Thursday, January 13, 2022

Travel Hacking with Credit Cards (SoCal Food Allergy)

Our son has been in SoCal Food Allergy Institute program in Long Beach since April of 2019. How do we travel to Long Beach from Texas up to 7 times a year and keep our cost minimal? Travel hacking with credit cards has been a life saver for us. Check out below to see how we utilize each card. Also, look for my other upcoming blogs about travel hacking with Priceline and other helpful tips.

The signup bonuses (SUB) are what makes most credit cards worth getting. These offers go up and down throughout the year, so it is always good to check out how the offer compares before applying. This goes for any of the travel credit card. One of the hardest parts of earning a SUB is the required spend amount, but that is where it is easy for SoCal patients. The program fee or a lab visit will knock out most credit card minimum spend requirements. You might as well be earning money toward air travel, hotels, or even rental cars with each of those major spends.

SOUTHWEST Airlines Rapid Rewards CC
We started with the Southwest cards in 2017 when we had to replace our air conditioner. We signed up for our first card and got a 40k point bonus that we used to fly to Costa Rica on the cheap. The biggest perk of the Southwest SUB is that they help you earn towards getting a Companion Pass (CP), so essentially getting to take your kid (or whoever you designate) free on any flight. The only cost is the $5.60 per one way flight, or $11.20 roundtrip per person. That means if you pay for the flight with the points you get from the SUB and have a companion pass, that is 2 for the price of 1 tickets and $22.40 in fees. I have done roundtrip out of Denver to Long Beach (LGB) for 4500 points for me and my son and just the $22.40. When using that card for monthly expenses we were earning more than that each month in points. With that we were able to maintain our points and have been flying for "free" for the past few years. Amarillo is not the best market for Southwest flights, so we drive to Albuquerque and Denver to get direct flights to LA. Look at all different ways of getting there, and you may find cheaper routes as opposed to booking directly out and back.

The SW SUB range from 40k to 80k, depending on exactly which level card you get. You can only get 1 personal card, so to get to the companion pass you will normally need to get a business card as well. It seems daunting, but there are plenty of examples of how to get these with even the tiniest business (like $500 income level). To get my business card I had to sign for an EIN with the IRS for my photography business, but was approved quickly after I got that. Currently with SW, the threshold for the CP is 125k points. That makes the CP pretty hard to earn with a single card, but it can be done. Hotel stays and rental cars can help earn bonus points that add in as well. Avis, Alamo, Budget,  and Hertz are all partners with SW, which will get you a 600 point bonus with each rental if you put in your SW Rapid Reward (RR) number at booking.

You can earn a new SUB every 2 years to help replenish the points stash in your account as well. The card just needs to be paid off and the card be closed before applying for the SW card again. Between my wife and I, we have earned 4 companion passes since 2017. We have also got a number of referral bonuses from referring friends to get the cards as well, which have a 10k to 20k bonus. 

The cards have a number of benefits that you just have to weigh against the cost of the card. Annual fees range from $69 to $149 on the personal and $199 on the business, but my favorite are the most expense ones due to the benefits included. The business card is the only gives you free internet on flights, which is my favorite to have because of that. The included travel credits and annual bonus points really help even out the cost of the high priced cards.


Some may not have Southwest as an option, but it is our go to due the ability to earn companion passes. Research other airline cards if Southwest doesn't work for you as they all offer some type of card. Be sure to read the section about the CSP card below, as it is the ultimate all-around travel reward card. Rewards on the CSP can be used across airlines, hotels, and even car rentals.

Hotel Cards & Travel Cards

After reducing your you flight cost, you may start to try and reduce other major costs like the hotels. That is what we did and signed up for a number of cards, that included Marriott and IHG as we use those hotel brands the most.

Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) - I want to mention this card first before the hotel branded cards. I didn't learn about the Chase Sapphire Preferred until after I got the other cards, but when it comes to earning and rewards it is the top tier. The benefits of the card when booking are some the the best too. Car rental protection and travel interruption coverage are some of my favorite features of it. This card bonus is one of the best, even when it is not at it highest SUB. At a 60k SUB, that is worth $750 worth of travel through the Chase Portal. When they bump that offer to 100k, that is $1250 in travel. You can book airlines, hotel, and even rental cars through the portal. The portal can be used to book without the credits as well, and spending with the card gets you 5x bonus on any travel booked. The Reserve card will get you a 10x bonus, but it's annual fee is a bit high for my taste. If you are considering a travel credit card, this would be my first choice behind the Southwest card.


Marriott Bonvoy -
 If Marriot brand is your hotel of choice then this is an a must. SUB is generally 3 to 5 nights worth of rewards and the card gives you automatic Silver Elite status that can be used to request late checkout and other awesome features. On top of annual free night reward, you can also earn 10x points on stays to earn toward more free stays. The hotel cards with the annual fees are always worth it for the benefits provided with the fee. It is only $95 a year on this card.


IHG Premier
- Once we started staying at Staybridge Suites, this card became an automatic must so we could earn 25x on each stay. Perks of this card are great too. The SUB is worth 5-7 nights depending on the hotel cost. Also includes the free annual night & Platinum Elite status, which can get you complimentary room upgrades and extended check out. For an $89 annual fee this card is also a must in my book.



Other cards and useful information
If these cards don't match your needs or are not the brands you use, shop around and find one that works for you. At minimum you are missing out on free travel when you pay the program or lab fees by not putting these on a rewards card. Even if you don't need to use the rewards on trips to LA, they can be use towards vacations at other times. As with any credit card though, be sure to keep the balances paid or the benefits can out weighed fairly quickly. All the cards above are under Chase and are subject to the 5/24 rule. 5/24 means you can not open 5 or more Chase cards in less than 24 month period. As you jump into travel hacking just be sure to pace yourself and stay aware of your 5/24 status. Being listed as an Authorized User on a card will count against your 5/24 status as well.

If you found this information useful, please use the above referral links to help us afford the getting our son through the SoCal Food Allergy program. If you have any questions, reach out on here, Facebook, or even Twitter, I will be happy to help.




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