How to Travel More and Pay Less: An Introduction

The (not-so) secret to how I afford all my travel is this: I subsidize my trips through signing up for the right credit cards and accumulating enough points (but not debt). That is how I travel more and pay less.

But wait! There are so many credit cards and loyalty programs out there. It can be intimidating to even start. And some of these cards have an annual fee?! Why fork out money without any immediate reward??

My response: Chill. If you have the patience to put in the time and the effort, you can fly around the world and stay in great hotels without paying all that much. Here are some of the redemptions I've made over the years.


Each of the flights below have two legs (i.e. one-way with a free stopover or round trip):


I have stayed anywhere between 2-5 nights at each of the hotels below, all on either SPG points or Marriott points. Some of these trips were taken with friends, who would sign up for the same credit cards as I did, so we were able to combine all our points to share hotels:

In conclusion: I definitely would not have traveled as much as I have without the help of credit cards and travel rewards programs!

Excited to start signing up for credit cards? Before you get started, there are a few prerequisites that you should be able to meet in order to use credit cards to your advantage. These are as follows:
  1. You need to have a good credit score. I would say 700+ to be safe.

  2. You need to be OK with temporary 30-50 point dips in your credit score. If this is your biggest fear, you need to GET OVER IT. I was holding 5-6 credit cards at the time I got approved for a mortgage with a low interest rate. In addition, increasing your credit limit but keeping your expenses the same (i.e. your credit utilization ratio) will contribute to an overall higher credit score.

  3. You will need to earn the minimum individual or household income for the more premium travel cards. This is typically $60,000+ for individual and $100,000+ for household, however different banks have different requirements. American Express is typically the most lenient when it comes to individual/household income.

  4. You need to have enough ORGANIC spending on credit cards that can meet the minimum purchase required for the welcome points. This is usually $1,000 to 1,500 in the first 3 months, and sometimes even higher depending on the card.

  5. Since award availability fluctuates, your schedule and vacation timing needs to be flexible, and that goes for anyone traveling with you.

  6. Most importantly, you need to be organized and pay your bills on time! Traveling is a luxury and you should not get into ANY credit card debt because of it. Oftentimes one card isn't enough to achieve your flight or hotel goal, so you will have to be able to manage tracking and paying off multiple cards. I do not recommend churning if you are not able to pay your bills on time.
Generally, if you've got a trip within the next 12 months, you will need to decide which categories of travel rewards you value the most. At a minimum, decide between 1) Flights, and 2) Hotels. If you don't want to compromise on either one, it will likely take you longer to earn points towards your goal. 

So which cards do you sign up for and which programs are best? Read more in my next post for suggestions on how to start with 1 or 2 credit cards for your next travel goal.