Winning: How I am Paying for my Next Vacation with Credit Card Rewards

Winning!I’ve written about my obsession with credit card rewards several times.  You can read those posts here, here, and here.  If you go back and read the old stuff, you’ll notice a common theme: I’m winning with credit card rewards.  Sure, I’m doing fine without credit card rewards.  However, rewards create the opportunity to get free travel, cash, and gift cards for a minimal amount of effort.  Free stuff makes me happy and finding new ways to get free stuff has become one of my hobbies.  Winning!

How I’m Winning

Last month, I wrote about how we’re currently using our Starwood preferred guest card in order to earn free hotel stays.  (If you would like to sign up for the American Express Starwood Preferred card, please do me the honor of signing up here and I receive a small finder’s fee.)  As I reported, Greg and I were both going to use the card in order to earn 25,000 bonus starpoints each.  The bonus points in addition to the regularly earned points (1 point per dollar spent) meant that we would have 60,000 starpoints to use on a vacation nearly anywhere in the world.  From there, we looked at hotels all over the world, even hotels in Sydney, Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand.  Here are the options that we’re considering:

  • Westin Resort & Casino in Aruba  I have been talking about going to Aruba forever! In fact, we had plans to go last year and we decided to go to the Dominican Republic instead.  This is definitely one of the top contenders for our 2014 winter vacation.  Since it’s in category 4, free rooms cost 10,000 points per night.  Another thing to keep in mind is that this program also offers an additional 5th night free if you use your points to book at least 4 consecutive nights at one hotel.  So, I could technically use my 60,000 points to pay for 6 nights and get the 7th night free.  I could also use my points toward 5 free nights in a level 4 hotel and 50,000 airline miles through Starwood’s Nights & Flights program.  The options are unlimited.
  • Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort & Casino  I’ve never been to the Bahamas before.  It looks beautiful.  Another great perk about traveling here is that the flights are pretty darn cheap if I choose to pay for them.  It currently only costs about $350 to fly from Indianapolis to Nassau.
  • Park Lane Hotel in London  This bitch is smack dab across the street from Buckingham Palace.  It’s down the street from Hyde Park and near the theatre district that I sooooooooo want to check out.  In fact, it’s within walking distance of Queen’s Theatre where you can see the stage version of Les Miserables.  It also has a vegan menu in the hotel’s restaurant.  It’s like a dream come true!!!  Flights would be pricey ($800-$1100 per person) but I think the trip would be worth it.

Due to the spending requirements, we weren’t supposed to earn this reward until October.  However, we finished early because we decided to take a last minute vacation to Mexico next month and we put ours and our friend’s vacations on one of our cards for convenience.  (Of course, we paid the balance in full immediately and our friends paid us for their half!!!) Winning!

How I’m Churning for Free Flights

The next card we are going to sign up for is the Barclaycard Arrival Card.  I received a direct mailer advertising 40,000 bonus points after spending $1000 in the first three months.  The 40,000 points can then be redeemed for $400 in travel with any airline.  Greg and I can do this easily and earn $400 off of each of our airline tickets to our destination.  If we choose to go to Aruba or Nassau, this is enough to pay for our flights in full!

So, that’s it folks.  That’s how I’m winning at credit card rewards.  So, how about you?  Have you ever signed up for credit cards for rewards?  If so, what card are you working on right now?

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About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.

Comments

  1. Haven’t done any churning yet. Don’t want to mess with my credit before we buy a house in the next few years. Sounds like you guys have got it down though.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Liebster Award!My Profile

    • A few cards won’t hurt, trust me!

      • I totally agree Holly! I’ve successfully received the huge bonuses from 6 different credit cards over the past 18 months and have earned what I figure is approximately $10,000 in travel value (which is absolutely tax free money) and my credit rating dropped a total of a whopping 5 points.

        This is barely a rounding error and it could have been just from normal fluctuations.

        I’ve got a good post on an Intro to Travel Hacking linked below and another where I detail how we’re taking our kids to Disney World for free!
        Brad @ RichmondSavers.com recently posted..An Introduction to Travel HackingMy Profile

  2. “This bitch is smack dab across the street from Buckingham Palace.” Can’t beat that! I definitely would like to get into credit card churning. It’s something I haven’t tried but after reading posts from you and other bloggers it seems like I’m missing out on some free or at least subsidized vacations.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..5 Ways to Relieve Stress on a BudgetMy Profile

  3. I’m thinking your math is a bit off. If you get 1 point per $1, and you get a 40,000 bonus for $1,000 spent, wouldn’t you end up with 41,000 points? You’d need to spend $10,000 to get 10,000 points, or get 10 points per dollar?
    Lance @ Money Life and More recently posted..How to Turn Challenges into OpportunitiesMy Profile

    • You’re right….and I changed it. We only get $400 off of our flights which will still make them free to the Bahamas or Aruba. Poor me =/

  4. I’ve paid for a couple smaller trips with rewards. Its awesome because it really does feel like it is free. It makes the vacation feel like that much more of a treat.
    Michael @ The Student Loan Sherpa recently posted..Debunking the Arguments Against Student Loan ReformMy Profile

  5. So far I’ve just stuck with my 1% cash back card, but it sounds like using the vacation based cards has gotten you some SWEET rewards. Ill have to think about reevaluating…
    CadhRebel recently posted..My $8 Trip To TorontoMy Profile

  6. Jealous! Since we are working on improving our credit score, we can’t churn just yet. Have to wait until after we buy the next house!
    Michelle recently posted..Setting a Clothing BudgetMy Profile

  7. We and in the middle of planning our next churn. We haven’t decided where we want to go, so it makes it a little tricky to apply for cards. Couple that with Hilton gutting their award chart and that rules out some cards for us :(

    • Have you done the Starwood preferred yet?

      • No we haven’t. We are holding off hoping the do what they did the last two summers and offer 30,000 points (not looking good so far). They are near the top of our list of cards to apply for since starpoints are extremely valueable.

        • Yeah, it’s totally not looking good so far!

          Still, with the 5K spend each we both have 30K of points in our accounts. Its enough for a week in any of the levels up to level 5. There are some really good international choices in levels 4 and 5.

  8. Could you churn enough to take me with you? I’m lots of fun at a party and can crank out bad jokes on demand….
    AverageJoe recently posted..Planning Your Future? Sketch Out Your GoalsMy Profile

  9. Holly!!! This credit card point thingy has always, and I presumed would always, be a complete mystery to my wife and I. But you have given us hope with this post. I knew I should have come over here sooner.

    Damn it all to hell. We like vacations. Oh, and thanks for a valuable post!

    • Feel free to sign up through my link!
      For the American Express Starwood card, you just spend $5,000 in 6 months. It sounds like a lot but it really isn’t. We each churned one of the cards and we put stuff like this on the card:
      gas
      groceries
      car insurance
      our minimal shopping that we do
      our vacations

      Since we actually paid for a few cheap vacations in there, we reached the 10K spend in 6 months (two cards, 5K spend each, one in each of our names). Then AMEX lets you transfer points to anyone in your household so I’m going to transfer my points to Greg and we will have 60K points total. That is enough to vacation in a Starwood property anywhere in the world- Paris, London, Australia, Mexico, anywhere in the U.S., Thailand, etc.

      Do it!!!

  10. Banks spend lots of money trying to weed out “gamers” from their card offers. The challenge is the people who game or churn cards look too much like their most profitable customers: they carry balances and pay on time.

    Are the banks still seeking your business (sending pre-approved rewards cards offers), or do you have to seek them out?
    Kevin @ Credit Bureau Insider recently posted..Why Do Credit Cards Offer Rewards?My Profile

    • I get credit card offers in the mail every single day and I have never been denied for any card I’ve ever applied for. I have also never carried a balance.

      I don’t feel like a “gamer.” They make the offer, I comply. There is nothing in their offers about me having to pay interest.

  11. I think London, England would be a great place to go. I’ve been before without kids. If I were going to Aruba or the Bahamas, I would go all inclusive. Have fun
    planning and thinking about it!
    I have received so many rewards from using my credit card points – movies, theme park passes, hotel stays in Florida. I’m not sure about getting another credit card but Starwood is tempting. I’m in Canada so the bonuses are different but I looked up the category levels and could use the points to stay in Ohio and take my kids to Cedar Point Amusement Park.

  12. I won’t be traveling in the near future with a little one on the way but I just got in on the game last year. I got the Citi Premier card and got a pair of roundtrip tickets to Indianapolis (not too exciting but I had a wedding to attend). Also got the Chase Sapphire and used the points for a luxurious stay at a Grand Hyatt. I think the Starwood card sometimes has a 30,000 bonus…I might try and wait for that since I’m not in a rush.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted..How to Identify Market PeaksMy Profile

  13. I have never thought about churning and right now I am in the mindset of “see credit card run!” but just because I am in debt but may be that will change after I pay off the debt.
    Demaish recently posted..How I got inspired to start budgeting every centMy Profile

  14. Awesome! I want to do this so bad! An amazing *free* vacation would be great. I am going to wait until my income increases a little. Right now I am a little scared that if I put stuff on a CC I’ll be tempted to not pay it back. Budgets too tight right now. But, I’ll be sure to come check all of your CC suggestion when I get to where I need to be.

    Have fun on your vacay!
    Alexa recently posted..5 Ways Single Moms Can Find Time for ThemselvesMy Profile

  15. This is pretty timely because B and I were discussing paying for some wedding transactions on a cc with rewards, and then using the points for our honeymoon. Any of your trips sound pretty amazeballs!
    anna recently posted..June Update – Halfway There (Who-oa, Livin’ on a Prayer)My Profile

    • This card would be perfect for you. Scroll a few comments down to my reply to Done by Forty. You can browse hotel options there. You could easily get a nearly free honeymoon by churning this card.

  16. I use my credit card to generate frequent flier miles and hotel points too. I have used my airline miles for travel overseas for more than 20 years. I started using a hotel card to get hotel stays since last year.
    krantcents recently posted..ATM Skimming – What You Should KnowMy Profile

  17. I absolute love taking advantage of credit card travel rewards. It’s how B and I flew to Paris for no cost and saved on hotels as well. I have the Citibank AAdvantage card, Citibank Hilton, American Express Hilton, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Priority Club, Chase United, and Barclay USAirways. Sounds like a lot, but the travel savings have been incredible.
    Tina @My Shiny Pennies recently posted..About That $100 Wedding Dress…My Profile

  18. Sweet! Such great options! I admit that we are partial to beaches (which is sort of weird since we live in LA :) ) so Aruba or the Bahamas would be high on our list. But London would be really great too. I can’t say that I churn credit cards but I certainly use the rewards points to my advantage of the cards I do have!
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..How to Teach Your Kids to Think about DebtMy Profile

  19. We’ve churned with some of the Chase cards (Southwest, Sapphire) and Citi, too, but haven’t tried the ones you’ve suggested. Do you feel like now is a particularly good time to jump on their offers? I ask as often they’re only extended to first time cardholders, so I want to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck, so to speak.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Thirty Things Lighter UpdateMy Profile

  20. 60,000 Starwood points is BOMB! We’ve already earned the 60,000 this year, and have used 43,000 of them on two weekend getaways. We still have 17,000 left (good for another weekend getaway), but I just got the AMEX OPEN Starwood Business card, so another 30,000 points are on the way. I love Starwood points, and will be sad when I have to wait another year or so to get me another 30,000 point bonus. You can also transfer Starwood to airlines for flights if you wish, which makes them EXTRA valuable.

    We also just got the Ink Bold from Chase, which will give us another 60,000 points ($1,200-ish worth of free travel or $600 cash). I’m trying to build a steady balance of Chase and Starwood points, along with Alaska and American Airlines miles so I can go wherever I want, whenever I want. :)

    YAY FOR REWARDS!!!
    Jacob @ iHeartBudgets recently posted..5 Attitudes That Will Save You MoneyMy Profile

  21. Haven’t tried churning yet, definitely considering it though! I’d love to not have to pay for my yearly plane ticket to visit my family!
    debtperception recently posted..Money Train of ThoughtMy Profile

  22. That’s so awesome. My wife and I just recently opened a travel rewards card and are hoping to be able to use the rewards to go on vacation in the future. As long as you use the cards properly, why not try to take advantage of the free stuff?!
    Jake @ Common Cents Wealth recently posted..Photo Thursday: Early Archery SeasonMy Profile

  23. Great post Holly, I am currently using the Capital One Rewards Card, although I am not necessarily churning it. I do put everything on it so I am building up my points and of course paying it off at the end of every month. Maybe I need to look into making a switch. Can you go back to a previous one pretty easily??
    Jim recently posted..The Path To A Thicker Wallet Has To Include A Financial RoutineMy Profile

  24. My favorite rewards card is the PenFed Cash Rewards. All it’s good for is gas rewards, but it’s 5% cash back that’s automatically deducted from my statement :) No need to exchange the rewards for other goods. Read more about the other rewards cards I use: http://makingmoneyfastandslow.com/2013/05/21/maximizing-credit-card-rewards-how-i-get-rewarded-for-almost-everything/
    Robert recently posted..How to Start Investing – Opening a Brokerage AccountMy Profile

  25. Nikki Creed says:

    the term ‘churn’ is new to me, yet I found your article facinating!
    I currently maximise the points on my cc to buy vouchers, services & travel etc but will definately look into maximising even more…. guessing cards & offers will differ here in Australia (the ones you mentioned were unfamiliar) but now I am excited about researching just how I can help more people get more out of their cards for less ! Thanks for sharing! Would it be ok to share your article on my website?

  26. I have two cards that give me the capability to travel. I have a Westjet card which gives me a $99 companion flight, too, each year, and an AMEX which gives me Airmiles. It’s awesome!
    Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter recently posted..Friday Links – Back in Class EditionMy Profile

  27. The banner ad that was served to me on this page reminded me that the Hyatt Visa is another great option, but in a slightly different way than the SPG points.

    If you open the Hyatt Visa card you get 2 free nights at any of their hotels across the globe. This includes their resorts on Maui and Kauai, the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris, Park Hyatt in the Maldives, etc.! These Park Hyatt hotels can cost around $1,000 a night, so those 2 free nights can be quite valuable…

    If you and your spouse each opened on of these cards you’re up to 4 free nights. Then the Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Hyatt, so you can open an Ink Bold and an Ink Plus card, which will earn you over 110,000 Hyatt Points. At only 22,000 points a night for their top-tier hotels, that’ll earn you another 5 free nights.

    So for opening 4 credit cards over the course of a year or so you’ll get 9 free nights at one of the top hotels in the world — can’t beat a ‘trip of a lifetime’ for free!
    Brad @ RichmondSavers.com recently posted..Planning our Free Family Trip to Disney WorldMy Profile

  28. Awesome! We’re planning on flying to Japan this year on points. Didn’t know it was called “churning”. TIL.
    GamingYourFinances recently posted..Monthly Challenge Update: $25pp weekly grocery budgetMy Profile

  29. That is too cool. I love hearing how others get creative with their finances and use it to their advantage. Bravo!

    I’ve done some churning in the past, but not lately. You may have just inspired me to pick it up again as I’m craving some high tea.
    Taynia @ The Fiscal Flamingo recently posted..Dream WeaverMy Profile

  30. Holy crap, buddy! I had no idea how profitable credit card churning could be – nicely done. I am nowhere near being in the position to churn credit cards – my credit sucks right now – but I can see why it’s attractive. Personally, I still give this concept the stink eye but I can totally see why you do it!
    Lindsey @ Cents & Sensibility recently posted..Saturday’s Sweet Savage Love #1My Profile

  31. As always, I am really impressed credit cards are so awesome in the US! Wow, money for flights and holidays, what else? I could totally become addicted to that stuff. In the UK they have it a little, but once you have churned an MBNA card for example, you can’t churn any more from the same group, and there aren’t many groups so it is quickly over. And never that good!
    Pauline @ Make Money Your Way recently posted..Welcome!My Profile

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    amazon gift card generator 2013 no survey recently posted..amazon gift card generator 2013 no surveyMy Profile

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] cool thing about this points program is that American Express allows you to transfer your points to another person living in your household.  Therefore, we can [...]

  2. [...] both of us reach our spending requirement, we will have 50,000 Starpoints to spend.  Also, the Starwood Preferred card lets you transfer points between members that live in the same household.  Therefore, once we are [...]

  3. [...] Thrifty – Winning: How I am Paying for my Next Vacation with Credit Card Rewards Debt Roundup – And This Is Why I Save….. Money, Life and More – How to Destroy Debt [...]

  4. [...] you love to travel, you’ve probably noticed that flights can take a big bite out of your holiday travel [...]

  5. [...] question. It was originally published in July 2012, and has been slightly updated. Enjoy!  (Read this post to find out how we’re paying for our next vacation with credit card [...]

  6. [...] one percent, I decided to move part of it to Chase in order to score $275 in free cash money.  Winning!  I almost feel bad for it, too.  Almost.  If you’ve read my posts about credit card [...]

  7. [...] to the 401(k) up to the maximum employer matching amount.  Some people call this match “free money,” and it is to an extent, but it is also money being paid to your account because your [...]

  8. […] Let’s compare this to another big financial issue: credit card debt. Depending on your source of information, the average person in the U.S. carries between $2,720 and $5,047 of debt on their credit cards. Does that mean that as an adult in the United States you should simply expect to have that much credit card debt? Of course not! You are an individual, allowed to make whatever choices you please. There are many people walking around without any credit card debt, and even some who are making the credit card companies pay them to go on vacation. […]

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