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  • Writer's pictureCrystal

My First Year: Step by Step

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

I think it can be really helpful to see how people actually earn and use points, so I'm sharing exactly what cards we opened, how many points we earned (less dollars spent), and how we redeemed them since I started travel hacking in June 2022.


At the time, I didn't have a specific goal in mind, other than knowing that I wanted to go for the Southwest Companion Pass and eventually be able to book first class flights to Europe.


You certainly do not need to open as many cards as we did in the first year. I have two businesses and Ray was a very willing "player 2," which I know is not always be the case. It is definitely possible to do this with only person opening cards and even without opening any business cards, it will just take longer to accumulate points and you may need to transfer points from multiple reward programs to airline/hotel accounts.


June 2022

  • I opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred, earning 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Note: this card typically has a 60,000 point sign-up bonus (SUB) but sometimes bumps up the offer.

July 2022

  • Ray used my referral ink to open a Chase Sapphire Preferred, earning 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points. I earned 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points for the referral.

October 2022

November 2022

  • I opened a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus using Ray's referral link and earned 60,000 Southwest points (met minimum spend in early January so that it would count toward 2023 Companion Pass). Ray earned 20,000 Southwest points for the referral.


January 2023

  • I opened a Southwest Airlines Premier Business card and earned 80,000 Southwest points. This put me over the 135,000 qualifying points required for the Companion Pass, which was added to my account in early February.

February 2023

  • Ray opened a Chase Ink Business Cash using my referral link and earned 90,000 Ultimate Rewards points. I earned 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points for the referral.

May 2023

  • I opened a second opened a Chase Ink Business Cash using my SSN and earned 75,000 Ultimate Rewards points. I used Ray's referral link and he earned 40,000 Ultimate Reward points.

  • Ray opened an American Express Gold Card and earned 90,000 Member Reward points. Note: this card typically has a 60,000 point SUB but sometimes bumps up the offer.

Totals

Not counting points for the money we've spent on these cards, we earned 510,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points, 220,000 Southwest points, 90,000 American Express Member Rewards points, and the Southwest Companion Pass in our first year of travel hacking.


Redemptions

Again, this is not a blueprint but I think it can be helpful to see what you can actually get for a particular number of points, so I'm going to share how we redeemed our points. They're listed by travel date. I booked our first award flight less than two months after I opened my first card.


October 2022

  • Two roundtrip flights to Orlando on Frontier Airlines: 24,538 Ultimate Rewards points booked through Chase's travel portal. Taxes and fees: $19.18

November 2022

  • Two roundtrip flights to Phoenix on Southwest: 72,694 Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Southwest Rapid Rewards account Taxes and fees: $22.40

February 2023

  • Two roundtrip flights to Ft. Lauderdale on Southwest: 36,778 Southwest points. Taxes and fees: $22.40

March 2023

  • Two roundtrip flights to Orlando on Southwest: 22,412 Southwest points plus Companion Pass. Taxes and fees: $22.40

April 2023

  • Three roundtrip flights to Ft. Myers on Southwest: 39,498 Southwest points plus Companion Pass. Taxes and fees: $33.60

July 2023 (booked; not taken)

  • Two roundtrip flights to Chicago on Southwest: 25,338 Southwest points plus Companion Pass. Taxes and fees: $22.40

August 2023 (booked; not taken)

  • Two roundtrip flights to Jacksonville on Southwest: 13,711 Southwest points plus Companion Pass. Taxes and fees: $22.40

September 2023 (booked; not taken)

  • Three roundtrip flights to Raleigh on Southwest: 21,862 Southwest points plus Companion Pass. Taxes and fees: $33.60

November 2023 (booked; not taken)

  • Two one-way flights to JFK on JetBlue: 12,000 Ultimate Rewards points transferred to TrueBlue account (plus 3,000 pre-existing TrueBlue points). Tases and fees: $11.20

  • Two roundtrip First-Class flights to Paris on Air France: 176,000 Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Air France FlyingBlue account with a 25% transfer bonus (total 220,000 points). Taxes and fees: $1094

  • Two one-way flights to Buffalo on Delta: 15,000 Virgin Atlantic points (these are points I had previously earned on cash tickets to London). Taxes and fees: $11.20

  • 6 nights in a 5-star hotel in Paris: 240,000 Ultimate Rewards points transferred to World of Hyatt account. World of Hyatt points can be used to book non-Hyatt hotels that are part of the Small Luxury Hotels portfolio. Taxes and fees: $46

Final Totals

That's 22 roundtrip airline tickets and 6 nights in a 5-star hotel for a total cash cost of about $1,340 in taxes/fees and $680 in credit card annual fees.


After all of these redemptions, we have about 97,000 Southwest points, 115,000 American Express points, and 41,000 Ultimate Reward points remaining. I know the math doesn't quite work out between earnings, redemptions, and remaining points but I didn't account for the points we earned from the spending on these cards, which can add up, especially if you utilize higher reward categories. (Like four points per dollar in grocery stores with the American Express Gold Card.)


I also didn't account for points earned through activities other than sign-up bonuses and referral bonuses. For example, when I am paying cash, I book hotel stays through the Southwest Rapid Rewards portal. The rates are almost always the same as the hotel website and I earn Southwest points on money I would've spend anyway. We've earned about 22,000 Southwest points on hotel stays in the past year.


Finally, I think it's important to share that our credit scores are both still above 800. That was my biggest concern when we started all of this and so far, it seems true that travel hacking does not significantly impact your credit score so long as you pay off your accounts each month.


**The links above are referral links. If you use any of these links to apply for a credit card and you are approved, I will receive a pre-determined number of points as a referral bonus. Always use referral links to apply when possible, either from a friend or from a valued content creator. And share your own referral links with family and friends once you open a card you love!

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