Whenever I tell someone that I’m a world traveler, they usually find that to be quite interesting.
But the real reactions appear when I disclose that I almost never pay for any of my own travel, but rather, use credit card points and miles to pay for my trips.
Most people are stunned, some just think I’m flat out lying, and others have assumed that I’m either couch surfing or somehow sneaking my way into the cabin’s stow away area. I’ve even been asked if I’m running some kind of illegal scam!
The truth though, is that I do usually fly in business or first class, using the points and miles that I earn from my credit cards.
In fact, I’m part of an entire community of personal finance experts and travel rewards enthusiasts whose hobby is to travel as much as possible while spending the least amount of money.
Interested in hearing some of their stories? I asked six of my colleagues and friends to share some highlights of their travels around the world paid for with - you guessed it - credit card rewards.
1. Miranda Marquit, Freelance Financial Journalist and Money Expert
Miranda shared with me, "I haven't used rewards points on international travel just yet, but I frequently use my travel rewards for spring break and winter holiday adventures with my son.
We almost never buy airline tickets.
We've gone to New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, and other cities without spending a dime on airfare."
2. Andrew Schrage, Co-founder of MoneyCrashers.com
Andrew Schrage is the co-founder of MoneyCrashers.com and lives in Denver, CO.
Knowing that Andrew has traveled to several other countries using a good deal of rewards points, I asked him to share some overall tips that he’s used to make the most out of his points.
He said, "You'll need to exercise patience as far as cashing them in goes - it will take a while before you have enough to significantly reduce the cost of your international travel.”
He also shared about his favorite travel credit card that helps him accrue points quickly. “The Chase Sapphire Preferred card generates stellar travel rewards and is one of the best travel credit cards to sign up for.”
He’s definitely right. Right now, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers new applicants 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.
You can also earn double points on all travel and dining purchases. But the best part is that points can be transferred to miles with several popular airline and hotel programs.
3. Zina Kumok, Writer, Speaker, and Coach
Her story of earning free travel started shortly after she got married. "My husband and I went to London and Croatia on our honeymoon." she says.
Like Andrew, Zina’s a big fan of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
"Using Chase Ultimate Reward points, we flew for free. Our hotel in London was also mostly free - using Starwood points. We had an amazing honeymoon that cost us a small portion of the total value!"
The Starwood Preferred Guest card is another favorite of award travelers as you can earn points that can be used for free hotel stays, or transferred to miles with 30 different airlines.
4. Dan Miller, Travel Rewards Blogger
Dan is the father of six children with a lot of travel experiences under his belt. He sometimes brings his wife and crew with him on his earned trips and writes about in detail on his blog, Points With A Crew.
As Dan shared with me, "Miles and points have taken our family of 8 places we never would have been able to DREAM of going.”
“Last summer, we used points to take our entire family in sleeper cars on a cross country train trip, and more recently my wife and I just booked a trip around the world in First Class!"
So the next time you're having trouble finding award seats for you and your significant other, just remember that Dan somehow finds a way to travel for free with his family of eight! You’ll get there, it just takes time and patience.
5. Stephanie Halligan, Cartoonist and Personal Finance Writer
Stephanie is a personal finance writer, motivational cartoonist, and the creator of blog, The Empowered Dollar. She's successfully combined her love for drawing, blogging, and helping people with their money into her full time business.
As Steph told me, "A few summers ago, I was able to take my first trip to Africa with the help of credit card points.
It would have cost me over $2,400 just to fly to South Africa from the U.S., but thanks to my credit card points, I only paid $135 roundtrip."
6. Sean Bryant, Founder of Freesnatcher.com and OneSmartDollar.com
Sean is a personal finance writer and entrepreneur. As founder of the Freesnatcher and One Smart Dollar, he writes frequently about his first-hand experiences as a business owner with the hopes of helping others starting build their net worth.
As Sean shared with me, "I have been collecting points and miles for a few years now, and it has allowed me and my family to travel to several different parts of the world.”
“ Last year, we visited Japan and South Korea, and more recently, even returned from Hawaii. Now we are starting to plan our next trip for later this year."
You Can Do It Too
Earning enough points to fully pay for some of your upcoming trips will definitely take time and patience, but I hope the examples above give you some motivation to know that it is possible and it is awesome!
As Andrew mentioned - and in my own experiences, as well - the key is to exercise patience in growing your base of points, and thoughtfully planning your trips. With those two things covered, you'll be joining the ranks of free travel enthusiasts in no time!