How I Travel for (Almost) Free

free

Since I have discovered the world of miles and points in 2013, most of my travel have been close to free. Last year, I was able to pay four of the five trips with a combination of points/statement credit.

Here is how I do it.
1. Sign up for credit cards with large bonus. If you live in the US and have great credit score (i.e. above 700) This is by far the easiest way to accumulate points. For example, Chase Sapphire Preferred gives you 40k points after $4,000 spend in 3 months. I routinely sign up for 3-4 new credit cards every 4-6 months to take advantage of the bonus. Since your credit score is at stake, start slow,  do your own research on how applying credit cards will affect your credit score, and proceed cautiously. When I was looking to buy a house, I stopped applying credit cards for a few months until my mortgage was finalized. Now, more than two years and twenty cards later, my credit score is still going strong, and I still get auto-approve for most credit cards I have.
2. Manufactured Spend (MS)

I am a low spender (<$1000 per month on credit card spend), so there is no way I would go out of my way to spend for the sign up bonus (warning: don’t spend more than you would otherwise to get points – this is exactly what credit card companies want you to do!). This is when Manufactured spend (MS) comes into play. It mostly involves buying gift cards/liquidating, or loading bank accounts with credit card, then paying off credit card bills with the funds in the said bank account. For most updated MS methods, please see below blogs and forums.

 

3. Keep myself updated through reading blogs and forums.
Here are a few good websites I read everyday:
Doctor of Credit – I learned some of the great deals through this blog (e.g. AMEX 150k Plantium)
Pointchaser – A MS Goddess, not only does Ariana earns tons of miles MS, she also managed to earn cash profit (through cash back via giftcard purchase). Ariana also have a good beginner’s guide if you are new to the game
Boardingarea – Collection of blogs on most updated miles and points news. There are many clickbaits though, which I have learned to ignore.
Flyertalk – Points and Miles enthusiast forum, merge point of all the great minds and ideas. This is where I go when I need an answer to a miles/points/travel question. Since it contains a wealth of information,  It may seem overwhelming at first to newbies, but once you learned your way through it, there are lots of treasures and great deals to be found.
4. Research and Redeem
With all the points in hand, I try to maximize the value of my points base on where/when I want to go for my vacation. I don’t do “aspirational trips”, i.e., I don’t fly first class to somewhere I would otherwise not go, or stay at fancy hotel at a location that is of little interest to me.  I am a huge believer that flights and hotels should be means but not ends to your travel experience. (Except for beachfront hotels at islands of Hawaii, which is a must for me since I love doing morning walks on the beach). Understand your own travel needs, and make miles and points work for you, not the other way around.
5. Cancel your credit cards
Most of the cards that offer good sign up bonus would start billing annual fee on your second year, which means it may be time to evaluate the benefits of credit card and decide you should cancel the card to save annual fees. You can call in to see if they offer any retention bonus. For me, I find it easier to simply cancel via PM.
This is meant to be a short post of how I accumulate miles for free trips. I hope this is useful! Please drop a comment below if you have any questions.

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