I’m ready to travel for free with credit card rewards

Welcome to Personal Finance Insider, a biweekly newsletter that connects you to the stories, strategies, and tips you need to be better with money.

Here’s what: Freedom to travel isn’t just about lifting mask mandates and COVID testing requirements

When the COVID pandemic hit, my family had to cancel a long-awaited cruise with stops in Mexico, Belize, and Honduras. We were very disappointed, but I assured the kids that it wouldn’t be long before things would return to normal and we could hit the road again.

Boy, was I ever wrong?

Fast-forward to 2022 and, like many people, we haven’t been on a plane in over two years. So far, my family has typically taken at least two or three trips a year using credit card rewards, points, and miles to travel almost free, so this long break has been a big change for us.

But now, popular tourist destinations are opening their doors to travelers again and lifting restrictions like mask mandates, proof of a negative COVID test, and mandatory quarantines. Hawaii, for example, will eliminate the requirement to show a negative test or proof of vaccination to enter from the continental US starting March 26. And countries like Canada, Costa Rica, France, Ireland and the Maldives have relaxed or announced the end. of pre-arrival COVID testing.

The easing of restrictions means that many more destinations are open without having to jump through inconvenient hurdles. With that in mind, and having racked up a ton of credit card rewards during the pandemic, I recently started booking a last-minute spring break trip for myself and the kids using points and miles.

My mother, who is visiting from Canada, heard me on the phone trying to put the trip together.

“You’re funny,” she said, amused by my seemingly late-planning style of vacation. “And you’re so lucky you can pick up the phone and book whatever you want.”

You are right up to a point. Living in the US, we have many more opportunities to earn points and miles rewards credit cardsmeal programs, shopping portalsand promotions compared to countries like Canada. For example, it is not uncommon here to see credit card registration bonuses of more than 100,000 points; elsewhere such things are a rarity.

But free travel with rewards isn’t all about luck: It takes organization and research to navigate the ins and outs of loyalty schemes and keep track of details like award tables and point expiration dates. Friends and family often ask me how I find the time to juggle 20+ travel rewards credit cards and be aware of such things; I reply that while it’s part of my job here at Insider, it’s also something I really enjoy.

That doesn’t mean you have to go all-in on credit card rewards if you want to try free travel. I know many people who strategically open only one or two credit cards from transferable points programs like Ultimate Chase Rewards or Amex Membership RewardsAnd by running all your spending through these cards, earn enough rewards to enjoy a fun trip or two each year.

You don’t have to be a loyalty travel whiz or a points nerd to take advantage of these opportunities. It’s totally fine to stick with a single cash back credit card — many of which don’t charge an annual fee — and use that money to travel. But if you’re new to the rewards travel game and want the ability to travel where and when you want, earning points and miles can give you the biggest return on your spending.

We write a lot about paths to financial freedom here at Personal Finance Insider, from retirement planning set up passive income streams. Earning points and miles with credit cards is another piece of that puzzle for me, because it gives my family the opportunity to enjoy new experiences and destinations for a fraction of the usual cost.

And now that the world opens up again, I will continue to heed my mother’s words. My family is lucky not only to have a wider variety of destinations that welcome visitors, but also to be able to book a flight or hotel with credit card rewards without worrying about breaking the bank.

— Jasmin Baron, credit card editor at Personal Finance Insider

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