5 Steps to Getting a Free (or Close to Free) Vacation in 9 Months or Less with Credit Cards

By Nick Wharton. Last updated 4 May 2017. 1 comment

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Do you want a free vacation at the end of the year? Of course you do! Follow these five simple steps and within nine months, you'll have earned enough rewards points from your new credit cards to reward yourself with a little vacation.

Before going ahead with this plan, you should know that the higher your credit score and spending habits, the faster and more efficiently you'll be able to collect your rewards. But don't worry! You don't have to be a big spender with an outrageously high credit score to do this. It may just take you slightly longer to execute.

1. Know Your Credit Score and Make Preparations

Signing up for multiple credit cards in a short period can temporarily lower your credit score, so timing is everything. It's important that you only do this when your credit is strong. Otherwise you risk being denied for one or more of the cards and your plan will be ruined. 

Basically, make sure you haven't applied for any credit for three months before you start and plan to not apply for any credit for three months after you've completed it. This is especially true of big credit applications like mortgages and lines of credit. Don't worry, your score will recover (and likely be even better) after a few months with the new cards.

2. Research and Find the Right Cards

People have been signing up for multiple cards to bundle bonus points since credit card companies started paying people to join their clubs. It's a very simple idea, but takes research, discipline, and commitment to actually pull it off properly.

First, figure out where you want to go. Look up the number of points it will take for you to travel to your destination. Which airline has the best deal for award flights? Which hotel?

Then find the credit cards that either offer a bonus in the loyalty program you want, or points that allow you to transfer to them. Look at the co-branded credit cards available for the airline and hotel you want. Then look at other travel rewards cards to see if that airline and hotel is a partner program that you can transfer points to. Add up all the bonuses and find the combination of cards that will get you the number of points and miles you need.

For example, this might mean signing up for an co-branded airline credit card, a hotel credit card, and one or two additional flexible spending travel rewards cards. 

See also: Best Credit Cards with Travel Rewards

The key here is to make sure you know which airlines will take you where you want to go, and then find the corresponding cards that you can use for those airlines. Co-branded airline credit cards are easy — the miles will already be in the airline program you want. Other travel rewards cards will offer points that you can transfer to partner airline programs, and still others will allow you to apply your points as statement credit (you purchase your travel and then use points to pay for it). All of these options have pros and cons (statement credits allow you to have the most flexibility — you can book with whatever airline or hotel you want — but with airline miles you can usually get a higher value ticket than a straight points to dollars conversion).

See also: How Travel Rewards Credit Cards Work

3. Calculate the Spending Requirements

Once you've narrowed down the list of cards that will give you the specific miles/points you need, you need to break down each card's spending requirements to find out how much you'll have to spend to get your bonus points. Each card will require a certain amount in purchases within a period of time in order to qualify for the bonus. Calculate the spending requirement over the number of months (usually 3 months) and decide whether you have enough normal expenses you can put on the credit card to cover that amount. Then spread out your applications so you only need to deal with one card's spending requirement at a time. List all those automatic payments and subscriptions and make sure you update those to your new card.

See also: 5 Smart Ways to Meet a Rewards Card Minimum Spending Requirement

Now I'm not advocating you go on a spending spree to get your free vacation. In order for this to truly be "free" you need to already have that much in monthly expenses that you can charge to a credit card over those months. This is why you shouldn't sign up for all these cards at the same time. You'd be stuck with trying to spend thousands per month in order to get the bonus if you were approved for all the cards at once.

If it looks like you can meet the spending requirements without overextending yourself, then you can move on to the next step.

4. Apply for the Cards

As mentioned earlier, the better your credit score, the better your chances of being accepted for all of these cards. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from AnnualCreditReport.com, so take advantage of it. Once you've confirmed that your credit is strong enough, it's time to start applying.

Remember, depending on your monthly expenses, you may need to stagger applying for these cards three months at a time. If you don't meet the spending requirement, you do not get the bonus points!

If you get denied, you can still call the provider and plead your case. Usually the rejection letter will include a reason why you were denied. If you have been told that you have too many credit cards with the same issuer, offer to close one account or lower the credit limit on one of them.

5. Set a Spending Schedule and Book Your Flight

Once you're approved, use the new card for your expenses and monitor it to make sure you are on track to meet the requirements. You can even set alarms for yourself to ensure that you're reaching the spending goals. Once you've met the requirements, it may take one or two billing cycles for the bonus points to appear. 

Once you have all your points, it's time to plan your trip. To book your flight, you'll need to make the appropriate points transfers to the airline and hotel programs of your choice. Then use the program's system to book with your points. 

Note that the cards with the biggest bonuses often have annual fees. You'll want to make sure that these are cards you actually want to keep even with the fees — you can continue to rack up miles and points with these cards for your next free vacation.

Recap

Let's quickly go over the information that we've covered in this article.

  • Check your credit score and ensure that you're in a good position to apply for multiple cards.
     
  • Plan carefully by choosing the best credit cards based on their sign-up bonuses.
     
  • Calculate the rewards that you stand to earn.
     
  • Apply for the cards.
     
  • Keep organized and set a spending schedule to ensure that you meet the minimum spending requirements on each new credit card.

It's worth noting that when paying for a flight with points, you'll still need to pay some taxes and fees. Which is why your vacation is likely to be "close to free" instead of 100% free. You can also check out these 10 flight booking hacks to help make up the difference. (See also: 12 Expert Tips for Redeeming Miles for Free Travel)

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Guest's picture
Lauren

Love this. I almost never pay for flights. Maybe I pay for one in ten? I decided to put all my eggs in one basket with the US Air MasterCard, now AA Advantage, and it has really paid off. I pay for every single thing I can using the card (and pay it off every month) and it really adds up. I've even paid my children's tuition with it.