5 Credit Cards That Can Help You Fly For Nearly Free

Filed Under: Credit Cards
In the interest of full disclosure, OMAAT earns a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the below links. The information and associated card details on this page for the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card card has been collected independently by OMAAT and has not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer. These are the best publicly available offers (terms apply) that we have found for each product or service. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, hotel chain, or product manufacturer/service provider, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Please check out our advertiser policy for further details about our partners, and thanks for your support!

I’m often asked how I earn the miles for my trips, given that I spend so much of my time in the air. Like most savvy mileage nuts, I earn through a combination of credit card bonuses, flying, strategically purchasing miles, and taking advantage of every promotion out there.

I earn well over a million miles a year, which I don’t think is really unattainable for most.

I probably fly about 200,000 miles per year on American, and as an Executive Platinum member I get a 100% bonus on miles, so that’s 400,000 miles right there. Living in hotels has also given me the opportunity to rack up points on hotel spend, which has made that practice more sustainable.

I pick up 2-3 cards every three months or so, so I’m constantly on the look out for the best welcome bonuses. I earn upwards of 500,000 points each year from applying for new credit card alone, so taking advantage of the best offers is key for me.

For other people though, or those just starting out in the hobby, there are a few “core” cards that you should consider adding to your portfolio. These include:

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

While I hold onto a ton of credit cards long term, if I could pick just one card it would be the Sapphire Preferred. While there are other great cards out there, the Chase Sapphire Preferred has withstood the test of time.

So it’s the card I’ve always recommended to people who are new to the hobby, but now there’s even more reason than before to make the Chase Sapphire Preferred among the first credit cards you apply for.

Best for: multiple transfer partners and good bonus categories

Redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for travel in Singapore A380 Suites Class

The Citi Prestige Card and Citi Premier® Card (review)

People new to this hobby are always surprised when they find out just how easy credit card sign-up bonuses are to earn. “So you’re saying I spend $X amount in Y days and then earn ____ points? What’s the catch?!”

For the most part it really is that easy.

Best for: domestic travel without blackout dates

Redeem Citi ThankYou points towards travel on American and other airlines

The Citi® Double Cash Card

A good cash-back card is key for getting the most value out of your miles nowadays. Many carriers levy hefty fuel surcharges on award tickets, and there are always taxes, ticketing fees, and sometimes change fees to consider.

A cash-back card shifts the balance scale closer to “free” travel, in my opinion. While a lot of people like to put the words “free” and “miles” in the same sentence (in other words, miles are “free,” so who cares if award charts are devalued), there’s a direct opportunity cost to every mile you earn, so you want to make sure you’re getting a good return on all your spend.

I like the Citi® Double Cash Card for a no annual fee credit card that offers 1% cash back on every purchase, and then an additional 1% cash back when you pay for those purchases.

There are no limits to the amount of cash back you can earn. For a card with no annual fee, that’s a return which is tough to beat.

Best for: subsidizing fees on award tickets, establishing a travel “fund”

The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card

In addition to the sign-up bonuses, using the right credit cards for different types of spend can also make a big difference. Rather than earning 1x point per dollar spent, you can often earn 2-5x points per dollar spent. Those points can quickly add up.

This card doesn’t have a huge sign-up bonus, but has excellent bonus categories for the average consumer. You’re earning three points per dollar at US supermarkets and two points per dollar at US gas stations, plus you get a 50% bonus when you make 30 purchases in a billing cycle.

That means you’re earning 4.5 points per dollar spent at supermarkets, 3.0 points per dollar spent at gas stations, and 1.5 points per dollar spent on everything else.

Membership Rewards points are one of my favorite transferable points currencies, so this is a card I highly recommend.

Best for: Maximizing bonus categories and great partner redemptions

Redeem AmEx Membership Rewards points for travel in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

Bottom line

Unlike others I’m not making a claim that travel is “free” or costs “just pennies,” though I certainly respect that approach.

There are tangible costs to using miles, and opportunity costs to using less-lucrative cards for your spending, so it’s important to leverage your purchasing power if you want to get the most out of your miles and points.

It won’t necessarily come together all at once, and does take some work.

I try to highlight the best current credit card offers each month, but if you are just starting out I would choose two or three of the above cards, and then build from there. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for “mega” offers (that can be as high as 100,000 miles), so stay tuned to the blog for updates.

Lastly, there’s a common misconception that applying for credit cards will typically hurt your credit score. The reality can be the opposite — in my case, having lots of credit cards actually helps my credit score, and doesn’t hurt it.

Happy traveling!

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  1. Hello Lucky,

    Quick q, would you see chase ink have something better offer coming up anytime soon? Thanks!

  2. Is the Amex preferred six thousand dollar limit on grocery spending based on calendar year or card membership year? Thanks, Nate.

  3. @ Wesley C — They had Small Business Week several weeks ago, during which they had an increased offer. We may see a bigger offer around the same time next year, but wouldn’t count on it in the meantime.

  4. Your Stone’s article was brought to my attention by my SOs daughter. In it you are quoted as having said “The people who run these programs are idiots.” Talk like that is usually bad for business.

  5. @Norman: BofA doesn’t have any valuable card when it comes to travel rewards except the Travel Rewards card if you’re looking for good cash-back (2.675%) and you’re willing to maintain a $100k balance. They offer an Alaska card with 1 point / dollar (up to 3) and 25,000 miles bonus and a Virgin Atlantic card with 1.5 / dollar (up to 3) and 20,000 points bonus. Nothing considerable. Better to choose something from Citi or Chase.

  6. I have a great credit score of just over 800. I don’t have debt and am obsessed with travelling… I’m glad I finally found this site! So if I use 3 or even 4 credit cards and build up mileage would I be able to add all the mileage together and fly, hopefully, very very cheaply? Can you like ‘cash out’ and receive a voucher at any time? Just a little confused on this part. Thanks for your time!

  7. @ Jonny — Welcome and thanks for reading! Be sure to check out the beginner’s guide, which should point you in the right direction:

    Many points currencies can be combined towards a single ticket. And how you can redeem miles depends on which you earn. Give the beginner’s guide a read and keep checking the site daily for a few weeks and I guarantee you’ll be on the right track. 🙂

  8. @ AlohaDaveKennedy — Unfortunately was taken out of context while referencing one industry executive. Certainly wasn’t talking about industry execs as a whole, as there are plenty of great programs run by brilliant people. I certainly regret saying anything that could be interpreted to suggest otherwise. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re interviewed for over a hundred hours and then they cherry-pick what goes in the article. The first time I saw the story was after it was published.

  9. Sorry to keep hammering this point, Lucky, but you NEVER seem to acknowledge in the title or the article that these offers are available to residents of the United States of America ONLY (approx 4% of the world’s population!).
    I have followed your links countless times, and always run up against the insurmountable obstacle of ‘social security number.’
    I ask, nay beg, you to include this caveat in the headline. For instance, this article could be titled “5 Credit Cards That Can Help American Residents Fly For Nearly Free.”

    Bottom line: since you are often sponsored by the card companies, it’s misleading advertising on your part — presumably you are paid per click?

    Please respect your readers worldwide.

  10. The issue I’ve run into lately is that Chase says I’ve opened too many credit cards with them over the past two years… what’s the solution for that? Apart from wait.

  11. Mick,

    Lucky probably makes $200 per referral if not more. No one would pay that much just for a click. He only gets paid in case of a successful application.

  12. Ben. Just wondering, you said you earned about 500,000 miles each year from signing bonus of credit card. However, bank now is stick that you will not have card within 18-24 month to eligible for signing bonus or some like Amex that you will have signing bonus only one time per card. So, how do you manage to get signing bonus point at this level?

  13. Mick-There are non-US cards out there that do offer some meaningful travel benefits. The focus here as you have surmised, is the US based Hobbyist. Flyertalk is a good source for non US offers. As a US expat based in Germany, I can say that the offers here pale in comparison to the big US card companies.

  14. Bad advice about using Citi Double Cash for award fees. Put those on your CSP for all of the travel insurance benefits and use your Citi Double Cash to pay for your groceries or something like that. Maybe the net cash outlay for the trip is $0 (pay some award fees, offset by statement credit for groceries), but there is real value to booking trips with the premium card.

  15. For the love of God, please stop with this corny and ridiculous “the hobby” moniker that you dreamed up with the RS author.

  16. I am so in agreement with @Eric about the use of the “Hobby” moniker. Jeez, it is not a hobby, for many it is an avocation!! Seriously, this is a way of defraying travel costs and exercising your brain, calling it a hobby is ludicrous.

  17. @ Kitti — There are lots of cards out there. I rarely get the bonus on a given card more than once, but I still haven’t run out of cards to sign up for. 🙂

  18. @ Skylar — If that’s the case there’s not much that can be done, unfortunately. Do keep in mind that they seem to have tightened up on approvals for their non co-branded cards (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, etc.), while anecdotally it seems they’re slightly more lenient for co-branded cards.

  19. @Andrew F So, you’ve earned 305,000 miles already this year, and it’s only July? Seems like you’re on pace for 500,000 – I don’t think you missed anything.

  20. Andrew F.
    I agree I’d like to see Lucky’s card history application for the last few years, but tacking on another 200K miles doesn’t seem that difficult for you. Pardon if the numbers aren’t exact.

    UA explorer: 50K, Chase Sapphire 45 K (it’s worth at least ~500), Delta Platinum 50-60K, BA Avios 50K…So there is an additional 200K you need, plus a little bit of extra earn you get just for meeting all the sign up bonuses.

  21. @Bob – Thanks . Given Lucky’s comments that he get 2-3 cards every 3 months or so, + looking ahead, here is what I see as the stumbling block – unless there is a super offer that gives you another 75K -100K there may be nothing on the horizon for new cards. unless one applies for the second Executive card

  22. @Mick – “but you NEVER seem to acknowledge in the title or the article that these offers are available to residents of the United States of America ONLY (approx 4% of the world’s population!).”

    You do realize that the vast majority of his readers are FROM THE UNITED STATES, right? IIRC, Lucky has said that about 80% of his regular readers are from the US.

  23. @Andrew F Yea, that’s a fair point, at some point you kind of run out of cards to apply for. Remember though, Lucky can apply for business credit cards for his blog and also, I assume, his Points Pros business. So he’s able to open more cards than someone without a business.

    Also, last year you could apply for multiple 100,000 mile sign-up bonuses for the AA Exeuctive card, which probably helped a ton. I seem to remember Lucky saying he got at least 2 of those cards.

  24. Why no love for the Chase Freedom/Ink cards? I can’t imagine holding a CSP without the transferable 5x points from the Freedom/Ink card categories. With a little creativity and deferred spending (gift cards), you should be able to get 5x UR points on most purchases. Up to 30,000 UR points for $6000 spend on the Freedom or up to 2,500,000 points for $50k spend w/Ink seems like a nice deal to me and that’s ignoring the sign-up bonuses.

  25. @Brian L:

    “You do realize that the vast majority of his readers are FROM THE UNITED STATES, right? IIRC, Lucky has said that about 80% of his regular readers are from the US.”

    Yup, I do (realize that), but you miss my point — that inserting a single word — ‘American’ — would save the other 20% of us a lot of wasted time and frustration….not to mention a further ingraining of distaste at the the idea that the US of A is the centre (sic) of The Known Universe. Is that too much to ask?

  26. @ AlexS — I agree they’re great supplemental cards, though this was intended to be more of a “101” post, about the best simple strategies for racking up points quick.

  27. @ Andrew F — Sounds like you’re not missing anything. You’ve already earned 305,000 miles and it’s only July. You have another 5+ months. 🙂

  28. Hey Lucky,

    I’ve been reading your blog for years, and appreciate all that you put into it. Don’t let the haters get to you! Not that you do, but I still wanted to leave an appreciative comment for you!

    @stvr If you don’t like the CC posts, skip em. It’s not hard. Stop trying to make other people feel like shit.

  29. Hi mate, totally love what you’re doing, I have An amex Platinum & gold card, any help on how i can utilise it to gain free travel ? Thanks any help would be brilliant, I’m currently about to book a deal to Abu Dhabi from London , any ways to get a really good deal would be highly appreciated. thanks

  30. Read the article and my husband and I are jacked about getting started with this! Thank you. More later……

  31. Forgive me if you have addressed this before, but can you take advantage of these cc sign on bonuses multiple times?

  32. @Mick – “but you miss my point — that inserting a single word — ‘American’ — would save the other 20% of us a lot of wasted time and frustration”

    No, you’re the one missing the point. Lucky is going to cater his blog to the majority of his readers. And if you’re a regular (or even semi-regular) reader of his blog, wouldn’t you already know that if there’s a credit card post, it’s going to be about American cards, and that there’s no need for you to read it if you don’t want to “waste your time”?

    “not to mention a further ingraining of distaste at the the idea that the US of A is the centre (sic) of The Known Universe.”

    So Lucky (an American), by catering his blog to the majority of his readers (also Americans), is somehow responsible for that?

    “Is that too much to ask?”

    If you mean that a minority of 20% of a given market demanding that things be catered their way instead of to the majority of 80%, then yes, it is, IMO.

  33. @ Erin — That really varies based on the specific cards, so you’ll want to read the terms associated with each sign-up bonus. Some cards only let you earn the bonus if you’ve never had it, some make you wait a certain amount of time between applications, etc.

  34. Lucky,
    I have a couple of medium sized businesses that use BofA cards for material purchases, managers allowance, etc…. Several thousand per month. We keep balances at zero. I just think I’m leaving money on the table.
    My interest is to use the best card to maximize points/travel.
    What is best for business?
    Thanks – Jay

  35. @Jay — the Chase Ink card is a business card. 5x UR points on all purchases at office supply stores and telecommunications (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Level 3, etc.) Keep in mind office supply stores sell gift cards, which greatly increases the number of places you can earn 5x points. A lot of home-businesses (and travelers posing as home businesses) have Ink cards for this very reason. Pairs nicely with a Chase Freedom (personal) card and you could pair it with a Chase Sapphire Preferred (personal) card although the CSP and Chase Ink do have quite an overlap in benefits.

  36. Ben

    You have given alot of great advice over the years but whats with the sudden need for media attention? Is it all for the sake of getting a few more CC application referrals $$? The miles game doesn’t need any more publicity.

  37. Oh the trolls are out in full force, aren’t they? I am fairly new – I am in my spend on the CSP. I wonder if you could point me to – or perhaps write – a post that discusses the next step. I worry that I will rack up a bunch of points/miles and then have no idea how to turn that into actual tickets/reservations.

    Thank you for your blog.

  38. Hi, really glad i found your blog, super helpful and keep up the good work. I just have a question. Doesnt it effect your credit score opening up so many credit cards?

  39. Julia, everything you read on this blog, can be found for absolutely free on flyertalk.com . In fact, your credit card application netted him at least $100+ in affiliate commission. Bet you didn’t know that.

    The “Hobby” has made Ben a multi-millionaire and we are all suppose to take his PR blitz standing?

    People like Ben are ruining the last bastion of a good frequent flyer program, AA. United and Delta have already said enough, I am afraid the days of 140,000 AA miles for a QF F ticket are near.

  40. I am a travel nut as well although I have a full time job and can’t travel all the time. I do however am scheming/planning travels (even local trips) all the time. I love international airports as it’s beaming with colorful people, ethnic costumes and diff languages. I love wondering too as to where people are coming from or going to and their purpose for travel. I always imagine that they are going to some wonderful event somewhere! Hope to pick up a tip or two here. I must say I haven’t had much luck with using up my miles as airlines like Lufthansa will only give a fraction of the miles unless you buy an expensive ticket for the same class (S,T,Y whatever). That to me defeats the purpose since I am essentially paying to get more miles!

    Anyway, I am surprised to see here that Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card provides more miles than my AMEX Gold card. How is that? I get daily double miles offers on FTD or other vendors etc. but not regular double miles at grocery stores or gas stations. Oh, I have hundreds of transactions each month, so I should be getting 1.5x miles…hm, time to call them and ask what is going on.

  41. HI
    Id like to know which one of these credit cards or what card do you recommend for frequent business travel domestically, that will reward you the best? Im starting over with credit cards after clearing up debt. I have some skymiles with delta but don’t really like Delta.

    Thanks 🙂

  42. Not sure even 20% of the readers are from outside of the US – I’m sure many in this Hobby read the blog when abroad and the blog captures those views as foreign. Also, not everyone who is a resident of the US and applying for US cards is a US citizen – how specific do you think he needs to get? …or maybe you could just use your brain.

  43. Dear Lucky

    Can non-Americans apply for the credit cards that you mentioned. Will i be billed in American dollars. For your information, I am a Malaysian. Do you have any specific credit card recommendations for Malaysians?

  44. @ TC — Are you a small business owner? Are you trying to cut down on the expense of your domestic travel, or accumulate rewards you can use internationally?

  45. @ rk — Yep, the standard “Gold” version of the Amex gets you little in the way of earning rewards. Look at the EveryDay Preferred or Premier Rewards Gold to rack up the points more quickly (and you’ll want to apply and get the bonus versus calling and upgrading, which generally won’t get you the extra points).

  46. @ Julia — Welcome! That is definitely something people struggle with. Where are you hoping to travel?

  47. To all those just getting in the game – it’s too late. The game has changed so much in the last year and for the worse.

    If you weren’t in this by 2012 you don’t stand a chance. 🙁

  48. Hey Lucky,

    Just noticed I got an email today for that shows the Southwest sign up bonus offering 50,000 points with an invitation code. Is this a personalized marketing offer? I’d hate to not give you the referral credit after learning about it’s pros and cons from your site. Honest opinion??

  49. ” I am fairly new – I am in my spend on the CSP. I wonder if you could point me to – or perhaps write – a post that discusses the next step. I worry that I will rack up a bunch of points/miles and then have no idea how to turn that into actual tickets/reservations.”

    That’s something I wouldn’t lose any sleep over, especially since that’s the last Chase card you’ll be able to get for the next two years.

    The 45k you’ll get after meeting the spend on your Sapphire will get you a one way in economy to China or two nights at a Hyatt in Las Vegas.

    Don’t worry about racking up a bunch of points with no use.

  50. @ lopere — So, you’ve left dozens of comments on the blog, and while we truly appreciate you reading, every comment has been negative. We don’t mind the criticism, but please don’t give inaccurate information to people who are asking legitimate questions. You were new once too.

  51. HI TIffany
    Im a self employed performing artist. I want to cut down traveling expenses on domestic travel and accumulate rewards towards travel…if that’s possible. Eventually I want to travel internationally but for business purpose right now, Im trying to find a card that’s going to be of the most benefit to me.
    A friend suggested the AMEX Delta Skymiles gold card. And theres Southwest rapid rewards…which I haven’t heard great things about southwest in general. What do you think? Thanks so much for the reply.

  52. Can anyone tell me if transferred points from the Chase Sapphire (or any other card) count toward the Companion Pass?

  53. My head is spinning reading all these posts and articles. I just want to earn points to take my family on a few vacations not go crazy with this. I just got Capital One card approved with 40,000 sign up points if spend $3k in first 3 months and signed up thru this site for the recommended Chase Sapphire card to get 40,000 miles with $4,000 spent. Can these points be combined to fly on American– I sure hope so – we live in Fort Worth and American always is the best option.

    Thanks for your patience with this newby

  54. Hello Lucky, I am new to your site, so I apology if my question(s) are repetitive… With credit cards that don’t charge a fee in their first year, do you cancel these cards at the end of that year and reapply for them the following year to prevent their yearly fees being assessed?
    Hey and thx for all your tips to help save money.

  55. Ok so what about credit scoring?? i doubt you will be issued 10 cards a year without any financial background..

  56. @ Susan — There are plenty of cards with annual fees (even those waived the first year) that I think are worth holding onto because of how much value they offer. After the first year you can crunch the numbers for yourself and decide whether you’re getting value out of the card or not. But between bonus points, no foreign transaction fees, etc., I hold onto plenty of cards which have an annual fee after the first year. For the most part you can only earn the sign-up bonus on a credit card once.

  57. @ Jack — Points earned through the Southwest Card do count towards it, while points transferred from Ultimate Rewards don’t.

  58. Ben,

    Been following your blog (&tips) for a while..finally have enough points to book my trip to India on first class for my wife & I (+ infant daughter)..however not too many options on Alaska/Emirates ( all my miles are on Alaska/Chase Sapphire) for first class from Seattle. Any suggestions?

  59. Ben..I apologize..I also left you a comment in another section of the blog.
    245K ( & counting on Chase Sapphire Preferred)
    Currently 41K ( Alaska Airlines) – this will become ~110K in a couple of weeks –
    – transferred 50K worth miles from Marriott rewards yesterday and expect additional 25K bonus miles
    from credit card special invite offer to be awarded in early aug – end of 90 day cycle)
    I had noticed on Alaska website that I needed ~360K for a round trip in First class.
    I also noticed current 40% offer to purchase additional Alaska miles – your thoughts on this?

  60. Hello, i’m fairly new to this and i have wondered if you cancel your credit cards after getting the introductory bonus’ or if you leave them open. If you leave them open do you leave the cards unused? or still go back to them? any help would be appreciated.

  61. Hey Lucky,
    New fan. Just got a Citi card through your link.
    One question I have is, I’m not great at being organized. So I am afraid of having many cards at once. Do you see any issue with opening a card, buying $3k in gift cards (that I would use, like Amazon) and then closing the card after getting and transferring the miles? I get that some have perks, but if I don’t use those and just care about the sign up bonus!
    And I am looking for a link for an American Airlines card or a 75k Miles Amex card, don’t they exist on here somewhere?

  62. Hi, Lucky. I’m from Chicago and looking for a credit card to get me to Europe (Italy, France, England, etc.). I’m new at this. Have read through lots of your stuff, but still not sure I understand. Which card (or cards) would you recommend for this?

  63. How is the Capital One Venture Card? I was deciding between the Chase Sapphire and Capital One Venture card and chose the latter. Is the Chase Sapphire card better though?

  64. Hi,
    I am new to your website but travel a great deal. I live in China and commonly travel via united between Beijing and San Francisco, sometimes making this flight 6x a year. Can you suggest a credit card that can improve my status with United? Will the cards you recommend improve my status with United?

  65. Hi Lucky,

    I just signed up for the Amex Everyday Preferred and did a balance transfer. If I make the required 30 transactions in a month to earn the 50% bonus, will the balance transfer miles be included in the total?


  66. Hi Lucky, I’m from Argentina and I wonder if you know about any credit card on this side of the word. I’ve only earned miles for LAN but each time I bought a ticket. Thank you in avance !!!! Analia

  67. hi, i m glad to know ya i ve been reading about you and i said ,,i wanna be like this guy ,, i wonder if you can teach me how learn to travel free. thanks for any advice

  68. Dear, your information is very useful! Thanks for sharing!
    By the way, I wonder if your advise is for the US citizen? I am not US citizen can I apply to the credit card and award programs you mentioned?

  69. Hi Ben — I just signed up for the Amex EveryDay Preferred card, using the link in this post. I really wanted to make sure you got the Amex commission for it, as a token of appreciation for how much I value the information you provide.

    This card really fills an unmet need in my portfolio, as I previously didn’t have anything that would offer supermarket bonuses this large (with the exception of the quarter bonus on the Chase Freedom, but of course that was for only one quarter).

  70. You should mention that all these credit cards are for americans and not other nationalities.Even if it was ,it would be very difficult to get them.You re a rich boy apparently and you are trolling us. Can you tell us how can you afford to pay all year stay in expensive hotels? How you get money to spend around you trips? So stop trolling us.

  71. Does anybody know of any good European cards which give good miles? I’m an expat living in Germany. I also run a travel blog called “SirTrips-a-Lot”. I’ve seen on lots of other blogs that people get credit cards which give miles and put almost everything on their card. However, to my annoyance, this seems to be more of an American practice. It looks to me like the only possibility is the AMEX card because Citibank closed up shop in Germany. Unfortunately, AMEX isn’t very popular in Germany. Heck most of the stores refuse to take credit cards. They’re just now catching up to the times. Is there any advice?

    I’ve also heard stories about people doing radical things like paying their rent and utilities with their credit card and paying everything in a lump sum at the end of the month to maximize their points. I can’t imagine a landlord going along with that. Anyone have any experience with this?

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