When it comes to paying for travel, there are plenty of options out there that help save and make you money. The goal is to make your money go as far as possible, while also working for you. Credit card companies currently offer several amazing perks for signing up with them, and if they’re going to give you free money, why not take it!
How we got $600 towards travel for free
Spend money to get money for free? Sounds too good to be true right? Wrong. Almost every travel rewards credit card out there offers some type of sign up incentive on top of there already generous rewards structure. Lucky for us, we had a series of very large expenses (our wedding!). Rather than paying for these with the check book, we decided to make these large dollar amount transactions work for us. The two most important things to look for in a travel card are:
- How big is the sign on bonus?
- Are foreign transaction fees covered?
Most the travel cards offer a bonus that goes something along the lines of “spend $X in Y months to receive Z thousand points.” You have to be realistic here when making the decision as to how much you can actually put on a credit card in a specific amount of time. It is crucial that you also ensure you can pay off whatever you spend each month in full. Paying interest even just once will all but erase any of the benefits you get from the rewards.
Foreign transaction fees are another big one, as every time you use your card abroad you are charged a transaction fee. You’ll have to check with your specific provider to see exactly how much (typically a percentage), but these can add up quick, especially if you’re already in a country where your home currency isn’t the stronger of the two.
We settled on two travel cards that best met our needs and allowed us to greatly discount future travel.
What I love most about the Venture One card is that it’s not linked to any one travel provider. You can use your reward points for any travel related expenses, whether that be flights, hotels, taxis, etc. As we mentioned before, we had a wedding to pay for, so the added sign on benefit of 0% introductory APR for 12 months was a huge perk. This allowed us to have much more flexibility in covering our wedding expenses, while simultaneously racking up huge rewards. The sign on bonus was one of the best, all we had to do was spend $1000 in the first three months to earn 30,000 miles (equivalent to $300). If your landlord allows it, paying rent would be a great option, as you (hopefully) already have the money set aside, so why not earn rewards from it?
The Delta Skymiles card from American Express differs from the Venture One card in that it is linked to Delta airlines. This doesn’t mean that you have to use your rewards on Delta or Delta partners, but you will get the most benefit from doing so. As I mentioned in another post, I’ve flown KLM (a Delta partner) more than any other airline, so it made sense to utilize a card that worked with the miles I’ve already accumulated.
The sign on bonus was the same as the Venture One card, although we didn’t get a 0% introductory APR. We are also big Costco shoppers, which only accepts debit or AMEX, so this card has allowed us to earn rewards from our weekly Costco trips. The card comes with a few other perks, such as an additional free checked bag, access to the Sky Lounge, and priority boarding, if you’re into those kinds of things.
Between the two cards, we earned $600 right up front for expenses we had anyway, and we’ve earned much more since for other expenses (1.25 miles for every dollar spent!). It was also nice on our recent trip to Peru to not see a percentage added to every transaction.
Other travel card option
One other card I would recommend, if you spend more money than us, its the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Although we ultimately decided against it, it by far offers the best sign on bonus and rewards. If you can manage to spend $4,000 in the first three months, you’ll earn 50,000 bonus miles (plus you get a discount on flights when booking via Chase, so that equates to $625) plus 2x points for all travel and restaurant expenses. By adding an authorized user, you can earn an additional 5,000 miles for absolutely nothing! We would have loved to go with this card, but $4,000 in three months was a little outside what we could comfortably spend and pay off in full at the end of every month.
The important take aways from all this are to make your money work for you, but also to not spend more than you can afford. These credit cards don’t mean you should go on a spending spree with money you don’t have. What they do offer, however, is the ability to maximize the distance your money goes, while making travel more convenient and accessible.
Cash and ATM’s
While credit cards are the single best way to pay for things while abroad, certain times will arise when cash is necessary. To get cash, I would almost never recommend that you go to a bank or currency exchange place. They take a certain percentage as a transaction fee, and don’t always give you the best exchange rate.
By far the best way to get cash in a foreign currency is at an ATM. It’s important to note, however, that the ATM can become quite expensive. A lot of banks will charge you up to $3 for using an ATM that isn’t theres, plus that ATM will charge you up to $3, plus a foreign transaction fee. Before I discovered world wide debit cards, I was spending upwards of $9 per $100 withdrawn!
Enter, Chuck. The Charles Schwab Online Checking Account offers no transaction fees and unlimited ATM rebates. This allows you to take out money at any ATM worldwide, giving you the most current exchange rate, for no extra charge. You can’t beat that.
We hope that you find these tips for money helpful. The goal is to maximize your spending and earning potential, so make your money work better for you!
Once you have picked the best travel card for you, stretch your rewards by finding the best flights!