Every year, sometime between late-November and early-February we get the urge to book a trip. We used to book trips for places we knew we wanted to go like Italy. Italy is amazing. The food, the wine, the views, everything is amazing…except the price. Booking a trip to Italy for spring/early summer isn’t cheap. In April 2014, we went to Italy with a 24hr layover in Dublin and spent around $1,000/ea on flights. At the time, we considered that to be a really good deal!
Three years ago, we were introduced to the real deals found on sites like Thrifty Traveler and The Flight Deal and went on some awesome adventures. The original jolt of knowledge came when Kevin & Mike mentioned booking a flight from Chicago to Tokyo for $400 round trip. We decided to join them and then we got hooked on finding cheap fares like these:
Nashville to Tokyo: $700/ea round trip
Washington D.C. to Santiago Chile: $220/ea round trip
New York (JFK) to Azores, Portugal: 30,000 Delta Skymiles round trip
We just booked this trip last week. For those who don’t know much about Skymiles, this is a crazy cheap deal. We spent 15,000 Skymiles (each) to fly from Atlanta to Minneapolis one way in August. International flights usually start at 60,000 Skymiles. We had never even heard of “The Azores” until last Monday. The Azores are made up of nine islands, 1,000 miles west of mainland Portugal and are considered the European version of Hawaii (but a lot cheaper and not as hot). It looks like a mix of Hawaii and Ireland because everything is incredibly green. We will be on the very first Delta flight to go to the island in May 2018 with great friends, Matt & Lisa.
So How Do You Get The Miles/Points?
Around the time we learned of Thrifty Traveler and The Flight Deal, we starting paying attention to using credit cards for travel rewards. There are various degrees of people who use different credit cards to get points/miles. Hardcore people call it, “Churning” and go through many credit cards in a year. We’re much more conservative with our approach and usually do 1-2 different credit cards each year.
How Does It Work?
Basically, you sign up for credit cards with high bonus rewards when you hit a minimum spend within a specified time frame. For most personal cards, it is usually around $3,000 within three months of the card being opened. Once you have the bonus points/miles, you either keep them in that account or transfer them to an airline, hotel, or other rewards account (this applies to cards like Chase that don’t go to a specific airline). We prefer to fly Delta so we usually sign up for a Delta American Express when they have a bonus deal. It’s best to wait until they have a bonus around 50,000 points (which happens 1-2 times a year and the promotion lasts for 1-3 months). If the card has an annual fee, you close it before the 1-year mark to avoid paying the annual fee for the second year.
Can You Keep Doing It?
Yes and no. Many companies put policies in place so you can only get a bonus on a specific card once every 2 years. To get around it, we alternate who applies for the card and which card. For example, in 2015, I applied for the Delta Gold AMEX and got an extra card for Kayla. We use the card for daily expenses to hit the $3,000 within 3 months and got 50,000 Delta Skymiles. In 2016, Kayla applied for the Delta Platinum AMEX and got an extra card for me and we spent $4,000 in three months for 60,000 Delta Skymiles. Sometimes we need a little extra help to hit the spend amount within the three months. Once we were about $600 short of the required amount so we bought $600 worth of gift cards to the grocery store. We got our bonus and then used gift cards to purchase groceries for the next month.
How Do You Find The Best Cards?
There are many websites out there that help you find the best bonuses and help you decide if the card is worth it. If card has a high annual fee, it might not be worth the bonus unless you use the other features of the card (or your work is paying the annual fee). I prefer to use The Mad Fientist’s Credit Card Tool to help make my decisions because it gives a nice clear comparison between cards. The Mad Fientist also has some awesome financial advice podcasts too, check them out! I also check The Points Guy for info because they usually explain how you can use your miles/points to get the best value out of them.
Doesn’t It Hurt Your Credit?
That depends. We have very good credit scores and we pay the credit card off each month so we never have late payments or pay interest. Since we don’t have student loan debt or car loan debt, our only other form of debt is our house loan. Using (and paying off) the credit cards each month help our credit score. The potential impact is a slight dip in credit score due to inquiries when we open a new card. However, that dip is only a few points and it goes back to normal after a few months. If you’re in the process of buying a house, I would stay away from opening new credit cards! Also, if you have trouble paying off your bill in-full each month, I would ditch credit cards altogether and use debit or cash to get your finances in order!
How Do You Book The Trips?
The sites will tell you how to book the deals. However, the most important thing is that you need to be flexible. The deals often last for less than 12 hours. When we booked flights to Chile, the original fare was $170 and Kayla and I texted about it for 45 minutes and the price went up to $220. By that afternoon it was up to $800. The other important part is that you need to be able to travel in 2-6 months in most cases. We average about 4 months from the day we book the flights to the day we travel.
So there you have it, now you know all of our secrets! We have been fortunate enough to travel to some amazing places around the world and the more places we go, the more we want to explore other parts of the world! Let us know if you find a sweet deal…maybe we will join you!