Can Folks Who Don’t Do a Lot of Spending Still Earn Big Travel?

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Million Mile Secrets reader, Garrick, commented:

Would you be able to provide strategies and insight into collecting miles at different income levels?  Many cards are touted as great, but require spending of $20,000+ a year.
For young people like myself who don’t come anywhere near that, do you have any recommendations for cards or programs to stick with?  Based on my yearly spending I feel like it would be best to stick to 1 program such as AMEX Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Garrick, you’ve come to the right place!  Million Mile Secrets is all about how folks like you can get Big Travel with Small Money.

Can Folks Who Don't Do A Lot Of Spending Still Earn Big Travel
You Don’t Need to Be a Big Spender to Make Your Travel Dreams a Reality!

Let’s take a look at how folks who don’t do much spending can still save thousands of dollars on travel!  And I’ll explain how to decide which cards to start with.

Do You Need to Spend a Ton of Money to Get Into This Hobby?

Link:   The 5 Dangers of Applying for Credit Cards

No.  Some cards offer incentives (i.e. bonus miles and elite status) for Big Spenders.  But most folks don’t push to earn these extra perks.

That’s because the most efficient way to earn miles and points for Big Travel is by applying for Big Travel credit cards and earning the sign-up bonuses.

While Garrick will have to meet minimum spending requirements to earn the bonus, this can be as little as completing a single purchase of ANY amount with cards like Discover it® Cash Back!

Can Folks Who Don't Do A Lot Of Spending Still Earn Big Travel
The Change in Your Pocket Is Enough to Earn the Sign-Up Bonus With Some Cards, Including a Number of Airline Rewards Credit Cards

For most folks applying for lots of credit cards does NOT hurt their credit score.  In fact, many times it increases your score because you’re showing you know how to handle credit responsibly.

But Garrick should keep in mind, there are some risks!  If you don’t pay your bills on-time, signing-up for credit cards can ruin your credit score.  So I recommend folks who are new to this hobby start out slow.

Sign-up for 1 or 2 cards to get a feel for how everything works and to make sure you can keep track of it all.

So he could sign-up for the Chase Hyatt card and earn 2 nights at ANY Hyatt hotel for spending just $1,000 on purchases within the 1st 3 months of opening his account.

Then he can use his 2 nights at luxurious hotels like the Hyatt Key West Resort & Spa!

Can Folks Who Don't Do A Lot Of Spending Still Earn Big Travel
Unwind at the Hyatt Key West Resort & Spa With Your Certificates From the Chase Hyatt Card!

Plus, he’ll get a night at a category 1 to 4 hotel each year he keeps the card and pays the $75 (waived the 1st year) annual fee.

That’s a fantastic deal!

You May Be Able to Spend More Than You Think!

Link:   40+ Ways to Meet Minimum Spending Requirements

Garrick likely has a major expense like rent or college tuition.  Imagine if that expenditure counted towards your credit card spending!

He can make it happen by charging PIN-enabled gift cards on his credit card.  Then using the gift cards to fund an AMEX Prepaid account and send a check to cover these bills from his online account!

Can Folks Who Don't Do A Lot Of Spending Still Earn Big Travel
With AMEX Prepaid Cards You Can Pay Rent, Student Loans, and Utilities With a Credit Card!

And if you don’t want to hassle with gift cards, you can use services like Plastiq or Radpad to pay bills that usually don’t accept credit cards.

Keep in mind, these payment services charge fees and each gift card comes with a ~$4 to ~$7 activation fee.  But it could be worth it for a sign-up bonus you wouldn’t otherwise be able to earn.

For example, you could sign-up for the Citi ThankYou Premier and buy $3,000 in PIN-enabled gift cards within the 1st 3 months of opening your account.  $3,000 in gift cards would cost you $42 ($7 fee per card X 6 $500 gift cards).

After adding that money to your AMEX Prepaid account such as Bluebird, Serve, or REDcard, (here’s how) you use the service to send checks to your landlord, school, etc.

I’d definitely pay $42 to earn the 50,000 Citi ThankYou points sign-up bonus!

That’s because 50,000 Citi ThankYou points can be worth $625 in airfare, hotels, cruises, and car rentals.  So you’re coming out ahead ~$583 ($625 in flights – $42 in fees). 

Can Folks Who Don't Do A Lot Of Spending Still Earn Big Travel
Would You Pay $42 for $625 in Airfare? I Know I Would!

There’s no annual fee the 1st year with the Citi ThankYou Premier card, and it’s easy to cancel later if you decide it’s not worth it.

And for cards that have larger minimum spending requirements, you can use my 40+ tricks for putting money on your card without breaking the bank.

Flexible Points Are a Great Place to Start

Link:   Beginner’s Guide to Miles & Points

Link:   How to Decide Which Hotel Card Is Right for You

Garrick is new to miles and points, so I suggest he read my Beginner’s Guide for overview of how to get started.

It’s a good idea to set your travel goals before you start applying for cards, so you don’t spend time collecting points that aren’t useful to you.
Can Folks Who Don't Do A Lot Of Spending Still Earn Big Travel
Where in the World Do You Want to Go?

Once you know where you want to go, you can decide which cards will help you get there.  My guide on choosing the right hotel credit card can help.

Don’t know what adventure life may lead you to next?  Flexible points are an excellent option.  They transfer to a variety of airline, hotel, and rail partners.

AMEX Membership Rewards partners include:

 American Express Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners 
AeroMexicoAir CanadaAlitalia
ANAAsia MilesBritish Airways
DeltaEl AlEmirates
EtihadFlying Blue (Air France / KLM)Hawaiian Airlines
IberiaJetBlueSingapore Airlines
Virgin Atlantic
 American Express Membership Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners 

And you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to:

 Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners 
Aer LingusBritish AirwaysFlying Blue (Air France/KLM)
IberiaJetBlueSingapore Airlines
SouthwestUnited AirlinesVirgin Atlantic
 Chase Ultimate Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners 

Or if you collect Citi ThankYou points you’ll get access to the following partners:

 Citi ThankYou Points Airline Transfer Partners 
AviancaAsia Miles (Cathay Pacific)EVA Air
EtihadFlying Blue (Air France/KLM)Garuda Indonesia
Jet AirwaysJetBlueMalaysia Airlines
QantasQatar AirwaysSingapore Airlines
Thai AirwaysTurkish AirlinesVirgin Atlantic
 Citi ThankYou Points Hotel Transfer Partners 
Hilton Hotels

Finally, Starwood has 30+ airline partners:

 Starwood Preferred Guest Airline Transfer Partners 
AegeanAeroMexicoAir Canada
Air ChinaAir New ZealandAlaska Airlines
AlitaliaANAAmerican Airlines
Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)Asiana AirlinesBritish Airways
China EasternDeltaEmirates
EtihadFlying BlueGol Smiles
Hainan AirlinesHawaiian AirlinesIberia
Japan AirlinesJet AirwaysKorean Airlines
LifeMiles (Avianca)Miles & More (Lufthansa)Qatar Airways
Saudi Arabian AirlinesSingapore AirlinesThai Airways
United AirlinesVirgin AtlanticVirgin Australia

With so many partners to choose from, you can keep your options open, and make a decision when you’re ready to book!

Bottom Line

You do NOT need Big Money to earn Big Travel with miles and points!  By applying for credit cards and earning sign-up bonuses, you’ll quickly have enough points to go just about anywhere in the world.

There are cards that require very little spending to earn the bonus and for other cards, there are tricks that can help you meeting the minimum spending requirement!

Finding the right cards to apply for starts with deciding where you want to travel.  And if you can’t decide, flexible points are a great way to keep your options open.

Thanks for your question, Garrick!  And welcome to the world of miles and points!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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