Tuesday, November 15, 2011

how to fund travel to your land before you move onto it

I hate paying for airfare.

And in all honesty, considering the way airlines go belly up and are so poorly managed, I don't think they make much money on even first-class seating let alone crappy coach tickets. But that doesn't make it any easier to enter my credit card information and hit the buy button when I want to go somewhere.

I think I was born in the wrong era. I fantasize about the glamour age of air travel, where pretty stewardesses in mod sixties uniforms took pride in their occupation and made being stuck in a steel tube for several hours actually enjoyable (back before they were labeled "flight attendants". hello BORING). Now I realize that there was a lot of sexism back then and a lot of women were probably mistreated by sleazy businessmen and not everything was all hunky dory, but I want good service dammit. I want something edible, and I want a decent cocktail.

So this presents a problem for a nomad like me that likes to travel. I like to drive, too, but when planning a vacation where I just want to relax, or have limited time, or, hmmm, want to maybe scout some property out of state, a road trip isn't ideal. Paying for airfare, motel, and car reservations can get expensive fast. That's how I found out about credit card sign-up bonuses.

Honest, I'm not selling anything. I just think beating the system is rad and want to share: I just booked two first-class tickets for Jay and me to the homestead for a whopping $170 ($85 each). Let me explain.

Credit card companies love to give you sign up bonuses in the form of either miles or points when you spend a certain amount on a new credit card within a designated time frame. Case in point: I applied both of us separately for a Chase card that would automatically post 50,000 points to our individual accounts after spending $3,000 on each card in 92 days. Those 50,000 points can be transferred to a number of travel vendors, like Continental or United or Avis or whatever, at a 1:1 ratio.

50,000 miles on Continental can get one person a first-class ticket across the U.S. with only one short layover and decent arrival and departure times if you're good at searching for fares.

We also got a Citi card for each of us that delivers 50,000 points after a $2,500 minimum spend in 90 days. Those points are not transferable to anywhere else, but you are able to book car rentals and hotel rooms through their shitty reservation site. About 48,000 points is enough for a Jeep Grand Cherokee rental for a week as well as one night at a crappy hotel next to SFO that offers free parking for up to seven days so we don't have to beg anyone to drive us to and pick us up from the airport.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

If I were to book a first-class ticket for both of us with the same itinerary, the same car rental, and the hotel room and pay for it with cash, do you know how much it would cost?

$2,202.30 per person x2
= $4,404.6 for both of us
+ $383.18 for the Cherokee rental
+ $96.65 for the crappiest room at the Vagabond Inn next to SFO with free parking
= ALMOST $5,000

That's insanity! Even if we sat in shitty coach seats for the same itinerary, the whole trip would cost $902.13.   With 50,000 miles, you could conceivably book two coach tickets if you didn't want to apply separately for whatever reason. Why you would pass up another 50,000 miles and first class is beyond me, though.

There are a ton of online discussion boards and blogs about this, too, if you have the time to devote to learning more about credit card churning, which is what they call it. This is a legitimate way to get virtually free travel as long as you're not a total idiot when it comes to paying your bills.

There are, however, some caveats:
1. You must have excellent credit (in order to qualify for so many cards).
2. You'll probably need to put all of your everyday spending on a card in order to meet the minimum spend requirement (unless you're just filthy rich, in which case you might as well just pay cash).
2. You must keep track of said credit card spending and make sure you pay off your balances during the grace period to avoid interest.
3. A lot of these cards waive the annual fee for the first year, but you have to remember to cancel the card by your anniversary date or else you'll be charged for it.
4. You must be willing to take the ding on your credit from each new application. This is usually only a few points. Your credit score will usually go back up a few points after you start spending on the card and pay it off right away because it shows that you have a lot of credit but little to no credit card debt.
5. You have to be able to meet the minimum spend requirement, and most mortgages or utilities can't be paid with a credit card so be sure you're up for it.
6. Reward tickets can be kind of a pain in the butt to book. There are generally fewer itinerary options for rewards tickets, especially first-class ones, so you have to be flexible.

Y'all need to get on board with this. get it? LOLZ

So, if you want to fly classy and scout out property for your future homestead but don't want to spend an arm and a leg doing it, here you go. YOU'RE WELCOME.

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