I opened my first travel rewards credit card just six months ago with visions of free travel dancing in my head. Although I have yet to take my first points-purchased flight, I already have 10 booked for the next seven months.
How much did that save me? A lot!
The 10 flights would have cost just over $4,300 if I paid all cash. Instead, I’ve spent 160,000 points and $340 — almost $4,000 saved!
How I earned all those travel rewards points
My wife and I have opened four new cards to get all the points and perks I’m going to talk about. (If this interests you, please use my link to sign up for your own card and I’ll get a 10,000 point referral bonus.)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus
In August, I wrote about my plans for starting my travel rewards journey. I held to that strategy, but on an accelerated schedule.
First, I opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred card. I spent $4,000 in three months and earned 60,000 bonus points on top of the 4,000 spending points.
Next, my wife opened the Chase Sapphire Reserve, with the same spending and bonus numbers. While the $450 annual fee initially turned me off, since looking more into the added perks that come with the Reserve and the included annual refunds for travel, I would suggest opening that one first.
With those two cards, we earned just over 128,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be used with many different airline and hotel companies.
After that, I had my sights set on earning the Southwest companion pass, which allows me to bring a named companion on any Southwest flight for a nominal fee of usually $5.60 each way.
I had intended to wait until just after January to start accruing points, because you have to earn 110,000 Rapid Rewards in a calendar year to qualify for the companion pass. The Premier card was offering a 60,000 point bonus when I first looked into it and the Plus card was offering 40,000, but in September Southwest cards started offering 60,000 point bonuses on both.
I signed up for both the Premier and Plus cards on Oct. 2, and got a confirmation from Chase that I had to meet my three-month, $2,000 spending threshold by Jan. 25, 2018 because of the way the billing cycle fell. So I spent up to about $1,900 on each of the cards before Jan. 1, then finished off the spending just after the new year.
That gave me enough points on my January statements to trigger the companion pass three months earlier than I had anticipated, and without spending the extra $10,000 I was planning to spend.
Now I had another 125,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points, plus a free flight for my wife on every flight I went on.
Booking my travel
Armed with 125,000 Southwest points and 128,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, I started booking our vacation flights.
Because of the Companion Pass, my wife’s ticket is a nominal fee on any flight where I’ve purchased a ticket, even with points.
A weeklong trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, would cost us $515 per ticket if we were paying cash for everyone like we would had I not been travel hacking. Instead, I bought a ticket each for me and my daughter at 21,600 points per person, and my wife’s is covered. We each paid $91 in fees (much of it due to it being a foreign flight), for a grand total of $270 for all of us.
That’s a savings of $1,265.
Our long weekend trip for my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday in Nashville would be $417 a ticket. Instead, I bought two round trip tickets for 22,908 each. For just less than 46,000 points and $34 we’re heading to Nashville with an extra $1,200 in our pockets.
Another trip to Michigan cost less than 50,000 points and saved another $1,200. That drained our Rapid Rewards balance, and I opted to transfer 13,000 Chase points to make up the difference. (Yes, I gave up some buying power there in that the Chase points would have been worth 1.5x through the Chase portal, but are only worth 1x after transferring to Southwest.)
And, finally, my flight to FinCon in September is paid for entirely by 22,000 Chase points, saving me $290.
That’s how I have managed to get 10 flights for $340 and a bucketful of travel points I earned by putting my expected spending on cards with lucrative sign-up bonuses. We still have more than 110,000 Ultimate Rewards points left, and I’m starting to think about my next rewards card.