Summer Hull just got back from a weekend with her family in Denver where she stayed at a five-star hotel for free. Before that, she planned a trip to Ireland that also cost next to nothing.
Hull is not an extreme coupon clipper or a super saver, but she and her family are full-time frequent flyers always on the lookout for the best deals.
Hull’s secret is racking up those travel points by using different credit cards for various purchases. She spends most of her time taking care of her 4-year-old daughter and managing her own company from home. She documents her travel tricks and successes on her blog, Mommy Points, which has opened doors to VIP experiences and even earned her extra income because she uses it to advertise travel-related services and deals.
“I write every day, a lot of it is about what we do to earn these points and just kind of a chronicle of what we do and everywhere we’ve gone and then also sharing other deals that come up,” she said.
This year Hull and her family have trotted the globe on over 16 vacations spanning 100,000 miles. Most of the time, they are traveling for nearly nothing.
Personal finance expert and author of “When She Makes More” Farnoosh Torabi cautioned, "certainly, there are people out there trying to gain in the system and certainly, there are benefits to having multiple 'reward' credit cards, and while there are short-term benefits sometimes to opening up all these 'reward' cards, you have to think long-term. Is it smart for me to have all these credit cards at my fingertips? Depending on your personality, depending your tendency, this could be a disaster."
Hull said she also tries to save money whenever she can, such as buying snacks at the grocery store instead of the airport before getting on a flight, and having her parents watch the family dog when they go away.
But for the most part, Hull said that over time she and her family just got smart about managing their credit cards and purchases.
Below are some of Hull’s travel tricks.
|Maximize Rewards By Choosing the Best Credit Card for Each Purchase|
Hull said she has a dozen active credit cards that she swaps out for different purchases, such as airline cards for flights.
“A big part of our strategy is credit card sign-up bonuses," Hull said. “These banks want you to have their cards and I’m happy to get their card and take their miles and points and use them and travel the world."
|Use the 'Stacking' Strategy|
"Stacking is when you’re adding a deal on top of a deal on top of a deal," Hull explained. "So with the fuel points, I’m getting credit card points for shopping at a grocery store, and then I’m also getting money off my gas I’ll be getting anyways by buying gift cards that earn extra fuel points.”
|Shop Online Through Airline 'Shopping Portals'|
For example, Hull said, United Airlines has an online shopping portal called United Mileage Plus shopping, which rewards users with a certain amount of miles when they purchase items through them.
“If you need to buy a $100 worth of make-up you do it when Sephora has ten times online, you can earn a 1,000 United miles for your $100 Sephora purchase,” Hull explained.
|Sign Up for Dining Rewards|
“You can register your card with different dining reward networks and earn miles when you eat out without even trying,” Hull said. “It’s something that has no membership card, no paperwork, register your card, eat out and sometimes miles will magically show up in your account.”
|Aim for Elite Status|
Hull is constantly looking for opportunities to earn elite status with hotel stays. Although it’s not ideal, she will ask her husband, who travels a lot for work, to stay in three different hotels for a three-night business trip.
“You can earn like hotel elite status based on nights or stays,” she said. “So it’ll earn you three nights but for example with Hyatt, you need 50 nights in a year to reach top tier diamond or 25 stays. So if you can change hotels every night, you can get there in 25 nights instead of 50.”
|Plan One Vacation At a Time|
Hull says it helps to have one trip goal in mind.
“I have usually no more than one big trip at a time we’re planning on,” Hull said. “Sometimes little stuff pops up but it helps me to have a big goal in mind that I know I’m earning toward and that way I don’t waste my miles on other things, I make sure we have enough for what we really want.”