Jan 18 2016

How we leveraged credit card points to fly for free

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View of the Magic Kingdom from atop the Contemporary in the California Grill restaurant. Got there with free flights thanks to credit card rewards!

Our Chase Southwest credit cards have been so worthwhile to us. Though these are the first cards where we have had an annual fee ($99!) it has been a small price to pay for the value received.
I called to close my Chase Southwest credit card over the weekend, before the next $99 annual fee posted. We will keep my husband’s card active.
 
Thanks to the 50,000 bonus point sign-up offer, a few 5,000 point referrals (including one I referred to my husband), and regular spending, we had 5 free round-trip flights to Orlando, and we will have 3 free round-trip flights to Fort Myers later this year. I have 14,000ish points left for some other trip at some point (need to use within 24 months or continue earning Rapid Rewards to keep it active). Note: I did have to pay $11 round trip per fare out of pocket as a Sept. 11 security fee — points wouldn’t cover it.
The Chase Southwest 50,000 bonus isn’t available to the public right now. Do NOT sign up for the card for only 25,000 bonus points! I can refer up to 10 people for the 50,000 point bonus (terms are you spend $2,000 on the card in the first 3 months of having it. The $99 annual fee posts to the first statement and does not count toward your initial $2k spend. Email me if you’d like a referral email for the card. If you apply and get approved, I get a 5,000 point bonus. Thank you!
Thanks to my husband’s frequent business travel (which is thankfully over now!) he has something like 135,000 Southwest points AND the Companion Pass good through December so one of us can fly free with him. This is enough to fly our family of five for free to somewhere expensive points-wise, or two trips to a cheaper points destination. Maybe even 2.5 trips? We’ll see!

 

My husband racked up the points fast because of the 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest and its partners, plus bonus points for some partners. For example, every time he rented a car through Budget through the Southwest website, he used coupon codes to lower the price AND earn him an extra 1,200 points per booking. The typical $200 rental was credited as 400 points on the credit card.

 

He tried to stay at Marriott-owned hotels when possible, since they were closest to his work site and staying with a loyalty program helped him to earn free nights for our upcoming Fort Myers trip. Can you fly 5 people round-trip to Florida for 3 nights and pay less than $500 for the trip? I can, thanks to all of those points plus some cash from our PNC cash back card! ($55 for Sept. 11 fees for 5 people, $149 for one nights in a hotel suite (we only had enough points for 2 free nights), $167 for a rental vehicle = $371 total. Add money for food and misc.)

 

The Chase Southwest card is right for you if:
    • You live close enough to an airport where Southwest flies, AND you want to go to some destinations served by Southwest. Look to see how many points are required for typical and sale price round-trip fares. For example, I see round trip to Washington, D.C. from Indianapolis for as little as $59 one-way, or around 5,000 points round-trip. Our RT to Orlando was about 11,200 points each, and our upcoming Fort Myers trip will be around 12,200 each unless I rebook the flight if the prices drop (it happened several times for our Orlando trip and I rebooked for free and received the points balance back, so I will continue to check for a price drop!)
    • You like their no baggage fees on top of the fare
    • You can spend $2,000 in the first 3 months of having the card to get the 50,000 point bonus
    • You have a destination in mind where it makes more sense to fly rather than drive
    • You are financially able to take on a new credit card (not taking out a mortgage or refinancing any time soon, not taking out a car loan, or anything else like that on the horizon). Also, you are not carrying a credit card balance and have money in emergency savings.

 

As I mentioned, we will keep my husband’s Chase Southwest card open for the time being and we will continue to use it if he has any future business travel. We’ll also use it for a small reoccurring bill. That way, the points will stay active in his Rapid Rewards account until we can use them. The $99 annual fee will post in the coming months and along with it, a 6,000 point bonus.

But primarily, we will switch the bulk of our spending to our PNC cash back card, where we earn 1.75% cash back on all purchases. We have enough airline miles to get us where we need to go for the foreseeable future, so cash back makes more sense right now. I will also keep my eyes open for my next card to leverage. A super sweet sign-up bonus and points or money to use for a future trip? Yes, please!

How are you using credit card rewards?

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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