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Credit Cards are our friends, not food*

(or playing the points game without fear)

(*Finding Nemo reference)

Travel is expensive. And water is wet. We all know this. Most people who are currently trapped in the #9to5Matrix get enough leave to travel once a year, usually in the summer when the kids are out of school.

In general, we like to get away from the area we live in, especially if it’s someplace that gets very cold in the winter. It’s great to get away to someplace that stays warm pretty much year around. This is why places like Mexico and the Bahamas are so popular. This means paying for expensive airfare to get to the just as expensive hotel/resort you will spend your vacation time. For those of us who are not rich, we have to find ways to mitigate the price of vacationing with different forms of travel hacking.

The one hack I want to talk about today is Points Rewards Credit Cards.

Credit card rewards are one way credit card companies entice people to open an account. While there are some great rewards offered — free trips, discounts on purchases, and cash back. Credit cards don’t have to be a bad thing if you know how to play the game.

And the name of the game is card churning.

What Is Credit Card Churning?

Many credit card issuers offer great signup bonuses. New cardholders earn a big bonus for spending a certain amount within a certain timeframe — usually the first 90 days of opening the credit card. The more rewards credit cards you open, the more signup bonuses you can earn.

Credit card churning refers to the practice of repeatedly opening and closing a credit card to earn its signup bonus over and over. Doing this with several credit cards lets you rack up far more rewards than you’d get if you stuck with just one credit card. You can use some other strategies — like combining rewards from loyalty programs — to maximize the number of rewards you earn.

Card churning takes a lot of time and serious dedication to get the most out of this game. I admit, I’m relatively new to this and technically, I’m not a card churner. You hear all these stories where someone got to take $12,000 flight for free because of their prowess with acquiring reward card miles. That takes a special level of dedication that only a few can do, you know, like bodybuilders. It can be done, but not everyone can do it to that level. There are those who have so many cards they have to keep track of with a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet! To keep track of their credit cards, the rewards and when the year is up so they can cancel to avoid the annual fee.

Emirates First Class
Emirates First Class

However, you don’t have to be a card churner to get a satisfying amount of benefit from using rewards. There are different levels.

I’ve been in the rewards card game for a couple of years and have experimented with two different cards with their rewards. United MileagePlus Explorer and The Capital One Venture cards. It was a happy accident that I discovered the Rewards Cards game. In an attempt to rebuild my credit I got a Capital One card that was “bad credit friendly”. While rebuilding my credit, I discovered other cards that I now qualified for and applied for the United MileagePlus Explorer card. It has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles if you spend $3000 in the first 90 days. So, I gave it a try. We met the requirements and had 50,000 miles burning a hole in our proverbial pockets.

There are other benefits to having the card as you can see below:

United Rewards
United Rewards

We continued to acquire miles and eventually got to 75,000 and I was looking to go somewhere for spring break with my wife and kids. Through the United Rewards portal you can redeem your miles:


With our miles, the price of the tickets to Cancun Mexico was totally covered by our miles. I just had to pay a fee of $130 (nothing is ever totally free). So, the four of us got to fly to Cancun, Mexico for $130 out of my pocket. Not bad. I would have paid at least $1200 otherwise. The flight back, I only paid $300 because we had four $200 vouchers from United so that knocked $800 off the price. How we got the vouchers is a story for another time. A trip to Mexico for a family of four cost me roughly $500.

Enjoying the United Lounge during Layover
Enjoying the United Lounge during Layover

I’m here to tell you, the objective doesn’t always have to be getting a $12,000 flight for $2. There are various things you can do to cut the cost of traveling. There are people who travel as cheaply as possible. Being in the main cabin for as little as possible is good for them. I prefer a certain amount of comfort and let’s be real, these seats on airplanes just don’t match the average Americans physique. I am 6 feet tall, 210 pounds. I’m not the biggest guy, nor the smallest. Somewhere in the middle and the average seat on a plane is uncomfortable. So, at times, I have used my reward miles to upgrade to the more comfortable seats.

Look at the leg room
Look at the leg room

I am now currently using my Capital One Venture card. They had a promotion where you get 50,000 miles after spending $3000 in 90 days and get 2 miles for every dollar spent after that. I met the requirement and have been using my card for paying my bills and everyday purchases. The main caveat being, you pay the card off before the billing cycle to not incur interest charges and to keep from building up a balance that will take you years to pay off. I now have enough miles to plan another trip, either to fully pay for the four of us to fly somewhere free or to use the miles to do a serious upgrade to a first class trip.

As I am writing this, it is just reminding me how complicated travel hacking can be and just how much information there is out there to consider. You can upgrade your seats to First Class or Business class, or you can upgrade to seats with more leg room. This is what I did for our trip to Bermuda. There are other advantages like early boarding, or being able to stay in the United Lounge while on a long layover. Returning from Mexico, we had a five-hour layover in Houston and it was an enjoyable time in the lounge where we got free drinks and food.

So the bottom line is, you have to consider what is most important to you. You don’t have to do a bunch of card churning to try to get a free trip to China, but, you can do other things that will make your trip less expensive and more enjoyable. It depends on how many of you are traveling. You could be a solo traveler and really kill by getting two or three trips out of 100K miles.

Like the saying “Your mileage may vary”, using Reward Miles depend on what you want to get out of your travel experience.

I am still in the process of learning about travel hacking and two of the sites I visit most are the Points Guys and 10x Travel. Not only are there reward cards for flights, but there are also reward cards for hotel stays. That’s a blog post for another time.

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