Credit Card Strategies

“Playing The Game” Pt. 3 – Travel Card Use

It all started with a trip to Australia...
It all started with a trip to Australia...

Here’s how I put my travel card tips to good use!

Using the tips in Pt. 2 of this series, I developed my own travel strategy. This post is meant to show examples of how to implement those tips!

I cascaded travel expenses at certain points throughout the last year. Below are examples of how I did this, and you’ll quickly start seeing a theme:

  • I had a future travel goal,
  • determined the major financial hurdle with that goal,
  • researched the credit card with the sign-up bonus that will help the most with that future hurdle,
  • applied for the card and charged current travel expenses to it for the bonus,
  • and used the bonus to subsidize that future hurdle.

Let’s travel back in time…

Subsidizing airfare

One of the first travel cards I applied for was the Citi Prestige Card. I used the card to buy cheap airfare and use some Marriott rewards points for hotel stays during my Australia trip in Fall 2016.  My wife had already told me that she wanted to visit Hawaii for the first time for our next anniversary. Unfortunately, we married in June, and summer airfares are not cheap. So, I used the sign-up bonus Thank You points to bring a $1600 pair of plane tickets down to $280 to Hawaii in June 2017!

My wife and I laughing all the way to the bank - Kona Brewing Company, Kona, HI
My wife and I laughing all the way to the bank – Kona Brewing Company, Kona, HI

Subsidizing Hotel Stays

My friends shortly thereafter expressed interest in going to Japan, and asked us to tag along. I was already thinking to go to Europe next year as I was eyeing some good fares around Thanksgiving. Problem is, hotels in London and Paris are not cheap! So, I applied to the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) in January 2017. I used the card to buy cheap airfare, bullet train tickets, and my prepaid hotel stays in February 2017 for the Japan trip in April. At the time, the CSR had a 100k Ultimate Rewards point sign up bonus. I used the bonus to book free nights in Europe during Thanksgiving in November 2017! I will end up not paying a cent to stay in the UK and France!

So many reviews to make!
So many reviews to make!

Foreseeing large travel expenses

By this point, my wife caught the travel bug hard. She saw some over-water bungalows on the internet, and we knew we had to do that!

I figured I would end up buying a lot of things in Japan. I also had to be a groomsman at my brother’s wedding in the Dominican Republic in August 2017. Unfortunately for me, August prices are expensive from LAX to PUJ (Punta Cana), especially with my wife coming too. So, in March 2017, I signed up for the Chase Hyatt Card, which gave me 2 free nights at any Hyatt property in the world (this sign up bonus no longer exists). I timed my application so that I would get the card a few weeks before my Japan trip. I even got my wife one too! With two cards of a $2000 minimum spend requirement each, we did two things:

  1. I bought the Punta Cana airfare on my wife’s Hyatt card. That filled up the minimum spend requirement real quick.
  2. I used the second card in Japan, like buying rare video games in Akihabara or trying a delicious Wagyu beef dinner in Kobe. We also filled up the minimum spend requirement on the second card that trip!
I wonder if you know, how they live in Tokyo.
I wonder if you know, how they live in Tokyo! If you seen it then you mean it, then you know you have to go!

As soon as we got back from Japan, I used the certificates for 4 free nights in February 2018 at the Park Hyatt Hadahaa in the Maldives!

Strangely enough, when you use free Hyatt nights,each free night shows as its own reservation, even know I'm assigned to the same room...
Strangely enough, when you use free Hyatt nights, each night shows as its own reservation, even know I’m assigned to the same room…

Use bonuses to cover unforeseen travel expenses

I still had to pay for the Dominican Republic resort stay. For this, I signed up for the Barclay Arrival Plus card. It has a $500 cashback sign-up bonus on travel expenses only, and I was not sure what to use it for yet. I was still working on this card when I arrived at the resort. Apparently, I only put 1 guest in my order even though my wife was with me. The resort wanted me to pay upfront for the second person (an $800 dollar charge). Otherwise, they would refund my money and kick me out of the resort. But, I didn’t sweat it, I’m glad I had this card on me! I used it for my wife, and shortly thereafter I met the $3k minimum spend requirement. I used the card’s $500 cashback sign up bonus as a sort of emergency fund to subsidize our resort stay! By the way, I also did double check my online booking in case they were trying to fleece me! Sure enough, the resort was honest.

Truth be told, it was worth the expense...
Truth be told, it was worth the expense…

Foreseeing even larger travel expenses

I want to visit Seoul sometime next year. But, it’s a long flight that I would love to apply an AA Systemwide Upgrade for. I would really get great value out of that as I need to stop in Dallas first for a Seoul flight on American! But, I can only get those upgrades as an Executive Platinum member. I stand a chance of not retaining that status for next year. So, I went on the hunt for a mileage run! I found a $2200 LAX-HKG-AKL flight to achieve AA Executive Platinum status again. I applied for the Ritz Carlton Credit Card to charge it, and I get two free nights on a $4k minimum spend requirement. After about an extra 2 months of regular expenses, I received the nights! Now I’m thinking about splitting that week-long Seoul trip with a stay in Bali to use those nights next June in 2018 for my 4th year wedding anniversary!

Turns out its cheaper to visit two countries in a week!
Turns out its cheaper to use my certs in one Bali and visit South Korea in one week than to stay in Bali or Korea for the same week!


Plenty of examples above show you how that you can use the sign-up bonuses of various cards to either subsidize or outright pay for your hotel or airfare. In some cases, the sign-up bonuses practically plan your next vacation! If you can also time additional credit cards for use DURING a vacation like I did with Japan or the Dominican Republic, funding your next vacation is practically automatic. I might just do this before I head to Europe this year!


About the author


Jonathan "Jonny" Avila is a chubby young professional with a cat, wife, and a taste for life! Believes in 'paying it forward' by sharing the tools, tips, tricks, and lessons from his own experiences so you too can jump on the Travel Bandwagon and enjoy what this wonderful world has to offer!

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment