pool, pool your points.

[00:16:03] All right. To wrap up couple of the things, right? We wanna find a credit card that actually makes sense for us. That actually reflects what we’re trying to do with it, right?

[00:16:14] We wanna find a credit card with benefits that actually make sense for us. We have all of the ones we recommend Linked down below are linked on our website, the travel cards, the student cards, the business cards, the like. I am getting my first credit card and I have no idea what to pick. Kind of card. We got all of those linked for you.

[00:16:30] Second is taking full advantage of your points, earning as many points as you possibly can by putting your normal everyday purchases on by, optimizing when you’re signing up for new cards by, you know, footing the bill and then asking people to Venmo you. There’s ways to earn more points and to optimize that experience, and then finally transferring those points.

[00:16:51] Typically, again, with flights and hotels, it’s going to make more sense to take the points out of the portal and to actually transfer them to either the airline or the hotel brand that you’re trying to use these points for. This is just the tip of the iceberg with this. Again, you can get as crazy as you want with travel hacking, or you can be as casual as you want, but.

[00:17:15] There’s something so fucking powerful about the fact that I will get to turn left on my first airplane. I will get to walk into an airplane, not turn right to go to coach, but turn left to go to business class and know. That I pay just the taxes and fees for that $14,000 trip for that $14,000 flight. It makes the rest of my planning to Europe so much easier because I can take the money I normally would’ve spent on a flight and spend it on something else, which is so nice.

[00:17:47] And as I’m planning the rest of the trip in this like last couple weeks before we go, I’m using more points to book hotels, to book renter cars. Rent a rent a cars, rental cars. I’m using our points to basically get us like a half off trip for three weeks in Europe and that’s, there’s no better feeling than that.

[00:18:09] If you like this episode, feel free to leave us a review, share it with a friend. If you are looking to either be full on Travel Hacker or just like, I wanna dip my toe in. Again, we have our credit cards we love, and that I use Linked Down Below. Thank you for being here. Cheers to Rich Bitch Flights and Rich Bitch experiences that you didn’t pay any fucking money for.

[00:18:31] And I will talk to you soon.

Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap is an internationally-recognized money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. She has helped over one million women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest.

Tori’s work has been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, BBC, TIME, PEOPLE, CNN, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, BuzzFeed, and more.

With a dedicated following of almost 250,000 on Instagram and more than 1.6 million on TikTok —and multiple instances of her story going viral—Tori’s unique take on financial advice has made her the go-to voice for ambitious millennial women. CNBC called Tori “the voice of financial confidence for women.”

An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.

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