Travel for Free with Rewards Credit Cards
How are you keeping up with your New Year’s resolution? If it had anything to do with traveling more (especially if Thailand’s on the list), then we’ve got something that can help with your upcoming trip. This post is all about how to travel for free with rewards credit cards… and it’s not just for Americans.

Although we can’t take credit for the method, we’ve personally ‘hacked’ travel rewards credit cards and earned enough points to cover the price of several flights to and from Thailand. With a better understanding of how to earn these points and applying the strategy yourself, you can too.

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Learn how you can travel for free - flights, hotel stay, and more - by learning how to 'hack' travel rewards credit cards. | Tieland to Thailand

Benefits of Using Credit Card Rewards Points

Generally speaking, there are two types of travel rewards credit cards: general purpose and brand specific. Both give points or miles when you use their credit cards to make purchases. However, they typically give extra points for making specific purchases. General purpose credit cards typically do this for such as gas and groceries while for brand specific credit cards do this with airlines and hotels.

What’s most important, though, is that these rewards credit cards give you a large bonus simply for signing up and meeting a minimum spending threshold and paying that balance off within a short period of time.

These points or miles can be accrued and later redeemed for a free flight, car rental, hotel stay, and more. By combining the sign-up bonuses of several rewards credit cards, regularly taking advantage of points or miles promotions, and paying for all your expenses via credit cards, you can earn enough points to cover the cost equivalent of international flights and long vacation stays without having to spend any extra money.

Best Rewards Credit Cards

There is no one perfect rewards credit card. Of the many available, each one offers a unique set of benefits (and some drawbacks) that aren’t suited for everyone’s travel styles. However, when looking for the perfect card (or two or three), you’ll want to consider a few important criteria:

  • Points earned versus money spent
  • Maximum opportunities to redeem rewards (no blackout dates, no restrictions or caps)
  • Annual fee and APR outweigh the value of extra rewards

Additional perks to keep an eye out for include no rewards points expiration period, no foreign transaction fees, and no checked baggage fees. It’s also excellent to receive 2-for-1 companion tickets and to earn points if you book with travel partners.

Below are several reward credit cards for various countries that offer substantial sign-up bonuses to help jump-start your traveling goals.

Australia’s Rewards Credit Cards

Credit Card Annual Fee Sign-up Bonus Rewards
ANZ Frequent Flyer Black
19.99% APR
425 AUD
(0 AUD first year)
Earn 75,000 Qantas points by spending 2,500 AUD within the first 3 months 1x points per AUD spent
ANZ Rewards
18.79% APR
80 AUD
(0 AUD first year)
Earn 25,000 points by spending 2,500 AUD within the first 3 months 1x points per AUD spent
ANZ Rewards Black
19.99% APR
375 AUD
(0 AUD first year)
Earn 75,000 points by spending 2,500 AUD within the first 3 months 2x points per AUD spent
ANZ Rewards Platinum
18.79% APR
95 AUD
(0 AUD first year)
Earn 65,000 points by spending 2,500 AUD within the first 3 months 1.5x points per AUD spent
Bendigo Bank Platinum Rewards MasterCard
19.99% to 21.99% APR
89 AUD Earn 100,000 points by spending 2,500 AUD within the first 90 days 1.5x points per AUD spent
Coles Reward MasterCard
19.99% APR
89 AUD Earn 20,000 points on your first purchase within the first 30 days 2x points per AUD spent

Canada’s Rewards Credit Cards

Credit Card Annual Fee Sign-up Bonus Rewards
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
19.99% APR
99 CAD, 79 CAD if you’re 65+ years old
(0 CAD first year)
Earn 25,000 points by spending 1,000 CAD within the first 3 months 4x points for gas, grocery, dining, and entertainment purchases, 1x points per CAD spent on other purchases
TD Platinum Travel Visa
19.99% APR
89 CAD Earn 15,000 TD points for first purchase & 10,000 TD points by spending 1,000 CAD within the first 90 days 3x points for groceries and bills, 5x points for booking travel online through ExpediaForTD.com, 2x points per CAD spent on other purchases
CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite
19.99% APR
120 CAD (first year receive rebate) Earn 15,000 Adventure points with first purchase 1.5x points per CAD spent on groceries, gas, drug stores, 1x points per CAD spent on other purchases
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
19.99% APR
120 CAD Earn 25,000 Starpoints by spending 1,500 CAD within the first 3 months 2x points earned at gas stations, grocery stores, drugstores, 1x points earned per CAD spent
American Express Rewards Gold Card
Balance must be paid off each month (30% APR for balances not paid in full)
150 CAD Earn 25,000 points by spending 1,500 CAD within the first 3 months 2x points earned at gas stations, grocery stores, drugstores, hotel, car rental, and travel, 1x points earned per CAD spent, 75 USD hotel credit to use on amenities

The United Kingdom’s Rewards Credit Cards

Credit Card Annual Fee Sign-up Bonus Rewards
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
36.2% APR
75 GBP 10,000 Starwood sign-up points if you spend 3,000 GBP within the first 3 months 1x points earned per GBP spent
British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card
22.9% APR
195 GBP Earn 25,000 Avios points if you spend 3,000 GBP within the first 3 months 2-for-1 travel if you spend 10,000 GBP each membership year, 1.5x points earned per GBP spent
British Airways American Express Credit Card
22.9% APR
No annual fee Earn 5,000 Avios points by spending 1,000 GBP within the first 3 months 2-for-1 travel if you spend 20,000 GBP each membership year, 1x points earned per GBP spent
Preferred Rewards Gold Card
Balance must be paid off each month
140 GBP
(0 GBP first year)
Earn 20,000 points by spending 2,000 GBP within the first 3 months 10,000 anniversary points when you spend at least 15,000 GBP each membership year, 1x points earned per GBP spent

The United States’ Rewards Credit Cards

Starred cards (*) have 0% foreign transaction fees.
Credit Card Annual Fee Sign-up Bonus Rewards
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card*
17.24% to 24.24% APR
95 USD
(0 USD first year)
Earn 50,000 points by spending 4,000 USD within the first 3 months; 5,000 points after adding first authorized user 20% off travel purchases using points, 2x travel and dining points earned per USD spent
Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card*
17.24% to 24.24% APR
99 USD Earn 50,000 points by spending 2,000 USD within the first 3 months 6,000 anniversary bonus points; 2x points earned through Southwest airline and partner hotel & car rental purchases
Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Card
17.24% to 24.24% APR
69 USD Earn 50,000 points by spending 2,000 USD within the first 3 months 3,000 anniversary bonus points; 2x points earned through Southwest airline and partner hotel & car rental purchases
Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard*
17.24%, 21.24% or 24.24% APR
89 USD
(0 USD first year)
Earn 45,000 points by spending 3,000 USD within the first 90 days 2x miles for every USD spent
Venture from Capital One*
14.24% to 24.24% APR
95 USD
(0 USD first year)
Earn 50,000 points by spending 3,000 CAD within the first 3 months 2x points for every USD spent
Starwood Preferred Guest from American Express*
16.49% to 20.49% APR
95 USD
(0 USD first year)
Earn 25,000 Starpoints by spending 3,000 USD within the first 3 months 5x Starpoints per USD spent at Starwood hotels, 2x Starpoints per USD spent at Marriott, 1x Starpoints for all other eligible purchases.
Bank of America Travel Rewards Card*
0% introductory APR first 12 months, 16.24% to 24.24% APR
No annual fee Earn 20,000 points by spending 3,000 USD within the first 90 days 1.5x points per USD spent

How to Meet the Minimum Spending Limit

These credit cards have minimum spending requirements. They often amounting to thousands of dollars or pounds in the first few months of sign-up. However, it IS possible to meet the quota without spending beyond your means.

To meet the minimum spending limit, the secret is to pay for items in advance that you would normally buy.

This may sound ridiculously simple, but you can jump-start your minimum first 90-day quota by:

  • Purchasing 1,000+ dollars or pounds worth of gift cards at your preferred grocery store(s)
  • Buying gift cards at your favorite restaurant(s) (if you eat out a lot)
  • Pre-loading generic AMEX gift cards with 1,000 dollars or pounds

Spread your spending out over the course of the 3 months or 90 days to make it easier to pay back the balance each month. Don’t buy everything up front unless you can afford to. Otherwise, you’ll carry a balance that will accrue interest and that’s not good.

Then, use those gift cards to buy your groceries, meals out, or other expenses for months later.

TIP: Some gift cards may have a small loading fee associated with them (around 2 dollars or pounds). To minimize this fee, buy gift cards in the highest denomination possible. Many gift cards are available in 100-dollar or -pound denominations but some brands offer much higher denominations.

Best Techniques to Maximize Your Points

Here are several ways to keep up excellent rewards credit card hacking habits:

  1. Combine sign-up bonuses of several rewards credit cards to meet international travel goals. Get your partner to do the same to double your points. Or, add an authorized to your existing account for extra points (some, not all, cards offer this).
  2. Regularly take advantage of points or miles promotions. This might be a 200% bonus for buying a certain product (hotel, airline ticket) with a specific rewards credit card.
  3. Always pay your credit card balance in full. If you don’t, the accrued interest or monthly fees is money you could’ve still had in your bank account.
  4. Charge all your purchases on your credit card. This may be second nature to some people. However, others may have a habit of using their debit card or cash for certain items. Break this habit and use your credit card instead to maximize your points earned. If you have more than one card, be sure to use the one that gives you the most points for certain purchases such as gas, groceries, dining out, etc.
  5. Don’t do balance transfers to your new travel rewards credit card. And don’t take out cash advances. First off, it’s likely you’ll pay a fee for both transactions. Second, you won’t earn any points for these transactions. Third, they take up room on your credit card, making you have less available room to earn rewards.

If you plan to live in Thailand, would you like to know what the best debit card is or the most overseas-friendly credit card is? Want to know what how to apply for a travel rewards card if you’re already living in Thailand? We answer these questions and more in our Thailand Expat Academy. Sign up to be notified when our membership site goes live.

A Few Words of Caution

Now that you know the details, we have a few words of warning. After all, we don’t want you to spiral into debt while chasing after a free flight to Thailand.

First, this rewards credit card hacking method will only work for people who have very good to excellent credit scores. It’s typically not available for people with poor credit scores.

Second, when you choose a travel rewards credit card, the minimum spending amount should be low enough that you can afford to pay the balance off in full each month. For example, if you choose a card with a 2,000 dollar spending minimum across 3 months, you need to be able to spend and pay off 2,000`dollars ÷ 3 = 667 dollars each month. If that is something you can’t afford, look for a travel rewards credit card with a lower spending threshold.

TIP: Your annual fee doesn’t count toward the minimum spending amount.

Third, don’t try to earn the spending bonus on more than one credit card at a time unless it’s in your budget. If you can’t handle spending across multiple credit cards, then you risk harming your credit and going into debt.

Lastly, the benefits of reward credit cards cannot be reaped at the last minute. This method works best if you apply for these cards long before you redeem the points for your trip. It usually takes several weeks to have your account credited your points, and if you use the entire three months to spend and pay off the balance of your card, you could be waiting for 4 or 5 months. Once your points have been issued, you can book your flights. However, just keep in mind that buying flights at the last minute usually costs more money/points than if you were to book them several months in advance.

What has your experience been with using travel rewards credit cards? Have you ever heard of this ‘hack’ before? Let us know in the comments below.

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