Watching Your Wallet: Travel More, Spend Less

Virginia man takes $4,000 Disney vacation for $150

Financial experts give tips on how to use loyalty and rewards programs to save on travel.

RICHMOND, Virginia (InvestigateTV) - Love to travel? How about a free flight or hotel room?

One Henrico, Virginia man found a way to make credit cards work for him by using points to book free trips for years. Brad Barrett loves to scroll through several memory books filled with photos of his family vacations.

“We went to Europe this past summer the four of us flew for free. We went to Bermuda, we went to Boston for a little trip, a whole bunch of these nice little family vacations,” Barrett said.

It was the first trip to Disney five years ago that forever changed Barrett’s life.

"I realized OK, this is going to cost me $4,000, but maybe there’s a smart way to do it,” Barrett said. He figured out by targeting specific, high value credit card rewards programs, he could cover all of his family of four’s travel expenses. In the end, that $4,000 Disney trip only cost him a $150.

“That was the point where we said, OK, this is real. How can we benefit from this in the maximum amount?” Barrett said.

The Barrett’s started deliberately opening up credit cards and getting the sign up bonuses. They put all of their spending on the cards, but Barrett said there is one key: “As long as you’re paying it off on time and in full, then to me, there’s no downside.”

Barrett said he has an excellent credit score and pays his cards off each month. That means he never leaves a balance on his cards and therefore doesn’t accrue interest.

“If you pay any interest on these cards it immediately cancels out the benefit of any rewards that you’re earning,” financial expert Kim Palmer said.

“You want to really try to get a card that’s best for you at least five months before you’re traveling because that gives you time to accrue those points,” Palmer said.

Palmer said you want to be earning at least 1 percent back on all your spending.

NerdWallet has a comparison tool to help you figure out which card could be right for you.

“If you put all your everyday spending on a travel rewards card and meet the spending requirements to receive the valuable point bonus, you will earn an average of $901 in travel rewards the first year and $277 on each subsequent year. So, that’s really significant savings you can put towards your trip,” Palmer said.

If you like to travel with a certain airline, NerdWallet also points out a credit card tied to that airline may be best for you. As always, they recommend you look over the benefits and read the fine print.

Barrett ultimately left his job as a CPA at age 35. He started working full-time on his website - Richmond Savers - teaching others how to use credit rewards points to travel. Then he teamed up with a like-minded friend and started the popular podcast ‘ChooseFI’ which means choose financial independence.

"I get to live this life that I choose. When my kids get off the bus at 3:00 p.m. I'm there, and when we go to the pool every day, I'm there for three hours. I'm the only dad there.”

For more of Palmer’s tips on using rewards cards – watch the video below.

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