Flying around the world for FREE!

Flying around the world for FREE!

We love our rewards programs, and we are good at making them pay. As you read through this post you might think we are crazy for opening and closing as many cards as we have, but we would argue that you are crazy not to take advantage of the offers thrown in your mailbox. We have taken our airlines program saving to the levels similar to ladies on that TV show “Extreme Couponer’s”. We are borderline ‘Extreme Mileage Programers’, and we are about to show you why you should be too!

Are we crazy?

Well, maybe a little. At one point this year we had roughly $200,000+ worth of open credit on mileage or other rewards cards. We had so much we ended up canceling a few cards and lowering the limit on others in order to be approved for new ones. To clarify we follow all of the rules and only take advantage of the offers that the credit cards and there partners offer. We also never carry a balance. A word of warning if you don’t pay in full every month, the interest rates on rewards cards are generally worse than normal cards.


Take advantage

Credit card companies offer rewards for a number of reasons, the most obvious is to build loyalty with their brand, but really it’s to get paid. Every transaction made with a credit card results in a fee for the vendor that is making the sale, paid to companies like Visa, AMEX, or any other brand in your wallet. So why not get your cut of their fees?

What about my credit?

Yes, there is a small hit to your credit score when applying for a new card. The type of hit you see is not necessarily the damaging kind. When you apply for a card its categorized as a “Hard Inquiry”, meaning a card company ran your credit to ensure credit worthiness. Inquires account for 10% of credit score and the more inquires you have that portion of your score can be effected. The upside for long-term travelers is that inquires fall off after 2 years.

We keep close tabs on our credit monitoring for changes in the score. In the past year where we opened and closed more than 8 different cards, and have seen our credit score drop by 10 points. We are not too worried, we are still in the excellent category, and we will be leaving for 15 months. In that time there will be no credit inquires and the score should drift back up. All of this makes a strong case in our opinions for other travels to consider when planning a RTW trip. Many of the programs we use have international reward redemption, and its a great way to cut out cost of big flights.

Stay on top of it!

In order to maximize your miles you need to be on the top of your game tracking how much you’ve spent on which card. Hannah is a master of this, she knows what cards we have open, how much we have spent, and how many miles we have with them all. One thing to keep in mind is that most cards require a certain level of spending within a month to three months of opening the card. We put as much of our normal monthly spending on our credit cards to maximize our miles, anything that allows it such as the cable bill, power/energy bills,  etc.

Get Creative

Look for opportunities on what you use your credit cards for, think large purchases. Large purchases are most helpful when you have a new card and making the minimum requirements to get the enrollment bonus. Just last week we filled up our American Airlines cards (yes cards, both of ours) when Hannah’s transmission on her car died. It sucks, but might as well try and make some lemonade when you get some lemons. We turned paying for the transmission into 35,000 enrollment miles + 1,800 spending miles. With American those miles could easily kick off a trip, one-way flights between North America and the Europe average around 30,000. We plan to use the points from this mishap to bring us from Europe back home at the end of our RTW trip. Here are some other ways you may be able to meet the spending requirements:

  • Taxes – It’s property tax season, many counties will allow you to put your taxes on a credit card. Keep in mind that there are multiple tax calculators and estimators that can be used (most for free!). Before you sign on the line make sure you won’t have to pay the vendors fee, which would wipe out any benefits.
  • Trip Insurance – For people considering long term travel, if you plan to take out travel insurance before you leave consider applying for a new credit card to pay for it. That single transaction could meet the enrollment needs and get you enough miles to get you a transcontinental flight. We also highly recommend having travel insurance, it saved us when we got robbed in Kuala Lumpur.

Tips for getting the most Miles

  • Sign up to be part of the rewards program – Before applying for the credit card get into the frequent flyer program. Often times rewards members get better enrollment bonuses than non-members.
  • Compare online – Use a search engine to see what other people are getting when signing up. If you didn’t get as good of an offer, call and request a better bonus.
  • Don’t be afraid to call – The customer service reps have a lot of power to get you better bonuses and more miles. It sounds bad, but threats go a long way. For example, we have said we were not going to activate a card unless we were given the best amount of miles, they usually give it to you.
  • Don’t take no for an answer – While on the phone with customer service, don’t give in to them saying ‘That’s all we can do for you’. Always ask for a supervisor, they truly have the power to grant you what you want.


The Payout!

Delta Airline AMEX Card – 35,000 Miles (x2) – Plus free checked bags – Annual fee waived first year- This card makes sense for business travelers who fly Delta a lot, but really won’t get you too far with miles redemption. The miles earned here covered our flight from Lima to Milwaukee (one-way) for 45,000 miles each. Total Saving of $1,000.

American Airlines AAdvantage Visa Card – 35,000 Miles (x2) – Plus free checked bags-Annual fee waived first year- We are cashing these in for 2 flights for both of us, they will bring us home from London to Chicago for 30,000 miles ($800 each) Total Savings of $1,600.

SouthWest Airlines Rapid Rewards Program – 50,000 Miles (x2) -$69 annual fee- SouthWest has a great domestic rewards program in the US, and last year they partnered with AirTran and they now have a few international options. Another great feature this program has is cashing in miles for gift cards. With these miles Hannah flew from Milwaukee to New York for free, and then we still had enough miles to cash in for $900 in gift cards we will use for groceries. Total Saving  of $1,100+

AirTran Airlines A+ Rewards Program- 32 credits(1x)-Annual fee waived first year- Plus 2 first class upgrade certificates- We cashed these points in for us both to fly from Milwaukee to Cancun round trip for our February Tulum, Mexico trip and hopefully we will be able to upgrade to first class! Total Saving  of $1,000+

United Airlines Credit Card55,000 Miles (x2) -Annual fee waived first year- Free checked bags- 2 free Club passes- We each got a card with United because their rewards are awesome with lots of international partners to redeem with. We booked 6 flights for both of us for our RTW trip saving us over $2,400 in flight costs (not to mention some really long bus rides). Total Savings of $2,400 after our fees/taxes

Holiday Inn Priority Rewards Credit Card – 80,000 points which we cashed in for 4 nights in New York Times Square Area at a hotel normally $300/Night. Total Savings of $1200

REI Credit Card – $100 gift card and a 20% off coupon

To date we have cashed in for about $8,400 in rewards just by spend what we would normal spend. And we are not done yet, we will likely do at least one more before we leave for our RTW trip this June.

An RTW trip not in your future?

Well how about traveling more often or further with your holidays, smartly using credit card programs can shave thousands off your travel costs every year. Make sure whatever is in your wallet is paying you back!


  • Craig Makepeace
    Posted at 17:02h, 03 March Reply

    Well done guys on getting creative. Some great rewards there! I must say, as an Australian who lived in the US for 4 years getting our head around your credit system was a headache 🙂 But if you’ve grown up with the system I’m sure you have a better handle on it.

    So like most things there are the pros & cons and would take self discipline, and after many years we are just getting ourselves connected with the best cards down here in Oz. Ahh, better late than never!

    • Hannah
      Posted at 01:48h, 08 December Reply

      Craig- There are some crazy rewards out there, if you look hard and take advantage of them you can go real far for FREE! It appears lots of other countries don’t have the same offers/credit card programs like we do, here in the states. I am use to getting at least 5 credit card offers a week in the mail, my mail is 90% junk mail….

      We have our favorite cards here too, but we just take advantage of the bonus offers and then cancel them before the year is up and an annual fee is knocking at our door! From what I hear you can sign up again for the same card a year later with a whole new set of bonus points! Will let you know how that works out!

      We are really good with our cards, and checking our credit. But I can see how some people get themselves in trouble!

  • George
    Posted at 21:07h, 03 March Reply

    Amazing points well made. Just an incredible idea and I’m proud of you both. I was wondering if you knew if these schemes were available in other countries such as the UK too?

  • Eric
    Posted at 00:22h, 09 March Reply

    Thank you for sharing. You’ve inspired me to take advantage of some of those hundreds of offers that come through my mail box each year!

    • Hannah
      Posted at 15:06h, 09 March Reply

      Glad to hear that! Just sort through them and keep them for a few weeks and wait and see if you get a better one before applying. Usually the offer has an expiration date that is at least a month out. Have fun flying for free!

  • Chloe Legrand
    Posted at 20:22h, 28 October Reply

    OMG This article is great. I’ll have to check if it’s possible to get the same thing in New Zealand!!

  • Laura // Roam Far and Wide
    Posted at 00:00h, 30 March Reply

    I’ve traveled the world this way. It took me five years to collect two million miles (and no debt!). I’ve since traveled all over the world and paid about a thousand dollars in total for over fifty flights. It can be done and the rewards are awesome!

  • Monika
    Posted at 14:37h, 07 April Reply

    There is so much to gain! But In the USA you are lucky! In the UK there is not many programs like that. We use Avios points for short flights in Europe as for longer flights it is not worth it. I do wonder if anyone know any good program to collect points for flying for us, living in the UK? Something we, living in the UK, must research to save on flights for our RWT

  • Lisa mcp
    Posted at 06:24h, 22 July Reply

    Yes- we have done the American Airlines credit card THREE times!! And if you google the AA 50k bonus you can often sign up for 50k instead of 35k!

  • Christina
    Posted at 15:00h, 22 July Reply

    Great article. I recently relocated to Hawaii and am all about the points credit cards to travel. I have the American, Delta, and the Southwest cards. I was able to wait on each to make sure I got the full 50K miles for each. This website is a good one for tracking what credit cards are doing what That is how I knew if I waited out the Delta card it would eventually go up from 35k to 50k.

  • Danielle Des
    Posted at 21:55h, 26 February Reply

    I’ve been sticking to my Delta card, but I think it’s time to diversify my portfolio. I’ll actually start paying attention to new offers in the mail now!

  • Emily
    Posted at 14:26h, 15 April Reply

    Love this! We love playing the mileage game with cards while remaining debt free. Another tip when booking flights: sometimes buying miles is cheaper than buying a ticket. We just bought miles and spent less than half what a ticket cost, for the same seat on the same flight, if we had paid cash. Plus, when you buy miles with your travel credit card, you get more miles. It’s a never ending reward system 🙂

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