Great Credit Card Bonuses to Hack Your Way to a Great Trip!

Southwest Airlines and the Companion Pass

They’re back! The highest bonus that I’ve ever gotten for the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier card from Chase is now again 50,000 Rapid Rewards. And similarly, the same bonus is back for the Premier business card. And many of you know what that means… Another awesome opportunity for the Companion Pass!

For those of you who are not aware of the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass or how to get it, you can see my post from 2012. There are some slight changes, but the general information is still the same. Basically, you apply and are approved for both cards (business and personal), spend $2,000 on each card within three months, and receive 104,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards. Once you have received 110,000 Rapid Rewards in one calendar year, your companion is able to travel with you for the rest of the current calendar year and all of the following year for zero miles. You only pay the taxes on the ticket on their ticket (of course you still have to pay for your ticket with cash or points). For those of you who travel a lot domestically, this is a great benefit and one that no other airline offers.

For those astute readers, you may have noticed that the two cards will give you 104,000 Rapid Rewards, but you need 110,000. There are a variety of ways to get the additional 6,000 you need, but the easiest for us is just spending an additional $6,000 on one or both of the cards. Of course, we use our favorite manufactured spending technique to do this instead of putting day to day expenses on the card. Others transfer some of their Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt and then transfer those Hyatt points to their Southwest account.

Keep in mind that there are a variety of ways to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards, but not all of them count towards the Companion Pass so make sure you don’t do any transferring, etc. without knowing for sure whether or not they will count. Also, remember that one person needs to get both cards. You can’t get one card and your spouse another and combine the Rewards. All Rewards have to be earned in one persons name.

The best way to proceed with this offer, if the Companion Pass is what you’re after, is to ideally wait until early/mid October to apply. Then, don’t meet the spending requirement on both cards until January. That way, you’ll receive the 50,000 mile bonus from each card in 2016 thereby giving you almost two full years of a Companion Pass (2016 and 2017). If you earn that bonus in December, you will get the pass for the remainder of 2015 and all of 2016. Still great, but not nearly as much time as if you got the bonuses in 2016.

Also remember that if you work towards your spending in 2015, but don’t hit the $2,000 spending requirement until 2016, the Rapid Rewards received from spending in 2015 will not count towards the 110,000 total (you need to hit 110,000 Rapid Rewards in one calendar year). While I’m going to wait for a bit until applying for these cards because I’d like to apply in early/mid October, I don’t know when this offer is going to expire. There doesn’t appear to be an expiration date on the application so apply or don’t apply at your own risk! Of course, if I find out when it is due to expire, I will be sure to update this post! Alternatively, you could simply be happy with 104,000 Rapid Rewards and not worry about the Companion Pass (104,000 Rapid Rewards can take you far, after all). If that’s you, apply right away!

Starwood Preferred Guest

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The other awesome offer out there right now that is expiring soon is the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express. Right now the sign up bonus is 30,000 SPG points after spending $3,000 on the card in 3 months. There is a similar offer for the SPG business credit card. The traditional offer is 25,000 points so this is only a 5,000 point increase. However, if you’re able to get both cards (keep in mind that you can only get the personal card once per lifetime) or if both you and your spouse get the card, the bonuses can be combined to get you 60,000 SPG points or 75,000 miles transferred to most any airline (SPG gives you a 5,000 mile bonus every time you transfer 20,000 to the airline of your choice).

Transferring your points to airlines isn’t the only way to use your Starpoints. You can also use them at any hotel that is a part of the Starwood chain. That includes Westin’s, Sheratons, St. Regis’, among others. We used our 60,000 Starpoints from a past application for a 5 night vacation in St. John, USVI in 2012. Those rooms approach $500 a night with taxes so that was a pretty good use of our Starpoints.

Another popular redemption opportunity is the Nights and Flights package. Redeeming for Nights and Flights, you use 60,000 SPG points and you get 5 nights at any category 3 property in the world along with 50,000 miles transferred to your airline of choice. Similarly, you can redeem 70,000 SPG points for 5 nights at a category 4 property along with the 50,000 miles transferred to the airline of your choice (you’ll have 66,000 after meeting the spending on the two cards and can spend your way to the 70,000 pretty easily). Unfortunately, the Nights and Flights package only works for hotels in SPG categories 3 and 4. Properties in other categories are ineligible.

A popular adaptation of the Nights and Flights package for families is a 5 night stay at the Walt Disney World Swan (a category 4 Westin property). You’d then transfer the 50,000 miles that comes with the package to an airline program like British Airways whose program is distance based. That means that shorter flights cost fewer miles and longer flights cost more miles. For people on the east coast, you may be able to get as many as 3 roundtrip tickets to Orlando from this package due to the short flight times (assuming award availability).

In short, there are a couple of really great credit card offers out there right now that can get you a lot of travel quickly. We’ve pursued these cards in the past and hacked our way to pretty big travel. If you’re just getting started in travel hacking through signing up for credit cards, you can’t go wrong with either of these options.

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