I often get asked how I save money or get free travel perks when using credit cards. So I decided to put all my credit tips into this post. When it comes to using credit for travel, it’s really important that you do it responsibly so you don’t end up with a mountain of debt. Also, always, always read the fine print. Doing it the right way has helped both J and me achieve excellent credit scores, and save TONS of money on our trips. The most I’ve gotten back at one time is $575 toward a Spain trip.
To get the great offers with credit cards, you’ll need to have that excellent score. It’s also key to remember that this process takes time and patience, but the savings will definitely be worth it. Points take time to accumulate so consider that when planning your next trip. Below I break down my favorite cards so far.
Read more: Saving Money on Longer Trips
IHG currently has an 80,000 bonus point sign up, which means you can get around 2-3 free nights at any of their hotels around the world after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. They’re not offering 0% APR so make sure you have the cash to pay that balance off right away to avoid interest fees because nobody likes interest.
WHY I LOVE THIS CARD: They offer a free anniversary night every year on the date you opened your card. They do charge a $49 annual fee, so it’s technically not “free” but it’s a hell of a savings when you’re booking a $500+/night hotel in Paris for $49 like I did this past June. That’s the beauty of it, they don’t really limit where you spend your anniversary night so you can have a luxurious evening most anywhere in the world for $49. It’s worth keeping the card just for that. If you have a partner, you can both get the card and have 2 anniversary nights! I just gave myself an idea…
I also love the treatment you get when you book a room using your card. Every IHG hotel we’ve stayed at since getting this card has treated us like VIP guests. Many times you get upgraded just for being a member. My Paris upgrade with a balcony view of the Eiffel tower has got to be my favorite win. When we arrived at our room, we had a personalized welcome card, French pastries, and champagne waiting for us — all because we’re members. When you check in you usually get offered the option of getting a free drink at the bar or additional points added to your card for later use. The IHG hotels include Holiday Inn, Kimpton, Intercontinental, Hotel Indigo and more.
One of the main things I look for when choosing a card for travel is cash back rewards. I don’t like cards that offer miles because they’re very limiting when trying to cash in your reward. They have blackout dates, limited seats to choose from on the plane, limited dates to choose from for your trip, etc. It gets incredibly annoying trying to work around all the limitations. Cash back rewards are the best because once you reach a number of points, you get automatic cash back onto your statement.
WHY I LOVE THIS CARD: VentureOne is currently offering 20,000 bonus points after your first $1,000 spent within 3 months from account opening. You also get 1.25 points per dollar. If you book a flight, hotels, trains, anything travel related that costs you $1,000, you’ll get $212 back on your statement. You just log into your account and apply the points to your travel purchases and bam you’ll see a $212 refund on your bill. There’s also no annual fee and 0% APR for the first year. Another great thing to look for with travel cards (which VentureOne offers) is no foreign transaction fees so that you can use your card abroad without getting charged extra. This card also offers car rental insurance, but you must use the card to pay for the rental and deny the car company’s insurance.
I rarely use the same card for big trips abroad because, after the initial bonus points, it really has nothing to offer me (except for IHG). You don’t really make a dent in your points unless you’re using the card for everyday life and bills, which I really don’t like doing. Make sure you don’t apply to more than 1-2 cards per year depending on your credit score, spacing it by 6 to 12 months. I really recommend just sticking to 1 card per year. Definitely, make a note and keep track of your cards, dates, and rewards. I told you it was quite a project!
WHY I LOVE THIS CARD: Bank of America Travel Rewards is very similar to VentureOne. A 20,000 bonus point sign up after $1,000 spent, plus 1.5 points for every dollar. No foreign transaction fees, 0% APR for a year, and no annual fee. My favorite thing is that if you already have a checking or savings account with Bank of America, you get 10% bonus points every time you redeem!
So, say you spent $1,000 on this amazing trip and you got your bonus points. You then go to redeem those points for $215 cash back on your statement. And, simply because you already have a checking/savings account with them, you’ll get an additional $21.50. In total, you’ve saved $236+ on your trip. The more points you have, the more you save.
It’s always a good idea to build a relationship with an airline. By using their card, collecting their points, and always booking with them you can save a lot of money. Southwest offers reusable funds if you cancel a flight, no change fees, and $250 cash back when applying for their Plus card. You’ll see this offer at the bottom when checking out after choosing a flight. They also give you 10,000 bonus points which can be applied to a future flight. There is a $69 annual fee, but the extra free flight with points makes up for it. You also get 3,000 points for every anniversary.
I don’t always choose Southwest when booking a flight, but when I have I’ve been able to apply points and save a good amount of money. When I first got the card, my offer was only $200 so you can save even more now.
Here are my savings so far:
One-way flight to Los Angeles for J and I- $43 after the $200 cash back
*Collected more points by flying Southwest*
As I mentioned, Southwest doesn’t always have the best prices for me to keep choosing them, but the savings with the card are plentiful. I’m definitely going to keep the card and use the points as they come. I’ve been on the hunt for a good airline that has more international options and a solid reward program. Please let me know if you have any recommendations!