Learn to For Travel Free or Nearly-Free!

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    beginner's Guide to travel on points

    Thanks to credit card points and miles we’ve been able to travel the world for pennies on the dollar. 

     In this beginner’s guide, we’re going to go over all the basics you need to know so you can start working towards a nearly-free vacation!

     It has been life-changing!

    Travel on Points In a Nutshell

    When you sign up for a credit card they often come with a bonus or welcome offer. The welcome offer will usually be something like “earn 60,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months”. Those 60,000 points are worth at least $600 towards travel or sometimes closer to $1,000 or more, depening on how you redeem them.

    The $3,000 you need to spend is called the minimum spending requirement. The idea is that you sign up for a credit card, complete the minimum spending requirement, get the points, redeem the points for flights and/or hotel nights, go on a nearly free vacation, and repeat! That’s how you travel for free! Sounds easy enough right?! Well, maybe it is a tad more complicated than that, but not much! 

    Let us walk you through the basics...

    Enjoying a free stay at Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach 

    Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a Travel Mom Squad advertiser, but we always show the best public offer even when we don’t earn a commission. Terms Apply.

    Your minimum spend is the amount of money the credit card company states you must spend on the card in a given time period (usually three months) in order to be awarded the welcome bonus. You might be wondering how to meet that spending requirement, especially on cards that require a higher amount. First, pay for all your normal, everyday expenses (groceries, gas, internet, cable, etc.) with a credit card. We never use cash and it would pain us to do so. Why use cash when we can get 1.5-5% back on all our purchases if we use a card?! 

    You can also plan your credit card applications around a big purchase. Planning on buying new furniture? Have a medical or dental procedure coming up? Going to be doing some Christmas shopping? Those are all great times to open a card because you know you will be spending more than normal.

    Check out this post for more ideas on how to meet minimum spending.

    Meeting Minimum Spend

    We used points and miles to fly business class to Croatia

    When just starting out it's a good idea to decide where you want to go and then get the cards you need to make that particular trip happen. This is how I (Alex) got started. 

    I would pick a hotel brand in the area I wanted to stay with and get the necessary cards to give me those points. I would also check the airlines that flew to that destination and get the necessary cards to fly that particular airline. If that sounds confusing don't worry, we're here to help!

    If you don't have a particular destination in mind that's okay! Focus on cards that earn flexible points that can be use for a variety of travel. Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

    Airline and hotel cards, in particular, will increase their welcome offers every so often. When that happens it is a great opportunity to get more points! At those times I sometimes open a card and then plan my vacation around those specific points. In the case of airline points, I will open a card and keep those points handy for a rainy day.

    We always try to keep you in the know with those limited-time offers.
    Make sure you subscribe to our emails and follow us on Instagram or Facebook so you don’t miss out!

    My mom is a little more OCD and her strategy is to get all the points! She gets all the points she can and typically signs up for one card after the other. In doing it this way she racked up over 3 million points in two years!! She does pay more in annual fees doing it like this but believes the benefits of her cards outweigh the annual fees. With as much as she travels, this has been well worth it for her!

    We also keep our eyes out for limited-time increased welcome offers. 

    Our Points & Miles Strategies

    The majority of the credit cards that will enable you to travel for free are travel reward credit cards. These include credit cards for specific hotels and airlines like the Marriott Bonvoy Credit Cards, Southwest Airlines Credit Cards, and more.

    Travel reward credit cards also include ones like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card 
    , and more. These are called transferable points cards because the points can be transferred to the bank’s hotel and airline partners to book directly. They are our favorites!
    It is important to note that many of these cards include an annual fee. Luckily, many of them waive the annual fee for the first year. Annual fees can vary between $75-$100. Some of the luxury travel cards will have annual fees between $250-$695! I know, it seems crazy to pay that much just to hold a credit card! But, those expensive annual fee credit cards come with some amazing benefits like free hotel nights at luxury properties, lounge access at airports, airline credits, and much more! After you’ve had your card for the first year, it is important to evaluate if you want to keep that card or not. 

    Annual Fees

    For more information on whether to keep, cancel, or downgrade your credit card, see this post.

    Keep in mind, that you need to keep the card the entire first year. The credit card company won’t like it if you cancel your card right after you get your points. In fact, they can take away your points if you cancel before it has been 12 months.

    Types of Credit Cards

    Free flights on United and free nights at the Park Hyatt Washington D.C.

    Example: I keep my Hyatt card and pay the annual fee because it comes with a free night.

    The fee is less than I would spend on a hotel night, making it worth it to me.

    Keep the account open and pay the annual fee. 


    Example: If you don’t want to pay the annual fee on your Chase Ink Business Preferred card again you can call the number on the back of your credit card and ask to downgrade to the Chase Ink Cash which does not have an annual fee. Keep in mind that you won’t get a welcome bonus when you downgrade to a new card.

    Downgrade the card to a no annual fee card.


    Before you do, ask them if they have any retention offers (this is where they offer you points to keep the card) or would be willing to waive the annual fee.

    You can decide from that point if the offer is worth it to you.

    Cancel the card altogether.


    There are three options you have when that first year of card ownership comes to an end:

    There are a lot of variables that determine how many cards it will take to get you your nearly free vacation but just to give you an idea – you could plan a trip for 2 to Hawaii using 3-4 cards, a trip to NYC to meet up with your girlfriends for one card, and a roundtrip flight to Europe with one card.

    Just like saving up money for a trip, it takes a little time to save up your points. Depending on your spending habits you could expect it to take around 6-9 months to have the points to book a Hawaii trip. If you are like me, you will find that once you get into this, the points start coming in and that timeline will go down.

    How long will it take to get my free vacation?

    Use points to save on Disneyland

    By doing this you are able to get a lot more points and each gets the same welcome offer. You are also able to refer each other to cards to get more points.

    This is what it looks like; You sign up for a card and earn 50,000 points after meeting the minimum spend. Once you are close to meeting the minimum spend you refer your spouse/partner to the same card. They apply and are approved, which earns you a referral bonus. They meet the spend on their card and earn 50,000 points. Now instead of just 50,000 points, you have 100,00 points plus the referral bonus!

    Two-Player Mode

    Two-player mode is when you and your spouse are both signing up for cards in your own name.

    One of many business class flights to Europe using points

    In short, the Chase 5/24 rule says if you have opened 5 or more new credit cards in the past 24 months, from any bank, you will not be approved for a new credit card from Chase. This is important because Chase issues many of the best travel reward credit cards available. These include cards from United, Southwest, Hyatt, and the Chase Ultimate Reward cards. If you are an authorized user on a card that counts against your five cards (we recommend not making each other authorized users). Because of this rule, we recommend starting with Chase cards.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that most business cards don’t count towards your 5/24 count, however, if you are over 5/24 you won’t be approved for Chase business cards.

    Check out this post for more information on the Chase 5/24 rule.

    Chase 5/24 Rule

    Free flights and four nights at the Grand Hyatt Kauai using points

    This depends on your travel goals, where you want to go, what type of hotel you want to stay at etc. Our favorite personal travel rewards credit card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. We love this card because the points it earns (called Ultimate Rewards) are so flexible. You can transfer points to various airline and hotel partners (United, Southwest, Hyatt, and much more) and you can also use the points to book flights, hotels, cruises, and rental cars in the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

    Our favorite small business card is the Ink Business Cash® Credit Card. This card also earns Ultimate Rewards.
    There are many great personal credit cards available to help you travel for free but there are also some awesome business cards as well. We love business credit cards!

    If you are only signing up for personal cards, you are leaving a ton of points on the table. You may be thinking, well I don’t own my own business. You may be surprised to find out what is actually considered a business. If you are involved in networking marketing business (Mary Kay, Beautycounter,etcc), nanny, sell on eBay, have any side gig, etc. then you can apply for a business credit card.

    To learn more about business cards, what counts as a business, and how you can apply for one, check out this post.

    Personal and Business Cards

    Which cards should I start with?

    Free flights and a week at the JW Marriott in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

    It is critical that you only get into this hobby if you can pay off your card in full each month. If you are paying interest then you really aren’t getting a free vacation but are getting into debt instead. You also want to have a credit score of 700+.

    Free flights on Southwest for our family and five nearly free nights in Cancun


    One of the questions we get the most is, “How do you keep everything organized?!” Believe it or not, it is pretty easy.

    The biggest tip we have for organization is the Travel Freely app. This is a free app that keeps track of your credit cards. It keeps you up to date on your Chase 5/24 status, annual fees, bonus deadlines, and more! We also recommend putting your cards on autopay so that you don’t forget to pay any of your bills.

    Is this for me?

    This is a common concern and we get it. Credit is an important thing! The following five things each make up a portion of your credit score.

    1. Payment history – 35%. Just pay on time and in full each month!
    2. Credit Utilization – 30%. How much of your credit are you using? It is better to have a lot of available credit and not use very much of it vs. having a small amount of credit and using most of it.
    3. Credit age or history – 15%. Don’t close your oldest accounts.
    4. Account mix – 10%. How diversified is your credit? Home loans, credit cards, etc.
    5. Account inquiries – 10%. This is where you can get a small hit on your score, but only for a short while.

    The positives outweigh the negatives on this. That being said we are not financial advisors. But we can tell you that since we started doing this our credit scores have gone up and we are both over 800.

    How does this affect my credit score?

    London on points

    Earning and using credit card points and miles can seem overwhelming and confusing. We know, we were once beginners. We have spent HOURS and HOURS learning everything we know. As we taught ourselves through blogs and message boards we realized there wasn’t much out there geared towards beginners and that most blogs focus on advanced points and miles strategies.

    Our goal is to simplify points and miles travel in the hopes that you don’t have to spend the hours and hours that we spent. Let us help you. Together we can teach you how to travel for free and get you to places you never dreamed you could travel to. Travel for nearly free is a real thing.

    Bottom Line

    If we can do it, you can too!

    Wondering which credit card you should get? 

    Click here to see all the best current offers!

    check them out!

    We got ya! 

    Advertiser Disclosure: Travel Mom Squad has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Mom Squad and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. This compensation may impact how or where products appear on this site. Travel Mom Squad has not reviewed all available credit card offers on this site.

    Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.