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I’m resurrecting this blog because I’ve been asked by several friends to give a quick guide to my new hobby.

Last February, I began my journey to free flights and hotels using credit card points. I was a bit intimidated by the whole idea, but my co-worker, a very experienced credit card ninja, took the mystery out of it for me. Now I’m hooked. In the past year, here’s what we’ve gotten for about $250 total in annual fees:

– A free round-trip flight for Kelly to DC
– Free round-trip flights for me and Kelly to San Diego and 4 free nights in a Marriott in Tijuana, Mexico
– Five free round-trip tickets THANKSGIVING WEEK to DC with Kelly’s sister’s family
– Round-trip tickets to Orlando, FL for Lucy and me along with two free nights at a Marriott in Orlando so we can go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for her 9th birthday (leaving tomorrow!)
– A free round-trip ticket to DC for Kelly to be at her sister’s birthday party

I’ve only signed up for 5 credit cards. If I add that all up, I think we’re somewhere in the $4,000 range of free money.

So what’s the catch? Really, the only catch is the annual fees that you can easily keep track of and the fact that you probably shouldn’t sign up for 6 credit cards a year before you need to take out a mortgage. Other than that, you just have to be a little bit organized.

THE STRATEGY

This is my strategy. It’s obviously not the only strategy out there, but I think it’s a pretty easy one, and it’s worked for us.

1. Apply for one credit card, use it until you get the bonus, and then apply for another credit card. Keep that pattern going, and try to not to have much gap between when you get the bonus from one card and when you start working on the next. Most cards require that you spend a certain amount in the first 3 months (starting on the date you applied) to get the bonus. For us, it has never been an issue to spend the money before the time limit.

2. Keep a spreadsheet where you record what cards you have, when you applied, how much you need to spend in the first 3 months, how much the annual fee is, etc. The credit card account sites don’t do a good job of spelling these things out for you, so you need to record them when you apply for the card because the information is readily available to you then.

3. Start or use your small business to apply for business cards. Both Kelly and I have legit small businesses that we can use, but from what I understand, you can sell a few things on eBay, give it a business name, and you’re good to go. There are twice as many opportunities to earn points when you are able to use both business and personal cards.

4. Find ways to use a credit card to spend for as much as you can, but don’t go overboard. For us, the easiest ways to accumulate expenditures are through online giving to our church, using credit cards for anything we physically buy and organizing our budget around paying the credit card off every few days. We also change our preferred Amazon payment method to each new credit card as we get them. AT&T, Comcast – anything that readily allows credit cards for payment is worth changing to a new card whenever you get one.

5. Do NOT change your subscriptions to new credit cards. Keep those with a debit card or a credit card you plan to have for a long time and don’t need to use for points. Why? Well, unless you are VERY organized, you will most likely forget that you changed Netflix over to a credit card that you’ve already gotten your points for, and now you have charges automatically being added each month to an account you don’t look at anymore. It’s not worth the $10/month to change payment info for your subscriptions.

6. Know which cards you can cancel without losing your points. This isn’t very difficult to figure out. Just google your card and you’ll be able to find out if you can cancel it and keep your points.

7. Pick a hotel chain to focus on. I chose Marriott because at the time, I could get a Starwood Preferred Guest card that gave me 35,000 bonus points after I hit the spending threshold, and those 35,000 points were easily transferrable to Marriott points at a 1:3 ratio. That meant after three months, I had 105,000 Marriott points – the equivalent of 8 free nights.

8. Pick an airline to focus on. I chose Southwest because their Rapid Rewards program is easily the best one out there when it comes to availability. I got 5 Thanksgiving week tickets without any “blackout” dates. Totally unexpected and amazing. Also, we earned a “Companion Pass” in August, so Kelly flies with me for free until the end of this year!

Here are the specifics of what I’ve done so far:

Card #1: Starwood Preferred Guest Card – 35,000 bonus points turned to 105,000 Marriott points.
Card #2: Southwest Small Business Card – 60,000 Rapid Rewards points
Card #3: Southwest Personal Card – 50,000 Rapid Reward points
A “Companion Pass” is earned by getting 110,000 Rapid Reward points within a calendar year. Once we had hit the expenditure threshold for these two cards, we got the pass!
Card #4: Chase Business Ink – 80,000 Chase Rewards points that can be transferred 1:1 to Southwest
Card #5: Chase Preferred – 50,000 Chase Rewards points that can be transferred 1:1 to Southwest (almost done with this one)

For direction on which cards are offering the best points deals now (they change all the time), here are a couple good sites:

Million Mile Secrets

The Points Guy

That’s it! I think I spend less than an hour each month doing anything with credit cards, so it’s well worth keeping up with these things to get all the freedom that comes with free flights and hotels. And that’s really what it is. Want to fly the whole family somewhere? Okay! Want to surprise your daughter with a trip for her birthday? Go for it! It’s a really fun way to enable memory-making for your family. I highly recommend it!

Feel free to ask me any questions at bourque.jeff@gmail.com.

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It’s been a rough couple of weeks. For an explanation, read this post by Kelly. But even when things are not so great, our girls always bring a smile to our faces.

Front to Back.

Ella decided she likes to change her perspective every once in a while. She also seems to really enjoy buzzers.

Meet Ella

So I must tell you this is nothing close to what we’ve witnessed of Ella’s “talking” at home with the video camera off. But it’s the best we’ve gotten. Meet our happy little girl.

Lu Plays and Sings

I was tending to Ella when all of the sudden I hear singing AND playing coming from the living room. I rushed to grab the camera and caught the tail end (along with a little more sweetness).

You’ve seen pictures – here’s the live action. Lucy…baking.

…you just need to click play.