Do you want to travel the world, but don’t quite have the money to do it? Airfare is expensive — that is — if you actually pay for it. But how on Earth do you get an airplane ticket for free? It’s actually quite easy: travel credit cards. When you use the right travel credit card and use it correctly, you can make your money work for you, and earn free travel. If you’re already a financially responsible person, you’re missing an easy opportunity to save significantly on travel expenses.
Travel credit cards often have large bonuses attached to them when you spend a certain amount in the first couple of months. The best travel credit cards offer upwards of $600 dollars in flight miles as a bonus. This is a great way to earn a ton of free travel miles quickly. But there is plenty to consider before opening a travel credit card, and using them properly is key to enjoying all of the benefits.
In this piece we’ll cover:
- What’s the best way to use travel credit cards?
- What are the best travel cards to use?
- Tips for using travel cards wisely
Keep reading and discover how you can use travel credit cards to fly for free. Hopefully, you can knock a couple of destinations off of your travel bucket list while you do.
What’s the Best Way to Use Travel Credit Cards?
When you use travel credit cards correctly, you can really take full advantage of all the perks. The best advice we can give you is this: treat your new credit card like a debit card; don’t spend money you don’t have. When you do this, you never have to worry about being unable to pay off the full balance. That also means you’ll never have to pay a penny in interest.
Even better, wait until you have to make a big purchase before you open a card. It will be much easier to spend the required amount to receive the bonus if you have a big purchase you’re already planning to make. Need to buy new tires for your car? Have to replace your fridge? If you have the money already, put those purchases on your new card instead of paying in cash or with a debit card, then pay off the card and earn free money for flights. This is an incredibly easy way to budget, and you will really earn free travel miles in the process.
The same goes for everyday purchases; put everything on your card. Check to see if you can pay your rent with your travel credit card. You can also put groceries, gas and monthly bills onto your card, too. This will help you accrue miles quickly and help you earn the big initial miles bonus for opening up the card. But again, don’t do this unless you have the money in your bank account for these purchases already. Otherwise, you will end up paying more money because of high interest rates (which we cover later).
This strategy makes your money work for you. By paying bills you’d pay normally, you can earn enough miles to completely cover a round trip flight across the globe. And the money you save on flights can go toward everything you want to do while you’re actually on vacation. If you’re ready, below are our picks for the best travel cards.
Capital One Venture Rewards
The great thing about the Capital One Venture Card is you get 2:1 points on every dollar you spend. Other cards offer 2:1 points on travel and lodging, but the Capital One Venture Card offers it on all purchases, making it much easier to accrue bonus miles quickly. Right now, you get 50,000 bonus miles, or $500 worth of travel miles, when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You can use the miles on any airline. You simply buy a plane ticket and then use the app to redeem points to pay for the flight. It’s that simple. Capital One Venture also waives the annual fee the first year, but after that it’s $95. Even though it doesn’t have as big of a bonus as the Chase Sapphire, you earn points faster and get a year without a fee. That’s why we think this is the best travel credit card available.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire offers the most significant travel rewards bonus we’ve seen. You’ll receive 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months of opening the card. That is a lot of money to spend in three months, so we recommend waiting to open the card until you have to make a big purchase. You can pay for travel two ways: through the Chase portal or by transferring your points to the airline you’re booking through. It’s good to try both methods before purchasing tickets to see which way gets more bang for your buck. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to transfer points than it is to book through the portal and vice versa. The Chase Sapphire earns 2:1 points on travel and when dining out, but 1:1 on all other purchases. There’s also a $95 annual fee that you’ll be charged on the date you open the card. It’s not as flexible as the Capital One Venture Card, but the bonus is hard to pass up.
Capital One VentureOne
NO ANNUAL FEE
Capital One VentureOne is a great card for beginners who want to explore the world of travel credit cards but won’t spend enough in the first few months to receive the bonus offered from other cards. You can earn 20,000 miles ($200) when you spend $1,000 in the first three months. That’s enough to cover most people’s rent payment. Also, the VentureOne card doesn’t have an annual fee, which is unheard of with travel credit cards. You don’t earn as many miles per transaction as the original Venture Card, but you still get 1.25:1 points, which is more than the Chase Sapphire on regular purchases. This card is a good choice if you don’t have many bills to pay per month but still want the benefits of a travel rewards credit card.
American Express Gold Card
BEST FOR DINING OUT
The American Express Gold Card helps you earn reward miles quickly by offering 4:1 points when you dine out and shop for food at the supermarket. For a necessity like food, that is a great way to earn points quickly. The bonus is 35,000 miles when you spend $4,000 in the first three months. The bonus isn’t nearly as good as the Chase Sapphire or the Capital One Venture Card, and the annual fee is a hefty $250, which is the most expensive out of the group. But if you like to dine out or cook, this card lets you earn a ton of miles quickly through those purchases.
How to Use Travel Credit Cards Wisely
If you are going to venture down the travel credit card path, proceed wisely and with caution. That advice holds true for any new credit card, but it’s especially important here. Travel reward credit cards have extremely high-interest rates. Some have rates as high as 30%, but most often they are around 15%, which is still brutal. If you want to use travel cards to fly for free, don’t use cash advances or pay the minimum on your credit card. That is a recipe for disaster.
Always pay your statement balance in full at the end of the period and don’t spend money you don’t have. Remember: If you treat your travel rewards credit card more like a debit card, you’ll be able to fully reap the benefits of the travel rewards, never pay a penny in interest, and have your flights and hotels paid for when you travel.
When you spend wisely, you really can fly for free with the best travel cards.