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Spring break is coming but money is tight. Don’t let that stop you from globetrotting and enjoying all the best the world has to offer. Leveraging your credit cards’ frequent flier miles, you can choose anything, from a year-long world tour like Steve Kamb, to a fantastic two-week vacation.
Kamb, founder of NerdFitness.com is in the middle of an 11-month, 35,000-mile trip to four continents … all for less than $500. How did he do it?
How He Hacked A Vacation
First, he started hunting down frequent flier deals and, for a year, began using credit cards for all his living expenses. He paid the bills immediately and never charged things he wouldn’t normally buy.
Then he sold his car, and most of his belongings, gave up his apartment, consolidated and cashed in the miles through American Express’ One World Award, and got ready to embark on a dream vacation.
Wait a minute. Sold his car? Gave up his apartment? In this post, Kamb explains:
“My two roommates were moving… so I had this idea that if I wasn’t going to have a place to stay, why don’t I try to sell my car and use all of these miles and go on a really crazy trip around the world?”
Short of such extreme measures, however, you can still enjoy the vacation of your dreams on frequent flier miles if you know how to do it. Follow these steps:
1. Shop around for the best bonus points deals. Kamb reveals that at first, he started with credit cards that offered 500 points for spending $500. Not exactly a travel hacker’s dream. Then he started finding the real travel bonuses: 100,000 miles if you spend $2,000 in six months, 50,000 points for spending $3,000 in a year.
Credit cards with these type of offers (usually American Express) have annual fees, but if you cancel within the first year, you won’t pay the fee.
2. Don’t be too picky. You are looking for the best deals, regardless of the annual fee, the APR, or what airline you’re getting miles on. At the end, you can consolidate all your points to fly whichever airline is giving you the best deal for your miles; that’s where Kamb recommends the American Express One World Award, which lets you choose from any of 10 American Express affiliate airlines.
3. Put all your living expenses on a single credit card until you accrue the points you need to get all your bonus miles. Pay it off when you receive your bill every month. Once you’ve earned your bonus, apply for a different card. Then cancel the first card and start over accruing bonus points with the next credit card. Make sure to take advantage of special offers, shop through the credit card’s online shopping portal to earn additional bonus points, and opt-in for any special programs.
4. Cash in! Plan your trip, cash in your points, and get ready to see the world.
Travel Hacking and Your Credit Score
Does applying for new credit cards and then canceling them within a year hurt your credit? Kamb says no. He’s never been turned down for a credit card and his credit rating is in the top 90th percentile, because he always pays his bills on time and in full. Each time he applies for and receives a new credit card, his score takes a slight hit, but never enough to affect his getting approved for the next card.
Presumably, Kamb still has a few credit cards with no annual fee that he’s held on to for years to show longevity in his credit file, and he also has a history of on-time payments for his car and student loans.
Needless to say, you’ll need good-to-excellent credit to begin with in order to obtain these top-tier credit cards with great travel rewards programs.
Although Kamb’s airline tickets to visit more than 10 different cities cost only $411, there are other expenses to consider. Kamb plans to stay with friends or in hostels to save money. However, he will splurge on a few things to make his trip go more smoothly:
- Travel insurance (Check with the credit card you use to book the flight, as you may already be covered!)
- Tourist attractions – Kamb lists scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, sky diving over England and hiking the Great Wall of China as “must-do” activities on his list, so here’s where he’ll spend his money.
- Treat your host or hostess to dinner – Don’t forget to splurge on the friends in foreign countries who let you crash on their couch! (Kamb doesn’t mention this, but it’s something I wouldn’t skimp on!)
Find our latest recommendations for travel rewards credit cards in this Guide.