How to fly for free (for real!) using credit card points

Let me teach you how to hack the system and travel for basically free, it's possible

Alright. I’m about to say a bunch of things that’ll both dazzle you and piss you off simultaneously. Are you ready?

  • My flight from San Francisco to New Zealand was $43.00.
  • My flight from New Zealand to Bali was $25.00.
  • I just booked a Thanksgiving flight from Detroit to San Francisco for $5.00.

And no, I’m not banging a pilot. No, I’m not stuffing myself in a dog carrier.

These are bonafide, confirmed, regular-human tickets on actual airplanes – all I had to pay for these flights was the tax. How?

Sing it with me, choir: CREDIT CARD POINTS!!!

credit card points travel
You: IDK what she’s talking about yet but let’s hear this psycho out (Hanoi, Vietnam)

Now, I may have lost some of you at the word “credit,” so before you all go running: I pay for flights using points that I gained by simply using credit cards in a normal, strategic way. Yup, it’s a legit thing – the Internet world calls it “churning,” but I call it “living my smartest, sneakiest Millennial bad bish life.”

As mentioned, I’m currently traveling the world debt-free with my partner, and using credit card points for flights has saved us thousands of dollars. It’s the main reason we’ve been able to afford traveling for so long. And all it cost us was a little research.

…Okay, a lot of research. This method does require some muscle work; the points just don’t fall into your lap. But that’s why I’m here: To condense what we learned and get you on this wave (and in that plane) quicker than I did.

If you think a little elbow grease is worth flying around the world for less than the cost of a bad pedicure? Follow me, friends.

How to stop sucking at budgeting so you can travel more Part 1 and Part 2

credit card points travel
Is that rain, or the travel gods spitting hot fire down upon us? IT’S BOTH. (Sapa, Vietnam)

How Do I Get Credit Card Points?

You may have heard of a credit card point system before: As an incentive to get you to spend, credit card companies will offer you points for every dollar you charge. Those points can be redeemed for stuff.

But typically, you only really hear about the sad-ass systems where you get, like, 0.0000004 points for every dollar you spend on gas. And typically, people waste their points on the sad-ass crap offered in credit point gift guides – weird perfume, useless electronics, or gift cards to TGIFridays.

No, darling. We did not come to play like noobs.

credit card points travel
This is my come-hither-for-secrets face; is it working? (Hanoi, Vietnam) 

To get the big ticket items (literally), go for the sign-up bonuses – that’s where you get anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 points just for getting a new credit card and spending a certain amount within a time limit. (For scale: A plane ticket from San Francisco to New Zealand might cost anywhere between 40,000 to 80,000 points.)

These offers pop up and disappear constantly, like flash sales at your favorite stores. If you head to websites like DoctorofCredit, you can see a list of recent sign-up bonuses out now, constantly updated by churning freaks like myself.

Now, listen closely: In order to get these mega-point bonuses, you have to be approved for the credit card, and then you have to spend a certain amount of money on that card. A typical offer might sound like, “Spend $3000 on this card within 3 months to receive 50,000 points.”

That’s right. You’ve got to spend big to earn big.

credit card points travel
You: If this bish tells me to go further into debt, I WILL JUMP. (Hue, Vietnam)

Bish, wait. How do I work this system without going into debt?

You thought I’d lead you into this trap without a strategic way out?! I am also not looking to take on more debt just to play a point game, thank you very much. So, I came up with the Spend & Unspend – my own ways around this weird, weird system.

My first big churning adventure gave me this challenge: Spend $3,000 on this new credit card in the first 3 months, and receive 100,000 points. Here’s how I Spent & Unspent my way out of that.

Get ready.

credit card points travel
Ninja-ing our way to free flights liiiiiiiike (Hanoi, Vietnam)

SPEND & UNSPEND METHOD #1: Work Reimbursement

I used to travel a TON for work, and usually if I spent my own money during those trips, I got reimbursed by my employer. I realized I could be taking crazy advantage of this super simple and common system.

So, I started using my new credit card for EVERYTHING work-travel related – airfare, taxis, meals, WiFi services – charging maybe $1,000 on a typical work trip.

Here’s the gag: I kept all those receipts, and when my work reimbursed me, I took that $1,000 reimbursement cash and paid my credit card back down to zero. That way, I technically spent $1,000 on the card, and got $1,000 closer to my $3,000 spending goal – but I didn’t use any of my own money, and I escaped with a zero balance.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

credit card points travel
Don’t worry, honey. I got the Uber. (AKA, my employer got the Uber.) (Hue, Vietnam)

SPEND & UNSPEND METHOD #2: Hellloooo, Spendin’ Friends

At this point, I was like: Oh, shit. If I can keep “spending” money that isn’t mine, I’ll crush this game. So, I started asking my friends and family if anyone was saving up to make some sort of big cash purchase – like if a friend was about to buy a laptop or a camera or a $400 water heater (true story).

I immediately told them skkrrrrrrrr, don’t make that purchase yet – let me buy that $400 water heater on my new credit card. And then I asked them to pay me back in cash. Or, y’know, Venmo, the Millennial’s cash.

Finally, I took that $400 paid-back cash and deposited it to pay my credit card back down to zero. Boom, there it was again: I got $400 closer to my spending goal, but I didn’t spend my own money, and my balance stayed a cute and perky size zero.

credit card points travel
Me collaborating with my spendin’ loved ones liiiiiiike (Milford Sound, New Zealand)

SPEND & UNSPEND METHOD #3: Making My Bills Pay Me

You got student loans, rent, or other major bills? Excellent. You can pay those bills and hit your spending goal using your new credit card.

Now, be careful with this method: You WILL be using your own cash. If you already save up to pay certain bills like student loans or rent, this will work beautifully.

Let me introduce you to my friend, a company called Plastiq based out of my hometown, San Francisco. Here’s how it works: You pay a bill with your credit card through Plastiq, and Plastiq takes a 2.5% fee. Then, Plastiq sends a paper check to wherever your bill is due. Your card gets charged; your bill gets paid. Easy. 

credit card points travel
Hello, operator? Pls tell Sallie Mae to suck it? (Auckland, New Zealand)

I was already putting away about $1000 in cash each month to pay my student loans (cue collective groan of forty million other people who feel me). But instead of writing Sallie Mae a fatty check, I charged $1000 to my credit card using Plastiq, who then sent a paper check to Sallie Mae on my behalf.

Then I took that $1000 cash I usually saved to pay my student loans, and – say it with me, y’all – paid my credit card balance back down to 0.

Bill? Paid. Spending goal? SLAYED.

I got almost all of my credit card points using this method. Check out Plastiq here — and, if you use my code FeliciasWallet, you earn $500 Fee Free Dollars when you make your first payment (that means you get to sidestep that 2.5% fee, girl!).

credit card points travel
Leveraging my debt into free flights like weeeeeeeeee (Hoi An, Vietnam)

Once I hit my $3,000 spending goal, I got a little note on my credit card statement saying that I’ve received 100,000 bonus points.

Using their travel booking system (and yup, companies like Chase let you book tickets using points directly on their websites) I used 80,000 points to buy two one-way tickets from San Francisco, California to Auckland, New Zealand.

And the only thing I had to pay out of my own pocket was the tax (flings the mic across the universe)

WAHOOO!

credit card points travel
Have y’all seen my mic? I dropped it somewhere down there… (Cat Ba, Vietnam) 

These types of hacks might sound a little complicated, but y’all, it was so worth it to jump through these few hoops when we boarded our plane to New Zealand (and Bali, and Vietnam, and Taiwan) knowing that we saved thousands of dollars.

Airfare can be a huge barrier to getting your travel on, but with these tips, you can bust those barriers right down and stroll to the gate, cash and cocktail in hand.

I break it all down verbally in this video, below — and don’t forget to grab your Plastiq discount using this link or my code, FeliciasWallet!

If you could buy a free ticket outta town anywhere in the world, where would you go? Share!

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