If you want to travel more, one of the best ways to do it is to take advantage of credit card rewards points and mileage programs. Properly using credit cards is an incredible way to make it so your everyday expenses can pay for your future trips. It kind of feels like winning the travel game. So now that you’ve changed your mindset and are prioritizing your spending and saving for travel, we want to show you how you can use credit cards to help you travel the world.
how credit cards work:
Before reading the following section, know that we are not professional financial advisors, nor do we claim to be. Always consult a professional financial advisor when making financial decisions.
At some point since the invention of credit cards we’ve developed a fear of using them. It’s probably because debt is dangerous, but let me be clear, using a credit card doesn’t mean you’re going to be in debt. This is how a credit card works. You buy an item for $10. The vendor gets about 97% of that and the other 3% goes to the credit card company. You generally get some sort of cash back or “miles/points,” and depending on what card you’re using it’s typically an amount between 1 and 3%, but we’ll talk more about that later. So when you buy that $10 item, you get a charge on your credit card statement for $10. When that statement period ends on a predetermined day of the month, you then have until the close of the next statement period to pay off what you purchased on the previous statement period. If you pay it off anytime before the close of that statement period, then all is well. But if you don’t, then you’ll have to start paying interest at an extremely high rate. This is how people go into debt. They spend more money than they actually have and see their credit card limit as the amount of cash they have available to them. This is wrong. A credit card limit is simply the maximum amount the credit card company will let you spend before they cut you off. It has nothing to do with your ability to actually afford the items you’re buying.
Again, let me reiterate. If you see your credit card limit as cash, you will most likely end up getting into credit card debt.
I know that sounds scary, but here’s what to do instead. Set a reminder on your phone or computer or on a sticky note on the fridge to pay your credit card bill every single week. Pay the entire card off every week and be aware of how much money you have in your checking account. If there is no money in your checking account, then there’s no money to pay off your credit card. If you follow these principles, you will not go into credit card debt.
Why wouldn’t you just use cash or a debit card? You can, but if you use a credit card, you’re getting 1-3% of your money back every time you make a purchase. That’s essentially a permanent discount. We have optimized our card usage to get both points and miles for travel and cash back to save money. Just last year, we earned well over $3000 of cash back or equivalent value in points and paid for flights to the Philippines, Barcelona, and Egypt exclusively on points.
Here are the three cards we use every single day:
THE BEST CARD IF YOU’RE LOOKING TO SAVE:
American Express Blue Cash Preferred: The Blue Cash Preferred is an amazing card. It is purely for cash back purposes, and it is well worth the $95 annual fee, because the cash back values are so high. This isn’t a travel card, so we don’t recommend taking it with you while you travel abroad.
6% cash back at grocery stores (up to $6,000 a year)
6% cash back on streaming subscriptions
3% cash back on transit (rideshare, parking, tolls, buses)
3% cash back at U.S. gas stations
1% cash back on other purchases
Other cash back opportunities
Easily obtainable sign up bonus
Earn $250-$300 after you spend $1000 in the first three months
Foreign transaction fees
$95 annual fee
We do have a referral link for this card that allows you to get access to a $300 spending bonus as opposed to the standard $250 bonus. It also helps us out, because Amex sends us a little kick back as a thank you for referring their card at no cost to you.
THE BEST PREMIUM TRAVEL CARD:
Chase Sapphire Reserve: The Chase Sapphire Reserve is often referred to as the ultimate travel credit card. If you travel often, it’s worth it to have in your wallet. It is full of perks like baggage, car rental, and trip interruption insurance, and it earns a lot of points. When you use the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to buy flights (which is powered by Expedia and super easy to use), you get 1.5x the value. For example, 50,000 points would buy you a $750 flight. We use this card every time we book travel or eat out.
3% points back on travel (4.5% when used toward travel)
3% points back on dining (4.5% when used toward travel)
$300 annual travel credit
Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit
Complimentary Airport Lounge Access with Priority Pass
This alone is a game changer in our opinion. It makes the entire airport experience significantly easier and just think of all the money you’ll save on airport food.
No foreign transaction fees
Various types of incredible insurance like car rental and lost luggage insurance
50,000 bonus points after you sign up and spend $4,000 in the first 3 months (that’s $750 in travel!)
Lyft Pink Membership and 10x points back on Lyft rides for at least one year
Dash Pass Membership from Door Dash for a year and $120 of Door Dash credit
$550 annual fee
It’s essentially $250 after you get your $300 credit. We make all that back and much more each year. Plus, this year they’re offering perks like 10x back on Lyft rides and free delivery with Door Dash. In our opinion, if you take advantage of all of the perks the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers, it’s well worth the annual fee.
THE BEST CARD IF YOU WANT A LITTLE OF BOTH:
2% back (when used to erase travel purchases) on all purchases
$0 annual fee for the first year
No foreign transaction fees
Rental car insurance and other travel benefits
Earn $500 worth of miles to erase travel purchases if you spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening an account
$95 annual fee after the first year
We have a referral link for this card that helps us out if you decide to go with this card. Capital One sends us a little kick back as a thank you for recommending new credit card holders at no cost to you.
Here are some other great credit cards and some of their perks:
The first travel credit card Sam ever got was the Gold Delta SkyMiles card! We absolutely love flying Delta and skyline loyalty is something worth considering when you’re choosing travel credit cards. If you’re loyal to an airline and use their credit card, you get perks like free upgrades, lounge access, etc. We chose Delta because we’ve never been disappointed with their quality or customer service, and we always recommend it to our friends and family. We recently upgraded to the Platinum Delta SkyMiles, because we were about to fly to Spain on Delta, and it was going to cost us $60 each way to check a bag. The card gives us free checked bags, and it also offers an annual companion pass. The free checked bags and the free companion plane ticket will more than makeup for the $195 annual fee.
First checked bag free
One annual companion pass
No foreign transaction fees
Airline loyalty perks
Main Cabin 1 priority boarding
35,000-75,000* points plus $100 statement credit when you spend $1000-$3000 in the first 3 months
1x miles on all purchases
2x miles on Delta purchases
After January 30
2x miles at restaurants and grocery stores
3x miles on Delta purchases and hotels
$100 TSA Pre-check/Global Entry Credit
$195 annual fee (to increase to $250 after January 30)
*We have a referral link for this card that helps us out if you decide to go with this card. It also gives you the 75,000 point offer as opposed to the standard 35,000 point offer. Amex sends us a little kickback as a thank you for recommending new credit card holders at no cost to you.
We have a referral link for these cards that helps us out if you decide to go with this card. Chase sends us a little kickback as a thank you for recommending new credit card holders at no cost to you.
Other beginner cards:
It also gives you $200 once you spend just $500 in the first three months.
We have a referral link for this card that helps us out if you decide to go with this card. Chase sends us a little kickback as a thank you for recommending new credit card holders at no cost to you.
Credit cards can be overwhelming! There are so many options, and it can feel really intimidating. If you have any questions about what direction you should take when it comes to credit cards, I’m happy to give you my opinion. They really are a great tool when used correctly! Take the time to educate yourself about how to earn and maintain a high credit score using a tool like Credit Karma. This will help you feel more confident in your use of credit cards, which will allow you get the most benefit out of them! We used to rely on these cards to travel more, but now that we’re full-time travel bloggers, we’re able to use credit card points as a supplement as opposed to being relied on for our travels.