Adventures In Travel Hacking: My Path to an Instant Frequent Flyer

This is a tale of 6 credit cards acquired in 3 months, which gave me over 250,000 frequent flyer's miles through promotions. This will basically be enough to cover the first 6-9 months of flights I plan to take while traveling the world, with a conservative estimated cost savings of at least $4,000. My first real foray into what is know as “travel hacking” (Travel hacking is about using points and rewards to gain free or highly discounted flights and accommodation.  Taken to the extreme, some travel hackers try to game the "system", such as buying U.S. mint coins with credit cards to gain free rewards at the cost of tax payers). It was very practical for myself, and also I took some action to measure any negative credit risks. More on that in this article.

How it began

In April of this year, I was researching flights for my around-the-world trip. An around-the-world ticket was neither cost effective or practical for my needs, so I decided that I would just book a series of fairly last minute one-way flights. Some of these flights were killer expensive. Such as going from Hawaii to Tahiti (1 way could be over $1k). I started researching how much you can get out of certain frequent flyer programs. AA Advantage, and others were not too bad. I also had very good credit, and since I wasn't mortgaging a home, but instead taking this trip, I felt like a sucker if I didn't make use of it soon. Besides, from what I discovered through previous travel hacking research, it looked like others were taking advantage of credit card reward programs, with some individuals getting 500K+ points a year through credit card offers. I wanted in.

 

My credit background:

-Confirmed Experian credit score of 796 at the time.

-5% of available credit utilized

-Already had about 10 open credit cards, slowly acquired over the last 12 years

 

Round 1

I researched the best credit card reward offers that were available. All had a spend requirement that ranged from a single purchase, to $5k, within the first few months of receiving the card. I applied for 3 cards in 1 day in the middle of April.

 

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – 40K points after spending $3k in 3 months. Current offer link.

  • Bank of America – Hawaii Airlines Signature – 35K points after $1k spend in 3 months. Current offer link.

  • Citi – AA Advantage Signature – 30K points after 1K spend in 3 months. Currently the offer is for 40K points.

 

Almost all three credit card companies approved me over the phone, but wouldn't tell me for what card. This was slightly annoying, but I found out in the mail a week later that I achieved my first goal when all 3 cards arrived. The spend requirements were pretty much in line with my normal spending behavior over the next 3 months. I actually found myself holding off on a laptop purchase that I would of made earlier, so that I could use that purchase for a future rewards offer. From all that I read, this shouldn't have harmed my credit score over the long run, and would actually improve it.

Round 2

It is now the middle of July, almost 3 months exactly from the date I last gave this a go. I picked this three month waiting period by design, since that is how long I was told to wait by the "experts" in order for my credit score to rebound from the slight ding for multiple credit inquires. Before applying for any new credit cards, I first checked on my current credit report and score. This is something I should of definitely done before applying for my first 3 cards, so I could see exactly how this affected my credit rating.

 

Here is a great article on recieving no hassle, free credit scores (this is different from free credit reports, which do not include credit scores): Five Ways To Get a Free Credit Score (No Trials!)

 

I found that my Experian credit score was 770, 26 points lower than before. I also found that my TRANS score was 730. Sounds low, but I have no idea of what it was before hand. 26 points seems like a concerning drop. For me personally, it didn't bother, since after this, I was not planning on using my credit for at least another year. Also, any effects on my credit score due to credit checks, go away after two years. Take all of this in consideration before you decide to apply for credit cards like crazy.

 

I then applied for the following three cards:

  • Chase – British Airways Signature card – 50K Avios points after first $1k spend. 25K for each additional $10K spent, up to 100K points. Current offer link.

  • Citi – AAdvantage Amex card – 25K AA points after a $750 spend. Current offer link.

  • American Express – Starwood Preferred Guest card.  10K Starwood Points after first purchase, 15K additional after a $5k spend.  Points are redeemable for flights and hotels. Current offer link

 

Fortunately I was approved for all 3. I did however have to wait and find out through mail almost two weeks later that I received my British Airways card. This was probably due to the fact that I already had 3 Chase credit cards. So I've reached my goal, and will not have to worry about the financials involved with booking flights for the majority of my trip around the world. So what will be my next goal? 500K frequent flyer points? We'll see!

I am also very interested in hearing about the personal experiences of others with making the best of credit card rewards, so please share them!