I’ve decided to travel hack. So that automatically means I’m an expert, right? Actually, I thought it would be really helpful to chronicle my toe dip into these waters. Because, if you’re not a travel hacker and you’re anything like me, you’re both excited and overwhelmed by the prospect of free travel.
Don’t get me wrong. Seeing the world at little to no cost sounds like a dream. But I currently have a huge aversion to credit card fees, and our teaching schedule forces us to travel during peak times (read: costs more points/miles). This combination left me on the sidelines for quite some time. Now that I’ve scooped up my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I’m on the sidelines no more!
Dodging the Fee and Interest
Normally, zero-percent interest cards are my jam. I used them to finance all of my grad school to date, our wedding, and our honeymoon. I’m also a big fan of taking serious advantage of store cards. But if I know anything about travel hacking it’s the fact that those types of cards just won’t cut it. So, I signed up for a card with a fee. Sort of. My plan is to cancel the card before the $95 annual fee kicks in. By waiting until the fall to apply for the card, I figure we can use the points to travel in the spring or over the summer. So far, I’m pretty pleased with my plan.
It’s also worth noting that this card comes with a whopper of an interest rate. I don’t care because I’ve never paid interest in my life. Aside from my mortgage. Ermahgerd have I paid the interest in my life. Whenever I feel like I’m cheating the system by travel hacking, I remind myself that the interest rate on this card coupled with the minimum spend means that Chase is soaking people for $1,000 in interest if they don’t pay their bills in full. Then, I feel all sorts of things. And guilty isn’t one of them.
Meeting The Minimum Spend
We have three billing cycles to hit $4,000 in spending. Once I got done breathing into a paper bag over the thought of parting with so many dollars, I realized that this is actually incredibly doable. Especially considering the fact that I had timed this card with our semi-annual car insurance payment and our annual homeowners insurance bill. Yeah. That’s exactly what I did. But it’s nice when things work out.
We cannot currently put our utilities on credit cards, but I immediately switched over our cell phones. I also made sure that it is the first credit card in both our wallets. We’re using it for everything from gas to groceries (happy dance that Aldi now takes credit cards!). We’re about at the halfway point to reach the minimum spend amount, and we’ve put $2959.37 on the card. Our monthly expenses that we could put on a credit card without incurring any additional charges clock in at $960. While this technically means we’ll fall a bit short of the minimum, I also plan on doing a bit of Christmas shopping. The moral of this travel hacking story seems to be that timing is everything.
What I Won’t Do…Yet
As of right now, I’m not willing to pay a fee to grab a whole bunch of airline miles. I know the Southwest card is perennial favorite and the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a new darling among travel hackers. But I really feel like I need to find some measure of success with this round of travel hacking before I enter the big leagues. Major leagues. Professionals or something. Go sports.
If you paid attention in the previous section, you also noticed that I didn’t do any manufactured spending. I know there are people who suggest buying grocery gift cards, Visa Vanilla gift cards, or even money orders to hit minimum spend limits. While I’ll keep that option in my back pocket, I’m not looking to use that strategy for a few reasons. I really, really hate fees. Even if they pay off in the long run. It’s the principle of it, I suppose. And the biggest reason is the two stores that we grocery shop at the most–Aldi and a local ethnic grocer–don’t offer gift cards. Though the idea of scooping up a gas gift card does seem like an easy way to push us over the minimum spend threshold if Christmas shopping doesn’t.
In addition to perhaps braving the uncharted waters of credit card fees, I also actually need to figure out how and when to use these miles. It seems like a no brainer way to do some traveling over spring break. But I’d be lying if I said a small part of me didn’t think this whole thing was too good to be true. I promise to keep you posted when I figure it out. And by figure it out, I mean when Chase sends me a singing telegram announcing the fact that I get my 50,000 miles. That’s how this works, right?
So Tell Me…How have you travel hacked in the past? What are your current plans? Do you have favorite links? Please share!