Traveling for free sounds like a dream for many people, but it finally became my reality. We met each other seven years ago, a few days before my graduation from high-school. Everyone likes to travel, but not that many people can afford it. For many years I've done my best to save some extra money for those trips. Thankfully, my wife and I have seen quite a few places. It was always fun, but rather expensive as for the family of college kids.
However, everything changed about three years ago, when we moved to the United States. I accidentally read an article about travel rewards cards and was fascinated with the idea that you can earn points and miles with your everyday spend. Can't do that in my country. I started reading more and more about American credit system, analyzing the market and lucrative credit card offers.
We started building our credit history 3 years ago. According to creditkarma my FICO score today is 754 (Experian) and 760 (Transunion).
During these years we were able not only to build a rather good credit score but accumulated so many points and miles that yesterday I finally decided to drop out from my PhD in Economics so that we can travel more. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed my studying during all these years. Learning economics helped me to build some passive income so that I can quit job without even starting in and go see the world. FOR FREE.
In the previous post, I've shared how we made a transition from flying in coach and staying at Couchsurfing and Airbnb to first class flights and luxurious hotels in different parts of the world.
Today I am going to share our secrets, which can be easily applied by you to make your trips affordable (and almost free).
Three steps to free travel around the world!
If you're reading this article, you are probably interested in how to travel the world for free. Let's start with some easy steps to optimize, which can optimize your current spending and move to more advanced tactics.
1. Get the most of cashback portals, rebates apps and shopping portals!
Chances are, you already spend some money online. As an economist, I always try to optimize resources and I believe you should too! Online shopping can provide you with a huge number miles, points and cash, but only if you are doing it smart.
In fact, we have received value for more than 5 thousand dollars during this year, which was made not by huge spending, but rather by stacking of lucrative deals. Let's break it down.
You've probably heard of services like Ebates, BeFrugal, TopCashback, Swagbucks and many others. If not, you should check out my article about best cashback portals and get some additional signup bonuses. The idea is quite simple: you follow their links, they receive money from retailers and share the profits with you. In many cases, you can stack different discounts, referrals bonuses, promotions, and cashback portals to get unbelievable savings.
For example, pretty often I am able to get deals like those epic Boxed ones: get $90 worth of stuff from Boxed.com for just 17.50 dollars, by utilizing promotion from American Express, cashback portal with promo-code, and a special offer from Drop (we'll talk about that below).
Shopping portals are similar to what we've discussed above, allowing you to earn miles, hotel and reward points as well as cashback. Unlike cashback portals, they are not independent companies, but rather supplemental programs of airlines, hotels, and banks. Such portals can be good for getting some additional miles/points for particular redemption as well as preventing miles from expiration. Unfortunately, you usually can't use both cashback and shopping portals at the same time, so I strongly recommend using cashbackmonitor.com to get the idea of the best cashback/miles/points offers for particular stores. It's a free and awesome service, which I use prior to any purchase.
Cashbackmonitor is good, but it doesn't contain all the information. For example, it doesn't include information about current JetBlue promotion, which gives you 3x points for every dollar spent on any purchase from Amazon. Simply create an account (if you don't have one), sign in and click on “our partners” link. Choose Amazon and use the link. Those miles cost around 1.2 cents each, so that's quite a decent return from your Amazon shopping on the categories, which are excluded from cashback portals.
Drop and Ibotta are my favorite apps when it comes to cashback. Drop offers additional cashback for both online and offline purchases as well as quite a few decent one-time and ongoing promotions. All you have to do is to install it, choose 5 retailers where you wish to get cashback (I've chosen Amazon, Walmart, Target, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods) and link your cards. That's a great opportunity to earn additional cashback on top of the cashback/shopping portals and points/miles or cash from your credit card.
Ibotta is a little different. They started like rebate portal, allowing you to save money on groceries. Choose offers, add them to your list, make purchases, receive rebates. That's a good app for everyday spending, but I started to love them much more when they added a lot of mobile/online offers. For example, during certain times you can get 1 dollar for every uber ride, 5-10 dollars off boxed + additional cashback in may stores.
By this moment you should have a good idea on how to get the most of your everyday spending. By the way, we will be constantly updating the greatest money saving/making deals and opportunities under the Money section of our website. But let's go on!
2. Maximize bonuses for opening checking & saving accounts
This January (2017) we were able to get 1750 dollars in just 1 day by opening 3 checking accounts for both me and my wife. Wells Fargo offered $250 bonus for opening an account and making 10 debit card purchases, Regions bank gave generous 450 dollars with the same requirements plus 50 dollar referral bonus, which I got for referring my wife for the same offer. Plus we received two $150 visa gift cards from Hanckock Whitney bank for opening checking accounts.
It was even more fun, since it was possible to open the Wells Fargo account online, meanwhile, Regions and Whitney banks are located right across the road from each other. Just two hours of our time in exchange for 1750 dollars sounded like a lot. In fact, it was a lot of money, but we were lucky because of such perfect timing in location. Usually, you can easily get at least 600-1000 dollars a person a year for opening checking and savings accounts. It is cash, so you can use it for whatever you want, but we always try to save it for future trips. Once again, we will be posting all the lucrative bank offers under the money section, so make sure that you check our site from time to time.
3. Start travel for free by utilizing credit card bonuses
I haven't even started talking about credit card bonuses but was able to get around seven thousand dollars this year by utilizing techniques mentioned above. Since my goal is to travel for free, I am using that cash back for paying all kind of fees, resort charges, and dining/shopping experiences. Even though that is a decent amount of money, I am NOT using it to pay for hotels or book flights! We are utilizing credit card sign-up bonuses instead.
Huge competition in the credit card industry pushes those companies to create a lot of incentives to potential clients. The market is flooded with the offers. Some of them are great, some of them decent, while some – provide terrible value. By learning simple techniques and jumping on the most lucrative offers we were able to forget about flying in coach (to be quite frank, I still fly coach for the majority of domestic flights as in most cases there are no significant differences between first class and economy, but there is a huge difference for international flights) and staying in Airbnb.
You can easily find offers for 60k Delta/AA/Southwest/United miles, 2 Hyatt certificates valid for 2 nights in ANY Hyatt property in the world, 250-350 dollars back and many more! The market is so saturated that there is ALWAYS some good offer which is worth getting.
The main problem for beginners is to learn how to manage credit cards (you obviously don't want to end up paying crazy interest and all kinds of fees) and when as well as how to jump on particular offers. I will publish a detailed section about that soon, but now, I just want to address one of the most important concerns of the majority of people. Opening new credit cards DO hurt credit history. In the short run (for about a month or two) you may lose a few points for each additional hard pull, but eventually your credit score is gonna rise dramatically because of lower utilization rate (since your credit lines increased, while level of spending remained the same), which is a much more important component of your FICO score. That's the reason why I have 754-760 credit score with more than 20 open credit cards within last two years! And once again, we didn't have any credit history before that at all!
I will do my best to provide you with the most credit card and cashback offers, bonuses, flight and hotel deals as well as tips and tricks, which helps you to make your travel absolutely free!