Travel Hacking 101 – A Get Started Quick Guide

If you follow me on Instagram (find me here) you know that I’m always sharing our travels and how we’re able to offset a large portion of travel (flights and hotels) by using miles and points. I thought I’d write up a short FAQ guide to help introduce you to the world of miles and points.

What are miles and points?

Most people know that one of the ways to earn airline miles is to buy a plane ticket and fly from Point A to Point B. The airline will reward you with a certain amount of frequent flier miles that you can use towards earning a free flight.

Most people also know that you can earn reward points for staying in a hotel which you can use towards booking a free room.

Well, what if I told you that you could earn enough miles and points to travel anywhere you wanted to go for (almost) free – by never stepping foot on an airplane OR staying the night in a hotel room? This method of earning miles and points is called Travel Hacking.

What is Travel Hacking in 4 Easy Steps

  1. Apply for travel rewards credit card with large sign up bonus
  2. Meet the minimum spend (example: spend $3,000 in 3 months)
  3. Receive your bonus miles or points after meeting the minimum spend
  4. Book your flights and hotels!

What is credit card churning?

Churning a credit card is when you receive a sign up bonus more than once for the same credit card. While credit card companies are cracking down on aggressive churners and have put new rules in place on how often you can receive a bonus, for most of us the hobby is still lucrative. For most credit cards you can receive a bonus once every 24 months (exception is AMEX which is once in a lifetime). So the idea is you open a card, meet the minimum spend, pay the annual free and close the card before the first year. Please keep in mind this rule doesn’t apply to every card – there are some cards you want to keep past the first year (see my credit card guide here).

What to Know Before you Start

  • Know your credit score – get your free score at
  • Don’t apply for credit cards if you plan to take out an auto/home loan in the next 3-6 months. Keep in mind you may not qualify for a credit card if you have prior bankruptcy/reorganization
  • Don’t apply for credit cards if you currently have credit card debt and can’t pay off your balances every month
  • Make sure you sign up for frequent flier/hotel reward accounts before signing up for credit cards

Is Travel Hacking a Scam?

No! Anyone can do this – the only requirement is a good credit score. There is a ton of information and a million blogs about the miles and points hobby. If someone tries to charge you money to teach you about miles and points, walk away. All the information you need is FREE on the internet.

Will applying for many cards ruin my credit score?

While you may see an initial dip of a few points after applying for a card, it quickly rebounds as long as you continue to pay off those balances. We have applied for over 10 cards in the past 4 years and our credit score has risen over 100 points!

I’m a stay at home parent, can I apply for a credit card?

Yes! If you are a stay at home parent, homemaker, part-time worker, you can apply for your own credit card in your own name.  You can apply using your own social security number,  just put down your combined household income. Even though I work part-time, my husband brings home more than I do, I always put down our combined annual income on both of our credit card applications and have never been denied.

Ok, it seems impossible that we can ever earn enough points to go anywhere.

I felt the same way too! My husband has traveled for work for over 10 years and I never thought his miles and points would add up to anything. Depending on your travel goals, you can earn enough points to take your dream trip within a year! Get your partner involved to double your point earnings!

How do I meet the minimum spend?

While spending $3,000 in 3 months may seem like a lot, it really comes out to $1,000 a month. The point is to put ALL spending on your card – you will not pay cash for anything. Consider how much your monthly bills are, most families have no problems meeting the minimum spend. Some ideas are below.

  • cell phone bill
  • cable bill (including Netflix, Hulu & Amazon)
  • internet
  • gas, water & electric bill
  • water bill
  • car insurance
  • groceries
  • gas
  • dining out
  • school lunches
  • pay for all prescriptions and doctor appointments – don’t use FSA credit card

Please do not apply for a credit card if you can not meet the minimum spend!

What cards should I apply for first?

As I talk about in my Getting Started post – you want to apply for cards based on your travel goals. Because Chase Bank is limiting the number of cards you can get you always want to start there. Here are my top choices:

Chase Sapphire Preferred

  • Earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after $4,000 spend in 3 months.
    Earns 2x points on all travel and dining spend and 1x points on everything else.
    Why? This is a card I keep past the first year. Perks include: Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance and rental car collision insurance. Transfer points to several airlines and hotel programs, including United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Hyatt hotels or book directly through the Ultimate Rewards portal

Chase Marriott Personal Card

  • Earn 75,000 Marriott points after $3,000 in 3 months
  • Earns 5x points on Marriott stays; 2x points dining, gas, airline; 1x points everything else
  • Why? 75k points is worth a couple of nights at a Marriott – if you and your partner apply that’s up to 4-5 nights. We love staying at Marriott brand hotels, especially Residence Inn (Happy Hour and free breakfast!) Plus – you get a free night in a Category 1-5 Marriott every year you keep the card

Chase Ink Business Preferred

  • Earn 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $5,000 spend in 3 months
  • Earn 3 points/$ on all travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone expenses
  • 1x point/$ on all other purchases
  • Why? Do you know that you can qualify for a Business credit card if you sell items on eBay, own a rental property, write a blog, etc. Just use your social security number and put down sole proprietorship. Remember to be honest here. You can maximize your points by purchasing gift cards at an office supply store (like VISA gift cards to purchase groceries elsewhere)

Chase United Explorer

  • Earn 50,000 after $3,000 in 3 months
  • Earn 2x points on United, 1x points everything else
  • Why? 50k United miles is enough for 2 domestic flights and one business class flight if you transfer a few points from your Chase Sapphire card over. Remember, you can also fly on United partners like Lufthansa.

Chase Hyatt

  • Earn 40,000 Hyatt points after $2,000 spend in 3 months
  • Earns 3x points on Hyatt stays, 2x points on dining & rental cars, 1x point everything else
  • Earns 1 free night in a Category 1-4 Hyatt every year you pay the annual fee
  • Why? We get great value from the annual free nights (2 player mode = 2 free nights a year). We used our free nights this year at the Tokyo Hyatt Regency and Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile.

Chase Southwest

  • Earn 50,000 points after $2,000 in 3 months
  • Earns 2x points on Southwest; 1x points on all other purchases
  • Earns 6k points annually
  • Why? If you want to travel domestically and to the Caribbean (and soon – to Hawaii), this is the perfect card. You can find flights as low as 7k miles one way. If you earn 110K miles in one year (by applying for 2 Southwest Cards) you’ll earn the coveted Companion Pass which means for every flight you purchase your companion (anyone you choose) can fly for free for up to 2 years! (see my credit card guide for more info)

Barclaycard Aviator

  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles after making ONE Purchase
  • Free checked bag
  • $95 annual fee
  • Why? You can earn enough miles for 2 domestic flights just by making one purchase. You can buy a Starbucks coffee, a Happy Meal – just one purchase¬† – it’s a no brainer!! If you and spouse each apply you’ll have 100,000 American miles – enough for 4 roundtrip domestic tickets or 2 roundtrip flights to Europe on their off-peak calendar.

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Need help deciding which card to apply for first? Email me at and I’m happy to help!






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