1. Starting Notes
2. Points Vs. Miles (And Their Value)
3. Envisioning a Goal
4. Checking Your Credit
5. Choosing an Airline
6. How to Pick a Card (Or Two)
7. Real Life Examples
9. How to Keep It Going
10. Keeping Track of It All
11. Wonderful Side Effects
12. Final Words
The most lucrative way to rack up airline miles quickly is through credit card signup bonuses. Why? I have no idea – but so it is. This is where good credit comes into play.
If your score is over 700, good job. You’ve been doing well to keep your credit healthy for a long time. You’ve also earned a free pass to go directly to the next section while our friends with scores below 700 catch up to you. So go ahead and click through now. Go ahead, get outta here. There’s still plenty to do once you get there.
If you’re still reading: may I ask a personal question? Do you know your credit score? If you don’t, you should. Your credit is one of your most important assets. You’ll need it to secure loans for a mortgage or a car, an apartment, maybe even for a job. If you want the very best rates (and you do), you should be very in touch with your credit score and its health.
Some of the things you’ll to do to earn your travel goals will make your score dip very temporarily. Two or three months at the most, and for two or three points at the most. Also, if you are thinking of applying for a mortgage in the foreseeable future, I will ask you to concentrate your spend on one or two credit cards. It isn’t wise to seek too much credit if you’re thinking of buying a house. The path to home ownership is as admirable as it is challenging, and it’s the biggest reason you’ll need to be extra vigilant about your score and cautious with the techniques I’ll describe.
A wonderful free resource is Credit Karma. It allows you to view your TransUnion credit score once a week, completely free, and with absolutely zero strings attached.
Another great tool is Credit Sesame. They only let you view your score once a month, but like Credit Karma, it’s completely free and carries zero obligations. Plus, it’s always good to get a second opinion.
Pick one. Or both. Sign up for free alerts. Read the advice and consider your analysis. But most important to note is the FICO Credit Score. This number will determine your tactic in moving forward with free travel opportunities.
There are many paid services that let you monitor activity from all three major credit bureaus and even helps you correct errors in your reports. It’s not required, as you now know how to check your score for free, but I like it because it lets me see and correct specific information about my credit history. And as they say, information is free travel power.
Did you check your score and find it was over 700? That’s great! The rest of this section won’t apply to you. Skip ahead to the next section to find out what to do next.
Still with me? I remember having a low score. It sucked. It felt like I was being graded on things that were beyond my control at the time and was somehow being punished with higher interest rates and longer repayment terms. I owed so much money in credit debt, collections, student loans… The list went on. Taking the reins in a big way has paid off, literally and figuratively, many times over. It was the first step on my journey toward financial independence.
When I began reading about free travel and securing new credit, I checked my scores hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. I plugged in all my data and arrived at the last page and last click before the big score reveal. My heart sank when I saw the number: 550. Ouch. I knew then I wasn’t going to have a tropical drink in Hawaii any time soon. Not with that score.
If you’re like me, and are starting from a sub-par base, don’t worry. Truly. Once you understand what drives credit scores, you realize all you can do to get the number higher. You’ve got to reach out to your creditors and start making arrangements.
I owed hundreds of dollars for a library book I never returned when I was eighteen. Dumb, right? I moved out of town and accidentally packed it. Whoops. For a month, I intended to mail it back. But then I’d already started to accrue late fees. “Oh, well,” I thought. “It’s just a library book.” Until one day a letter came in the mail from a collection agency. My $5 late fee now had even more late fees – and was accruing interest.
Then student loan bills kept coming in the mail. My car payment was perpetually late. Somewhere in the middle of everything, I managed to get a credit card. I could barely pay the minimum on it. Safe to say I was drowning in my debt. It felt hopeless, so after a while I just stopped trying.
But I kept thinking about Hawaii. Was it really possible to go for free? I could almost feel the ocean lapping my feet and the breeze on my face. I reached for the phone and called about the library book. I found it on my bookshelf and sent it back. I was polite, confident, and apologetic. They allowed me to pay much less than what the letter said I owed.
Then I called my student loan company. That tropical drink had better be pretty strong once I got to Maui because this was going to epically suck. But, it wasn’t so bad. They were more concerned with getting in touch and up to date than anything else. And I listened as they described my options. What? I had options? That was a surprise. Within a few months, I was able to get back on good terms with my student loans. It was a long few months, but it was worth it.
Same for the credit card companies. I couldn’t erase the many late payments. But I could start paying the minimums and get on the road to having better banking relationships. My goal was to pay off all my balances in full.
Within two months, my credit score began to respond to my efforts. Finally. It was slow at first, but after each payment, the number would tick up a notch or two. I got myself on a budget, paid my bills on time, and ate less than I ever have in my whole life. Packing my suitcase the night before my first trip to Hawaii felt so amazing. I know I earned it.
After I paid off my last credit card, I felt so free. My credit shot up jumped from the upper 600s to over 700 for the first time in my life. When I saw the number, I couldn’t believe it. It meant a lot more options were finally opening up to me, in life and in future free travel. Since then, my interest rates have been much lower and the rate at which I earn miles has easily doubled or even tripled. That’s another reason I call it “The Points Game.” But after countless free flights, it is a game well worth playing.
Next up: Choosing an Airline
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