I recently took a hiatus on this blog because I decided to take a once in a lifetime opportunity and quit my job to travel. Since I try to save wherever possible, I’m going to show you how I used credit card points to book a free (well, almost) round trip to Europe.
Now, I knew this wasn’t going to be cheap, but you know, YOLO. Just because traveling is expensive, it doesn’t mean you can’t cut costs where possible. Many moons before I ever dreamed of quitting my job to travel, I made sure I was going to pay as little as possible for a flight once the time came to leave. Here’s how I did it.
Choosing the Right Credit Card for You
Back in November, I decided I had outgrown the college credit card that I was issued before my junior year. The thing was sweet. It came with no interest during the first year and very small interest after that. For a person who was irresponsible with money like me, this was great because I’d often pay just $10-20 a month in interest. Stupid me. Now I pay $0. What wasn’t sweet was the rewards plan it came with. For every $2,500 spent, I received $25 cash back… that’s a pathetic 1%.
It had been almost 2 years since I hadn’t paid a dollar in interest so it was time to upgrade. I applied and was approved for the Capital One Venture Card. That’s the one with Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Garner in the commercials. Like, I had to get it… celebrities endorse it.
At the time I applied, the Venture card was offering 40,000 bonus miles if you spent $3,000 within the first 3 months. That meant I had to average $1,000 a month on credit card spending.
Since I pay my rent with a check (basically cash), this was going to be hard for a frugal spender like me. What’s not so difficult is paying the bill when going out with a big group of co-workers or friends and having everyone Venmo you. The waiter appreciates it, too. Also, if friends, co-workers, or family needed to make a purchase, I offered to pay for it and for them to send me money. It’s a win-win. They get a little layaway (before the bill is due the next month) and I get some free miles. It’s not being selfish, it’s just being smart!
Hold Up, Did you Say 40,000 Miles?!!
That would be almost enough for four round trips from Los Angeles to London! WTF. No way. Now, when a credit card company tells you that you’ll get 40,000 miles, they really don’t mean 40,000 actual miles. Really deceiving. Miles are valued at $0.01 for every $1 spent. If you multiply a penny by 40,000, that is $400. That’s a good chunk of money, but you’d really have to find a great deal far in advance to get a round trip to Europe for that price, at least from the west coast.
Fortunately, the Capital One Venture card’s big draw is double miles on every purchase. That means instead of a penny you get 2 cents for every $1 spent. It may not seem like much, but the dollars do add up. By making $3,000 in purchases the first 3 months, you get the bonus 40,000 miles plus an additional 6,000 points for the money you spent.
40,000 + 6,000 = 46,000 points
$400 + $60 = $460
So you have $460 saved after the minimum purchases. I went a little over and had $468. Still, not nearly enough to book a roundtrip.
Over the next several months, I did end up putting $6,800 on credit cards, using the loan shark method above and making sure to swipe the card for every transaction from bills, eating out, groceries, gas, Ubers, and oh yes… I did take a trip to Costa Rica, which accelerated the spending.
All in all, I ended up with $605 miles in credit card points. Upon searching for flights like a mad man, I found a round-trip to Dublin from Los Angeles leaving on a Wednesday two and a half weeks after booking.
Long story short, I put in my two weeks at my job, moved out of my apartment and took off to Europe the next day. Okay, so I have to come clean. I didn’t get the whole flight for free. The total of the flight was $640 so I paid $35 out of pocket, but not bad for a flight across the world and back.