We take 2-3 international trips each year and people often wonder how we afford it. Our biggest savings come from airfare because we usually fly (coach) for free.
Through amazing credit card deals. While this strategy is not for everyone, it has worked amazingly well for us.
In the past few years, my husband and I signed up for the American Airlines Platinum Select card when the bonus was 50K miles each. And the American Airlines Executive card when was the bonus was 50K miles each. And the Chase Sapphire Reserve when the bonus was 100K thank you points and the Chase Sapphire preferred when the bonus was 50K thank you points. We also then use the cards to maximize the miles/points offered. For instance, the Reserve gives you 3X points on each dollar spent dining so all our meals/take out go on that card.
It is important to note that the cards usually require you to spend $3-4K within the first 3 months of opening, so I recommend staggering them and/or opening them right before you have to pay a large sum for something. In our case, our son's childcare could be paid via credit card so we opened one right before the amount was due hitting that card's minimum right away.
You also have to pay the balance in full each month. If you don't, you don't get the bonus points/miles.
While some of the cards have hefty annual fees, we find that they are often offset by the travel credits (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve - read about me signing up here). If the fees aren't offset or we find the card is not worth it after we earn our miles, we close the account. You don't lose your miles and I recommend trying to transfer the credit line to another card under the same bank (you can do it with the Sapphire cards, for instance).
Most importantly, we found that signing up and/or closing 1-2 cards every year or every other year does not significantly impact our credit scores.
With all that in mind, if you do it correctly, you can rack up some serious points and a LOT of free travel. Between 2014 and 2016, we earned over 210K+ miles on American Airlines and 275K+ thank you points. We flew to Europe 3X in 2016 and 1X in 2017 (and it is only April). We still have well over 250K thank you points so we are set for at least another year or two.
When spending our rewards, we found we could stretch our miles by flying off season. For example, we spent 50-60K miles each on round trip tickets to Italy (flying in) and Switzerland (flying out) in December/January. Or our trip to Vienna in March was also 50-60K miles each. Thank You points are just like cash credit so you can use them to pay for inexpensive flights or hotels via the Chase portal site. So again, you can maximize them by flying when tickets are cheap.
All in all, this is one of our greatest life/travel hacks so keep an eye for amazing credit card deals.
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