How to Get $500+ in Free Travel, Even If You Have NO Miles & Points and You’re Leaving Next Week!
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full advertising policy: How we make money.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
Do you have upcoming vacation plans, but have procrastinated on opening an amazing credit card that would have given you hundreds of dollars of free travel?
Has the travel bug unexpectedly injected its enchanting venom into your bloodstream, prompting a spontaneous adventure? Have you made a last-minute decision to take that trip to a friend’s wedding, but you don’t have any miles or points saved up?
There are still 2 credit cards you can open that will save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars on your next trip, even if you’re leaving in just a couple weeks!
I’ll give you a few card recommendations for folks who do NOT have a stash of miles & points, but want discounted travel now!
What to Do When You Need Miles & Points in a Hurry
If you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby for any length of time, you know that in order to earn a valuable sign-up bonus, you’ll usually need to first meet minimum spending requirements.
It’s a good idea to apply for a miles & points earning credit card as soon as you resolve to travel somewhere. That’s because it can take a while to meet your spending requirements to qualify for the welcome bonus. And additional time for the points to be deposited into your loyalty account.
You want those points long before your travel date. That way you can use them to reserve travel while there are still available award seats, reward nights, or low cash prices.
How Travel Credit Cards Usually Work
For example, if you sign-up for the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, you’ll earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.
If you decide you’d like to use these points to fly to the beautiful floating lantern festival of Loy Krathong in Thailand in a few months, you have a couple options:
- Book an award ticket by transferring your points to a Chase Ultimate Rewards partner airline, like United Airlines
- Use the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal to “buy” your ticket with points at a value of 1.25 cents each
However, you’ll first need to spend $5,000 with the card. And then wait a while longer for Chase to give you the points.
By the time you’ve met the spending requirement and received your points, the magical lantern festival might be right around the corner! Transferring your points to airline partners could be out of the question because available award seats are sold out for your desired travel dates. And ticket prices could be much higher than before, because you’ve waited so long to book.
Capital One and Barclaycard to the Rescue!
If you’re afraid you’ve waited too long to open a credit card that gives you huge discounts on upcoming travel, you are incorrect.
Cards like the Capital One Venture and Barclaycard Arrival Plus provide you with a discount on travel purchases AS SOON AS YOU RECEIVE THE CARD. You do NOT need to complete a minimum spending requirement and earn the sign-up bonus before you book your travel! Here’s why.
The Capital One Venture and Barclaycard Arrival Plus both allow you to redeem your rewards for travel you’ve already booked.
For example, if you want to catch a friend’s wedding in a few weeks, open the Capital One Venture. Once you receive your card, you can purchase your airfare with the card. You’ll then have 90 days to sign-in to your online account, find the travel purchase, and “erase” it with the miles you’ve earned.
As long as you complete the card’s spending requirement within 90 days, you’ll be able to use the $500 sign-up bonus to go back and erase the cost of your airfare. Just make sure you apply in time to receive the card before you travel, so you can use it for the expenses you want to erase!
Which Card Is Better?
Apply Here: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard
Apply Here: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
There are a number of differences between these cards, but here are 3 big ones.
1. Sign-Up Bonus
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus comes with 60,000 Arrival Plus miles (worth $600 in travel) after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. The annual fee is $89 (waived the first year).
The Capital One Venture comes with 50,000 Venture miles (worth $500 in travel) after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Note: The Barclaycard Arrival Plus also gives you a 5% rebate whenever you redeem your miles for travel. So when you redeem your 60,000 Arrival Plus miles, you’ll get a rebate of 3,000 miles.
2. Redemption Increments
You can only redeem Barclaycard Arrival Plus miles for travel purchases of $100 or more. That means you’ll need at least 10,000 Barclaycard Arrival miles in your account before they’re useful.
The Capital One Venture has NO minimum increment when you redeem miles, unless you’re using miles to partially pay for a travel purchase. In that case, the minimum is 2,500 miles ($25).
This is a gargantuan win for the Capital One Venture card. It means you can redeem your points for smaller travel purchases, like a $20 Uber ride or a $98 hotel room. You won’t be able to use Barclaycard Arrival miles for those purchases, because they cost less than $100.
3. Time Frame to Redeem Miles
The Capital One Venture gives you 90 days to erase your travel with miles after you’ve made your purchase. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus gives you 120 days.
You can read this post to see the process for redeeming Venture miles.
You CAN Use Points From Other Cards in a Similar Manner, But DON’T DO IT
It’s worth mentioning that it IS possible to buy travel with other cards, like the Ink Business Preferred, and redeem your points in the form of a statement credit later. But this is NOT a good idea. You won’t get anywhere near the best value for your points by doing this.
For example, after you earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the Ink Business Preferred, you can redeem those points for cash at 1 cent each. So you’ll get $800 in value from the sign-up bonus.
But you can get way the frick more value from them if you redeem them for travel. You could transfer your 80,000 points to Hyatt for 4 nights at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco! That same stay could easily cost you $3,000+!
So don’t use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a statement credit. Open the Capital One Venture or Barclaycard Arrival Plus, instead!
If you have upcoming travel, and you don’t think there’s time to open a card and earn points for your trip, you still have a couple options.
The Capital One Venture and Barclaycard Arrival Plus both allow you to redeem your miles for travel months after you’ve made your purchases. So you can open the cards and use them to purchase travel now, and then earn the sign-up bonus and erase those travel purchases later!
I’ve had both of these cards, and I prefer the Capital One Venture simply because it has NO minimum redemption amount. You can redeem the miles for a $5 Lyft ride if you like. With the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, you have to redeem miles for travel purchases of $100 or more.
Which of these cards do you prefer?
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! :)
Join the Discussion!