How Long Does It Take To Earn Enough Credit Card Points for a Free Trip?

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Traveling for free definitely beats spending hundreds of dollars on flights and hotels. But how long does it take to earn a free trip with credit card points?

It depends on how much you spend and the card you use, says Mike Pearson, credit expert and founder of Credit Takeoff, a site that specializes in credit-building advice. It could take you years to earn a free flight with a straightforward 1% cash back credit card. However, some cards offer sign-up bonuses which can let you earn a free trip much faster, Pearson adds. With some of the more attractive welcome bonuses currently offered by major credit card issuers, you could earn a free trip in as little as three months. 

If you want to earn a trip with credit card points, you should do your research and be strategic about the card you choose. Here’s everything you need to know about booking a trip with points, plus some of our favorite high-earning credit card options. 

Planning Your Trip

When choosing a credit card that will earn you enough points to get a free trip, it’s important to be strategic and realistic about what rewards you’ll actually use. “Don’t get blinded by these initial offers if you’re not going to actually end up using them,” says Tori Dunlap, founder of Her First $100K and host of the Financial Feminist podcast. Instead, she says, you should figure out exactly what’s important to you. If you don’t plan to fly a lot, you might be better served using your credit card points for hotels, rental cars, or even special events and excursions instead of airline miles.

On the other hand, if you typically opt to book Airbnb rentals, a hotel loyalty card likely wouldn’t benefit you. In that case, Dunlap says, it’s probably a good idea to sign up for an airline credit card if you fly one airline all the time. You might get perks like free checked bags in addition to earning rewards. If you tend to fly different airlines, use a general travel rewards card with flexible redemption options. 

It’s a good idea to apply for a travel rewards card well in advance of your trip so you have time to earn the welcome bonus. And if you have any large purchases planned, putting them on your new credit card can help you earn points faster. 

Earning the Miles

With most rewards cards, you’ll earn at least 1 point per dollar for every purchase. But some categories may have higher rewards rates. For example, you could rack up points faster if you hold a card that earns double points on dining at restaurants. But that won’t be as lucrative as most welcome bonuses, which are “the quickest way to accumulate a lot of points quickly and upfront,” according to Pearson. 

Once you have enough points, you can either:

  • Redeem your points in cash to book a flight on any website
  • Use your points to book a flight directly through your credit card issuer’s travel portal
  • Transfer your points to airline partners to potentially get more value

“When you transfer points to an airline or hotel, you generally get more bang for your buck,” says Pearson. For example, based on what you’d pay in cash versus miles, we calculated that American Airlines AAdvantage miles are worth 1.4 cents each, United Airlines MileagePlus miles are worth 1.6 cents each, and Delta Airlines SkyMiles are worth 1.2 cents each. 

Booking Hotels

Hotel loyalty programs like Marriott Bonvoy, IHG Rewards, and Hilton Honors are free rewards programs you can use to get free or discounted hotel stays. You can earn points by staying at hotels or spending at partners — for example, you can earn Marriott Bonvoy points for eating at certain restaurants, and you’ll get Hilton Honors points if you link your Hilton account to your Lyft account and pay for rides. 

You can also transfer credit card points to certain hotel programs, but Dunlap says you should do your research to make sure you’re getting the best deal. When looking at hotel bookings, compare the cost of a stay in dollars to the cost of a stay in points. If you find you won’t get much value out of your points, you may want to save them for a different reward and pay for your hotel stay in cash. 

Pro Tip

Always compare the price of a trip in dollars to the value you get out of your credit card points.

You should also check to see if you’d get a better deal by booking through your credit card issuer’s travel portal. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® offer boosted value for your points when you use them to book travel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. 

Which Cards Have the Highest Rewards Rates?

There are several credit cards that currently offer high rewards rates along with lucrative sign-up bonuses that can help you earn free travel faster. However, you should only apply for one of these cards if you can comfortably earn the sign-up bonus without overspending. Do the math to make sure you’ll earn enough rewards to offset the annual fee, and pay attention to any other credit card perks that may be important to you. 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Now is a great time to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is one of the best credit cards with an annual fee under $100. That’s because you can earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in your first three months. If you redeem those points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, they’ll be worth $1,250 towards travel. 

What’s more, you’ll get 2X points on dining and travel and 1X points on all other purchases. This card also comes with premium perks like 1:1 transfers, boosted points for spending at select partners, and no foreign transaction fees. 

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card comes with a 60,000 point sign-up bonus when you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months. That’s worth $900 when you use it to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. You’ll earn 3X points on travel and dining worldwide, 10X points on Lyft rides, and have access to premium travel benefits like access to airport lounges.  

The card comes with a $550 annual fee, but you’ll also get a $300 annual travel credit and a credit for TSA PreCheck every four years, plus a limited-time free membership to Lyft, Peloton, and DoorDash DashPass, and up to $60 in DoorDash statement credits. If you’ll use these benefits and you can comfortably earn the sign-up bonus, this card may be worth it for you. 

American Express® Gold Card

If you dine out or shop for groceries frequently, the American Express Gold card could be the perfect travel rewards credit card for you. You’ll earn 60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first three months, plus 4X points at restaurants and 4X points on up to $25,000 in grocery store purchases per year. 

In addition, you get 3X points for flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel. For a limited time, you’ll also get $120 in Uber Cash for dining or rides. When you consider that the annual fee is only $250, it’s easy to see the value in this card. 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Editor’s Score: (4.5/5)
  • Intro bonus:
    100,000 points
  • Annual fee:
    $95
  • Regular APR:
    15.99% – 22.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
  • Learn more externa link icon at our partner’s secure site.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)
  • Intro bonus:
    60,000 points
  • Annual fee:
    $550
  • Regular APR:
    16.99%-23.99% Variable
  • Recommended credit:
    740-850 (Excellent)
  • Learn more externa link icon at our partner’s secure site.
American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

Editor’s Score: (4.3/5)

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum Card from American Express is a luxury card with a high $695 annual fee. But it comes with a ton of perks that make this card worth it for frequent travelers. You get a $200 hotel credit on prepaid hotels, a $200 airline travel credit for incidental travel fees for one selected airline, $200 in Uber Cash for rides or dining, a $240 digital entertainment credit, a credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, and more. 

You’ll also get 5X points on flights booked with airlines or American Express Travel, up to $500,000 per year, and 5X points on prepaid hotels booked through Amex Travel. Because of the sheer number of perks this card offers, it’s relatively easy to offset the annual fee with rewards. You’ll even get access to 1,300 airport lounges worldwide to elevate your travel experience.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.

For rates and fees of American Express® Gold Card, please click here.