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?


  1. says

    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.

      • says

        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!

  2. says

    “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.

  3. says

    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?

    • says

      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. says

    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…

  5. Brian says

    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 :(

      • Brian says

        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.

        • says

          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.

  6. says

    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!

    • says

      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:
      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!!!

  7. says

    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?

    • says

      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.

  8. says

    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.

  9. says

    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.

      • says

        Haha…sorry it was a nice city…I was only there briefly but my friends did the segway tour along the canal and had fun. We walked around there and it was very beautiful. Saw Lucas Stadium and walked around the downtown area. Wedding was at the JW Marriott and we stayed there…had a really nice view of the city.

  10. says

    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.

  11. says

    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!

  12. says

    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!

    • says

      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.

  13. says

    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.

  14. says

    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.

  15. says

    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!

  16. says

    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.

  17. says

    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. :)


  18. says

    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?!

  19. says

    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??

  20. 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?

  21. says

    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!

  22. says

    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.

  23. says

    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!

  24. says

    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!

  25. says

    Admiring the persistence you put into your website and in depth information you provide.

    It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material.
    Great read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds
    to my Google account.

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