Want to know how to travel for FREE in 2024 and 2025? We’re about to introduce you to the magical world of travel hacking. Never heard of it before? You’re about to have your mind blown. Travel hacking is one of the best ways to turn your everyday spending into free trips, hotel stays, business-class flights, and more. And if you’ve ever wondered how to get into those fancy airport lounges or snag yourself a lie-flat seat next time you’re headed across the Atlantic, this is the episode for you!

Eli Facenda, a travel hacking expert, joins us on this episode to share the beginner’s guide to traveling for free. Eli is so good at travel hacking that he started his own consulting agency to help business owners turn their regular expenses into first-class travel wherever they go in the world. Today, he’s sharing his favorite travel credit cards, tips to fly for FREE for the next four years, the biggest credit card point mistakes, and beginner wins to get you your next trip for free.

We’ll also touch on the unbelievable rewards you can get from travel hacking, such as $1,000+/night hotel rooms for free or even a visit to Richard Branson’s private island, ALL through credit card points. Say goodbye to flying coach; these credit card tips will upgrade not only your wallet but your entire trip!

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Read the Transcript Here

Mindy:
Today we’re talking about travel hacking. It’s one of those areas that people in the personal finance world love to take advantage of and for good reason, but it can get very overwhelming very, very quickly.

Scott:
To demystify it all for us, we’re going to have the outstanding Eli Cindo joining us on today’s show. Eli is going to give us a crystal clear framework for travel hacking and he’ll answer our very specific questions about how you can optimize your spending and points. He’ll also show us how to organize your system so you don’t end up confusing yourself or forgetting about your payments or points.

Mindy:
Hello, Hello, hello and welcome to the BiggerPockets Money podcast. My name is Mindy Jensen and with me as always is my co-host, Scott Trudge, who I always like to give a lot of credit

Scott:
To. Nice one. Mindy, I’m going to give you a couple of points for that one. Alright, we’re here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else to introduce you to every money story because we truly believe financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you’re starting.

Mindy:
Eli sda, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money podcast. I am so excited to talk to you today.

Eli:
It’s great to be here. I’m really excited to dive in and talk about credit points, travel, all the good stuff. Let’s

Mindy:
Give a brief overview of what exactly travel hacking is.

Eli:
So travel hacking is really taking the money that you already spend in your everyday life and turning those purchases into points and then using those points for travel. Okay? Now I say specifically for travel because there’s people that do things like cash back or they’ll take their points and go to Amazon or they’ll get gift cards and you’re leaving a lot of money on the table when you do this. So travel hacking is about using your credit card spend and turning it into your ideal lifestyle, whether it’s to upgrade your everyday travel or to take these bucket list trips and really finding ways to work smarter and not as hard by again, leveraging something you’re already doing, which is spending. So that’s how I see travel hacking. It’s a loosely defined term, but what it means for different people can vary widely. Some people want to do all sorts of luxury experiences.
It’s about five star, it’s about first class, it’s about the flash. For others. I want to take my family of five to Disney once a year, and for others it’s I’m a corporate road warrior or I’m doing a ton of fix and flips or Airbnb investments and I just want to make sure that when I’m traveling around the country for domestic travel, I’m getting lounges, I’m getting free airport lounges and cutting the line in security and all sorts of stuff like that. So that’s what it is, but it applies differently just based on your situation and your overall goals.

Scott:
Let’s get another practical example. I think that that’s how I learned and maybe how a lot of other folks learned. Specifically, I plan to spend $10,000 moving, right with new furniture, other kind of stuff here. How do I use that to finance a trip from family of three or a family of five, whatever example you want to use there to Disney World. What are the steps? Literally, what do I type into Google? Is there a website? I sign up this for all of it from start to finish.

Eli:
So the way that I look at things and the way that when I’m working with someone to do this, the way that we want to zoom out is we want to break into three buckets first. So there’s maximize every dollar that you spend so there’s maximize your points, earnings really as the first kind of bucket, okay? The second bucket is going to be to maximize the value out of your points, and the third bucket is going to be to maximize your perks and benefits. So let’s say you want to go to Disney. Well, if that trip was coming up around the corner, hopefully you have enough points already stacked up to do that. If you’re saying, Hey Eli, this trip’s in 2025 sometime and way in the future, let’s go with that one. What I would want to do is I’d say, okay, let’s get you the most amount of points based off of your type of spend between now and when you’re going to book that trip.
So we’d look at your everyday kind of categories of spending and we’d make sure that you have the right cards on the right expenses to get the most points. So I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you probably eat, I imagine on occasion, and so that’s either going to be a grocery expense or a dining expense in almost all cases. Okay? So there’s certain cards out there that earn one point per dollar on everything. That’s kind of the standard baseline. While there’s other cards out there, like the Amex Gold card, one of my favorite cards will earn four points per dollar on groceries and dining. So let’s say you had a card like the platinum card from Amex that a lot of people have and they just use it for everything. It’s a big shiny card. People think it’s the best one because it’s so kind of renowned, but it’s actually not a great card for everyday expenses.
So you switch that to the gold card and let’s say you had a family and you spent $1,500 a month on those kinds of expenses, you now have four times the amount of points. Instead of getting 12,000 points, you’re going to get around like 60,000 a year. Now you have those points and you want to be able to use them for travel. So now they’re in, let’s call them Amex’s website. Well, there’s ways to use these points by converting them into airline hotel programs, which I can kind of break that down, but high level, you’d convert those over and then those 60,000 points instead of them being worth $600, which is what Amex would give you for those points, you could convert them into airline hotels and use them to get hotels and flights that on average could get you around 1500 to 2K worth of travel out of the same points.
So if I break that down scenario A, you spent a thousand dollars or $1,500 a month on your groceries and you probably get maybe a couple hundred dollars back at the end of the year for that scenario B, you change your card to the Amex gold, you use those points a little bit more effectively, and now you’ve got maybe a $1,500 or $2,000 trip to Disney flights and hotels included for the family. So that’s high level how you’d want to think about it and how you want to plan ahead by getting as many points as you can in the right programs with the right strategies based on how much you’re spending on different categories.

Mindy:
So how do I find out what cards are offering? Which one? You just said an example of a card that has four x points on groceries and restaurants. Where is that information? So that I’m using my cards to the best. I know my Costco card gives me three or five times points on gas, so that’s the one I use for gas all the time, but I only know that I go to Costco and says it on the big

Eli:
Board. So there’s two things. This number one is making sure we earn the right type of points. So think of these points like currencies and certain currencies can do certain things, right? I mentioned there’s four main bank points that can be transferred around. Well, even within those, not every bank transfers to every airline or hotel. So for example, if you want to stay at a Hilton hotel, you can’t transfer Chase points to Hilton. If you want to stay at a Hyatt hotel, you can’t transfer Amex points to Hyatt. So getting the right cards aligned with your specific kind of travel programs, which is a little bit of a deeper dive here, that’s going to be the first step is making sure are we even earning the right type of points? Because I mentioned that grocery thing, right? The Amex card earns four points per dollar on groceries.
Well, there’s other cards out there with banks like US Bank or Bank of America or Wells Fargo or TD or some of these other smaller local banks that will also earn points on dining and stuff, but they’re not going to earn the right type of points. That’s the first thing. Now, in terms of finding the right ones, it always is a little bit of a custom set up to really maximize it, but overall, there’s some really powerful tools out there and there’s tons of blogs and social media accounts. I have a social media account that teaches this stuff, so it’s pretty easy to follow stuff there. There’s other kind of points and travel hacker people out there. There’s a lot of blogs and YouTube channels, social media accounts for you to check out and that will help. So first off, I’ll throw mine in there, Eli Travel guy on Instagram, my business partner, and we help people do this stuff.
He’s amazing with this stuff. His is travel like Tommy, one of the best for just seeing really simple explanations is going to be max miles points. So MAX miles points, his stuff is great, and he’s got an awesome YouTube channel. And then in terms of blogs, there’s two blogs that I really like. One of them is called One Mile at a Time and the other one is called Upgraded Points. Those are my, if I was going to give you like, Hey, here’s five things to go check out, those would be some really good ones to start with. And on those sites and on our social media accounts where we’re talking about different cards and there’s even some really powerful apps, for example, there’s an app called Card Pointers, and what that app will do is it’ll help you not only find different cards, but it’ll help you organize the cards that you have so that you’re fully utilizing those benefits as you get different cards, they come with different perks, right?
Okay, I’ve got this card that gets lounge access and this card that gets Uber credits and this one that gets dining credits and this one that gets this. And it helps you organize things to know which cards to use in which situations and how to make sure that you’re maximizing all the perks and benefits that come with those. It’s a very long answer to a short question, which is I would check out some of the different social media accounts and blogs and then some apps like that out there. And then there’s also sorts of people that give help courses, mentoring, stuff like that if you want to go deeper into it. That’s what I ended up doing when I first started out doing this. I was just doing it the hard way. I was reading blogs, reading credit card websites, and it took me a long time to piece it together. I eventually got some help and it was like everything made a lot more sense and I was able to take more action on it. So that was my path, but there’s so much more resource available now because of social media too that a lot of people are just using that and relying on that to get the information that they need.

Mindy:
We’re taking a quick break and when we’re back, we’ll be talking about how you can use your points wisely to curate your preferred travel experience.

Scott:
And we’re back, we’re talking to Eli Fenda about the steps you can take as a beginner to optimize your credit card for travel rewards. Yeah, this is great because we don’t have to go through that. We can just listen to you and get a framing there, and I love it. I think that the Southwest Companion Pass is such a particularly enticing one that it’s always, it’s a good example to just start with because if you’re going to get into this, why not just go there? It’s super safe. You ever need to go to a wedding, you need to go anywhere around the United States or nearby like Mexico, Cancun, those kinds of things. Southwest will usually take you there for most places in the country, and it’s just a really good all rounder benefit that kind of introduces the benefits of travel hacking, I think. But then there’s so much more to it, and that’s what I think we’re really excited to hear from you about and this great framework of Max first think about maximizing points, then make sure they’re the right points and then make sure that they’re transferable to the things you want, which I guess is related to them being the right points.

Eli:
Absolutely, and I think you’re spot on. One of the things that happens with the Southwest Companion Pass, it just depends on who the person is and what they value and what they like. It’s ultra convenient and it’s obviously you’re saving a lot for people that maybe they spent 20 years traveling corporate or they’ve flown first class a few times and they’re like, I don’t want to go back for that kind of person. Southwest isn’t really going to work because they don’t really have first class. That’s part of the deal with the airline is it’s very convenient, easy, obviously the boarding style. Some people don’t like that where everyone has to pick their own seat and I love all the, there’s always social media reels of making jokes on that stuff, but for convenience, it is an amazing play for someone that wants to go overseas for someone that wants more first class or if you live in a major hub where it’s not a lot of Southwest flights, if you’re flying out of Miami airport, you’re going to see a lot of American flights and that’s going to be a better potential option for you just because they have different aircraft, different seats, and they have more direct routes on American.
So where you live will matter as well. Great.

Scott:
So let’s go through another practical example. What would I want to do? How would you approach it if I wanted to repeat that exercise, the closest comp to Southwest with American? Yeah,

Eli:
So with American, there’s actually some really cool changes they’ve made recently to their loyalty program and how you can earn status and status is a huge benefit because you earn way more points when you travel. You get free bags, you get lounges at times, you’re going to get early boarding, you’re going to get upgrades on occasion to first class, even if you just book economy, which is a huge perk. And so with American, they’ve actually enabled you to get towards status just through spending on their cards. So depending on how much you spend, you could get a couple different cards with them and that will enable you to earn towards status just through using those cards. So I would be getting potentially a couple of American Airlines co-branded cards. So there’s Citi cards and Barclays Bank. Those are the two that issue American cards, and you could get a few of these.
You’ll obviously get some signup bonus points, which means awesome. You can just go onto their website, click search with miles when you go for the booking and instead of paying cash, you’ll just pay points and that’s a great redemption right away. But then additionally, if you use those cards on an everyday basis, depending on how much you spend and how much that will accumulate to over the year, you’re going to get different levels of status, which means all those upgrade benefits as well. So that would be a different situation for someone that likes to fly American, but for someone that’s just looking at best deals overall, I mentioned earlier having these transferable bank points is one of the most powerful things, and that’s even still something I’d recommend, and I’ll give you an example. This is going to kind of dive into the weeds here.
Okay, so stay with me. In the airline world there’s alliances. Okay, so you guys may have heard of these American’s. Part of the One World Alliance, United’s part of the Star Alliance and Delta is part of the Sky team, so there’s three alliances out there. These alliances are basically partnerships of airlines. So inside of the American Airlines, one called One World Alliance, there’s actually ways you could book American Airlines flights using points from other airline loyalty programs. So for example, I could take my Amex points, I could convert them into British Airways, and I can oftentimes book an American Airlines ticket for half the price on points that American would even book it for or it would even charge. So I’ll give you an example. I flew from Miami to Austin. I’m down there back and forth quite a bit. Normally like a first class ticket from Miami to Austin would be like 30,000 American miles.
If I was going to use British Airways, it’s only like 15,000 and I can convert those from American Express. So you can see there’s different ways to kind of slice and dice the situation. The safest play overall is always going to be to earn as many of those transferable bank points as you can because they have the most versatility and flexibility. And then to your point, if you want to play the Southwest Companion Pass game, you go that route. If you live in Miami and you want to fly American a lot, you would then go that route. But I always say start with these transferable programs, specifically Amex and Chase are my two favorites because that’s going to always give you the most options to use these points in the most powerful way.

Scott:
So this is where you think a newbie should start is get one of these all rounder cards and specifically just for the people in the back one more time, what are those cards? What does the safest first dip your toe in the water travel rewards program?

Eli:
Yeah, if I was going to go brand new, someone just starting out, let’s say they got good credit and first off, they understand how credit works because I always advise, make sure you’re educated on this stuff as a whole. I think that for most people, the entire way Credit Works was just left out of the education system, and so most people don’t even understand how a credit profile works, how a credit score works, so always good to know the rules. Then assuming that’s all good, you feel comfortable, you’re confident, you understand how it works, then you get the Amex Gold card, that’s for groceries and dining. And then I really like the Chase Sapphire and Chase Freedom Cards as well. These would be personal cards. So the Chase Sapphire card is great. I love Chase points. They’re my favorite points. Currency and the Freedom is also a really good card to pair that with. So those are three easy ones to get. If I was going to throw a fourth one in there, I’d say the Capital One, venture X, there we go. That’s it.

Scott:
G Sapphire preferred.

Eli:
Nice. There you go. So I like those a lot. I would potentially, depending on travel tastes and what you want, I would potentially get the Capital One, venture X. This is another great card for everyday spending and it also comes with Priority Pass, and so that’s a lounge benefit that comes on a ton of the premium cards and Priority Pass will get you into over 1300 lounges worldwide. So if you’re in an airport, there’s a good chance there’s a priority pass lounge and many of these cards come with it, but the Capital Venture X does.

Mindy:
Okay. I want to give a little extra point about the Capital One Venture X card because there’s different Capital One cards and in Denver they don’t have a lounge, even though Denver is a huge airport, they don’t have a lounge, a priority pass lounge, but Venture X made their own lounge or Capital One may their own lounge. If you get the venture card, you can only go into this lounge like one or two times a year, but with the Venture X card, you can go in anytime you have a flight. So a point or a tip that I would suggest is figure out where the lounges are in your local airport or in the airport that you’re traveling to a lot and make sure you have a card that’ll get you in there because I have the priority pass and it doesn’t do me any good at my home airport.

Eli:
That’s a great point. Yeah, Amex has a lot of those lounges too. They have the biggest kind of banker credit card program, lounge network, so Amex has Chases coming up with a few as well. In Austin, they have a Chase Terrace, it’s like a lowkey, kind of like a lounge, not officially, but that’s a great option. And to your point, I would think about specifically people that live in maybe smaller cities where they’re consistently connecting through a bigger hub. If you’re somewhere in the southwest area and you’re consistently connecting on maybe a family in New York and you’re consistently going to Salt Lake to get to New York, you’re probably flying Delta the majority of the time because it’s a big Delta hub. So it makes sense to look at, okay, how do I align this so that I can get those Delta lounges too? For me being in Austin, if I had American status, that means I’m probably connecting through Dallas a lot of the time if it’s not direct flight. And so I would be thinking about, okay, how do I make sure that my plan is optimized so that I’m either getting American lounges or I get into this Centurion lounge in Dallas or the Capital One lounge. So you made a great point there. Is

Scott:
It too much of a stretch to say that most credit cards offer some form of point buildup and probably folks that if they haven’t been paying attention to it, have points that they should go take a look at? Or is that too general of a statement?

Eli:
It’s general. If you’re considering the entire slew of credit cards that are on the market, if you’re looking at the top cards, then yeah, you’d be correct with that, but that’s going to be with the major banks. Again, chase City, Amex, capital One, those are going to be the main ones that we’re looking at here. If you’re looking at points with a local regional bank or something like that or a credit union, those points just can’t do the same things. They have what we call a fixed value on them, so you can only take them and get a fixed value of usually around 1 cent per point. Whereas when you take these points at the other banks, you can get double, triple three times, five times, sometimes up to 10 or 15 times the value. I can give some examples on that, but that’s where this game turns in from.
Okay, cool. I got a free trip to like, oh my gosh, I completely changed the way my travel lifestyle looks and what I even believed was possible. What happened for me was I was not even in the realm of thinking about traveling all over the world, and then I started to open my eyes to what’s possible and I was like, wait, I just went to London on a $6,000 business class ticket. I paid $5 and 60 cents and I used All Points and I’m making 30,000. This was years ago. I was like, I’m making like 30,000 a year and I just got a $6,000 value ticket and I didn’t pay for it. I was like, this is insane. I was like, this is crazy. So it does depend on those general points that are going to stack up, but if you’re with Chase City, Amex or Capital One, I’m going to probably keep repeating those, then yes, the answer to that is yes. If it’s with other banks, then the answer is I would still switch those cards to other points, earning cards.

Scott:
Great. So I may be the only one with this, and I’m supposed to be good at this, this is kind of embarrassing, but I have several hundred thousand Chase points that have been racking up because I just haven’t been paying attention to this thing for several years. I signed up for them when I got into travel hacking five, 10 years ago and just spent on that card, which is what they want you to do. That’s why they give you these bonuses in the first place. So what’s advice for people who are in my situation who maybe have just put it all in one credit card that has racked up a good number of these points, how do I now start making the use of them? Because I feel like it’s a waste. I feel like I’m sitting on these things, they’re not earning interest like they would in a savings account and it’s potentially thousands, maybe a $10,000 plus if I’m smart about it. Value in there.

Eli:
Yeah, I mean there’s so many ways you can do it. So there’s two ways. One is we have trips, how do we use the points the other way have points? How do I take a trip? And so one is going to be already kind of fitting around your life and the other one’s like, let me get the most bang for my buck out of these guys. And so it just depends on how you want to use them, but one of my favorite usages of Chase points is going to be for Hyatt Hotel stay. So I’ll give you an example. I was actually just doing this in San Diego, and you could do this at a luxury five star level or standard three star level or whatever. It doesn’t really matter if it’s with the Hyatt program, the strategy will apply. It’s just the scale of savings is going to be bigger.
The more luxurious you go, the prices are larger. But I was actually speaking at an event in Orange County, decided to stay in San Diego for a couple days, had been on the road for a while, so I was pretty tired and I was like, this will be a fun little weekend getaway. So my girlfriend came out, we booked this awesome hotel called the Alila Maria Beach. It’s about 30 minutes north of San Diego and Encinitas, California on the coastline brand new bill that’s unbelievably luxurious, really nice. The average room there was about a thousand dollars a night. So there’s three ways I could have booked this. I could have paid cash for it, which is a thousand night, which I’m never going to do. To me, that’s I’m not going to do that. Option two is I could have gone to the Chase travel portal and I would’ve paid about a hundred thousand points a night, or if I had the Chase Sapphire preferred, I’d get a little bonus on that.
So it’d be probably like 75 to 80 ish thousand points a night. Or option three, I can convert these points from Chase into Hyatt and I’m able to book that room for 35,000 points a night so I can get three nights for the price of one comparatively. Now that’s an example there. Plus I had status with Hyatt, so I got upgraded to a suite that was Oceanview and it was probably worth like 1500 to 2K night, which is crazy. And then I got breakfast and all these other benefits. So that would be an example of a great way to be like, okay, I was in California, I didn’t need to stay at a five star hotel on the beach by any means, but I was like, if I can, that sounds great. I also had the choice if I wanted to, I could have stayed at something that was a little further more inland, the same thing would’ve applied, but instead of using 35,000 points a night, I would’ve used 10 to 15 and instead of saving a thousand dollars a night, I would’ve saved three or 400. So that’s an easy example of using Hyatt points from transferring ’em from Chase. But really, again, it depends because they have partnerships with airlines too. So if you wanted to do something where you’re going to the Middle East, I don’t know, maybe you’re going over to Europe or you want to go to South America, there’s ways to convert those chase points into different airlines and use those really well for those flights. And that’s also usually a bigger expense. So that’s a nice one to knock out for people that want to save money. Alright,

Scott:
We’re going to take a quick break and when we’re back, Eli NDA will break down some of the pitfalls of travel hacking.

Mindy:
Welcome back. We’re talking to Eli NDA about the risks of travel hacking. Okay, these are really great tips. I’m super happy with everything that you’ve said so far. I’ve learned a ton even though I’ve been doing this for a little bit myself, but I know from personal experience that beginners make mistakes. I made a huge mistake. I didn’t get all of my benefits because I didn’t make all of my spend. What are some common beginner mistakes and how do you avoid them?

Eli:
Really common beginner mistakes is number one on the card, there’s two buckets. There’s card and points earnings, so which card you use and how you earn points and there’s how you use them. So there’s a couple of mistakes in each category. Number one, cash back cards. I am, if you’re someone who travels or will potentially travel in the next few years getting good points, earning cards will, in my opinion, always out yield any cashback card by a lot from the numbers that we’ve seen. We’re looking on average when we do this or when we work with clients and stuff, we’re getting them around 10 to 12% back of their annual spend. If they optimize this well, a top cash back card will get you on average 2% back. In some categories it might get three, four or 5% back there, but usually the average is around 2%.
So sometimes we’re able to 3, 4, 5 x that total value. So getting cash back cards is number one. If you’re a traveler, big mistake using a debit card for everything. Huge mistake because number one, you’re missing on the opportunity to earn points, but also very importantly, there’s some security benefits that come with credit cards that debit cards don’t have. So a lot of newbies that are getting into this, they’re concerned with making that switch. They have more Dave Ramsey mentality, and I’m not here to knock Dave Ramsey, but I just think there’s a way to manage your credit cards responsibly where you can still treat it like a debit card if you want. You could pay it off every single day if you had to or you want it to, and that allows you to get the upside and the benefits without the downside. So those are two of the card ones and then I’ll give you one on the point side.
One of the biggest things that I see is, and they make it very tempting so I understand why people do this, but using their points for Amazon purchases. Because what happens is when you go to Amazon, or even if you get gift cards, you have all these points and people are like, oh, I’ll just cash ’em up for gift cards for Christmas or for holiday bonuses or whatever, depending on who they are, you’re going to get on average around six tenths of a cent. The travel portal is going to give you almost double that automatically. And if you can convert these points into the airliner hotel programs, you can get five to 10 x that pretty easily. And so you’re just completely dumping and wasting your points if you’re cashing them out, if you’re getting gift cards or using ’em on Amazon. That’s probably the biggest, most consistent thing I see for anyone who’s started a little bit is that they’re just completely dumping their points. So there

Scott:
Are ways to use these points for shopping or other things, but you’re saying that the ROI, if you will, of points on travel is way higher than what you can get really almost anywhere else with using these points?

Eli:
Correct? Yeah. There’s only really two scenarios where I would ever tell someone that’s a good idea. Number one is they literally don’t travel at all. They have no trips in the next year to two years for whatever reason that can happen. And so cash back, sure that make sense or using them for some of these things to cash out your points might make sense. Number two, and we work with some business owners that are like they’re spending a lot of money and they have more points than they know what to do with and they’re spending so much that they just earn the end replenish those so quickly and it’s like, alright, if you want to use some of these points to go do that, you’re going to have so many more that you’re still going to have extra, so go for it. But otherwise I would say you always want to save them for your travel and particularly if you are running a business or you’re doing real estate and you’re paying yourself out of a company points are non-taxable. And so if you use them for personal trips where you’d normally use after-tax income to pay for that trip, there’s an additional benefit to that too. So that’s a whole other kind of piece.

Mindy:
What are some really easy beginner

Eli:
Wins? So some really easy beginner wins would be a couple of things. We covered some of those Southwest Companion Pass type things. One of the things that I would recommend, this is not even getting free travel, it’s just how do you keep it simple? A big question that people ask is like, okay, I got all these cards, what do I do? And when I started my stuff, that was a big pain point for me and that’s why when I started my company, I called it Freedom Travel Systems. I was like, the systems and simplification piece is so important to this. And so the top things I’m going to say is there’s a couple main apps you want to get. Number one, I’d get either something like Award Wallet or TripIt. These are two apps will help you sync all of your points into one place.
So you got points with Amex now and Chase and now you have Marriott points and Hilton points in southwest miles and how do you see ’em all in one spot? Get something like AwardWallet. And the added benefit is it will even notify you if your points are potentially going to expire so you don’t lose them. Now it’s pretty easy to make sure that doesn’t happen anyways, but it’s great to have that additional benefit. So that’d be one tip right there. Another tip on the app side would be to get something called Lounge Buddy. And so if you have priority pass all these benefits that come with other cards, it will tell you what airport lounges you’ll get into when you’re traveling. So again, this is just going to help keep things simple. It’ll tell you, Hey, by gate 43 B across the hallway, up the stairs, that’s where the lounge is because half the time people have access to a lounge, they don’t even know how to use it or they know how to use it, but they can’t find the thing.
So that’s helpful too. So those are a couple of really easy beginner ones. And then one of the third tips that I’ll mention is when it comes to if you get a few cards and you’re like, okay, these annual fees are starting to add up, what could I do? You can negotiate or ask for what’s called a retention bonus. So retention bonus is where you would call in or chat them in and you’ll just reach out and you’ll say, Hey, I haven’t been getting the value out of the card, or I’m not sure if I want to cancel it. And if you mention that and you ask for any sort of retention bonus, if you’ve been an active user, oftentimes they’re going to say, Hey Mindy, no worries. We’ve seen you’ve been loyal for two years, you’ve been using the card actively. We understand you don’t want to pay the $295 fee of the $95 annual fee.
Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to give you 30,000 extra points if you spend a thousand dollars with us in the next 90 days. And those 30,000 points could be worth like 600 or a thousand dollars. So that’s a huge easy benefit. And then I’ll even give one more, which is referral bonuses too. So if you get a card and you are using it and you send that referral link to other people, you’ll get a ton of extra referral bonus points, which can help stack up to earn a lot more extra volume. So those are a few easy wins. I could go into a gazillion more, but that’ll hopefully keep things simple and give you some tactical options too.

Scott:
I want to distill a couple of things here and we’ll talk about this in the outro as well here, but looking for a place to start. The Chase Sapphire preferred card is a pretty safe one of many safe options. It’s the one I use. I know Mindy, I think you have that as well there. That’s one. If you want the Southwest Companion Pass type into Google, it’s Chase Southwest Business credit card and Chase Southwest personal credit card, right?

Eli:
Yeah, just make sure you’re getting the ones that get the 120,000 points. If you combine ’em, combine the two. That’ll be it though.

Scott:
That’s right. You’re looking for the business card with 80,000 and the personal one with a 40,000, then you need like five more thousand for actually flying Southwest or otherwise racking up those points in order to get the companion pass. But you’ll be there. And those are very simple, practical. You don’t have to go crazy land to do those things. Almost everybody, especially if you have any real estate can do that. You’ll have legitimate business expenses that can go right into that and knock it out. What, however, is the limits that this can be reached? And I would love to illustrate that, Eli, if you could tell us what you personally do and the magical experiences and first class trips, please wax eloquent and share some stories.

Eli:
Yeah, wow. There are some unbelievable things you can do with points that first I didn’t realize were possible. Then when I realized they were possible, I thought they were impractical and then eventually I was like, I want to go do some of these things because if I can, this is a cool time to be alive and go make it happen. So a couple of things. You can shower in the sky on different first class flights on some of these major international carriers, particularly Emirates first class, there’s a shower on the plane and a full on bar. It’s kind of like a James Bond bar where there’s literally a cocktail bar in the back and they’re serving up caviar and Dom Peron and fancy drinks and top shelf stuff, and it’s a double decker plane. It’s on the aircraft called the A three 80 for any aviation geeks out there, but it’s a huge plane in the first class section. You get a full suite to yourself with a bed and you get the shower. They also have this on an airline called the Etha Apartments, and I’ll tell you, so that Emirates first class one, just to give an example of how I did this, right, because people think, okay, that must be where’d you

Scott:
Go from in two on this plate, by the way as well.

Eli:
So this was from New York to Dubai and I did this one with my business partner last year, and here’s the breakdown. So this is a $15,000 ticket one way per person in first class. So again, I’m never paying that. Okay, maybe there’s some oil she out in Dubai and that’s chump change to them. To me that’s a big number. And so there’s three ways to book it. I could have gone through the website and paid cash $15,000. I could have gone to Amex Travel or Chase Travel and used my points through their portal. Again, most people are doing this and you’re going to get 1 cent per point roughly, so it’d be around 15 or 1.5 million points for that. So 15,000 in cash, option B, 1.5 million points. Option C is what I did where I transferred them 136,000 points and I paid $500. So instead of 1.5 million, I got it for 136,000.
So how would you get 136,000? It’s like, well, if you’re doing a few different real estate investments and you basically just spend on the right cards with your groceries and your everyday living expenses, you’ll earn 136,000 probably every few months or so for most people that are just normal household expenses. So it’s not that, I mean that’s still a decent chunk, but with a couple of card bonuses in there, that’s very attainable and a pretty cool thing to be able to do. So that’s one. There’s all sorts of crazy hotels you can stay in. There’s a lot of Overwater villas in the Maldives and Bora Bora and stuff like that where you can use your points and you could do some of these unbelievably luxurious things where you have the private pool that just overlooks the horizon on a overwater villa. Those are cool. You can stay in castles in Scotland.
That’s an unbelievable experience. There’s an airline, Singapore, Singapore Airlines, they have a thing called the Suite, which I have flown as well. And these suites are, they’re basically probably like 10 by 10 rooms is your seat. And so it has a full bed and then a separate kind of almost like a doctor even looking chair. It’s like this big comfy chair that swirls around a couple TVs in your suite and the bed actually comes out of a wall. Now if there’s two people that fly together, that wall will come down and will turn into a double bed in the sky. And so that’s just, you get basically, or it might be even like a queen if they fully lay it out. So it’s a crazy way to travel. So those are some of the things that you can do. And the last thing that’s really crazy and is you have to have a lot of points for this.
There’s actually ways to go down to spend a week with Richard Branson on his private island, Necker Island, and if you have Virgin Miles, which you can transfer from Amex, if you have a certain amount, you can go down there for a full week and hang out with Richard Branson and use, I think it’s one point, either a million or 1.25 million virgin miles to be able to go do that. And that’s a big one. I haven’t done that. I know some people who have, it’s a pretty cool experience, but all sorts of wild things that are potentially available. But more practically speaking, for most people, they’re like, that’s cool. I probably don’t really need to go shower in the sky or have a big desire to go do that. And I totally get that. I’d say one of the biggest things that I would think is a little bit out of reach for a lot of people but now becomes possible with points that they’d actually want is if you are going to Europe or Asia or South America to get one of those lay flat seats, that’s a game changer.
When you go overseas and you fly on an eight hour flight to Europe or nine hour, 10 hour flight and you get to get a lay flat seat, you get some nice food, you get the wine, maybe you get the lounge before and they have massages there, and some of these lounges even have bubble baths you can take. It’s crazy, but you get that kind of thing, that lay flat bed will be a game changer for your entire trip, make it way more fun. You’ll enjoy the actual travel instead of just dreading the flight and it’ll make you show up more rested and rejuvenated for your actual trip. So that’s kind of a whole breakdown on how you could do it.

Scott:
Let’s end on that one. Walk us through how I could go from Denver or pick a major hub, what you’re familiar with in Texas or whatever, to Paris or London or one of the big hubs that you’ve done there. What’s a practical way and how much is it going to cost Main Points with one of these base

Eli:
Programs? Yeah, we just did this for a bunch of clients. Actually. Air France had a promo. Some of these programs will do promos in their points. They were doing 50,000 points one way from major US hubs to Paris in business class. And so Air France is a great airline and these flights normally around like $5,000 per person, between four to six K depending on where you’re flying and when. But that’s about average 50,000 points. If you go to Chase or Amex’s website is normally going to get you $500. So all you do is you convert those Chase, Amex City or Capital One, air France is a partner with all four of those banks. You would find the seat you want. So you’d say, okay, I just use an example. New York’s an easy one because it’s a big hub. You’d say, okay, New York to Paris, that’s maybe a $5,000 ticket.
It’s 50,000 points. You convert your Chase or Amex or Capital One points that you have into Air France, you’d search your dates, you’ll see it pop up. It’ll say 50,000 points. You’ll probably pay like 150 or $200 in taxes for that. You convert them over, you basically log into the bank site, you say, which program do you want to send it to? You click Air France, you punch in your loyalty number. So you have to have a loyalty account set up for that, which is super easy and free. You send it over, you log into your Air France account, voila, 50,000 points are there, and then you just click search with Miles, you search the flight, you click book, and then you just got that seat all booked up for you. So 50,000 for a 5,000 ticket, it’ll be a 10 cent per point. That’s the key metric here. That’s really good value on your points. Whereas again, if you went to cash them out for Amazon and you got your vacuum cleaner or whatever, you’re going to get your water filters, you’re going to get six tenths of a cent. This is almost 20 x the value compared to what you would’ve gotten on Amazon.

Scott:
That is fantastic. Eli. This was absolutely one of the most remarkable interviews we’ve done on BiggerPockets money. We just threw all of this random questions at you, practical questions, tactical, going back to strategic, and you just handled everything so wonderfully. It’s to clear it. You’re a master at this subject, really have studied it a long time, really know what you’re doing. Really have seen a lot of examples around this. Thank you for the advice that I’m personally going to be able to take away from this and for what I’m sure you added to a lot of listeners, where can people find out more about you and follow

Eli:
You? Awesome. Yeah, I appreciate the kind words, and it takes one, no one. Sometimes people that have been in the game, they’re like, oh, that person knows what they’re doing. So I always appreciate that. Yeah, so two places. Instagram, I post a lot of stuff there, reels, property reviews, cool hotel flights. But most importantly, as I’m doing this stuff for myself, we’re doing it for clients and I’m showing how a lot of reels and stories on how to do this on your own. And so that’s going to be at Eli Travel Guy, and we have a free mini course. It’s normally $50, but if people want that, they can just DM me the word mini, MINI, and we’ll send over their mini course for free, which is a great starter pack to unpack a little bit of this stuff in a more organized way. So that’d be on Instagram. And then our company website is freedom travel systems.com. And so most of what we do there, we help individuals and business owners really maximize all this real estate investors everything and turn the right cards on so they can get more points, better points, have a more comprehensive travel plan and redeem them more effectively. And we help with the strategies there. So if people want to check that out or get a free consult or anything, they’re more than welcome to go to freedom travel systems.com as well.

Scott:
Awesome. Yeah, so everyone, remember that we’re going to link to all this in the show notes biggerpockets.com/money, but go check out at Eli Travel guy. That guy knows what he’s talking about.

Mindy:
Okay, Scott, that was so much fun. I learned so much, and I am so excited to download all those apps that he was talking about and go visit all those websites and try to figure out how I can optimize my travel hacking because I’m not, right now, I have the Southwest card, but not the Southwest Companion Pass, and I have a Hyatt card and the Venture X Card. The Venture X card is amazing, but I’m not really optimizing. I’m not spending on this card for this thing and this card for that thing. And pro tip, if you have a card or a bunch of cards in your wallet and you want to remember which one to use where, just write it on the front. Just write on the front of your Costco card. This one’s for gas and this one’s for groceries, and this one’s for whatever it is that you’re trying to do. I think that that will help you remember which cards to use when you’re in the moment.

Scott:
Yeah, this guy was awesome. Eli is fantastic. He knows what he’s talking about. He knows he knows what he’s talking about as he pointed out towards the end of the show. Love that, love the confidence. And is travel hacking the first step to building wealth? No, but if you’ve got your budget in place, if you’ve got an investment approach in place, if you’re optimizing the income front, like wow, the quality of life improvements that you can drive from just doing the same things you’re doing anyways with your spending and budgeting is super powerful here. And it’s a great tip to bring back some of those luxuries or the parts of the good life into your life through some of the mechanisms and frameworks that he just described today. So it’s a rabbit hole to go down. Hopefully this show is one of those where you took out your notepad, wrote some things down, or you’re going to go check out the show notes because there’s a ton of resources in here and a ton of rabbit holes to go down. If you can get a hypothesis for what you want out of travel rewards and plan an approach accordingly with your credit cards and spending to get there.

Mindy:
Yeah, I had a great time, and like I said, I learned a ton and I am so excited to dive in even deeper. And yeah, if you started listening and you didn’t have your notebook with you, then go ahead and rewind and listen to it again. Alright, Scott, should we get out of here? Fine. That wraps up this episode of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. He, of course is the Scott Trench, and I am Mindy Jensen saying Goodbye. Key line pie.

Scott:
If you enjoyed today’s episode, please give us a five star review on Spotify or Apple. And if you’re looking for even more money content, feel free to visit our YouTube channel at youtube.com/biggerpockets money.

Mindy:
BiggerPockets money was created by Mindy Jensen and Scott Trench, produced by Kaylin Bennett, editing by Exodus Media Copywriting by Nate Weintraub. Lastly, a big thank you to the BiggerPockets team for making this show possible.

Watch the Episode Here

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In This Episode We Cover

  • The best beginner credit cards to start earning points TODAY
  • How to travel for FREE for the next four years with Southwest’s “Companion Pass
  • Why you should NEVER take cash back for your credit card points (do THIS instead)
  • The most bang-for-buck points transfers that’ll get you exceptional hotel stays for free
  • Biggest beginner mistakes that’ll cost you when trying to travel hack
  • How to fly to Europe in business class THIS YEAR with just 50,000 points
  • And So Much More!

Links from the Show

Connect with Eli:

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.

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