There are two questions that, hands down, we get more than any other question from friends and readers:
1. Can you help me find a cheap flight?
2. What’s the best credit card for earning free flights and hotels?
The second question is the bread and butter of the whole traveling cheap game, so we’re getting to that. After, we’ll provide some very simple hints for flight searches.
What’s the best credit card? Like most things in life, that depends. But below are the four that are in our wallet.
1. To me, hands down the best all around card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Why?
- Earn 2 points per dollar spent on dining and travel, 1 point per dollar on everything else.
- Earn 40,000 points when you meet spending requirements, and if you add an authorized user like a partner, you get an additional 5,000 points. Adding another person does not do a pull on their credit!
- Transfer points to a number of airline or hotel loyalty programs like United, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, and more!
- No foreign transaction fees and the card have a chip for easier use in places like Europe
When travel experts talk cards, the Sapphire always makes the list of top cards. If you have only one card in your wallet, this should be it! You can apply for it here!
2. The American Express Starwood is also a great card. Why?
- For starters, the annual fee is one of the lower ones on the market at $
65($0 year one). Update: The card now comes with a $95 annual fee. But it adds some cool perks like no foreign transaction fees and a free Boingo WiFi plan. Read more here.
- 25,000 VALUABLE Starwood points when you meet the minimum spend.
- Starwood points are some of the most valuable travel points out there. You can use them at Starwood properties, or transfer them 1-1 to most airlines and you get a bonus when you transfer 20k points. For example, a 20k transfer from Starwood to American Airlines earns you 25,000 points.
- American Express, though not taken everywhere, has provided great customer support to me over the years!
3. If you run a small business, you need a Chase Ink! It’s our favorite small business card. Why?
- The Chase Ink earns a whopping 5 points at office supply stores as well as on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services.
- It earns 2 points per dollar at gas stations and on hotel accommodations and 1 point her dollar on other purchases.
- Like the Sapphire Preferred, the Ink card is part of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so the points pool with any points from the Sapphire you have and transfer to airlines like United or Southwest, and hotels like Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG!
- It also comes with two complimentary lounge visits each year at a participating Lounge Club locations and no foreign transaction fees.
Like the other two cards, the annual fee is waived the first year. After that, the fee is $95 a year. Apply here!
4. If you travel a lot, the expensive but valuable American Express Platinum might be for you. Why?
- The card has a ton of travel benefits. For starters, earn $200 a year of credits to use toward the airline of your choice. You can use this for baggage fees, food on board, etc… and many people have been able to use it to buy gift cards.
- Amex has created some great lounges called Centurion lounges in DFW, Miami, SFO, a smaller version in Seattle, as well as La Guardia, Vegas, and Buenos Aires, with promises of more to come!
- The card comes with a free application to Global Entry, allowing you to enter the United States in mere minutes.
- The card comes with a host of elite privileges with other partners: You get free access to Delta Lounges, Priority Pass Lounges (which can be found worldwide), and you also get elite status with Starwood Hotels and a host of car rental companies.
- Free unlimited Boingo wifi worldwide at Boingo hotspots for 4 devices.
This sounds great, so why have you not heard of the card? The annual fee is $450. $200 of airline credit you would probably use reduces it to $250 and then you determine if the other benefits are valuable enough for you. If so, apply for the card here!
Update: As American Airlines has become my go to carrier, I’ve made the switch to the Citi Prestige. $250 airline credit (instead of Amex $200), a bet Priority Pass membership, and more you can read about here!
And how about some basic money saving tips when we search for flights?
1. Don’t just look on Kayak or worse Expedia. We also like to use Skyscanner and Hipmunk. We also use something called ITA Matrix but this requires a bit of studying to learn how to utilize it. Read up if you’re really into it. For whatever reason, CheapoAir has also always been really good to me!
2. Be flexible with dates and times. The cheapest departures are usually EARLY in the morning and there’s an incredible upside to this: The earliest flight of the day almost always leaves on time, because the plane usually arrived the night before. If on time departures are important you, early flights are a good deal! As for when to book, there’s a study for that! And the cheapest days to fly: Wednesday is the cheapest, followed by Tuesday and Saturday. The most expensive days: Friday and Sunday.
3. Some airlines don’t show up on sites like Orbitz and Kayak. Southwest is probably the biggest player in the game where you need to go to their website to see their options.
4. And take advantage of the 24 hour cancelation policy. Most people don’t realize that airlines have to provide you a 24 hour window to cancel or change your ticket, free of penalty. Now, you still have to buy the ticket, but you’ve got the option to cancel it. There’s one notable exception: American Airlines. With American, you can go through the steps to purchase a ticket and then at the purchase page click free 24 hour hold. The flight is held, for free, for at least 24 hours. For award tickets, the hold is even longer: 7 days! I often will hold a flight and the next day see if the price dropped.
The cards discussed are the four credit cards I keep in my wallet. I use the Sapphire Preferred for most purchases, rely on the Ink for the charges at office supply stores and phone and internet bills, and you’d be amazed just what you can get in office supply stores these days! Finally, I use my Amex Starwood from time to time and I keep my Platinum card in my wallet for the incredible benefits and rarely spend on it. If you’ve got questions about cards or the simple travel tips above, let us know!
Note: Laura and I do receive a small amount of points if you click on the links for the Sapphire Preferred, Starwood Amex, or Amex Platinum. We appreciate your support if you do decide to get one of those cards!