We often joke that I married my husband for the credit card rewards. He’s American, I’m Australian, and a definite perk of our marriage was that it came with a Chase Sapphire Preferred card!
Don’t get me wrong, we have credit card rewards programs in Australia, but when compared to the rest of the world, the free travel offered by American credit cards is on steroids.
American credit cards offer an insane amount of rewards points which can be redeemed for free travel, and not only do these points accrue as you go about your normal spending, most cards offer particularly ridiculous sign up bonuses.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred, for instance, gives you a sign up bonus of 60,000 rewards points which equates to $1,000 of free travel just for signing up. Our Marriott card gives us free hotel stays just for being a member.
Travel hacking through credit card rewards is a real thing, and you can literally travel for nothing. But the trick is knowing which cards to get.
And for that? We use Travel Freely; a free app that lets you organize your credit cards, track rewards points, and makes personalized recommendations, telling you exactly which credit cards are the best for free travel!
It’s seriously amazing.
Dear Americans: Are You Missing Out on FREE Travel? Find Out With Travel Freely!
What is Travel Hacking
Travel hacking is, quite simply, the art of collecting frequent flyer miles and points to travel for free. Instead of paying for travel with cash, you pay with points.
And this really is an art form.
Many people think that you can only earn frequent flier miles and travel points by flying a lot. But this is not true; many travel hackers earn hundreds of thousands of miles and points, every year, without ever stepping foot on a plane.
And they do this through being smart with credit cards.
The average person can meet the minimum spending requirements for points and bonuses with their regular monthly spending. That’s the beauty of this whole hobby. NO extra money spent, but thousands of dollars in free travel.
Credit Cards = Free Travel
Credit card sign up bonuses are the BEST way to earn a crazy amount of points without traveling or spending a lot of money. Basically, the bank offers a special bonus if you spend a certain amount of money in the first few months of getting the credit card.
However, you do need to have good credit. 40% of Americans end up paying their bank $7,000 in interest over the life of a credit card because they don’t pay off their balance. And this is why the banks are fiercely competing for your business with amazing sign-up bonuses.
Banks profit hugely from American debt, and they’re actually banking on the likelihood that you won’t pay your bills by the deadline. But, if you’re financially responsible, these sign up bonuses can range from $50 – $1,500 worth of cash or travel rewards.
So why not beat the banks at their own game and travel on their dime!
The spending requirements for the best bonuses can range from $500 to $5,000 over the first three months of opening your account, and this usually means that you can just spend what you normally spend; your groceries, electricity, internet etc.
My friend Zac got this first rewards card and earned 100,000 British Airways points, which allowed him to book two round-trip tickets to propose to his girlfriend in Southern France.
How to Find the Best Credit Cards for Free Travel
Travel hacking is a strategic hobby, and if you want to fly around the world in first class drinking champagne for nothing you’ll need to choose your cards strategically, and keep track of your points and bonuses.
This is the biggest obstacle to maximizing rewards; staying organized and having a strategy. The average person does NOT have a system to help them earn free travel, and as such they lose out on thousands of dollars every year.
Most people end up with one or two cards and can’t keep track of the annual fees or miss payment due dates which hurts their score. Or, they stay with the one card for 10 years thinking they’re doing well, when really they’re missing out on new card sign up bonuses.
Loyalty is NOT “rewarding” when it comes to travel hacking; if you’re using the same card for 10 years you’re only getting 1 point per dollar on this card for everyday purchases, and missing out on 100,000 points EVERY YEAR because you haven’t benefited from any sign-up bonuses.
Most travel hackers I know keep ridiculously detailed excel spreadsheets that they’ve put together manually, but one of them (my friend Zac – the guy who proposed to his wife in France) created an awesome free tool called Travel Freely.
I wish I had Zac’s ninja coding abilities!
Travel Freely is a FREE web-based app that helps Americans maximize their credit card rewards to fund their travel. There’s a card dashboard where you can keep a list of your active cards, and a CardGenie tool that recommends and lets you compare the best travel cards for free travel.
The app is free, and it’s totally game changing.
Here’s more about each feature, plus screenshots from my account so you can see what it’s all about.
Credit Card Organization: Keep Track of Your Cards
(Screenshot of My Travel Freely Dashboard)
Once you create your free account on Travel Freely you’ll be given a virtual tour of the features, and taken to the card dashboard. If you already have credit cards, you can add your cards to start tracking them. If you’re totally new to travel hacking, it will help you sign up for your first.
It’s worth noting that when entering your credit cards, you’re not entering any personal information, and the app does not collect your card numbers. You just pick which card you have, and which date you opened it.
Why do they care about when you opened it? Travel Freely uses the opened date to send you automated email reminders for bonus deadlines (if applicable) and annual fees that might be associated with your card.
It’s seriously quite brilliant.
The card dashboard shows all of your active cards in a list with the user (you can add more than 1 person into the app if you’re splitting cards between husband and wife, for instance), and quick info like the perks, the spending, the bonuses, and any associated annual fees.
There’s also a calendar feature which shows you any bonus deadline and annual fee dates at-aglance. Annual Fee dates will be in red. Sign-Up Bonus Deadline dates will be in blue. You move your mouse over the date to see more information.
As an organizational freak I love this.
(Screenshot of the Cards Recommended for Me)
By far, the best feature of Travel Freely is the CardGenie; this is a tool that intelligently recommends credit cards based on your preferences and your personal card dashboard. It’s the only tool online that does this, and their technology is patent pending.
The cards are ranked in order of value, but feel free to use the filters to pinpoint your specific goals for your next card. You can see at a glance the card name, sign up bonus, the minimum spend requirements, and the annual fee before clicking to learn more and apply.
Several banks have policies on how many cards you can get within a certain time frame (e.g. the 5 in 24 month rule), and they can automatically deny you based on previous cards. The brilliance of the CardGenie is that it will ONLY display cards that you are ELIGIBLE to get.
This doesn’t guarantee approval, but it does mean that you’ll never waste a credit inquiry on cards you didn’t have a chance with. It’s very smart with what it recommends.
One Example: Chase has stated that you cannot sign up and be approved for a Chase Southwest personal card if you already have one. So, the CardGenie will not recommend a Chase Southwest personal card if there is one in your Active Card list.
Their rankings are done with the average card user in mind, so if you’re an expert free traveler, you probably don’t need their recommendations. I can however recommend the organizational card dashboard, as this is an asset for everyone from beginner – advanced.
If you’re a complete beginner, Travel Freely also has a tab with resources, and a Step-by-Step guide to guide you every step of the way.
There are guides that will talk you through travel hacking, in easy to understand language and plain English, guides on how to apply for credit cards and choose the best offers, guides on earning (like knowing how much points are really worth), on redeeming rewards, and on understanding credit scores.
This is the most complete resource I’ve come across in terms of learning about travel hacking – for this level of information you would typically have to pay for an online course. But it’s totally free.
There’s also a tab in the dashboard specifically called ‘Beginners start here’, which helps the absolute beginner who knows zero about travel hacking and credit cards get started.
The greatest thing about including free travel learning is that the beginner tips are some of the most valuable ones. This series is hugely helpful in getting you past the beginner’s learning curve.
The Tool is 100% Free. Seriously!
Using Travel Freely is 100% free. There are no ads on the platform, there are no premium account up-sells, and everyone has access to all content and features.
They don’t take your credit card numbers, or any type of personal information, so it’s also completely safe to use for those who might be worried about privacy.
Zac, the founder of Travel Freely, is an extreme travel hacking hobbyist and already does this type of research. He created the dashboard as a tool that was more flexible and user friendly than excel, and is genuinely passionate about helping as many people as possible travel freely (hence the name!).
While there are a ton of free resources that teach you exactly how to travel hack like a pro, Zac offers one on one consultancy which he does charge for (even people as generous as Zac need to make money!).
He also earns commission on credit card sign ups; companies pay him for the people who sign up for their card through his app – this is at no extra cost to you, but does mean that when you sign up for a card through the software, you help the app remain free forever.
That said, he always publishes the best offers regardless of commission (the rankings and recommendations are solely done on merit) so if there’s a better credit card option, he posts that instead.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that there is free money out there if you’re a financially responsible person, and Travel Freely will help you do it!
They have rave Google reviews (4.9 star average), and rave Facebook reviews (5 star average), so don’t just take my word for it – everyone else loves this tool too!
Are you missing out on free travel? Sign up for Travel Freely now!
I Wan’t Free Travel! Sign Me Up For a Free Account!
Posted in collaboration with Travel Freely. As always, all opinions are my own, and I whole hardheartedly recommend Zac’s tool as a fantastic FREE resource. Seriously – you NEED to sign up – you’ll thank me!!
Thank you, these are excellent tips for us travelers!
You’re welcome, I’m so glad that we could introduce you to Travel Freely – I hope there are many free trips in your immediate future!
I maybe old, but ive been travel hacking for several years. Ive obtained over 400,000 miles and have taken trips to Asia, Europe and South America all from this method. We usually fly economy to stretch out our miles. My three sons and my wife all practice this method. Actually my oldest son is the individual who started me on the path. Ive gotten miles on three airlines and have used the two smaller ones amounts from Alaskan Airlines and Delta Airlines. The majority of my miles are on American Airlines. Thanks for sharing and I will look into the Travel Freely app.
Thanks for sharing your experiences Mike, sounds like you’re quite a travel hacking pro – 400,000 miles is epic!
Definitely check out Travel Freely and let us know what you think – sounds like it’s an app your oldest son might like as well :)
Thanks for reading!