This is not a click-bait post. Travelling is undoubtedly an expensive hobby but you don’t always need to break the bank to travel. Over the last 3 years, I have been consistently saving 6 figure worth of rewards points/cash-backs on my credit cards. In this article, I will talk about how travelling with credit cards can help you travel for free or cheap.
Are Credit Cards really worth the hype?
Lot of Indians, think of credit cards as something scary. There is also a big misconception about the usage & charges of credit cards. I have been using credit cards for 9 years now and I have never paid a single dime in interest so far. If used wisely, there is no better financial instrument than a credit card.
Even most YouTube travellers when asked about how they afford 2 travel full time, there are 2 common answers:
- Credit card & loyalty membership points
- Making money from digital methods like Youtube videos, blogs, affiliate links or even working online.
I have been travelling with credit cards since 9 years now, but to be frank I started reaping the actual benefits over the last 3-4 years. Prior to that I was just a guy with 13-14 cards who thought – More the merrier. I had no thought process behind owning all these cards.
Over the last 3-4 years though, I analysed my spends, did my research and came up with a select few credit cards that fit my profile & needs.
What are your biggest expenses for a trip?
You would be surprised to know that you can pay for all of these using your credit card points. Most credit cards offer a dedicated portal to book flights, hotels and even sightseeing activities.
Those who don’t, generally offer you the option of redeeming points for credit card vouchers. So to spend the points and travel for free, first we need to earn them.
If you own a HDFC credit card and still are doing your bookings through other portals, then trust me you are missing out on a lot. HDFC Portal Link – https://offers.smartbuy.hdfcbank.com/
Is it worth paying high Annual fees for a Credit Card?
The answer depends on 2 things:
- Annual Spend – If you are not going to spend more than 40-50k annually, getting a card with high annual fees makes no sense. However, if you are a high spender, the rewards will be better, so definitely worth paying the money.
- Spend pattern – If you are a frequent flyer, it makes sense to get an airline co-branded credit card. If you spend money on Amazon then get the Amazon ICICI credit card.
When I started working initially it wouldn’t have made sense to own these Premium credit cards. In fact even now, most of these cards are issued only if you have a good track record i.e. a good credit score. So start small and consistently head up the ladder.
For deciding on the best credit card for travel, check out – Best Credit Cards for Travel. I have mentioned all the credit cards that I am personally using/used in that post.
Maximising your credit card points earning
Now that we know about which credit card to decide, based on our requirements. Let’s look at some sure shot ways to maximise your earnings:
- Choose a credit card with a good reward rate (Preferably 2% at the minimum). You can refer to my list of Best credit cards for travel.
- Put all your expenses, no matter how small on your credit card.
- Most credit card have campaigns/promotions giving you accelerated rewards points. Make full use of them.
- For example, Diner’s Black 10x reward points for hotels/flights booked using their HDFC smart-buy website. That equals an unreal reward rate of 33%.
- Amex, Citibank, ICICI etc have their own accelerated reward offers from time to time.
- If you pay rent, then it would be the easiest way to earn reward points. Start paying rent through online websites like Red Giraffe or No Broker.
- Pay electricity bills, utility bills, insurance etc from Credit cards.
- If you have a specific credit card like an Airline credit card, then make sure you update your Frequent Flyer number in your booking. This way you will earn extra miles.
- Some credit cards have spend based milestones, make best use of them.
- For e.g. If you spent 4L annually on an Amex Travel Card you would get a Taj Voucher worth 10,000 Rs + Travel Vouchers worth 8000 + Normally accrued credit card points worth approx 2000 Rs.
- Also, once you start using credit cards regularly, use the CRED app for paying your credit card bills. The app gives you points for paying bills which can be redeemed for some goodies on the app.
If you can think of any more ideas, let me know in the comments. I’ll add them to the post.
Non reward point benefits of cards – Membership, Discounts and Cash-backs
Some credit cards come with complimentary memberships. While most of these are useless to a normal user, some of them are highly rewarding.
- Priority pass membership/Lounge Access. (This is by far my favourite & most used feature on my credit card. A normal visit otherwise costs $25-40/visit).
- Diners Black offers complimentary Club Marriott membership. Whereas, Citi Prestige & Yes Bank First offer Taj Inner circle membership.
- Diners Black also offers Amazon Prime, Zomato Gold, Times Prime membership as renewal benefits on payment of fees.
- In addition, occasionally most e-commerce as well retail stores come up with cash-back and discount offers on specific credit cards.
Now imagine, that if you expenses are approximately 25,000/month. This would amount to 3L/annum. Consider a conservative overall reward rate of 3% – You have made 9000 Rs worth of points (thats worth a return flight in India) by simply shifting your expenses from cash to credit cards.
Once you slowly learn to make the best use of Accelerated Reward points & offers, you can easily earn 5-35% rewards in the form of points, discounts, memberships & cash-backs.
Best credit cards for travel:
Refer to this list of Best Credit Cards for travel. All of these are credit cards which I have used personally, so I am well aware of their benefits and potential short-comings.