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Travel Credit Cards: How to Travel for Free

In what is known today as Travel Hacking, for the last 6 years I have utilized credit cards and rewards systems to travel for pennies on the dollar. From the beginning, I have found that travel credit cards are an amazing way to save money on my adventures and this applies to traveling with a baby even more so.

For starters the sign up bonus is usually enough to earn a free round trip flight for yourself to Europe from the US, or multiple trips throughout the continental US. Add on the many additional perks and unique points opportunities that each card has, it can be a traveler’s perfect companion.

For more information on how to start “Travel Hacking” check out this article.

Now, there is a caveat. You need to be approved for these credit cards so you need good credit. You also need to pay off your spending at the end of each month and never spend more than you can afford.

How to Start:

Make a goal and go from there.

Do you plan to purchase flights to Europe for you and your family in 6 months? Do you fly with a particular airline often and want to continue that but for free? Is your goal to travel generally over the next year and you're looking for a card with great transfer opportunities?

Depending on what your goals are, that is going to determine the type of credit card you will want to get because they all have different positive and negatives based on what your goal may be.


Below are the list of cards that I have personally: what are the perks of this card, what are the positives and negatives, and why I like it.

Please note, I am not a financial advisor this is only a review based on my own experiences. Additionally, I have included referral links on all cards that will allow for additional sign up bonuses.

Capital One Venture Card

Card Benefits -

Sign-up Bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.

Fees: $95 a year, no foreign transaction fees

Perks of card:

  • Earn unlimited 2x miles per dollar on every purchase

  • 5x miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel

  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

  • With Venture and VentureOne miles rewards cards, transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs for more flexibility.

  • 2 complimentary visits to the Capital One Lounge in a participating airport per calendar year.

  • Get the best prices on thousands of trip options—even after you book. Plus, pay flexibly with your rewards, a card or both.

  • Shop With Your Rewards - Now you can pay for or by using Paypal purchases using your Capital One rewards.

Travel & Purchase Protection:

  • Travel Accident Insurance

  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver

  • Extended Purchase Warranty - You’ll get additional warranty protection at no charge on eligible items that are purchased with your credit card.

  • $0 Fraud Liability - If your card is lost or stolen, you will not be responsible for unauthorized charges.

Takeaways -

Positives: Good sign up bonus and benefits. Transfers well to different companies but most of all, you can use the points towards travel purchases AFTER you purchase. Which is a huge plus.

Negatives: Not many negatives but travel & purchase protection with this card aren't as strong as some others.

Overall takeaway: I really think this is the ideal starter travel credit card.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Card Benefits -

Sign-up Bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That is about $1,000 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Fees: $95 a year, no foreign transaction fees

Ways to Earn:

  • Earn up to $50 in statement credits each account anniversary year for hotel stays purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

  • Earn 5x total points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, excluding hotel purchases that qualify for the $50 Annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit.

  • Earn 2x on other travel purchases.

  • Earn 3x points on dining, including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out.

  • Earn 3x points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs).

  • Earn 3x points on select streaming services.

  • Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

  • Each account anniversary you'll earn bonus points equal to 10% of your total purchases made the previous year. That means if you spend $25,000 on purchases, you'll get 2,500 bonus points

1:1 Point Transfer: You can transfer your points to leading frequent travel programs at 1 to 1 value. This includes Aer Lingus AerClub, Air Canada Aeroplan, British Airways Executive Club, Emirates Skywards®, Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM, Iberia Plus, JetBlue TrueBlue, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®, United MileagePlus®, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy®, World of Hyatt®

Travel & Purchase Protection:

  • Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance

  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver

  • Baggage Delay Insurance

  • Trip Delay Reimbursement

  • Travel and Emergency Assistance Services

  • Covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.

  • Extends the time period of the U.S. manufacturer's warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less

Takeaways -

Positives: To me this is the ideal travel card. Points transfer really well to other travel loyalty program and the sign up bonus is phenomenal. The card also has really easy ways to earn additional percentages back on qualifying purchases. Travel & Purchase protection are far more extensive than the other options on this list but its still affordable at $95 a year.

Negatives: To really get the most of this card, you need to transfer your points to another loyalty program. The offers that the card has itself on their platform don't match what you would find on an airline or hotels website itself.

Overall takeaway: Perfect travel card with lots of benefits without having to spend the big bucks on premium cards & fees.

Chase United Explorer

Card Benefits -

Sign-up Bonus: 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $6,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open.

Fees: $0 intro annual fee for the first year and then $95 a year. No foreign transaction fee.

Ways to Earn:

  • 2x miles per $1 spent on United purchases

  • 2x miles per $1 spent at restaurants

  • 2x miles per $1 spent on hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel

  • 1x mile per $1 spent on all other purchases

The primary Cardmember who is also a MileagePlus Premier member traveling on a domestic MileagePlus award ticket will be eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades on eligible United-operated flights (when available).

Spending: You can earn and use MileagePlus miles on United and on any of the other member airlines in the Star Alliance network. With over 18,000 daily departures serving more than 1,300 worldwide destinations, your award travel opportunities are virtually endless.

  • The United Explorer Card covers new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft, up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year.

  • It also extends the time period for the U.S. manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less.

  • Zero Liability Protection meaning you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized charges made with your card or account information.

  • In the event of an emergency, you’ll be provided with up to $1,000 emergency cash within 24 hours anytime you are traveling inside the U.S. and Canada, and within one business day outside the U.S. and Canada.

  • If your card is lost or stolen, it will be replaced within 24 hours inside the U.S. and Canada, and within one business day outside the U.S. and Canada.

Travel Benefits: The benefits that come with being a United Explorer Cardmember make it easier than ever to travel smart.

  • Free checked bag for yourself and one companion on United-operated flights when purchasing tickets with their United Explorer Card.

  • When you pay with your Explorer Card, you’ll earn 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages and Wi-Fi on board United-operated flights.

  • Global Entry or TSA Precheck statement credit every four years as reimbursement for the application fee for either program when charged to your Explorer Card.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

  • The primary Cardmember and companions on the same reservation will be invited to board United-operated flights prior to general boarding.

  • Two United Club one time passes each year

  • MileagePlus miles don’t expire.

Travel Protection: United Explorer Cardmembers enjoy built-in travel protection benefits that give you peace of mind while traveling near and far.

  • Baggage Delay Insurance

  • Lost Luggage Reimbursement

  • Trip Delay Reimbursement

  • Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance

  • Travel Accident Insurance

  • Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver

Takeaways -

Positives: The benefits that add to your travel experience make it absolutely worth the annual fee even if you fly with United only once or twice a year. Travel & Purchase protection are also great.

Negatives: Points only transfer to United purchases so if you are not planning on traveling with this airline, you won't get much else from the points.

Overall takeaway: If you plan to fly with United, this is a great card for you to get.


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