One spectacular advantage of having no credit card debt is that you can use your credit cards as a tool to earn money and rewards for your family. If done correctly, using credit cards to pay your regular and necessary expenses can net you hundreds of dollars in free money. While you can use free money for anything, we’ve earmarked ours for travel. I’ve learned over the years that many things we purchased during our spending frenzy were not really meaningful. As we’ve changed our habits, I realize that vacations and sharing experiences is a very valuable commodity to our household. Now that we are walking the financial straight and narrow, we are going to let credit cards pay for our upcoming vacation. No, we aren’t charging the vacation on credit, but the credit companies are going to pay us to travel. Here’s how.
If you currently carry a balance on your credit cards or are not able to use credit within your means, you first need to find out how to break the debt cycle. Once you make your way out of consumer debt, I totally get the need to use cash for everything if you don’t want to be tempted with high credit limits. If you are able to pay your balance in full every month and don’t buy things you don’t need just because you can, then read on.
We are planning a ten day trip in July to the Pacific Northwest. My family loves the outdoors and the beach, and this is one area of the US we haven’t really visited. We are flying into Seattle and leaving through Portland. We decided to fly out of our local, podunk airport, which is expensive, but driving four hours to get to a major airport is not fun. Although originally we considered camping, I am old and on vacation. We’ve decided to raise our standards. Besides, who wants to carry bedding through the airport? How much is all this luxury going to set us back?
Airfare: Two sets of one way tickets. $1062.90
Lodging in Seattle: We want to stay downtown so we can walk or take the free bus route to attractions. I’m going to say $200 per night, so $600 total.
Train from Seattle to Portland for 3: $60
Lodging in Portland: Ballparking $150 per night, $450 total.
Rental Car to drive from Portland to the coast. $179
Beach Cottage from VRBO: $469.80
Two nights lodging TBD: We have two days left that we want to leave unplanned: $300
Total cost for transportation and lodging: $3121.70 (Wow)
How Are We Paying?
If you think I’m forking over more then three grand for this trip, think again. Here is how we are paying, or rather how some big corporations are paying for us. With my business, we rack up tons of points annually. This year, I have also done a bit of churning to get some bonus points.
Frontier Airlines Vouchers: As you might recall, we had a bit of trouble on our last visit to see my parents. It seemed frustrating at the time, but the $600 in vouchers we received sure look sweet now. With a combination of those plus frequent flier and rewards points on the Frontier Airlines Visa, that knocked our airfare down to $462.90.
Chase Sapphire: I applied for this card last fall, and started putting business expenses on it to reach the $5000 required to get a $400 bonus. Since then, I’ve added more points. We are up to almost 90,000 which equates to $900 in cash.
Chase Ink: This is a splendid card if you have a business. You have to have a Tax ID and provide business info to get one, but the rewards are terrific. With $5000 spent in the first three months, you receive 50,000 bonus points. I got this in January, and my office now puts all business expenses on it. You get double points for gas and 5x points for office supplies, cell phones, internet, and cable. I fully expect to have 100,000 points by the time my business finally sells, which is looking like June or July at this point. That gives me another $1000 cash.
Bank of America Visa: This was my old business card before Chase came along. I have $250 in rewards just waiting for me.
American Express Business Gold:This was another old business card. I have enough points for a $100 Amex gift card.
Essilor Edge: Essilor is our optical lab of choice at work. They offer rewards similar to credit card points for buying optical lenses. By this summer, I should have enough Essilor points for $200 in Amex gift cards.
Total Rewards: $3196. More than enough to pay for the balance on airfare and lodging. Sweet!
Food and Other Expenses
You’d think I would be happy with this score already, and I truly am, but why not go all the way to a completely free vacation? We have made about $200 so far this year from Ebay and consignment shop sales. I suspect we may be able to milk another $100 or so from these methods. It isn’t really free, but if there is stuff just sitting around, why not think of selling?
I am also contemplating applying for a Hilton Honors American Express. With the Hilton points I already have, it should be good for two free nights in either Seattle or Portland, which frees up at least another $300 to use for food and expenses. That should cover us unless we decide to go overboard on souvenirs or ship home a bunch of fish from Pike Place.
If you can play by the rules, which, again, are paying off the balance in full and not buying things you don’t need, using credit cards for normal expenses are a great way to get a free vacation. I’d like to thank Holly at Club Thrifty and Jake at I Heart Budgets who inspired me to churn like crazy to get this free vacation.
Responsible credit users, what have you gotten for free with credit rewards?