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A Beginner’s Guide to Travel Hacking: Credit Cards in the USA

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A Beginner's Guide to Travel Hacking_ Credit Cards in the USA - Luxury Travel Hacks

Do you, like me, love to stay in luxurious hotels when you travel? Are business class seats the only ones you want to be in if you are traveling for more than three hours? I am fine in economy class for short distances and can stay at a so-so hotel for one night but for real travel, I want luxury. However, I don’t like the price tag that comes with it! About 3 years ago I started a new hobby, travel hacking, and now I can travel in luxury at a less than budget price. Today I want to share with you a beginner’s guide to my new hobby, specifically travel hacking credit cards in the US.

Table of Contents

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Guest Post By Pam

What is Travel Hacking: Credit Cards

Travel Hacking is using credit card points for free or nearly free travel. We get those credit card points by applying for cards that offer a certain amount of bonus points if you spend a prescribed amount on their card within a certain timeframe.

Credit Cards - A Beginner's Guide to Travel Hacking - Luxury Travel Hacks

Favorite Credit Card

For instance, my personal favorite first credit card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card (for US citizens). When you apply and are accepted for this card, they offer you 60,000 Ultimate Rewards (their bonus points) after you spend $3,000 in 3 months. You can then use those points in the Chase Portal and transfer them to certain airline and hotel partners for free flights or hotel stays. You will only pay taxes and fees, if applicable.

Things to Consider when using Travel Hacking: Credit Cards

There are many things to consider with looking at credit cards specific for travel hacking. Here is a summary of those elements:

Minimum Spend

The amount you have to spend to get those bonus points is called the minimum spend. $3,000 or more may seem like a lot to have to spend. The point is to put all purchases you normally make on that credit card. Quit paying with cash, a debit card or checks and pay every single thing you can with a credit card. Some of the things you will pay for on the credit card include:

  • Groceries, Dining Out, Entertainment
  • Phone bills
  • Utilities
  • Internet and Cable
  • Car Insurance
  • Gas
  • Memberships and Subscriptions
  • Medical Expenses
  • Gifts
  • Gift Cards
  • Prepay for upcoming travel plans
  • Business expenses
  • Income taxes, property taxes

I bet you will see that you will probably meet that minimum spend in less than the three months you have to do it in. Additionally, when you have a big expense coming up, like new tires for your vehicle, that is a perfect time to open up a new card.

Minimum Spend - A Beginner's Guide to Travel Hacking - Luxury Travel Hacks

Annual Fees

Most credit cards come with annual fees. People don’t like to pay an annual fee on a credit card. I am perfectly happy to pay $95 (the average fee) for a card that is going to get me three free nights in a hotel or a one-way business class flight to London.

Each year, when an annual fee posts for payment, you have 30 days to decide if you want to keep the card and pay the annual fee or cancel it.  Some credit cards are worth keeping the card, some aren’t.  For instance, I have kept all my Marriott Credit Cards because they give me a free hotel stay when I pay my annual fee.  I can get more value out of that night than the $95 that I spend for the card.  Other cards have not had value to me after I have received the bonus points, so I cancel them.

Two Player Mode

2 Player Mode is a travel hacking term that means you always apply separately for credit cards. Both my husband and I apply for many of the same credit cards. This ensures we get double the points and can travel in luxury more often.

Personal and Business Cards

We all are familiar with personal credit cards but did you know you can also for business cards? This is another way to get more points. If you have any type of a side gig you can get a business card. Sell things on the internet? Drive for Uber? Babysit? Part of an MLM? Write a blog? There are many ways you qualify for a business card and this really helps you rack up the points or miles.

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Types of Credit Cards

These are many types of credit cards out there. Here is a summary:

Transferable Points Credit Cards

These cards are ones that give you points that you can then transfer for airline miles or hotel points. Examples are some American Express Credit Cards, The Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card, Citibank Cards, Chase Sapphire Ink Business Card and others.

Airline and Hotel Branded Credit Cards

Almost all airlines and hotels have their own credit cards. These are simple to use because you don’t have to transfer points to anything.  You just go on their sites and book your flights and hotel stays.

Airline Credit Cards - A Beginner's Guide to Travel Hacking - Luxury Travel Hacks

Fixed Value Cards

These cards, like the Capital One Venture Card, can be used to “erase” travel expenses. Once they are billed to your card, you can use the points to pay for the expense. This is nice if you want to cover extra travel expenses like tours, rental cars, and Airbnbs.

Let's Plan a Trip Using this Travel Hack

I’ve given you the basics of travel hacking so let’s plan a trip!  And of course, we will do it in style. Let’s say I want to go to Rome, Italy in a business class seat and stay at a nice hotel. What credit cards do I need to make this happen?


Let’s get the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card that I talked about above and the Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. I will get a total in bonus points (Ultimate Rewards), after meeting minimum spends, of 140,000 points plus 8,000 points for my spend. I will transfer these points in the Chase Portal to United Airlines and can get business class seats to Rome from many cities for 140,000 miles. Here is what it looks like from San Francisco to Rome for tickets:

Flights - A Beginner's Guide to Travel Hacking - Luxury Travel Hacks

There are a few availabilities for travel on their partner, Turkish Airlines, for the date I picked.  Your taxes and fees will be under $50 for a roundtrip ticket in business class.  I traveled Turkish Airlines to Greece and they know how to do a business class!  They even brought out tea lights for meal service and a chef (hat and all) took our dinner order.  Now that is luxury!


Let’s look at a couple of options for a hotel stay.  I particularly like the Marriott Grand Flora Hotel in Rome.  It is a beautiful hotel located in the heart of the city.  It is ideal for walking to many locations.

Lobby of Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora - A Beginner's Guide to Travel Hacking - Luxury Travel Hacks
Lobby - Rome Marriott Grand Flora Hotel

This hotel costs 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy Reward Points a night. For a 3 day stay, I will need 150,000 points. The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card offers 75,000 points after a minimum spend of $3,000 in 3 months. If my husband and I both get this card, I have the points I need for this hotel!

Another option is staying at the Hotel Indigo, an IHG hotel and getting the IHG Credit Card. I can get 80,000 IHG points after spending $2,000 in 3 months.  If both my husband and I get this card, I will have 160,000 points. This luxury boutique hotel, very centrally located looks stunning! I can stay three nights here for 150,000 points.

Besides these two options, there is the Hilton Hotel that you could stay at with bonus points from their credit cards.  Half of the fun is planning what cards you are going to get and where you are going to stay!

That shows you just one trip that you can do, in luxury, for nearly free with travel hacking.  The best part is that you are doing it just by putting your normal spending on a credit card instead of paying another way.

Bottom Line

If you love to travel and love to travel in luxury then you should travel hack.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be able to travel like I do now but thanks to travel hacking, it is my reality!

About The Author

A Travel Hacker's Success Story

I just want to share with you a travel hacker’s success story.  Pam is a 66-year-old grandma who loved to travel.  About 3 years ago she and her daughter, Alex, learned about travel hacking. Reading complicated blogs, mainly written by men, they taught themselves about travel hacking.  Since that time they have traveled to Hawaii several times, London a couple of times, Greece, Italy, Vietnam, Thailand, Dubai, Chile, Amsterdam, and Puerto Rico.  All on points and always in business class for international travel. They have stayed in free hotels and been upgraded to suites at times because some of their hotel cards have elite status.

Pam is me and Alex is my daughter and we write the blog Travel Hacking Mom.  If we can learn to travel hack, anyone can.  We have had countless experiences, many in luxury, because of this amazing journey of travel hacking.  Recently, I looked back at what I have done over the last two years.  I have spent 1.3 million points and that has given me almost $90,000 worth of travel if I had paid retail.  Now I would never have paid for a $6000 airline ticket to sit in business class but I can tell you that I enjoyed it!  All in all, I paid less than $2,000 in taxes and fees for all that fun!

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