Hannah and Chad Janis have shared a love of adventure since they met while attending Brigham Young University. So after a brief stint in New York City working in finance, they decided quit their jobs and travel the world — for free.
Thanks to 42 credit cards that helped them earn 2 million points in one year,they’ve visited 18 countries (with many more on their itinerary) and saved a total of $62,000 on travel expenses.
But they’re not keeping their strategies to themselves. Chad designed an app called Wall Street Minimalist to help people track credit card rewards and find the best ways to score free flights. You can also follow their adventures on Instagram and YouTube as well as their website, Hannah and Chad.
Chad Janis spoke to INSIDER about their tried-and-true travel hacks that have earned them free trips.
(Photos courtesy of Hannah and Chad Janis.)
Have a solid financial foundation.
Set yourself up for success before you dive into credit card churning and travel hacking. Janis recommends setting up a system of automated bank accounts that can save, invest, and pay bills so that the basics are covered.
“We recommend getting your financial system set up before you even try this,” Janis told INSIDER.
Keep track of your credit score.
A credit score is calculated according to five factors: payment history, credit utilization, length of credit history, total accounts and credit mix, and new credit and credit inquiries.
A good credit score is crucial to successfully apply for new cards and reap new rewards. Janis recommends using Credit Karma to monitor this number.
“You can’t do anything or get more cards without that,” he said.
Plan ahead to make the most out of miles and rewards.
Having thousands of miles on a domestic airline won’t help you if you decide that you want to take a trip overseas. If there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit, choose a credit card with rewards, points, or miles that will help you get there.
“Know ahead of time where you want to go and get cards that transfer to those places,” he said.
Avoid paying annual fees.
If you have multiple credit cards with annual fees, that money adds up.
Janis and his wife have only ever paid one annual fee for their main credit card, Chase Sapphire Reserve. He’s found that most credit card companies will offer to waive the annual fee if you call them and say you want to cancel the card.
“Someone on the phone once said ‘Hey look out the window — that’s your annual fee running down the street,'” he said.
Embrace signup bonuses.
Annual fees are ok if the signup bonus is worth it.
Chad and Hannah once earned a $1,800 signup bonus by buying two bagels with the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red card.
Collecting the signup bonus for that particular credit card was as easy as making a purchase within the first 90 days and paying the annual fee.
Read the fine print when signing up for a card.
According to Janis, the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red card allowed for the possibility of eanring 60,000 bonus miles, but this info was buried in a footnote in promotional materials.
Other cards will have other rules, but it goes to show that reading the fine print can pay off big time.
“That’s how we got to South Africa,” he said.
Take advantage of airline loyalty programs.
Airline loyalty programs can save you thousands of dollars in flight costs.
For example, the Southwest Companion Pass allows the holder to bring one companion on flights for free — that essentially cuts the cost of every flight you take with a friend or partner in half.
Getting the pass requires earning 110,000 points in one year, but you don’t necessarily have to spend $110,000 in a year to get the pass. At one point, it was possible to open other Southwest credit cards with 60,000-point signup bonuses, instantly earning 120,000 points (the offer has since expired).
The Janises carefully planned exactly when to apply for the cards and hit their minimum spending requirements and received the Southwest Companion Pass for two years.
The Janises don’t own a TV or a dining room table. They carefully plan their purchases in order to maximize rewards and try to avoid spending money on things that don’t help get them closer to another free trip.
Not having lots of possessions to pack up also makes traveling the world that much easier.
Don’t be afraid to open new credit cards.
The Janises have opened 26 credit cards in the last year — and have 42 total — and their credit scores are going strong.
Janis says that “travel hacking is kind of convoluted,” but keeping track of all of the cards (and their terms and conditions) is key. He designed an app that tracks rates and gives alerts for anniversary dates of credit cards, among other tools. Other travel hackers use spreadsheets.
If you’re new to travel hacking, you don’t have to go out and open dozens of credit cards. Start small while you learn the ins and outs.
Janis recommends starting with just one trip a year.
“With the right preparation, as long as you have the foundation in place, there’s a card out there that can give you 45,000 points to go where you want to,” Janis said.
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This article originally appeared in BusinessInsider.com.