How To Travel For Free

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If you're looking for how to travel for free, then credit card rewards can be a great option to allowing you to see the world for little of your own money.

The following is a contribution from Jason at The Card Journalist. 

How do you turn a financial bloggers convention into a travel hacking seminar? Speak to a bunch of bloggers for five minutes on the subject of “How to travel for free.” That’s what I did recently in front of 150 personal finance bloggers at FinCon in St. Louis, and afterwards, I was besieged by my colleagues who wanted to get in on the deal.

My fellow bloggers were impressed that I covered almost all of the expenses for my trip to St. Louis using credit card rewards, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. By the end of 2013, I will have used points and miles to take about a dozen trips around the country and across the world, many with my family of four, and all of the overseas trips in business or first class. The retail value of these rewards will approach $100,000, yet the cost to me and my family was only pennies on the dollar.

How do I Travel for Free?


There are many tricks that I use to earn, and spend, points and miles towards award travel, but here are my favorite:

1. Credit card sign up bonuses. This is the real low hanging fruit of the points and miles world. Card issuers are so eager to acquire new customers, that they will offer you tens of thousands of points and miles, just for the opportunity to earn your business. Importantly, signing up for a new credit card will increase your credit history and reduce your debt to credit ratio, which will help, not hurt your credit score. One of the best cards currently for this is the Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard, or if you’re looking for somewhere specific, like Hawaii, then the Hawaiian Airlines credit card allows you to earn at least one free coach ticket for spending $1,000 within the first 90 days after opening the card.

For example, I signed up for both the business and personal versions of the Southwest Airlines credit card, which helped me to earn their companion pass, which is the best deal for domestic travel. I used those points to pay for the airfare to the FinCon convention, and used the Companion Pass benefit to bring a friend of mine along for free (other than $5 in taxes).  Editor’s note: I can vouch for this card as Mrs. Frugal Rules and I did the same thing to fund flights we’ll be taking in January.

2. Promotions. Airlines, banks, hotels, and other companies often give away thousands of frequent flier miles, just for making a token purchase. It is up to you to browse their web sites and register for these offers.

3. Buying miles. If you don’t have the time to look for the best promotions, sometimes you can simply buy airline miles. While it is usually too expensive to do this, airlines will sometimes offer their miles at a discount. For instance, US Airways frequently sells miles at such low rates, that you could book an award ticket in business class for less than the price of a coach seat.

If you're looking for how to travel for free, then credit card rewards can be a great option to allowing you to see the world for little of your own money.

4. Credit card reward  bonuses for spending. Of course, you can earn miles from an airline credit card, but the way to really earn a lot of free travel is through spending bonuses. For example, you can earn 5x Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar when you use a Chase Ink card at office supply stores or for telephone, television, or Internet service purchases. You can also get the same thing with the Discover it® card which offers rotating quarterly bonuses of 5x points.

5. Spend your points wisely. This may be the most important factor in my free travel. There are lots of ways to redeem points for one cent each towards travel reservations, but the real value comes when you find luxury hotels or business class international flights where your points and miles are worth 4-8 cents each. In fact, if you are earning 5 points per dollar on some purchases, and you receive another 5 cents per point in value, it is like getting a 25% return on those purchases!

Finally, it is important to understand that earning miles with your credit card is only for those who pay their balances in full and on time, every month. Those who are carrying a balance on their credit cards should avoid reward cards and focus on other mileage promotions while paying off their debt. But by using every available technique for earning points and miles, and a sound strategy for redeeming rewards, you too can stop paying high prices for travel, and start seeing the world for free.

Do you like to churn credit cards? Have you been able to travel for free?


Additional resource: If you’re interested in travel hacking so as to earn free travel, there are many cards to consider when doing so. Each card has a little different spin with regards to if they offer cash back or travel rewards – both of which are valuable in their own right. You can check out some of my favorite credit cards here that can get you started on racking up rewards. If you have any questions as to how to start or what to look for in a card, feel free to contact me.


Jason Steele is a full time freelance blogger who is an expert on credit cards and reward travel. He writes for The Card Journalist and several other leading personal finance sites about everything from explaining Chase Blueprint to the best credit cards sign-up bonuses.



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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • I’ve traveled for free by registering for airline and hotel reward programs during business travel, then using those points for personal travel. About to take a trip tomorrow in fact.

  • Pauline says:

    I am fascinated by the whole travel hacking, with I had a US address just to apply for reward credit cards!

  • Nick Loper says:

    Hey Jason, love the idea of traveling for free!

    Any particular cards you recommend for aspiring travel hackers?

    Our best deal so far was the Park Hyatt in Tokyo for essentially $12.50 a night. (Normally $400+!) They waived $50 of the $75 annual fee on the Hyatt credit card, and you get 2 free nights at any Hyatt property in the world. It’s an amazing hotel!

  • Totally plan on travel hacking once our credit card debt is paid off and we have bit more flexibility in using our cards. We do have a venture card though and the points we earn are great!

  • Yes, I love travel hacking, and have booked a trip to Hawaii this summer for three people. Airfare and 7 nights in awesome hotels was less than $500. We also just got in on the 55,000 point offer from Sapphire Preferred for my husband. Already planning for 2015!

  • FI Fighter says:

    Travel hacking is the best! It’s even more fun with rental properties because you can rack up even more points with all the expenses. It’s like, if the cash flow wasn’t already good enough… now I get to travel first class for free? Almost seems unfair…

  • eemusings says:

    I wish we had half as good reward programmes here in NZ! I’m pretty sure that travel hacking is impossible on any real scale here.

  • Paying for travel is so 90s!

    Reward cards and points have meant that we haven’t paid more than just taxes on flights or hotels for the last couple of years!!

  • TravelBloggerBuzz says:

    Travel hacking is relevant to US based people as the banks have been traditionally a LOT more generous in showering folks with mega credit card bonuses. But make no mistake. If you are not disciplined with your money and not organized and not spend a little time watching things this hobby is not for you. If you carry a balance in your credit cards and/or you have a low credit score this is REALLY NOT for you! Also note that the “bang” you can get doing this has been diminished due to more frequent miles/points devaluations from airlines and hotels.

    Nothing is free. You still need to spend some time on this. There is a cost for time you know. Or you can use a pure cash back credit card and forget about it (more miles/points for us, hehe).

    I attended Fincon13. Jason knows his stuff. I have been doing this for many years. It WORKS!

    To get an idea of what is possible, here is an example of my trip all over the US and South America for out of pocket costs (airfare and lodging) worth abt $26.5k for just $594.60 🙂

  • We love our travel rewards cards. We’re currently accumulating points with one of them to hopefully afford (for free!) our honeymoon – at least the flight.

    Our honeymoon is going to be a bit more involved so we won’t be able to get it all for free but the flight will give us a big chunk.

  • I have never traveled for free . I think I need to start exploring the credit card churning.

  • Love free travel. Only wish I had discovered churning to get bonuses earlier. Now that we’re looking into buying a place and have a little baby, probably won’t travel too much.

  • Credit card rewards are the best! We’ve earned easily $10,000 – $20,000 of free travel over just the past two years by opening up targeted credit cards.

    We’re taking our family of four to Disney World for free next year, all thanks to this concept.

    If anyone is interested, we offer a completely free travel rewards coaching service through our site; we make sure you’re comfortable with the concept and then we help you plan your trip from start to finish.

  • I have always what sort of deals Southwest gave since there tickets are usually so much cheaper than all other carriers. This is one I have to look into.

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