how to use rewards points and miles

Travel Hacking 101: earning credit card reward points!

Are you interested in cool new ways to travel more often, but with a tight budget? Well, you have come to the right place to get my secret tips for how I’m earning credit card reward points!

Last year, I traveled the world using 238,000 frequent flier miles. The total spent on flights was a whopping $127. and you can do this too!

There are no affiliate links in this post… Just real information based on my experiences and what I’ve learned.

how to use rewards points and miles

How I got started earning credit card points and miles:

You see, it all began when I decided to give myself the gift of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa for my 40th birthday.

The problem with this dream is that I am self-employed. That means zero sick time, vacation or personal days. Also, I am the marketing department. Therefore, if I am not moving the business forward, it shows in my bank account.

I tell ya, I needed a break! The gig lifestyle was starting to wear on me after over a decade of chasing wedding photography gigs. I was getting stagnant in my photography and in my heart.

I needed more than just Netflix and gardening as a break from constantly working on and in my small business (basically sitting at a computer all day).

the reality of being a professional photographer

Soooooo, the idea that I would be able to actually take the time off of work to reboot and just travel was a terrifying thought. Until now, all of my travel was always mixing business in too, like photographing family portraits in the town I visited. For this trip, I needed to be real about the negative impact this would have on my small business.

I decided that the best course of action was a three-step process:
  1. I sold everything that wasn’t  being used, adding to my life or was taking up space.
  2. Next, I canceled monthly memberships like cable TV, paid off extra bills (credit cards, student loans, etc.), streamlined and haggled my insurance premiums, etc.
  3. Learned how to make the trip itself cost close to ZERO.

Number three is where ‘Travel Hacking‘ comes in. Over the few years that I was planning my big African Adventure, I started learning how to earn credit card rewards points for everyday spending. Then I learned how to redeem them for the best value, thanks to the Travel Hacking Cartel.

That’s what I really want to share with you today! Anyone can travel the world cheap or just not freak out when you have a last minute flight that you need.

Everything you ever need to know about earning credit card rewards points, sign up bonuses and which travel credit card is right for you.


A Summary of my 3 years of research:

  1. It is all about earning a ‘sign up bonus’. Credit card companies want your business. They really do. Credit card companies partner with airlines, hotels, etc. to offer perks to lure you into their trap. Take advantage of these lures. You are rewarded with a bonus if you spend X dollars on the card (usually $3,000) within X months (usually 3 months).
  2. Start with the amazing Chase Sapphire card (or the Sapphire Reserve card) and earn the standard 50,000 point sign up bonus. The Sapphire is the best all-around travel rewards card due to its flexibility and its perks like trip protection. The Chase rewards point transfer 1:1 to ANY airline.
  3. The next step is to acquire a card for an airline that you already fly. These cards give great perks like free checked bags and early boarding! When I planned my route to Africa for example, I decided to take the route that United Airlines offered via their partnership with Lufthansa Airlines. So, I opened a United Airlines Mileage Plus Explorer card and made sure to earn a big sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles after spending $3000 on the card within the first three months. This is key. Get the sign-up bonuses and also wait for a big one (30K points are easy… look for 50-70K!!). Earning credit card reward points is easy when you know what to look for and what is worth your time.
  4. In addition to airline miles, you can earn free hotel stays. Hotel credit cards payout big sign up bonuses. The Hilton Honors Surpass Card earned me 100,000 points as a sign-up bonus. I don’t stay in hotels often, however, I like the idea of a backup plan without having to freak out when travel gets delayed. My Marriott card gives me a free night on my card anniversary, free breakfast and wifi! It really pays for itself. I used the Marriott reward points for a hotel at the Johannesburg Airport both upon arrival and before departure from Africa. Those were on sale for only 7,500 Marriott points per night!

marriott hotel rewards credit card with a free night

South Africa safari vehicle

Join the Travel Club

In summary, once you get the basics down you can branch out and learn even more tips to maximize your earning potential with credit card reward points.

Points and miles can be quite the rabbit hole, and there are so many nuances in redeeming and earning credit card reward points.

Stay tuned for the next steps on how to redeem points for the most value.

If this is overwhelming a bit and you want to dig deeper, download my Free Flight Guide which gives you the basics and automatically joins you to my newsletter list for extended tips and tricks on all of these nuances.

I’ll also add you to my referral code list for earning credit card rewards points!

We both win!

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