How to Travel The World for Free

by Sean Bryant on July 9, 2013

Travel the World for FreeIn my ideal world I would be able to visit each and every one of the 195 different countries, but let’s be realistic it probably won’t happen. There is a good chance I won’t even come close. One of my biggest passions in life is being able to travel the world and see new places. There is so much out there, from different foods to different cultures and I want to be able to experience it all. I have traveled to the Dominican Republic where 20 percent of the country lives in severe poverty, yet I have also been to Switzerland, which is one of the most affluent nations in the world.

Being able to travel the world is something that a lot of people strive to do, but never get the chance because it can be a major financial obstacle. I like to think that I live a very frugal lifestyle. I enjoy nice things, like my home and a nice meal out every once in awhile, but I also use coupons when I shop and the only time I buy clothes is when I need them. I have always been this way and it’s because I want to save plenty of money to plan that next getaway for my family.

Stop Paying to Travel and Start Traveling the World for Free

What if I told you that you could travel the world for free? You might jump for joy and say, “Count me in!” That’s what I did when I found out our vacations were going to start costing next to nothing.

So now I probably have you wondering what you need to do and what’s the catch. Well, first off there is no catch, all you need to do is take advantage of generous credit card sign-up bonuses. Most credit card companies run their offers in cycles. The rewards can range anywhere from 20,000 miles, all the way up to an occasional 100,000 mile offer.

I have taken advantage of 50,000 mile offers in the past to sign up for Citi American Airlines personal and business credit cards. That is 100,000 miles for doing nothing more than filling out my information. Want to know what 100,000 American Airlines miles will get you? How about two round trip tickets to Europe with 20,000 miles left over.

There are a lot of different travel reward credit cards available however some of the most popular are from Chase because of their Chase Ultimate Rewards program. With Chase Ultimate rewards you are able to transfer any points earned at a 1:1 ratio to any of the following partners.

  • United Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • British Air­ways
  • Korean Air
  • Vir­gin Atlantic
  • Amtrak
  • Hyatt
  • Marriott
  • Priority Club
  • Ritz-Carlton

A lot of people really like cashing their points in with United Airlines MileagePlus because of their availability, however, I find Southwest to be the best for me. Last month, I was able to transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest and booked tickets from Denver to Chicago for just 4,000 points each way per person.

You might have noticed that Hyatt is on the list of participating Balance Reward members. #FinCon13 is at the Hyatt in St Louis, so that means I will be staying at the hotel for free using my Chase Ultimate Reward points.

Earning Reward Points to Travel the World for Free

After you sign up for your credit cards, there are several different ways that you can earn additional miles. The most basic is by simply putting all of your everyday purchases on the card. The next way to maximize your rewards is by using a shopping portal to do any online shopping. My two favorites are the AAdvantage Shopping and Chase Ultimate Rewards Shopping. These allow me to earn additional miles for every dollar that I spend.

Final Thoughts

Personally, I feel that credit cards get a really bad wrap, especially from the personal finance world. Credit cards are an amazing tool for responsible borrowers. We all have purchases that we make each day, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t get rewarded for them. Thanks to the rewards that my wife and I have received from our cards we have nearly 400,000 worth of points and miles just waiting to be used to travel the world.  Now, at least it’s not going to cost us any cash.

Do you collect credit card miles?  What is the best trip you have taken without spending money?

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Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant created in 2011 to help pass along his knowledge of finance and economics to others. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in economics he worked as a construction superintendent before jumping into the world of finance. Sean has worked on the trade desk for a commodities brokerage firm, he was a project manager for an investment research company and was a CDO analyst at a big bank. That being said he brings a good understanding of the finance field to the One Smart Dollar community. When not working Sean and he wife are avid world travelers. He enjoys spending time with his daughter Colette and dog Charlie.

Latest posts by Sean Bryant (see all)

  • Great post! We are debating about whether or not we want a new house or stay in our current. If we decide just to stay, then I am definitely going to open up some travel rewards cards!

  • Problem with this question -> “What is the best trip you have taken without spending money?” is that I have never traveled for free! I plan on looking into credit card travel rewards more so in the future, and I even hope to start a travel blog this year that hopefully will eventually get me sponsored trips. I have a theory that’s the best way to get free travel, but if I combined that with credit card churning it would be combo for the win.

  • Justin @ The Family Finances

    My wife and I aren’t really the traveling type. At least not “world” travel. There are so many places here in the US that I’d like to see that are one our travel list. I haven’t really used the miles cards, though. I typically stick to the cash-back cards, and I’ve been happy with them.

  • For sure. We are looking to buy a new place in about a year so we won’t be taking out any more credit cards until after that is completed.

  • If you want to take out a travel credit card look at the Chase Southwest card. Right now you can get 50,000 southwest points. That comes to roughly 5 round-trip “wanna get away” trips.

  • CanadianBudgetBinder

    It seems pretty lucrative those credit cards. Are there any cons to signing up to all these cards? Is there a catch? Almost seems to good to be true. We use a couple of credit cards mainly for in-store rewards which are worth it no matter what way you look at it. I’d love to travel for free!! I’ve travelled to many countries around the world and like you enjoy every moment of it.

    • The only real con is not to do it if you are looking to take out a mortgage in 1-2 years. The impact on your credit score for each card you get is only 2-5 points which can be made up rather quickly. You just have to make sure you stay on top of your application dates so you know when to call and negotiate to get the annual fee waived.

  • Pension Retirement

    I’m a big fan of getting paid for my credit rating and for spending that would occur regardless of a new credit card. I recently signed up for the Chase Sapphire card, and collected my points for my normal spending rates. I’m thinking about doing the same with a few other cards in the hope of getting to and from Europe for free.

    What are your thoughts on concentrate all spending versus spreading it around?

  • Wow, to travel around the globe for free! Very interesting post. That is the good thing of having a credit cards that offers air miles perks. I am earning points from my credit cards but the earned points cannot pay one way ticket to Bangkok or Boracay.

  • The Chase Transfer program is great, but I believe it is only available on their higher end fee cards like the Sapphire Preferred which comes with a $95 annual fee. I know I can’t transfer points with my Chase Freedom, which is a bummer.

    • When you get close to your annual fee date all you need to do is call them and let them know you are wanting to cancel because the card isn;t worth the fee for you. Most of the time they will waive the fee and even give you additional points/miles to continue using the card.

      • I researched this pretty heavily online and couldn’t find any examples of them waiving the fee on the sapphire preferred card. I tried myself, but they downgraded me to sapphire regular card.

  • Cat Alford/ Budget Blonde

    So this means you’re coming to Grenada next right? 😀

    • haha we are planning on doing a trip to the Caribbean this winter, but not sure which island yet 🙂

  • Right now the sign-up bonuses are very lucrative and most of them are enough for a round-trip ticket to europe and almost enough for a round trip ticket to Asia.

  • if you take out more than one card just make sure you can cover to initial spend to get the sign on bonus. I think it’s smart to spread the spending out. There are cards that are good for certain things. Your Chase Sapphire is great for restaurants. Whereas a Chase Ink business card gives you 5x points at office supply stores. Use the card that will be best for each particular purchase.

  • This is great advice. My husband and I have been looking for a new credit card for some time now, but haven’t been able to choose one. We pay our balance off in full every month, so it makes complete sense for us to be rewarded just for making everyday purchases. Thanks for sharing.

    • Paying it off each month is the key. If you do that then there is no reason why you should get rewarded for the purchases that you are going to make anyways.

  • I’d love to have a card like that, but in Europe they aren’t that good. People don’t tend to carry a balance so companies would go bankrupt!

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