How I’ll Travel For Free in 2021

In this post, I’ll share with you my best tips for credit card bonuses so that you’ll be ready to travel in style later in 2021. This includes a scoop on two credit cards that give HUGE RETURNS (and that even The Points Guy hasn’t featured on his site).

If you’re new to leveraging credit card reward points and bonuses, do some research. While it’s far more simple than most people expect, there is a tiny bit of a learning curve. (Also, a note for folks living outside of the US: These bonuses are often available for you, too, but perhaps not through the websites I’ll list below).

Exploring landmarks around Jaipur, India. Photo by Leah Judson.

Why do I love geeking out about this subject?

  1. It’s really friggin’ valuable: In 2021, I anticipate that I’ll complete more than $13,000 worth of travel for free. Badass, right?
  2. It’s aligned with my values: Because I’m an entrepreneur who values adventure, freedom and wonder, travel is a critical part of my self-care. Points made it possible for me to travel back when I was just starting my business, meaning I didn’t have to sacrifice that part of my life at a time when pinching pennies was the norm. I love sharing what I know with others who have similar values.
  3. Less physical pain: I first experienced the value of luxury travel during my trip to India in January 2019. Because I had enough points to book business class seats, I was able to lie flat for most of the journey, sleep during the flight, and eat healthy food most of the way. I arrived feeling energized and coped with the jet lag much easier. Most importantly, however, I saw that travel didn’t need to cause me physical pain. Because I have crazy low blood pressure, my body does not do well on overnight flights in economy where I have to stay upright. During trips like this, the pain in my legs is so severe that I can’t sleep and often have to spend most of my time pacing around the cabin. By the time I arrive at my destination, I haven’t slept and I’m cranky from dealing with cramping and spasms. It sucks, and it’s completely unnecessary… thanks to credit card points.
  4. More money for what matters: As an entrepreneur, I am responsible for putting money into my retirement. By not paying for travel, I have more money to contribute to my SEPP or ROTH IRA.

Credit Cards That Are Rocking My World Right Now:

During this pandemic, I’ve opened two credit cards:

  1. Iberia Airways card (100,000 Avios airline miles): When I searched “how to use 100,000 Avios miles,” I discovered that this is enough to get you a first-class ticket to Tokyo from San Francisco or Los Angeles. Ummmmmm, yes please!
  2. Air France/KLM Card (50,000 airline miles): Air France and KLM are part of the Sky Team conglomerate, which also includes Delta. This 50,000-point bonus can cover a couple of domestic flights or even get you a one-way economy class ticket to Korea.

Oldies, but goodies:

I currently have these cards in my wallet)

  1. AMEX platinum (free Uber credit each month, travel concierge service, $200 airline credit, subscription to Calm, access to airline lounges and a lot more): I originally got this card because of the huge sign up bonus (75,000 points), however I’ve kept it because the benefits are just so good. Plus — HOT TIP — AMEX has been great about waving annual fees due to the pandemic. Rather than have me close my card, they gave me a $500 statement credit (the annual fee for this card is $550). While I know $550 may sound like a high price point, I believe this card more than pays for itself. The AMEX lounges at airports around the world are lovely places where you can get good food, a free chair massage, and fast wifi. I sometimes schedule longer layovers on purpose just to spend time in them. Because I would typically spend $20 – $30 on food or alcohol during a long day of travel, this bonus saves me quite a bit of cash.
  2. Chase Sapphire (big sign-up bonus, airline credit): I’ll likely be trading this card in soon, but it’s been a great card to have thanks to the airline credit, sign up bonus, and 0 fees when I’m traveling abroad.

Rental cars, hotels and restaurants, oh my!

I spent New Year’s Even 2017/2018 in a hotel overlooking Times Square in New York City. This was an annual tradition for some of my friends, who would pool their credit card points and rent out nearly an entire floor of the building.

Since then, I’ve also used credit card points to stay in other lovely hotels across the United States, as well as in India and Portugal. Sometimes I’ve used my points to book rooms. Other times, when I can find a great deal, I’ll book and then enjoy a free upgrade (my AMEX card gives me automatic gold status at Marriott, which means a free upgrade every time I stay).

When it comes to car rentals, some cards (I’m lookin’ at you again, AMEX!) provide complimentary membership in premium car rental programs, including special upgrades and discounts. That said, you can also use your points to book cars for next-to-nothing when you have a card like Chase Sapphire.

And finally: Restaurants. While you can redeem some points for gift cards to restaurants, you can also pay attention to which restaurants will give you a 2 – 5x return on whatever you spend.

Because of all the benefits I’ve listed, I believe it is 100% worth your time to take an afternoon to learn more about credit card points and how to use them responsibly.

Embrace the Adventure,

Meg

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