An Experiment in Travel Hacking

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Just wanted to put out a short post today to let you all in on our little experiment. I never liked the idea of travel hacking. It seemed like a trap designed to get even the most senior savers to spend more money than they might otherwise.

I’m giving it a chance anyway. But first a quick explanation of what travel hacking is, or at least what it means to us. The idea is to use and abuse the sign up bonuses associated with opening up bank accounts and credit cards. I’m sure you’ve seen it in the mail or on TV. Open an account with XYZ Bank and receive a $100 credit! Sign up for the ABC travel rewards card and get 50,000 miles! 50,000 miles, what does that even mean? That’s twice around the earth? Really? I have to say I find it odd that I’m writing this post. I have a draft post written explaining why travel hacking is a bad idea, or at the very least, hardly worth the effort. I plan on posting it someday…

Not wanting the temptation to spend thousands more just to receive a couple hundred dollars worth of points, I’ve always turned away from these “bonuses”. Up until recently, we’ve used our 2% cash back Fidelity card almost exclusively. We use the points to partially fund the little TOCs 529 accounts. If you look into cash back cards, 2% on everything is actually great and pairing it with investment accounts is even better. This card has no annual fee and no gimics. Just spend like always and get 2% cash back. Plus, using our credit card helps us easily track our spending via Personal Capital.

But I kept seeing on my favorite blogs talk of using travel hacking to fund epic family vacations. Since this is the year of deliberate spending, we decided to give it a try. We don’t want to shy away from vacation opportunities because of a few hundred bucks. So a credit card that focuses on travel seemed like a good fit. As of late last week, we are officially owners of the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) credit card.

Why we went with CSR

Simple, when you google travel hacking credit cards, this one is routinely labeled as one of the best. With this card you get:

  • $750 sign up bonus (if points spent on travel, $500 otherwise)
  • $300 travel credit every calendar year ($600 over the life of this card for us)
  • $100 credit towards Global Entry or TSA precheck

Wow, that’s almost $1500 in cash perks! This card also gets you into nice airport lounges and has great coverage on rental cars, among a bunch of other things. What’s the catch? Oh yeah, there is a $450 annual fee. Real big ouch when you consider how many cards have zero fees.

But guess what, you don’t ever have to pay it. That’s right, if you cancel the card within 30 days of your anniversary date, or “downgrade” it to a no fee credit card within 60 days, you never have to pay the fee. What’s more, Chase currently lets you sign up for a card every 2 years, so if I just interchange this credit card with a different travel rewards card, I can keep netting the rewards without ever paying fees! And even if I understood the terms wrong, the bonus points and other credits will easily cover the cost of the card this year. In that case I might not find this as exciting, I’ll keep you posted.

So that’s what we are gonna do. To get the sign up bonus, we just have to use the card for as much of our usual expenses as possible. This should easily put us above the $4,000 requirement before the 3 month window is over. If not, I’ll pay extra on some of our utilities. This spending requirement really shouldn’t be a problem.

While I’m skeptical of most sign up bonuses, I’ll risk it for $1500 in perks! Next March I’ll cancel the card and tell you about the experience.

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