GeoTech: How to game the system for free travel

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Hey, it's me! Casually train conducting on my way to Virginia.

Hey, it’s me! Casually train conducting on my way to Virginia.

I tell my friends all the time to pay for everything in credit. This seems counterintuitive to most people, which is why I’m constantly being looked at like I have tentacles growing out of my eyeballs, but I assure you it’s the best gift you can give yourself.

I grew up traveling all over the place with my family because my dad had “the bug”. I can assure you I didn’t grow up rich, though. My dad had Midas’ touch when it came to gaming the credit card system; every card he touched turned into gold, almost literally. My financially adept daddy taught me about the art of finance, and believe me you, he should write a book. But he’s not, so I’m kind of doing it for him here. Hi, Dad!

I’ve only recently gotten my first credit card. That’s right, I got my first big girl credit card in 2013. Aren’t I cute in my youthful naiveté? Good, I’m glad you think so, because I’m about to drop some knowledge on you, son.

So far, with only one credit card, I haven’t paid a dime on travel expenses. I’ve flown, ridden trains, taken cabs, and hopped on buses, and I didn’t pay a dime for it.

The thing about credit card companies is that they have a gaping hole of vulnerability in their armor of life-sucking, cog-like greed: they pay you to spend money. And hey, you’re already spending money, so…

Most people look at the industry that credit built and think about all the sad, debilitating debt that exists in the country. If you’re one of those people, I urge you to bail on this story right now.

GeoTech: How to game the system for free travelIf you’re not one of those people and you’ve exhibited mostly responsible behavior with your credit cards, then I urge you to stop using cash and debit and just focus all of your money-spending energy on your credit cards, because every dollar spent without one gets you nothing. Except maybe the item you purchased, but that’s lame. Credit card gaming isn’t exclusive to higher incomes, just exclusive to people who have a long-term handle on their finances already, even with an entry-level salary (cough, cough).

A lot of people get nervous about wracking up a balance because of that soul-crushing debt we were just talking about, but interest is a non-factor if you never carry a balance at all. I started using baby credit at the Gap back in 2011 and I got 20-40% off of everything I bought just for using the credit card, but I paid off the balance, on average, nine minutes after creating it because I’m not down with paying 13% interest on a pair a pants. Don’t pay 13% interest on a pair of pants, for the love of God, just don’t do it.

I’m what a credit card company might call a useless piece of sh*t because I don’t exactly pay them any money… ever. I wrack up a small fortune in credit every month and then pay it off in full at the end of it. As an added benefit, my credit card is a stupid-post-grad version that doesn’t even have an annual fee because, by giving me a free card, they assumed I’d run out and start wracking up debt with my alcohol-addled college witlessness. They didn’t even lessen the rewards system for this version of the card. Remind me to send them a thank-you letter.

GeoTechSystemGamingSystem-gamers can earn more points by signing up for dining clubs. In addition to your normal rewards for the cost of the meal, an average of 170 more points are added to your card just for being a member. If you’re shameless, ask your friends to sign up for these services with your referral code, and you’ll receive $20 in extra points per person.

Frequent Flyer miles–earned in free accounts– are important as well and contribute to most of the flights system-gamers get for free. Separating your flyer miles from your credit card rewards, rather than transferring your rewards points, is important in ensuring all of a trip’s expenses are covered. You fly on miles, and then get a free car and hotel with rewards points– plus the car insurance is free with a travel card. Forgetting about the costs of travel once the wheels have touched down at your destination is a good way to accidentally shell out hundreds for a car–don’t do it.

Honestly, there’s just money falling out of these companies’ butts. You might as well pick it up. The travel bug that lives in your internal organs will thank you, your Facebook friends will hate you, and the folks you meet in First Class–the ones who actually paid for their tickets– will love you and all the dirty jokes your father taught you. I promise.

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  • Steve

    So what are your preferred cards?

    • Devon Razey

      Ah! I’m glad someone asked! Pretty much ANY credit card will get you great rewards, but I HIGHLY recommend American Express Blue Sky (no annual fee!) which offers all the rewards a regular AmEx does, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which offers 2x points on travel and dining, 1 point on everything else. My cousin also swears by the Capitol One Venture card, complimentary to Citi Future Card. Those are his only two and he flies for free on the regular. They’re the best because you can get something like 2x points for Venture and 5x points (what!) on the Citi card. I don’t have those yet myself, but he’s sold me on them.

      I also recommend joining a dining rewards through your US Airways Dividend miles over any other Frequent Flier account because with the new oneworld initiative, they count towards a whole smorgasbord of other airlines rather than JUST US Airways. Unfortunately you can only sign up on one program at a time, so that’s the one I recommend. You can sign up as many cards as you have, though!

      • Steve

        What are your thoughts on the upcoming Chase sapphire preferred rewards changes? I have one but it seems like it will no longer be worth the annual fee without the annual dividends and reduced point earning. Thanks for the article and response!

        • Devon Razey

          Goodness, I didn’t even know it was changing. If you think it’s not worth it, I will say that I’ve always been taught never to close out a credit card because it damages credit score, and you’re just better off leaving it open and not using it. As long as you don’t carry more than a manageable balance on one card, opening more cards won’t damage your credit score.

  • dragonhockey

    When travelling, there are important things you need to consider in order to assure your travel is safe and enjoyable. It is always a must to be set and ready.

  • akatangac

    Have you every used the app Wallaby? Badassery right thur.