Do you know how to travel hack with almost no credit cards?
A common misunderstanding about travel hacking is that you have to apply for many travel rewards credit cards every 3 months in order to have success at booking a vacation on miles and points. This is not true.
Everyone’s credit card needs and comfort levels are different. You should never take on more credit cards than you can responsibly handle. You must consider whether or not you can pay off your bills at the end of each month. The amount of minimum spend to earn the bonus must be manageable. Why sign up for a card if you can’t meet the minimum spend and miss out on the sign-up bonus?
In addition, people travel hack with different goals in mind. The amount you wish to travel, with how many people, and your top destinations all determine what credit cards might be right for you. I love to travel and take every opportunity to explore new and favorite destinations. I’m comfortable with a fairly ambitious approach. It suits my travel goals and style.
However, many people want to take 1-2 vacations a year without it busting the budget. In fact, in 2014, many Americans took between 5-20 vacation days. If these same people applied my exact credit card strategy, it would not only be unnecessary but they’d also hypothetically earn miles and points they wouldn’t need and might even go to waste.
If you’re looking to take 1-2 vacations a year, you don’t have to apply for a lot of credit cards to be successful at travel hacking some or all of your travels. Depending on what your goals are, you may only need 2-3 credit cards to help you book most or all of a trip with miles and points!
How to Travel Hack with Almost No Credit Cards
Let’s look at a few (of the many!) 2-3 credit card scenarios you might use to book award travel for your next trip.
Chase Sapphire Preferred is arguably the best travel rewards card out there. With Chase’s new 5/24 rule, Chase Sapphire Preferred should also be the first travel rewards credit card you get. Chase is now denying approval for their Ultimate Rewards Credit Cards like the Sapphire Preferred if you’ve applied for 5 credit cards from any bank within the last 24 months.
You earn 50k Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4k within 3 months. If you add an authorized user and that person makes a purchase within the 1st 3 months, you get an additional 5k point bonus. You’ll earn 2x the points on travel and restaurant spending. The card has no foreign transaction fees and comes with a $95 annual fee, which is waived in the 1st year.
Chase UR points are also highly valued. Chase has airline and hotel transfer partners to use your points for travel award redemptions. These partners include United, Singapore, Southwest, British Airways, KLM, and Hyatt.
The SPG card comes with a sign-up bonus of 25k SPG points after spending $3k within 3 months. The annual fee is $95, but it’s waived the 1st year. This card comes with no foreign transaction fees, free in-room Wifi, and free Boingo Wifi membership.
Even though SPG was recently acquired by Marriott, SPG points are valued highly. Their hotel properties tend to be more upscale, not to mention the more than 30 airline partners to which you can transfer points. For every 20k SPG points, you transfer to one of their airline partners, you get a 5k mile bonus, making the actual transfer 25k miles for your selected airline.
In addition to all the benefits that come with these 2 credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the SPG American Express are long term cards. The points these cards earn are so valuable, they’re excellent to use for everyday purchases and bills. Having the cards long-term will also increase your credit score…as long as you pay your bills each month!
If you want to go beyond these two cards…
Read more about the no annual fee Chase Freedom card. It’s the perfect companion to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card because it supercharges your Ultimate Rewards Points earning potential. It should also be one of the first cards you consider getting given the new 5/24 rule.
Or, learn about the Southwest Companion Pass and how you can earn it and get free travel anywhere Southwest flies for a companion for nearly 2 years!
Ready to plan a 5-night getaway to Cancun, Mexico for you and another person, with just the Chase Sapphire Preferred and SPG American Express?
Mexico is a top destination for many Americans. Tens of millions visit each year, even more than the number of Americans who visit Canada.
The Westin Resort & Spa in Cancun, Mexico is a Category 3 Starwood hotel. To book a Category 3, you need 7k SPG Points per night. It gets even better when you stay 4 nights on points, the 5th night is “free.” Starwood takes the 28k point total needed for 4 nights and averages it over 5 nights. This brings the per night points needed down to 5.6k SPG Points for each of the 5 nights.
At the Westin Resort & Spa, you can book a deluxe lagoon view room with 2 double beds or 1 king bed for 28k SPG Points for a 5-night stay.
The hotel sits on a private beach facing the Caribbean Sea and Nichupte Lagoon and has 4 swimming pools. Take part in water sports, like snorkeling or parasailing, get a spa treatment, or just relax in the sun!
After meeting the minimum spend and earning your 25k SPG Points, you’ll have enough points to book the Westin Resort & Spa for 5 nights!
Many airlines fly into Cancun’s International Airport. American, United, Delta, Southwest, Alaska, Frontier, Spirit, Virgin America, and JetBlue all have regular service to Cancun from the continental U.S.
Southwest award tickets from 8 U.S. airports fluctuate depending on the cash price of the ticket. Wait for a Southwest sale to book with the lowest possible miles needed.
United has flights to Cancun for 35k miles round-trip and award availability is typically available from any U.S. airports.
If you’re flying from New York’s JFK, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, or Miami, consider using British Airways Avios. British Airways has a distance-based award chart, making short-haul flights a great value. Round trip flights from New York or Chicago are 20k Avios. Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami are only 15k Avios round trip!
After earning your 55k (including authorized user bonus) Chase UR points, go the airline websites to check for availability. Once you have found the award flights you want, transfer the number of Chase UR points for you and your travel partner to one of Chase’s transfer partners, British Airways, Southwest, or United.
Remember to compare all your award flight options, including any taxes and fees, the number of stops if any, seat class, and flight duration. You’ll get the best value from your miles and points when you consider factors like your budget and what you need to be comfortable on your flight.
Sun and sand not your thing? Maybe you’d prefer to hit the slopes, like me!
Le Westin Resort and Spa in Mont Tremblant is a Category 4 Starwood hotel for 10k SPG Points a night and just 8k SPG Points a night when you stay 5 nights.
For 3 nights at this ski resort, you’d need 30k SPG Points for a traditional non-smoking room with a queen bed.The SPG points earned from the sign-up bonus would just about cover the amount needed for 3 nights. You could also use the card for everyday expenses to earn 15k more SPG points and stay for 5 nights!
From Philadelphia and New York’s JFK, you can fly round-trip for 15k British Airways Avios. Flights from Chicago and Charlotte cost 15k Avios round-trip. You’ll need 20k Avios from Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth.
United, and its Star Alliance partner Air Canada, fly to Montreal for 25k miles round-trip.
If you’re flying from one of these regions, the best choice is to check for award availability and transfer your Chase UR points to British Airways. If the above departure cities are not convenient, a 2nd good option is to transfer your Chase UR points to United. Either way, you’ll have the miles needed for 2 round-trip tickets!
The Club Carlson Visa offered by U.S. Bank comes with an 85k point sign-up bonus. You get 50k points for making your 1st purchase and 35k points after spending $2, 500 within 3 months. This card gives you Gold Elite Status and gets you 10x the points per dollar spent at Club Carlson Hotels and 5x the points per dollar spent on everything else. The $75 annual fee is not waived the 1st year.
Club Carlson Hotels include brands like Radisson, Radisson Blu, Park Plaza, and Country Inns and Suites.
The AA Citi Platinum Select card offers between 30k and 50k American Airline miles as a sign-up bonus. Obviously, it makes sense to get the card during the higher bonus periods. (The above link is the best offer I could find at the time of this update.) The card gives you 3x the points on travel and gas and 2x the points on dining and entertainment. There are no foreign exchange fees and the $95 annual fee is waived the 1st year.
With these 3 cards, you can plan a week in 3 European countries!
Let’s fly into Budapest, Hungary, take the train to Krakow, Poland, and finish in Berlin, Germany.
American Airlines partners with AirBerlin and Finnair in the OneWorld Alliance. Using American Airlines’ off-peak awards to Europe, you could fly one-way to Budapest for 22.5k miles. With a 50k sign-up bonus on the AA Citi Platinum Select, this would be enough for you and a companion.
You’d then book your return flight using your Chase UR Points. You can fly one-way from Berlin on United of one of its partners for 30k miles. You can make up the 5k mile difference by maximizing the 2x the points category bonuses on travel and dining. Using the Chase or United shopping portals and dining programs will also get you those last 5k miles quickly!
Club Carlson is known for their Radisson Blu boutique-style hotels throughout Europe.
You can stay at the Category 2 Radisson Blu Beke in Budapest for 2 nights for a total of 30k Club Carlson Points. Head to Krakow on the train and stay 2 nights at the Park Inn Krakow. You’ll need 28k points per night for this Category 3 hotel. Finish your trip by staying 2 nights at the Art’otel Berlin Kudamn for a total of 30k Club Carlson Points.
To get all 6 nights paid for with points, you’ll need 116k Club Carlson Points. The sign-up bonus is 85k points, leaving a 31k point difference. After checking the cash rates at the all 3 of these hotels, decide how you’d get better value out of your points. Pay cash for 2 nights at the more inexpensive hotel and save the points to cover the other 4 nights.
Club Carlson points are also very easy to earn. Use the card to pay for your bills and everyday expenses and earn 5x the points on everything to help make up the difference in points. Be sure to register for Club Carlson’s frequent promotions. They can give a strong boost to your points balance!
Do you need to apply for tons of credit cards to earn award travel for your next trip?
No! Travel hacking with almost no credit cards is possible! You can book travel for your yearly vacation days for cheap and even for free by only applying for 2-3 credit cards!
Where do you want to go? How would you use your miles and points?
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