How to Pay for Travel, Part 2: Miles Credit Cards

Friday, January 24

Welcome back to the Travel series, where we are talking about how to fund your adventures!
If you missed part 1, on Prioritizing your Everyday Spending, you can see it {here}.

Today we are talking about one of the BEST ways you can lower your costs for a trip…
miles credit cards!
insert VERY happy face:) 
If you do not have a travel credit card, you are missing out on gold. There is absolutely NO way Kevin and I could have turned this globe as many times as we have without a plastic card that somehow gives us free flights. 
Friends, welcome to magic!

Travel credit cards really do work. 
If you do not have one, then get one. 
{i think you catch my drift…}

 Essentially travel credit cards give you miles that you can use to cash in for a free flight. There are a wide variety of credit cards to choose from. Most cards give you a mile for every dollar you spend. Some cards are attached to a specific airline. It is best to do your research to figure out what card works best for you.

Kevin and I have three cards that we use to rack up points. 
I love each of these cards for different reasons.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card
If you live in the USA, you have probably heard of Southwest airlines. They are a budget airline with no hidden expenses and hilarious flight attendants. This card works great for me because I travel quite frequently to my parents home in Northern California. Flying from Southern California to Northern California does not require too many points, and it’s easy to rack up enough points to fly home a few times a year for free. If you are looking into doing domestic travel in the USA, and live close to cities where SW operates, then I would absolutely recommend this card! They are by far my favorite airline in the USA! Kevin and I use the SW card to purchase all our personal expenses. Right now, if you open a SW card, you'll get 2 free flights!! SCORE! 
{to check out the SW Rapid Rewards Card, click here}

Delta Skymiles Card
 Kevin and I happened upon this card by accident, but are so glad we did. This card is an excellent one if you plan to travel internationally, and especially to Europe. From Los Angeles where we live, flights to Europe are around 60,000+. This card has given Kevin and I free flights to London, Amsterdam, and Paris. Their website makes it easy to redeem points, and find a plethora of flight times. We’ve had nothing but good times with this card! Kevin and I have our Delta card hooked up to his family’s business expenses (see below for more info on that!). As a sweet bonus, when you first sign up for the card you get $30,000 points! Thats well on your way to a free flight!! 
{to check out the sky miles card, click here}
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Our newest card to the line-up is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. As much as we love our Delta card, it doesn’t fly into a few places we want to go {ie: Nepal}. So…we started doing some research and soon noticed the overwhelming great reviews for this card! To start with, if you use this card to pay for travel related expenses and restaurants, you get twice the amount of points per dollar! {score!} Secondly, you can redeem your points through a variety of different airlines {double score!}. Third, there are no foreign transaction fees {which is a HUGE plus when you travel abroad} and has a chip enabled which allows you to comply with European technology! We are so pumped to begin racking up miles with this card…I’m dreaming it will take us back to Nepal soon:) As a sweet incentive, if you sign up for the card, you'll get $40,000 bonus points! Go you!!
{to check out the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, click here}

Here are a few things to look for when choosing a miles credit card:
Where do you want to travel? If you have a specific place you’ve been dying to go, make sure the card you want can you there! As an example, If you want to know if Delta will get you from LA to Bangkok, go to their website and put in an example itinerary.

How many points does it take me to get to my dream destination? Most airline cards should be a 1:1 ratio, meaning for every $1 you spend, you get 1 mile of rewards credit. However, every card has a different amount of points you need to fly to your destination.  You’ll get a lot further if you only need 60,000 points to fly to your destination verses 200,000. Choose a card that you could feasibly save up for!  

What is the annual fee? Some cards have pretty reasonable annual fees (like $60-$90), but others might be a bit more exorbitant. Make sure you know exactly what you have to pay each year for it, and do the math {calculating the other factors in} to see if it’s worth it!  Many cards will have promotional offers waiving the annual fee for the first year!

Is it Visa, Mastercard, etc?  This may seem irrelevant, but it’s not. One of the best ways to rack up points is on big purchases, but not all vendors take all types of cards. For example, Kevin makes a lot of huge purchases at Costco for work. Costco only takes American Express. Our Delta card is an American Express, so it works perfectly! Do you plan to use your card to pay for your school tuition? Find out what cards your school takes, and then plan accordingly. Visa is always a safe bet! Our Southwest card is a Visa, so if we can't use Amex, we whip out our SW card!! 

 Should you open a new CC account? If you’ve had issues with credit card debt and can’t be tempted with one at the moment, then don’t worry! Having a miles credit card isn’t the only way to travel!  So don’t put pressure on yourself about this!!

Tips when using your miles Credit Card

Be Patient: As much as it helps to have a card that racks up miles, I would say this: be patient. If you are on a tight budget and don’t spend much money as it is, it might take a few years for your “free ticket” to materialize. But don’t let that get you down! Just keep dreaming about how great it will feel in a few years when you are sitting on a beach in Greece thinking about all the hard work you put in to make this happenJ

Hook your Credit Cards up to Large Expenses: If you do have a way to utilize your card on a deeper level, then go for it! For instance, Kevin’s family owns a few restaurants. We have hooked our Delta cards up to a few restaurant purchases, and receive a hefty amount of points per month. This allows Kevin and I to receive a free international ticket every 10 months or so! One recommendation is to see if your employer will allow you to use your card to purchase work-related expenses. This will help rack up those points, but also allow you to get reimbursed so you don’t have to spend your own money! As I am starting my masters degree this year, I plan to pay all my school tuition with my Chase Sapphire Card! Even thought it’s hard to pay so much money for school, atleast I know it’s helping me reach a goal in travelingJ {looking on the bright side, right?}

As one last disclaimer, please understand that our success with using miles credit cards is that we have a  zero tolerance policy for cc debt. Kevin and I only spend what we have in the bank, and pay our statements on time every month. You can read more about this caution here. 

Good luck finding the right card for you! And if you find one you fall in love with…let me know!

With hope,

Ps- I am soooo excited to share our Vietnam pics with you Monday! eeeppp! so fun:) 


  1. This is a really informative post! I'm wondering now if I can transfer my existing CC balance to a miles card and start getting some more travel under our belt!

  2. Love this post Katie! I was just doing some research earlier this week on how we can switch one of our CC's over to do more for us. Right now we have a cash back CC and since we put everything we can on it (and then pay it off at the end of each month) we get nice little cheques in the mail pretty frequently. Right now that money just goes into our account to help with adoption expenses but soon I'd like to designate it to some fun purchases like travel!

  3. Love this Katie! Any tips on cards/bank situations when living abroad? We don't have any credit cards right now because we went through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. We pay almost everything with cash... But being abroad it might be safer to have a credit card. Tips?

  4. This is a great post! We were just discussing this yesterday! Thank you for providing us with the details, it helps a ton!

  5. love this, we're speaking the same language :)
    we LOVE using credit cards to pay for travel, and miles have covered so many recent trips!
    great post! xo

    the well-traveled wife ♥

  6. These are all really great options. I love the Chase card because there aren't any restrictions on the airlines, which is huge!

  7. Thanks for these tips!

  8. I'm kicking myself right now for not doing this sooner! I honestly was just so overwhelmed by all the CC options that I skipped it. I definitely need to get on the wagon.

    Also - SW is only 2 1/2 hours from me but I have noticed that their flights are often higher in price. I'm not sure why but I do always check them because sometimes they have killer deals.

    Thanks for your insight!

  9. YES!! This is how we flew to Italy! We actually found a promotion that gave us a buy-one-get-one-free flight if we spent $2000 in three months on the card. So we put all our major expenses on that card and viola! We had two round trip tickets to Italy for the cost of one! :) We actually just got our Southwest RR Cards in the mail this past week! We are getting those two free flights AND going to rack up points for future flights. I'm excited about it! I haven't looked into these other cards, though. I'll definitely do that!

  10. Genius! How have I never thought of doing this? I am now kicking myself in the butt. Going to talk to my hubby now ha :)

  11. This was so helpful. I've been thinking about opening a travel card, but I wasn't sure which one. Thanks!

  12. I'm with SWA Visa Card and I absolutely love it. There is no way I would've gone on so many spontaneous trips if it weren't for the points. Free flights are amazing. :)

  13. This is awesome. SUPER informative!! Makes me excited and hopeful!!! :)

  14. I just stumbled across your blog and I'm so glad I did! I've been wondering which travel cards are best to open and this gave me great ideas! I'm also excited to read your other travel tips! Thanks for the helpful tips! :)

    Katherine Nicole

  15. Yes! This is awesome!!! That's how we're "paying" for our trip to NYC and DC. :-) I need to look into these cards for future trips!

  16. We don't have any "miles" credit cards, but I know my parents have one...hmmm, I should probably ask which one they have because I assume the places they fly to are probably pretty similar to places we would be flying to...

  17. great article! love your blog :-)

  18. i will be researching this tonite katie! we have a large upcoming trip God willingly which we could really use a free flight for!

  19. We looked into miles credit cards...since we don't spend much, at the time it just makes sense for us to get cash back with Discover..we use it for any spending we can and then we use the cash back for vacations only.

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  21. Great post! We opened a british airways card when they were having a great miles promotion and now we have enough to use our point to fly from Denver to London or Ireland, then also from London to another city in Europe once we're there (i'm thinking greece ;) ) BUT downfall is when we looked into booking the flight, there is still $600 in "fees"! So we do get the ticket for about 1/2 price, but still not free.

    So i'm wondering if you've run into crazy extra fees with any of these cards? We have another miles card that we just used to fly to mexico and the fees for that were only $70 each, so much more manageable!

  22. I have a Capital One Ventures card. 2 points for every dollar and no foreign transaction fees. So far, so good. Thanks so much for this post. :-) New follower.



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