How I Turned My Divorce into More Than $4,000 in Free Travel

Divorce is expensive and challenging, but travel rewards helped reduce the sting a little for me.
Last updated Feb 27, 2020 | By Ben Luthi
Woman removing wedding ring

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In case you haven’t heard, divorce isn’t fun. The average cost of a contested divorce is roughly $15,000, and even if you can manage to save money with an uncontested divorce like my ex-wife and I did, the emotional toll is heavy for everyone involved.

When my ex-wife and I separated, we agreed that she would keep the home we had lived in together, along with most of the furniture and other shared belongings. In the beginning, I lived in a short-term furnished apartment, which would be better described as a glorified hotel room.

But after a few months, I switched to a more permanent solution. While the cost to rent a house was roughly $600 less per month than the small two-bedroom apartment I’d been renting, it meant that I needed to furnish an entire home.

Fortunately, I had enough money saved up that I didn’t need to go into debt to afford my new surroundings, and we had paid off all our shared debt other than the mortgage before we separated.

But as someone who’s earned tens of thousands of dollars worth of credit card rewards over the year and racked up plenty of (almost) free travel, I quickly realized these looming expenses presented an opportunity, and I applied for five credit cards within a few weeks.

The 5 credit cards I used for divorce expenses

I spent more than $15,000 in January 2019 to furnish the home I moved into that month — although that was just the beginning. I also used my new credit cards to cover other regular expenses to round out the minimum spend required for each sign-up bonus.

In total, I earned more than $4,000 in sign-up bonuses and rewards on my expenses. Here’s how it broke down:

CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Intro bonus: Earn 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $4,000 in the first 4 months

The CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard was the first card I applied for, and I had it while I was still living in my short-term apartment in December 2018. I actually applied for it because the apartment complex allowed me to pay rent with a credit card with no fees.

I used the card to pay for that, plus other everyday expenses and the first costs of moving into the new home, including renter’s insurance and utilities. I quickly met the minimum spending requirement and earned 65,000 American Airlines miles, which is worth roughly $910 based on average credit card point valuations.

Zions Bank AmaZing Cash for Business

Intro bonus: $1,000 cash bonus after spending $7,000 in the first three months (at the time I applied)

Zions Bank, a regional bank in the Mountain West, was offering this incredible bonus on its no-annual-fee card at the end of 2018, and I snapped it up quickly. I put most of my initial furnishing expenses on the card and met the minimum spending requirement within a few days.

I got $1,000 in cash back from the card, which I transferred to my vacation savings account for future trips.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Intro bonus: Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months

Once I was done with the Zions Bank business credit card, I spent more than $4,000 on the Hilton Honors Aspire Card within a week. Again, it was mostly appliances, furniture, and other household items. As a result, I quickly earned the card’s 150,000-point welcome offer, which is worth about $750 based on average point value.

Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card

Intro bonus: 50,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days

I used the Bank of America Premium Rewards card for the tail end of my home-related expenses in January, making quick work of the minimum spending requirement. While I wanted the card’s sign-up bonus, I chose it specifically because it offers an annual airline fee credit that essentially neutralizes the cost of the $95 annual fee.

Once I met the card’s minimum spending requirement, I earned $500 in cash back, which I’ve used throughout the year to cover certain travel expenses that I couldn’t use points and miles for. I also used the airline fee credit to get boarding upgrades on Southwest when I took my mom to Hawaii in August.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard

Intro bonus: 70,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days (at the time I applied)

I’d had this card a couple of times before but wanted to apply again because it was running a limited-time offer. I was mostly done with my home furnishing purchases by the time I started on this one, so I ultimately met the spending requirement over the course of a couple of months. I put all my costs on it, including my new health insurance premiums.

Once I met the requirement, I earned 70,000 miles, which were worth about $700 in travel. 

Though this card is no longer available for new applicants, the Chase Sapphire Preferred could be a good substitute. It has a $95 annual fee and offers the chance to earn 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Other divorce costs

The only major expense I didn’t add to my credit cards was the cost of attorney fees. I chose not to hire an attorney but agreed to cover the costs of my ex-wife’s attorney’s fees, which amounted to $1,200 to draw up and file our divorce agreement. She paid them using her credit card, and I reimbursed her via Venmo.

I could have used a credit card to pay her via Venmo, which would have cost me 3% in fees, but by the time we had finalized things I had already met the minimum spending requirements on my cards — and the cost of the fee outweighed any rewards I would’ve earned on the transaction.

What to consider before applying for new credit cards

In total, I earned $3,930 in sign-up bonuses with my divorce-related expenses, and likely a few hundred dollars more worth of rewards on the purchases I made with the cards. I used a lot of the points, miles, and cash back I’ve earned throughout the year on various trips but still have quite a bit to use for future vacations.

Of course, I realize that my situation was an ideal one. Not only were the costs directly associated with my divorce (attorney fees, filing, etc.) much lower than the average, but I also had enough cash in savings to pay off the credit cards instead of carrying a balance and racking up huge interest charges.

Also, my credit score was and still is in great shape, but for many people, divorce can damage your credit. Depending on your own situation, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • If you don’t have enough cash to pay for your divorce-related expenses, focus on cards with an introductory 0% APR promotion instead of big sign-up bonuses.
  • Apply for credit cards with sign-up bonuses only if you’re confident you can meet the minimum spend requirements and pay off the card each month.
  • Applying for multiple credit cards in a short period can hurt your credit score. Keep that in mind, especially if there are other elements with your divorce that could affect your credit.
  • Keep track of your spending using budgeting software (I used You Need a Budget). It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the costs associated with divorce, and a budgeting app can help you stay on top of things and avoid losing control.
  • Pick rewards cards based on your travel plans. I chose a mix of airline miles, hotel points, general travel rewards, and cash back because I didn’t have any specific travel plans in mind and wanted to diversify my rewards portfolio.

The bottom line

Credit card sign-up bonuses can provide a lot of value, and can even reduce the sting of major expenses. While I was still out more than $15,000 in one month alone, getting almost a third of that back in the form of travel rewards softened the blow a little bit. And I’ve been able to reap the benefits of those rewards this year and will continue to do so in the future.

But if you’re considering getting a new credit card during the divorce process, consider all of the aspects of your situation before pulling the trigger on an application. A shiny sign-up bonus can be nice, but an introductory 0% APR promotion could provide more value through interest savings and, more importantly, peace of mind.

Also, think about other debts and obligations you might have during the process. In some cases, you may simply be better off avoiding credit cards during such a challenging time. Whatever you do, take the time necessary to find the best financial path forward for you.

Fabulous Rewards for Hilton Fans

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Benefits

  • 150,000 bonus point welcome offer
  • 14X points on eligible Hilton purchases
  • Earn up to two weekend reward nights
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Terms apply