Last January, my wife and I took a two-week honeymoon to Southeast Asia. The trip was once in a lifetime and we’ll always treasure the memories. Traveling for two weeks to the other side of the planet with only our backpacks (and escaping winter weather) was just the adventure we’d hoped for.
Free Travel… Kind of
We earned 250,000+ credit cards points to pay for the trip. I’ll share how we accomplished this and how you can do something similar. Now may seem an odd time to bring up earning credit card points to pay for an international trip, given the current restrictions on travel. But, frankly, this process takes time, so if you start now, you’ll be ready when borders reopen. I began earning points 13 months before proposing to my wife, over two years prior to our honeymoon.
When I say we “paid for” our honeymoon with points, what I mean is that we used points to purchase:
- 2 airline tickets JFK to Bali, Indonesia on China Airlines
- Three night stay at the Haven Suites, Indonesia
- Four nights at the Continent Hotel in Bangkok
- Three nights at the Ace of Hua Hin Resort
- Two nights at Cape Nihdra in Hua Hin
- 2 airline tickets Bangkok, Thailand to Boston on Japan Airlines 1
Points didn’t cover three nights at an AirBnB, meals, shopping or a short flight from Bali to Bangkok. Otherwise, we had few out of pocket expenses and the US dollar goes a long way in Southeast Asia.
What follows might all sound like a lot of work to earn points. To me, It’s taking what I already spend and getting rewarded. It might not be a strategy that appeals to you at all, so maybe you’re better suited with a cash back credit card. The alternative in my mind was to settle for a less adventurous honeymoon or use money from savings/investments to pay for our honeymoon, which I wanted to avoid. My wife was on board with the effort… bless her heart for putting up with me.
This I didn’t wreck my credit score like it might sound. I actually increased my score to the excellent range during this process. Someday that will help us secure better mortgage rates for a home purchase.
The Wrong Way to Do Points
Before I started scheming to pay for our honeymoon, I had a credit card from college that offered Fifth Third “Real Life Rewards”. Fifth Third may offer good rewards credit cards, but this wasn’t one of them.
After a couple years of normal spending I saved up enough points for some kitchen utensils. Seriously, I got a set of measuring cups and a “mini-whisk”… That’s it! Suffice it to say, if you’re still using your credit card from college, you’re probably missing out too.
The Right Way
We earned 250,000+ credit cards points to pay for the trip. I’ll share we accomplished this and how you can do something similar. Now may seem an odd time to bring up earning credit card points to pay for an international trip, given the current restrictions on travel. But, frankly, this process takes time, so if you start now, you’ll be ready when borders reopen. I began earning points 13 months before proposing to my wife, over two years prior to our honeymoon.
Most of the points we earned came from two rewards cards I opened 2 that each provided a 100,000 point signup bonus for spending $4,000 in the first three months. That’s more than I typically spend in six months, let alone three months.
So, I used the first card to pay for Lasik surgery, which I had saved for, and immediately paid off the balance. 3 In one transaction I fulfilled the spending required to earn 100,000 points worth over $1,000 for travel. We used the second card to pay for many of our wedding expenses. This easily fulfilled the spending requirement.
After that, I tried to use the card for our regular expenses without increasing our spending. Sometimes opportunities arose to get additional points. For instance, my office hosted a large happy hour and a credit card was needed for the tab. I volunteered mine because I knew I would be reimbursed before my credit card balance was due. Triple points on restaurants meant this one happy hour translated into nearly 10,000 points for us.
In a couple years we had enough points to cover most of our honeymoon so that we were truly relaxed on our trip. Not everyone would define this as a free trip since some work went into it, but we enjoyed the strategy and still use points to pay for some of our travel.
How to Get Started
For credit card advice on points, check out ThePointsGuy.com. I’m not affiliated and his resources are how I got started myself.
As for picking the right card is for you, check out this post, use my Net Worth Tool to calculate what you spend, what you can afford, and keep your Net Worth moving in the right direction. Tracking Net Worth is the simplest way to understand wealth and build it.
A final bit of advice: If you plan to use your points for travel, get a card that includes access to airport lounges and TSA Precheck. Both are life savers when you’re traveling internationally or for long periods. (Private Lounge food is tastier than airport food and free, as are the drinks!)