Near the end of medical school, my husband was preparing to match into internal medicine where he would train for the next three years.
After four years of school, he would finally be a doctor.
- He got an MD after his name.
- He traded in his short white coat for a long one.
- He started to make a middle class income.
Going from medical student to resident has expenses, though.
Applications were $99 for first 10 programs and then $13-26 for each additional program, easily totaling $1000+.
On top of that, interviews were all over the country. Some he could drive to, some he had to fly.
It was an expensive time in our lives.
But it was less expensive than it could have been because he was able to fly for FREE.
I was doing credit card hacks for him.
Who I’m writing this article for
You may be one of three camps:
1. “Theresa, I already know how to do travel hacks. We have traveled to 22 countries last year!”
Oh, awesome! You can skip this post.
2. “My credit score is low, I’m living paycheck to paycheck, and have credit card debt.”
You should skip this post, but file the info for when your situation changes.
3. “I want to learn more but I’ve always been a Dave Ramsey kind of person. Credit cards make me nervous because people have dug themselves into a hole for opening up credit cards. But I don’t want to miss out on learning, either.”
If you fall into the last group, I am talking to you!
We are busy families
There are entire cultures, groups, sites, and forums devoted to credit card hacks. I applaud them, they really are good at it.
But I am an every day person. I wear many hats and juggle many balls as wife to a fellow, mom of three, recruiter by day, and writer for this site by night.
I know your family is busy, too.
I will tell you the exact, replicable steps I took to credit card hack so you can do it, too, just after reading this article.
How credit card travel rewards work
Credit card companies want us to sign up for their credit cards by offering huge sign-on bonuses. A typical sign-on bonus is 40,000 points.
You take these points and redeem them for airline tickets. That’s how you get to fly for FREE (you pay a small 9/11 fee).
To get this sign-on bonus, you have to spend at least $X amount of dollars in X number of months.
A typical requirement is to spend $3000 within 3 months. That’s $1000 every month average.
Most families especially with kids won’t have an issue right here. If you come up short, you can buy gift cards from Amazon so you can reach that purchase minimum without increasing your cost of living.
These credit cards usually have an annual fee ranging from $69 to $450. Some of them you pay up front. Some of them are waived the first year for FREE.
Where the hack happens
If you cancel the card before your card member anniversary is up, you avoid paying the annual fee.
To do this, when you sign up for the card put a note on your Google calendar so you know to cancel it at least one billing cycle before the card member anniversary.
If you forget when your card member anniversary is, you can look it up on your credit report.
There is one huge catch
Where companies really make their money off us is when we carry a balance.
You win if you pay off the balance every month.
Remember: if you would struggle to do this, no amount of points and airline miles would be worth hacking for travel.
Here’s some rules you have to play by:
- Always, always, always pay your card in full and on time every month.
- Make sure you have enough cash in your bank than you do on the card.
- Track all your spending using a software like Personal Capital.
Let’s do it
The card that I use and recommend for your first credit card hack is Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP). You don’t need to bank with Chase to open this card.
- This card earns Ultimate Rewards points, which never expire.
- Points are transferable to many partners.
- The rules are also easy to understand.
These are all great conditions for a beginner credit card hacker. This is why I am a fan of the Chase family of cards.
At the time of this writing, CSP offers 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4000 in 3 months. The annual fee is $95 but waived for the first year. If you add your DocSpouse as an authorized user who makes a purchase in in 3 months, you get an extra 5,000 bonus points.
If the current sign-on promotion is less than 50,000 points, then wait. That’s lousy! The 50,000 deal will run again.
Steps to take
1. Open a CSP card. Make your DocSpouse an authorized user.
2. Repeat and open a CSP card for your DrSpouse. Add yourself as an authorized user.
3. You and your DrSpouse make a purchase on each of your respective spouses’ cards.
3. Consolidate your points by transferring them to one of your accounts (doesn’t matter which) so that you have a total of 110,000 points on one account.
4. Instead of booking your flights on Kayak or the airline website directly, go through the Chase Portal and redeem your points there for FREE flights. You will also get a 25% bonus for using the Portal.
100,000 Ultimate Reward points is valued at about $1000 cash value, but redeemed for travel through the Portal, it’s actually $1200 worth of travel.
You can relax because your Ultimate Rewards Points never expire even when you close your credit card account. Once you earn them, they are yours forever.
To keep track of all your points in one place without having to make your own spreadsheet, I use and recommend Award Wallet. It lets me know when points are about to expire and how much I have.
List of don’ts
- Don’t redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for gift cards. It’s poor value.
- Don’t redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for cash. Again, poor value.
You will get the most value out of your Ultimate Rewards points if you spend it on flights.
How we use our Ultimate Rewards points
My husband and I always had an average of about 150,000 Ultimate Rewards Points all throughout residency. Right now, we have a little over 250,000.
I know that seems like an unreachable amount of points. And you are betting how much I must be spending.
“Does your toddler have an iPhone?? Does every room have a flat screen TV?? Do you wear once and throw away Lululemon leggings??”
Haha no! It wasn’t hard. We just put our normal, every day expenses on the CSP and pay our balance in full every month.
He was able to fly to all of his residency interviews for FREE.
Throughout residency, we also took two trips to Florida, another to Las Vegas, and another trip to California with our kids as a crew of four (Baby #3 wasn’t born yet) for very, very cheap.
When to do this
If your intention is to use your Ultimate Reward points to travel to residency interviews, you should open a CSP card by the beginning of your spouse’s third year of medical school.
You can also open your CSP card before you make large, medical-related purchases like pay for Step 1 or Step 2 board fees or travel to conferences to help meet the spending requirement.
It takes a few billing cycles for points to appear in your accounts. If you need to book flights very soon, don’t pull it too close or you’ll miss it.
When not to do this
If you are planning to buy a house or refinance your student loans in the next few months, hold off on credit card hacking.
Applying for a card will do what they call a “hard pull,” which dings your credit score by 5 points per hard pull. In a few months, it will go back up again. But if you are applying for the best rates, every point counts.
- Open up a CSP card and make your spouse an authorized user. Repeat with your spouse and make them an authorized user.
- Redeem your points through the Chase Portal to book your flight.
- Enjoy FREE travel.
- Cancel the card before the second anniversary so you don’t have to pay the annual fee.
Want to keep going?
If you are ready for more credit card hacks, you can start churning several cards.
Churning is a type of credit card hack that’s more advanced. Instead of opening up and closing one card like we just did, you are doing this to multiple cards.