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Everybody loves the idea of free travel. What could be more exciting than jetting off to a luxurious destination with a plane ticket for which you only paid taxes and fees? Or staying in a hotel that you booked entirely with points and miles? It’s every traveler’s dream come true!
But the best way to earn travel rewards is often with credit cards. That spells disaster for many would-be travelers who struggle with debt. Fortunately, there are still ways to earn free travel while spending wisely.
Travel rewards and smart spending: it’s a match made in heaven.
Table of Contents
How To Earn Travel Rewards The Smart Way
Travel Rewards And Smart Spending With Credit Cards
Because the best travel reward credit cards are still the top way to earn free travel fast, they’re often the first choice for those wanting to accrue points and miles.
But for impulse buyers and those honest enough with themselves to know they can’t be trusted to pay their card off at the end of the month, travel reward cards should probably be avoided.
That’s because credit cards that offer big sign-on bonuses and points per dollar spent have very high interest rates, often around 27%. That means if you’re not paying them off at the end of the month, every month, any points you earn will just be negated by the interest fees you’ll be paying, plus you’ll be in debt.
In that case, there’s really no point to having the card at all. Many also require a credit score of good to excellent credit to even get a card in the first place.
Additionally, sign-on bonuses that offer 60,000 miles just for signing up and spending $3,000 in three months can also be a stumbling block, tempting cardholders to spend more than they usually would in a given period of time in order to earn extra points.
If you are going to sign up for a travel reward card, analyze your usual spending to make sure you won’t have to spend abnormally to meet the threshold.
Tips For Smart Spending With Travel Reward Cards
If you are going to sign up for one of the myriad travel reward cards out there, there are a few steps you can take to keep you out of debt and spending wisely. The first is to pay off your card regularly, which is an absolute necessity.
That means only using your travel rewards credit card for spending you know you can afford.
Track your spending like you would with a debit card, ensuring you have enough money in the bank to cover the purchases. Then, don’t wait until the end of the month to pay off the card.
Set up a reminder or autopay to pay the entire balance every week or two weeks (like right after payday) to ensure your spending stays in check.
If you do still want a travel reward card, it’s also smart to choose one that doesn’t have an annual fee, like the Capital One VentureOne.
These cards may not offer the high payback of cards with annual fees, but if you’re aiming for smart spending, an annual fee is an unnecessary cost.
Earn Travel Rewards Through Everyday Spending
Of course, credit cards aren’t the only way to earn travel rewards. Neither is traveling. Surprisingly, buying a plane ticket is far from the most efficient way to earn. But even if you’re not flying with your airline of choice, you can still earn with them.
Sign up for two or three airlines’ frequent traveler programs, preferably those that fly to and from destinations that are important to you to get started with travel hacking.
Remember that airline partnerships often mean that you can use miles earned on one airline to book travel on a partner airline.
After you sign up, it’s time to start earning through daily habits and spending. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture earn points for every single purchase made on the card.
Most airlines offer shopping portals that allow you to earn points for things you were going to buy anyway. That can include everything from clothing to technology, flowers to electricity.
You simply have to shop through the online portal on the program website (which will link through to many popular stores like Macy’s, Lowes, TurboTax, and more) and you’ll earn points for every dollar you spend.
Some stores will even let you shop online but pick up your order locally. Just make sure you stick to regular spending, not impulse purchases or shopping sprees, to keep debt in check.
Earn Travel Rewards With Surveys
Another way to earn points and miles without spending a dime is by taking surveys. Frequent traveler programs almost always offer the opportunity to sign up with sites like e-Miles, e-rewards, Opinion Miles Club, etc. Search your preferred airline’s website for participating survey sites.
It works like this: you sign in, take some surveys about certain topics like business, family, or shopping, and earn points for each survey you complete.
It takes a little longer to earn travel rewards this way, but an hour or two a week of earning points will add up.
Once you earn your points, simply transfer them over to the airline of your choice to be credited with miles.
Earn Travel Rewards With Dining
Again, dining out just to earn travel rewards doesn’t equate to smart spending for those struggling to get out of debt. But if you do go on regular date nights or take the family out for pizza, this is a way to earn a few extra points.
Most airlines frequent traveler programs utilize the same points-for-dining platform.
Choose your favorite airline and link a debit or credit card to the account. Then peruse the list of participating restaurants in your area and opt to patronize those establishments.
Simply use your linked card when you dine and earn points automatically. It’s that simple.
Travel rewards and smart spending can go hand-in-hand. Even if you choose to forgo travel reward credit cards in favor of debt recovery, wise spending and alternative earning methods still make accruing points and miles for free travel possible.
The key is to know your spending limits, set up boundaries and safeguards, and utilize daily habits to earn travel rewards you need for the travel you dream of.
Author Bio: Johnny Jet has averaged 150,000 miles and 20 countries. He and his website JohnnyJet.com have been mentioned in major publications including USA Today, Fortune, and The New York Times as well as ABC, CBS, and NBC. Johnny hosted the TV special “Hot Spots 2012” on the Travel Channel. When he’s not traveling the world, Johnny can be found at home in Los Angeles with his wife Natalie and their son Jack.
I have over 15 years experience in the financial services industry and 20 years investing in the stock market. I have both my undergrad and graduate degrees in Finance, and am FINRA Series 65 licensed and have a Certificate in Financial Planning.
Visit my About Me page to learn more about me and why I am your trusted personal finance expert.