Credit Cards Are Giving Me a Free Vacation

Seattle, here we come!
Seattle, here we come!

One spectacular advantage of having no credit card debt is that you can use your credit cards as a tool to earn money and rewards for your family. If done correctly, using credit cards to pay your regular and necessary expenses can net you hundreds of dollars in free money. While you can use free money for anything, we’ve earmarked ours for travel. I’ve learned over the years that many things we purchased during our spending frenzy were not really meaningful. As we’ve changed our habits, I realize that vacations and sharing experiences is a very valuable commodity to our household. Now that we are walking the financial straight and narrow, we are going to let credit cards pay for our upcoming vacation. No, we aren’t charging the vacation on credit, but the credit companies are going to pay us to travel. Here’s how.


If you currently carry a balance on your credit cards or are not able to use credit within your means, you first need to find out how to break the debt cycle. Once you make your way out of consumer debt, I totally get the need to use cash for everything if you don’t want to be tempted with high credit limits. If you are able to pay your balance in full every month and don’t buy things you don’t need just because you can, then read on.

Trip Costs

We are planning a ten day trip in July to the Pacific Northwest. My family loves the outdoors and the beach, and this is one area of the US we haven’t really visited. We are flying into Seattle and leaving through Portland. We decided to fly out of our local, podunk airport, which is expensive, but driving four hours to get to a major airport is not fun.  Although originally we considered camping, I am old and on vacation. We’ve decided to raise our standards. Besides, who wants to carry bedding through the airport? How much is all this luxury going to set us back?

Airfare: Two sets of one way tickets. $1062.90

Lodging in Seattle: We want to stay downtown so we can walk or take the free bus route to attractions. I’m going to say $200 per night, so $600 total.

Train from Seattle to Portland for 3: $60

Lodging in Portland: Ballparking $150 per night, $450 total.

Rental Car to drive from Portland to the coast. $179

Beach Cottage from VRBO: $469.80

Two nights lodging TBD: We have two days left that we want to leave unplanned: $300

Total cost for transportation and lodging: $3121.70 (Wow)

How Are We Paying?

If you think I’m forking over more then three grand for this trip, think again. Here is how we are paying, or rather how some big corporations are paying for us. With my business, we rack up tons of points annually. This year, I have also done a bit of churning to get some bonus points.

Frontier Airlines Vouchers: As you might recall, we had a bit of trouble on our last visit to see my parents. It seemed frustrating at the time, but the $600 in vouchers we received sure look sweet now. With a combination of those plus frequent flier and rewards points on the Frontier Airlines Visa, that knocked our airfare down to $462.90.

Chase Sapphire: I applied for this card last fall, and started putting business expenses on it to reach the $5000 required to get a $400 bonus. Since then, I’ve added more points. We are up to almost 90,000 which equates to $900 in cash.

Chase Ink: This is a splendid card if you have a business. You have to have a Tax ID and provide business info to get one, but the rewards are terrific. With $5000 spent in the first three months, you receive 50,000 bonus points. I got this in January, and my office now puts all business expenses on it. You get double points for gas and 5x points for office supplies, cell phones, internet, and cable. I fully expect to have 100,000 points by the time my business finally sells, which is looking like June or July at this point. That gives me another $1000 cash.

Bank of America Visa: This was my old business card before Chase came along. I have $250 in rewards just waiting for me.

American Express Business Gold:This was another old business card. I have enough points for a $100 Amex gift card.

Essilor Edge: Essilor is our optical lab of choice at work. They offer rewards similar to credit card points for buying optical lenses.  By this summer, I should have enough Essilor points for $200 in Amex gift cards.

Total Rewards: $3196. More than enough to pay for the balance on airfare and lodging. Sweet!

Food and Other Expenses

You’d think I would be happy with this score already, and I truly am, but why not go all the way to a completely free vacation? We have made about $200 so far this year from Ebay and consignment shop sales. I suspect we may be able to milk another $100 or so from these methods. It isn’t really free, but if there is stuff just sitting around, why not think of selling?

I am also contemplating applying for a Hilton Honors American Express. With the Hilton points I already have, it should be good for two free nights in either Seattle or Portland, which frees up at  least another $300 to use for food and expenses. That should cover us unless we decide to go overboard on souvenirs or ship home a bunch of fish from Pike Place.

If you can play by the rules, which, again, are paying off the balance in full and not buying things you don’t need, using credit cards for normal expenses are a great way to get a free vacation. I’d like to thank Holly at Club Thrifty and Jake at I Heart Budgets who inspired me to churn like crazy to get this free vacation.

Responsible credit users, what have you gotten for free with credit rewards?

Also, if you love me, check out my guest post about health savings accounts at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff from yesterday and my guest post about first rental properties at Work Save Live today. 

Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, hiking.


    1. $30 is better than nothing at all. Churning is not for everyone. My husband thinks I’m a bit crazy, but sure likes free stuff.

  1. Wow, you have it all planned out good for you mate. We use our credit cards on anything anyone will let us charge if we are buying it from them. We love the rewards and although doing this can put someone in the hole if they don’t have the fund to pay it every month for others it’s free money. I never pass that up.. not this guy!

    1. Getting free money is almost addictive. I kind of get those extreme couponers who get 200 packs of cat treats for free when they don’t have a cat. It’s a rush, but I think my free stuff is more fun.

  2. Congrats. I know someone who travels a lot on business so gets lots of free airfares and hotel stays as a result. I have managed to get a few points along the way, but don’t make a deliberate effort as I am trying to decrease debt.

    1. When you get out of debt, you can certainly start using the cards for rewards. We never got to take much advantage when we had so much debt. It doesn’t make sense to get new cards when you have balances on all of your old ones.

  3. The problem for me with rewards cards is simply that most of our spending is on bills and rent that can’t be paid with a credit card. I figure, at best, we could charge $400 per month without buying things unnecessarily.
    Since getting the card, we’ve gotten 2 $20 giftcards, which we then spent on stuff that we wouldn’t have bough otherwise.

    1. This is a common misconception. You can pay pretty much any bill with a credit card, it just requires more work and. in general, a few extra fees. This may or may not be worth it to you. We decided these options were not worth it to us because it was simply too much hassle.

    2. I don’t think rent could ever be paid on a credit card, but we pay our electric, gas, cell phone, internet, and satellite TV with a credit card. Most of my points, though, came from work. When I don’t have the business anymore, it will be hard to get that many points or it will just take longer. Even if it is only $20 gift cards, that is better than the nothing you would have gotten otherwise.

  4. That’s fantastic Kim! We use our credit cards regularly to build up reward points too. Seattle is beautiful and you will have a great time. And I appreciate you putting a disclaimer in your post too. I absolutely have no problem with people using credit cards to earn rewards as long as they’re paying their bills off every month (and I know you are). But some people who are still in debt or so fresh out of debt – it’s like waving a cigarette in front of someone who just quit smoking. Using credit cards to your advantage is great (and little bit fun since it seems like we’re the ones often being taken advantage of by them) but you got to be in the right place emotionally and financially to “churn” without putting yourself back in debt. Looking forward to hearing about your trip and I wouldn’t camp either. 🙂

    1. My husband doesn’t like credit cards at all and falls into that camp of the former smoker, but I have no problem at all. I will never go back into credit card debt, so I am fine with putting as much as possible on cards, as long as it’s things we need and would have bought anyway.

  5. That should be 5x (or did you mean 4x extra) for Chase Ink on office supplies, internet, cable, and cell phone.

    I’ve had my own experience with this one: first class trip for two to Kauai during Christmas and 2 nights at St Regis Princeville and 3 nights at Grand Hyatt Poipu. All thanks to credit card churn. Estimated retail for flights and lodging alone were $16k.

    You only mention getting cash back, but have you tried actually transferring the points to the partner airline or hotel you intend to use? Quick math: 50k points = $500 cash back, while a roundtrip to Europe is more like $700 and higher for 60k points.

    1. You are absolutely right. It is 5x rewards, even better than I listed. Thanks for pointing that out. I have changed it in the post.

      I had to book that airfare directly through Frontier, as we had vouchers and frequent miles, but I will certainly check the Chase website when we book the hotels. I know you get more points that way, so it will depend on where the better deal is.

  6. Heck yes! So happy to see this happening right now! 🙂

    My wife and I just found out that our Starwood card is good at “The Nines” in DT Portland. She has been DREAMING of staying there, but at $250+ a night, was never worth it. Now we’re planning two nights there for her bday after tax season, and because we’re “preferred” members, we get a free room upgrade and 4pm late checkout! WOOHOO! We plan on heading to Oregon wine coutry during the days, and Portland at night. Should be a blast, and on the super cheap!

    And Holly’s rockin’ it right, looking at international. I’m hoping for a Hilton churn soon to get me a week + in Italy in a few years. Thank you credit card bonuses!

    Also (so many also’s), if you’d like, you should look into booking the hotels through Chase Ultimate Rewards with your UR points, because you can usually get 2 – 3 cpm (cents per mile [or “point]) instead of the cash out rate of 1 cent. Just something to think about.

    Also (AGAIN!), you should email me and we can chat about upcoming churns, BECAUSE I LOVE THIS STUFF!

    Also, you’ll love Seattle in July!

    Congrats again!

    1. I will certainly look at the Chase site first to see if the hotel deals are better. I haven’t booked anything yet except the beach cottage which will still be cheaper than any similar quality hotel. I did apply for the Hilton Amex, so that should get me two free nights and then I’ll go from there. We’ll all have to keep sharing our churning secrets.

  7. I usually use my frequent flier miles to fly overseas (first or business class). I started using a hotel (Hilton) card to accumulate points for hotel stays. The are tripling my points for now. I received a bonus when I signed up of 2 weekend nights.

    1. I signed up for the Hilton card last night. We tend to stay at either Homewood or Embassy Suites if we can because of the kitchen and free breakfast. It works great with a small child. Might as well get triple points.

  8. Wow, that is a ton of points/cash! Congrats on working the system so well; I wonder what the total return % is compared to the amount of money you had to spend on the cards. Did you spend a total of $30k to get $3,000 in rewards or was it closer to $100k?

    1. We usually put between $5000-$10,000 on the business card each month, depending on how busy we are. That’s for contacts, glasses lenses, frames, supplies, postage, gas, and I just added the phone bill for 5x bonus points. For both Chase cards, the bonus points came within the first few months, so 90,000 points for spending $10,000. The rest is pretty accurately a dollar per point, except those ones that double or better on certain categories.

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