Personal Finance

How Your Regular Monthly Spending Can Earn You $1,500+ in Free Travel This Year

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5 Articles Written
Couple walking in front door of vacation rental with suitcases

TLDR: Two people spend $1,500 per month on a credit card. One earns 7X more rewards with one trick.

Here’s how to spend less than 45 minutes and earn huge travel rewards. This quick case study should put a shimmering lightbulb over your head in the next three minutes.

In the world of travel rewards, there’s one trick that skyrockets your rewards: It’s knowing the incredible value of your everyday, monthly spending. You do not have to travel more to earn the most rewards. Once people realize this, it’s life changing.

You can achieve your travel dreams in record time.

How to Earn Rewards From Your Credit Card From Everyday Spending

This is possible by knowing that rewards credit card sign-up bonuses are incredible values. With one sign-up bonus, you could triple or quadruple your annual rewards.

Related: How Airbnb Helped Us Pay Down Credit Card Debt, Buy a Primary Residence, & More

Yes, you may pay a $95 annual fee. Would you pay $95 to get $750-plus in free travel? Do the math before dismissing cards with annual fees.

This warrants repeating: Do the math before dismissing cards with annual fees.

improve-credit-history

I am talking specifically about your everyday, monthly spending. Whether that is your personal expenses or business expenses, you could be racking up free travel rewards by getting one new credit card from time to time.

I laid out a full strategy for earning lots of rewards in “How to Earn Free Vacations With Travel Rewards Credit Cards.”

How is this possible?

Banks are in competition for your credit card loyalty. The average person uses the same credit card for seven years. If a bank can offer a nice sign-up bonus to earn your loyalty, it’s a big win for them.

Banks earn transaction fees on every swipe, plus the interest fees of people who do not pay their monthly balances in full. (Hint: Do not carry a balance.)

As a result, there are incredible sign-up bonuses on rewards cards. But you have to make sure you get the right ones. If you do, you’ll start taking dream vacations for free every year.

Case Study: Comparing 2 Credit Card Holders

Same Card Carl

Carl is a loyal credit card holder of his favorite airlines. He earned a sign-up bonus five years ago, and he continues to use the card for his monthly spending. 

Same Card Carl spends $1,500 per month on monthly expenses. 

Summary:

$1,500 per month x 12 months = 18,000 points 

Related: BiggerPockets Money Podcast 27: How to Get Even MORE from Your Travel Rewards Credit Card with Lee Huffman

Savvy Seth

Meanwhile, Seth spends the same amount, but he gets two new credit cards over the course of one year. He applies for one rewards card that earns a 60,000-point bonus. Then, he gets another card that earns 50,000 points once he hits his sign-up bonus spending requirement. 

The two cards Savvy Seth got required spending $3,000 in the first three months of opening the account to hit the sign-up bonuses. Since he spaced out his applications, he had to put $1,000 per month on each card. He spends $1,500 per month on his everyday expenses, so he easily hits the spending requirements.

Summary:

Savvy Seth spends $1,500 per month on monthly expenses. 

$1,500 per month x 12 months = 18,000 points 

calculate-financials

So, his rewards card bonus No. 1 equals 60,000 points. And his rewards card bonus No. 2 equals 50,000 points.

Total earning for the year:

18,000 + 60,000 + 50,000 = 128,000 points ($1,500 or more in cash value)

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Takeaway

Savvy Seth made his everyday spending SEVEN TIMES MORE VALUABLE than Same Card Carl. Getting two cards and connecting autopay to the new accounts probably accounted for 30 to 45 minutes of actual time during the year.

This is all part of earning a lot of free travel with very little effort. If you want to read more on how to jump start your free travel, read this comprehensive article of best strategies and tips. Especially if you have a spouse or a business, you can double or triple up on these opportunities.

Why Using Rewards Cards Just Makes Sense

If you already have a budget, you know how much you can spend on a card. If you do not have a monthly budget, this is a great reason to make one.

You can estimate your monthly spending and know exactly what kind of sign-up bonuses you can hit. High credit scores, organized budgets, and financial confidence are all side benefits of racking up travel rewards the easy way.

As you can see, this requires very little effort—just your own regular monthly spending. I recommend trying this with one great rewards card. Make sure you pay off your statements in full and do not overspend. Most people can easily hit some big sign-up bonus spending with regular monthly expenses.

By the way, since it’s the beginning of the year, make sure you check out how to earn a Southwest Companion Pass since it’s the best time of year to do this.

Questions about rewards cards? 

Ask me in the comment section below. 

Zac is the founder of Travel Freely, a free web app that helps people travel for free. He and his wife Virginia are from Nashville but have live...
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    JL C. from Walton, West Virginia
    Replied 9 months ago
    I would think doing this on a regular basis would cause your credit score to take a pretty substantial hit.
    Thomas Ballew
    Replied 9 months ago
    Not if you're paying off your balances every month. Your score might go down a few points after each credit application, but that is only temporary. Using credit cards to travel hack has actually INCREASED my FICO.
    Dawn Brenengen Real Estate Broker from Raleigh, NC
    Replied 9 months ago
    You would think, but I max credit card spending to earn travel rewards, and my FICO according to my Wells Fargo link is 843
    Zac Hood from Denver, CO
    Replied 9 months ago
    That's awesome, Dawn. Definitely good to hear from others who have experienced the same. It's definitely a sneak, secondary benefit of this free travel - we've gotten incredible rates on car loans and mortgages for my family. So the allure is free travel, but we've saved a ton in other ways on big loans.
    Nathan G. Real Estate Broker from Cody, WY
    Replied 9 months ago
    Absolutely! I just started in May and my wife and I have already earned almost 200,000 points this year! I paid for my flight to the BP2019 Conference and we took a trip to Mexico in October. It helps to have business cards and personal cards to maximize points. We don't carry debt and are disciplined enough to pay everything off every month so there's never any interest. As soon as we earn the bonus points, we can move on to the next card. I'm also using travelfreely.net for their free training, card tracking, and personalized card suggestions.
    Ricky Philatre
    Replied 9 months ago
    After the bonuses you’re still stuck with the annual fee or else you have to cancel the card right?
    Zac Hood from Denver, CO
    Replied 9 months ago
    That's a great question. A cool tip that most people don't know is that there's a third option besides paying the fee or cancelling the card. You can do what's called a "downgrade" to a no annual fee card. Not all cards allow this, but most do. The other good thing about downgrading is that it doesn't count as a credit inquiry and you continue your account history dating back to the original date opened of the original card. Plus, several good rewards cards have the first year annual fee waived.
    Gustavo Lotuffo
    Replied 3 months ago
    What credit cards do you recommend? For example, I opened the chase sapphire credit card a few months ago. (got the signing bonus and now what?) I do not think I can downgrade this product. I like your strategy of downgrading product since that doesn't seems to hurt your credit if you close the account. Would like to know what cards offer a similar sign in bonus and then can downgrade.
    K McKenzie
    Replied 9 months ago
    I prefer the cards that pay cash rewards. Get the cash and you can book and pay for travel with no restrictions. Some cards offer huge sign-up bonuses. One year I earned over $2000 in cash back. I charge everything I can - rental property renovations, car and property insurance premiums, daily expenses, and of course- travel! I use specific cards for specific types of purchases: One card I have pays 3% on gas, dining and travel. One card pays 6% on groceries. One card pays 2% across the board on everything else. It’s crazy not to charge everything!
    Zac Hood from Denver, CO
    Replied 9 months ago
    Great point. I think cash is a great way to keep it simple, but pretty limited unless you're putting a ton of spending on the cards and okay with paying retail for most travel. The travel rewards points can be much higher return for specific types of travel, especially flights. You can get 3-5x with travel rewards, and sometimes monster upside with int'l business class flights. The int'l business class flight might be cost $6,000+ in cash, but only $800 - 1,000 worth of travel rewards points. One quick example, I was just looking at joining a friend last minute in Kansas City tonight. It would cost $375 in cash, but I can use 8,000 Amex points (value of only ~ $80) to book the same flight.
    Austin Montgomery Rental Property Investor from Enterprise, AL
    Replied 9 months ago
    Question: if you’re switching cards all the time, aren’t the points all separate? So if you have 60,000 Amex points, and 50,000 with chase, and 50,000 with whoever else, don’t you end up with not enough points in each account to actually use them for anything substantial (ie flights, hotels, etc)
    Zac Hood from Denver, CO
    Replied 9 months ago
    Hey Austin, Great question. Each rewards program is kind of it's own ecosystem, and each bank has several cards that earn the same kind of points that can be pooled together. So you don't have to get spread out like that. That's my advice for people starting out. Then you only have to manage one kind of rewards program. Over time, other programs help you "diversify" your rewards so you can always have the kind of rewards you need. That said, 50-60k bonus points is very substantial from those programs, enough for several hotel nights or 2-3 flights. So you can get great value with one card sign-up.