Looking back at the last three years, there’s one little thing in my pocket that has totally let me maximise my travel experience. It’s given me free flights, lounge access and I never have to pay for travel insurance. Second to my passport it’s the one thing that has let me travel further and experienced more than anything else. It’s my frequent flyer linked credit card.
There’s many ways you can travel for free with credit cards, get, airport lounge access, discounted hotels and restaurants, plus access to VIP experiences. My personal experience is in Australia with the HSBC Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum Card. What offers are available will depend on where you live and what bank you’re with. But for what I’m after I think it’s the perfect card for this and you should look for similar features that apply to your market. If you are in the US, Credit Card Insider had a great guide to choosing travel credit cards.
So, How do you use your credit card to get free travel?
The answer to this is in the question. That is – USE IT! as much as possible! Phone bills, grocery shopping, lunch at the local café, public transport tickets, health insurance , a new laptop, entry to the strip club, a rubber sheets, or whatever else you buy that’s none of my business. Every time I go to the bar I am that annoying guy that always pays with card and I don’t care that it’s holding you up because it’s helping me travel for free.
This is all part of my larger financial month-to-month strategy, which you should employ too. I have as much money saved away in a high interest savings account as possible, my salary and rent from investment property is deposited straight into this account. I will rarely make a withdrawal from this account except to pay my credit card bill at the end of the month. While my savings are locked away here earning interest, I’m using my frequent flyer linked credit card for to pay for everything leaving my savings untouched.
Using this method my savings are at their maximum for the entire month earning the maximum interest. For my monthly expenses I’m earning frequent flyer points while spending the banks money. It’s a WIN WIN. Note if you are going to take this approach, be sensible and make sure you pay off the balance EVERY MONTH. No excuses. Seeing the entire amount you spent in a month as a due payment can look like a lot of money and it’s tempting not to pay the whole amount, but trust me, pay it out and avoid getting into trouble. The extra cost if you don’t will be lots more than the free travel you will earn.
Get off to a good start with the best sign up bonus
How would you like 20,000, 30,0000 or even 40,000 points just for doing nothing? Accumulating that amount (based on Qantas Frequent Flyer) could mean making $40,000 worth of purchases on a credit card or up to 100 flights in discount economy. With 40,000 points you’ve got enough for a free domestic flight right from the onset. These amounts of points and sometimes even higher can be given as a sign up bonus when you sign up for a frequent flyer linked credit card. Bank’s have been known to increase the bonus points to match a competitor’s offer. So it’s always worth calling or dropping into a branch and see if they are willing to up their sign up bonus to get you on board as a customer.
Hang out in the executive lounge pre-flight and never pay for travel insurance again
It’s not just flights that you can get for free. I haven’t brought travel insurance for the last three years. Not because I’m willing to take a risk to save some $, but because it’s included as part of my card. Travel insurance is a common bonus that many credit cards offer. Just remember to read the fine print. You will usually have to purchase the entirety of your trip on the same card, and some of these bonus insurance policies will exclude some higher risk activities like skiing.
Don’t hang out in the cruddy gate departure lounge with crying babies and some fat guy that forgot to wear deodorant. Don’t drink a $6 badly made coffee and $20 sandwich. Instead live it up in the airline club / lounge. Have a free champagne, ice cold beer or a barrista made espresso. Feel good about getting to the airport early while you have time to enjoy a free gourmet meal. Shop around and you can get lounge access included with some credit cards. Mine comes with two free visits a year valued at $40 each. The annual card fee is $80 so access to the lounge really cancels out the card fee, and a lot more tasty.
Double or triple up on your points with partner programs
In Australia one of our most popular supermarkets and petrol station chains – Woolworths – has a loyalty scheme is linked to Qantas Frequent Flyer points. So when I go to do the weekly shop or get petrol I get points from using my loyalty card, then get points again the same purchase by using my credit card to pay for it all. This is the best way I’ve found to accumulate points quickly.
Woolworths send out an email every Thursday offering bonus points if I purchase a certain amount of food or certain products on the weekend. This can be up to 500 points for spending $80 in a single shop. I have given Wooolworths loyalty cards linked to my account to my parents too. They already have a stack of frequent flyer points so are happy to help me earn my own by swiping my card for their purchases. When you sign up you usually get multiple cards / key fobs. Give them out to your family and get them to help you travel for free faster. Check with supermarkets and retailers in your country to see what loyalty programs are available to that include frequent flyer points. US residents should check out Credit Card Insider for offers in your region.
Whenever we get into trouble, more often than not it happens when we are overseas. Thankfully many travellers credit cards have fantastic concierge services to get you out of trouble, reassure you and arrange a replacement card (if required) in your native language. The concierge is not just for difficult situations. If you’re in a new city and not sure where to eat, some concierge services can provide recommendations on that city’s best restaurants and even make a booking on your behalf. Free travel and a personal concierge? How’s that for service!
Travel For Free With Credit Cards – My personal experience
Don’t just take my word for it. I have used my points to let me travel to far away places for as cheap as possible using a mixture of budget airlines that I pay for and then used my points for free reward flights on Qantas / OneWorld partners for the longer flights leaving or returning home. Here’s actual total flight costs for trips I have done recently
Sydney – Singapore – Taipei – Seoul – Sydney: Total price AUD $500. The flight from Seoul to Sydney was free with points and the rest were on budget airlines.
Sydney – Singapore (Business) – Bangkok – Koh Samui – Sydney : Total price AUD $600. Koh Samui to Sydney is free with lounge access for the stopover in Bangkok . The rest are with budget airlines including a $450 business class trip Sydney to Singapore with Scoot.
The way I see it, you are going to be spending money anyway, so you may as well get rewarded for it. A credit card linked to frequent flyer points allows you to maximise your savings, travel for free and get a whole lot of other traveller perks like free insurance, free airport lounge access and maybe even a personal concierge as well.
Do you use your credit card to travel for free? Share your tips and experiences below and I’ll add them to the list.