Earlier this year I wrote about how I used 867,100 points and $5,000 to travel around for 6 months on my sabbatical. The overwhelming response that I got was “That’s great for you but I don’t spend that much money. I could never get that many points.” Let me assure you that even though I’ve accumulated about 2,000,000 points in the last 2.5 years, I’m no millionaire! And trust me when I tell you that you don’t have to spend a lot to earn a lot of points. So, in this article, I’m going to share with you how you could earn half a million points in a year while spending less than $1,350 per month.
(Disclaimer: This is just an example to show you how this could work. You should do your own research to develop a plan that helps you reach your own travel goals. Like I said in my earlier post and again at the end of this article, this strategy is not for everyone so please carefully consider your own personal financial situation before applying for credit cards.)
Here’s the month-by-month plan:
January – March
Sign up for Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card (Application Link)
– Spending Requirement and Sign-up Bonus – Spend $4,000 in 3 months for 60,000 points
– In the credit card/points world, this is almost universally considered the be the best card for beginners and it’s one of my personal favorites as well. Chase recently increased the bonus on the Preferred card to 60,000 points although they require $4,000 in spending in 3 months to earn the bonus.
Sign up for the Chase Freedom Credit Card (Application Link)
– Spending Requirement and Sign-up Bonus – Spend $500 in 3 months for 15k points
– The 15k points are nice though the real value lies in the 5x bonus point categories that rotate each quarter. If you spend $500 at the right places while you’re getting hitting this spending requirement, you could be earning 2,500 points plus the 15,000-point sign-up bonus. Not bad for a card with no annual fee! To maximize the value of the 15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that you get from the Chase Freedom sign-up bonus, it’s important that you pair it with the Chase Sapphire Preferred (or the Chase Sapphire Reserve) as this pairing opens up the ability to transfer your points to partner hotels and airlines. These two cards are an absolutely awesome combination!!
– (Side note: If you don’t know about Chase’s “5/24” rule, you should read about it here.)
Sign up for the AAdvantage Aviator Red Credit Card (Application Link)
– Spending Requirement and Sign-up Bonus – Make 1 purchase for 50k points
– This is actually a pretty solid credit card if you regularly fly American Airlines and the extremely low spending requirement is hard to beat!
Sign up for the Chase IHG Premier Credit Card (Application Link)
– Spending Requirement and Sign-up Bonus – Spend $2,000 in 3 months for 80k points
– A brand new credit card just launched by Chase. This card offers a free night every year you keep the card and some other compelling benefits.
June – August
Sign up for the Chase Hyatt Credit Card (Application Link)
– Spending Requirement and Sign-up Bonus – Spend $2,000 in 3 months for 40k points
– This is a great card to keep as you also get a free night every year you keep this card and additional free nights at Hyatt hotels start at only 5,000 points. Plus, the points from your Chase Sapphire Preferred can transfer to Hyatt so you can accumulate a ton of free nights very quickly here!
Sign up for the Amex Premier Rewards Gold Credit Card (Application Link – via USCreditCardGuide.com)
– Spending Requirement and Sign-up Bonus – Spend $2,000 in 3 months for 50k points
– This is a mid-tier card with a solid array of benefits that includes a $100/year credit on airline expenses. Plus, Amex generously waives the annual fee in the first year. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth the $195/year annual fee moving forward.
Sign up for the JetBlue Plus Credit Card (Application Link)
– Spending Requirement and Sign-up Bonus – Spend $1,000 in 3 months for 40k points
– Another solid airline card with a good sign-up bonus for a relatively low spending requirement. I recently booked a roundtrip flight from Philadelphia to Costa Rica for less than 20,000 True Blue points.
Sign up for Alaska Airlines Visa Credit Card (Application Link)
– Spending Requirement and Sign-up Bonus – Spend $1,000 in 3 months for 30k points
– I don’t fly Alaska Airlines much but the recent merger with Virgin America means there might be some more opportunities to use these points in the near future.
Sign up for the Avianca Vuela Credit Card (Application Link – via doctorofcredit.com)
– Spending Requirement and Sign-up Bonus – Make 1 purchase for 60k points… though you do pay the $149 annual fee.
– Although I later cancelled the flight, 55,000 Avianca points got me a business class ticket from Cape Town to Vienna on Ethiopian Airlines so even though you might never fly Avianca, these points still have value.
November – December
Sign up for the Amex Gold Delta Skymiles Credit Card (Application Link)
– Spending Requirement and Sign-up Bonus – Spend $2,000 in 3 months for 50k points (+ 10k additional points if you spend another $1,000 in 6 months)
– Yet another solid airline credit card which would give you a massive range of various airline options to choose from when you’re ready to book your next flight.
79,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
42,000 Hyatt Points
82,000 IHG Points
52,000 American Express Membership Rewards Points
41,000 JetBlue TrueBlue Points
31,000 Alaska Airlines Miles
50,001 American Airlines Miles
60,001 Avianca Miles
52,000 Delta Miles (and I didn’t even count the easy additional 11,000 miles you could earn with their current offer)
489,502 total points/miles
Remember that most credit cards have bonus categories so you can earn additional points by spending strategically. For example, you earn 2x points on dining and travel with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Amex Gold Premier Card earns 3x points at airlines so with some strategic spending, you could easily end up well over half a million points and miles!!
This would set you up for years of free flying and a few more opportunities at some free hotel stays too. How much 500,000 points is worth depends entirely on how you redeem the points but, for me, I was able to extract over $20,000 in value from just over 850,000 points.
A Few Important Reminders
Understand Your Credit
Through this process, your credit score will likely go down slightly because of all of the inquiries into your personal credit history. So, if you’re planning on making a major purchase (house, car, etc…), you may want to wait in your pursuit of points. Further, having strong credit to begin with will help you get approved for all of these cards so a plan like this probably isn’t for you if you don’t have great credit to begin with. The good news is that in the long term, if you keep a low balance and pay your card off in full every month, your credit score may actually rise after you get a new card.
Be Responsible with Your Spending Habits
In other words, don’t buy things just to get points. Fortunately, a strategy such as this one doesn’t require you to spend outrageously. Don’t forget to change you cell phone and TV payment options to help you hit the minimum spending requirements and get used to paying for everything with your card. Those $5 lattes add up quickly!!
Be Diligent About Paying Bills
NEVER carry a balance. NEVER pay interest. NEVER!!!
Have a Plan for Year #2
Many of the cards listed above waive the annual fee in the first year. However, with the exception of the Chase Freedom, all of these cards do carry an annual fee moving forward. Some of them are worth keeping and some might not be. Do your homework!
Do Your Own Research
I chose these cards because they have low spending requirements and offer solid value… but that doesn’t mean that they are all right for you. I’ve never had half of the cards on this list. Figure out what your travel goals are and design a plan that will help you save money on travel.
(Disclaimer #2: I have included referral links for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Chase Freedom, and the Chase Hyatt cards above. If you apply for any of those cards, I’d appreciate it if you use those links as I’ll earn a few bonus points if you do.)