Remodel Your Way to a Free Vacation

Heather McKay SWQ Autumn 2017

Most people like you and me use credit cards for everyday spending or a few big ticket purchases. Are you using the right card? Is your credit card working for you and helping you to stay out of credit card debt? Do credit cards make you nervous? If so, you aren’t alone. The average household has $8,700 in credit card debt, so I get it. When you are looking at a big home repair or restoration project, let your spending work for you and not against you, even if you currently have credit card debt. Are you planning a remodel and just don’t know where the money will come from? That happened to me a few years back. I had an unexpected bathroom remodel that left me with a home equity line of credit and no plan for paying that loan down. Back then, I really wish that I knew these tips on how my spending could have actually helped me reduce that cost, pay back that loan, or at the very least gotten me free hotels while the work was being done.

With a little bit of forethought and planning, all of the money that you spend on your restoration project can earn you free money or a free vacation, or both! There are a lot of ways to harness your spending for the most bang for your buck. Recently, I went on a 19 day vacation to Wales, Ireland and Scotland completely for free... all because of normal everyday spending (Hello, Wegmans and the Tap & Mallet!!). For that trip, I flew business class while my parents were stuck back in steerage (economy class). Because of me, we all were allowed access into airport lounges for free food and drinks during layovers (Hello, Priority Pass!!). I also was able to earn free hotel stays while traveling around without actually staying at a hotel! Upon my return, I paid off my credit card with points earned. So, in the end, the entire nineteen day trip, including flights, was free!

If it all sounds unbelievable or you are already doing a few of these with a cash back credit card, that’s cool. Step it up a notch with a new technique and earn even more. Listed here are the top things people aren’t currently doing to harness their spending for maximum impact.

Sign up for a NEW credit card with a BIG sign up bonus before you begin hiring contractors and buying materials. Most credit cards will give you bonus points in the first three months of owning the credit card when you spend $3,000 on the card in that timeframe. So, If you know when you are going to be spending big money this is a great tip.

When comparing cards, a sign up bonus of 30,000-80,000 points is preferred. A 10,000 point signup bonus is not worth it. Look for a big one! My Mom has been a long time United Mileage Plus member, however she never had her own United credit card. She was an authorized user on my Dad’s account and used his. When I realized this, I logged into her Mileage Plus account and saw they were offering her a whopping 70,000 mile sign up bonus! This was all due to her being a long time Mileage Plus member without one of their credit cards. Amazing! 80,000 miles will get you an economy round trip ticket anywhere in the world!

The best all around credit card for travel is the Chase Sapphire, which pays out 50,000 points as a standard sign up bonus and those points are worth $500 cash or $625 towards travel. Chase points also transfer 1:1 to any airline, includes trip protection, rental car collision insurance, lost luggage reimbursements and even purchase protections. The $95 annual fee is totally worth it. If you don’t agree, then just cash in a few points to cover that annual fee! Recently, I signed up for the Southwest Airlines card because it payed out 50,000 Southwest point sign up bonus with only having to run $1,000 through the card in the first 3 months! Those points were enough to take myself and a friend to Costa Rica.

Once you have your new card, use it for everything and pay it off weekly if you need to. Transfer all of your regular bills to the card as well, like your cell phone payment. For me personally, I set up Verizon on auto pay to the credit card. Then I set up my credit card to be auto payed that amount from my checking account on that same day. This trick keeps me from over spending or getting behind. Most cards give you extra earning for certain categories like gas and utilities.

Shop using your credit card’s shopping portal. What’s a shopping portal?? Well, when you log into your Chase account (or whatever card you are using), there is a sort of secret shopping portal where they give you extra miles per dollar spent. For example, I use Clinique makeup and I can buy Clinique makeup at Sephora. Instead of going to the mall to buy my makeup at either store, I wait until my United Mileage Plus credit card gives me 12 points to the dollar with Sephora. com and then I buy Clinique makeup via the United shopping portal. United only gives me 4 points to the dollar with Clinique through the portal and 1 point to the dollar in the store. Do you see how the shopping portal can really add up?? You can even mark your favorite stores as favorites for quick shopping. Guess what else you can do? Shop Lowe’s and Home Depot through the portal to get the extra points, then pick up your order in the store. The best part about that is that they will pull your order for you and have it ready for you when you arrive. I do this with mulch every year and love that they load it into my car too. So easy.

If you have a small business, you can double your earning with similar business cards, like the Chase Ink Plus or American Express SPG. They don’t ask for a ton of verification on the business card application, so even if you have a little craft boutique business on the side... that still counts.

No business, but you have a spouse? Great! Add them as an ‘authorized user’ and that will automatically get you extra points! You don’t even have to use the card they get issued. I know someone who gets cards for his cat and then just destroys the issued card.

Did you already earn a sign up bonus for a card? Great! If it suits you, you can cancel that card and reapply in a few years (not with American Express cards). I have a spreadsheet and keep track of opening date, closing date, current point total and whether or not the points expire.

Are you like me and drinking at the Tap and Mallet or getting pizza at Napa often? Great! Keep your eyes peeled for dining bonuses from United and Delta Airlines cards. A few months ago, United noticed that I had not been using their card and they sent me a promo email for restaurants in my area. I accepted their opt-in for the dining bonus and used my United card at the Tap & Mallet for a beer. That one beer earned me 500 United Miles! Seriously. Many great South Wedge restaurants and bars participate as well.

Refer your friends, using a special referral link and earn more points. I recently invited a fellow wedding photographer to sign up for a Chase Ink Plus business credit card and that earned me 10,000 chase points when he was approved. That’s worth $100 or $125 in travel.

OK, so now you have all of these points and miles. What do you do with them? You don’t have to use the points for travel and you don’t have to use the points for cash back. When redeeming points, sometimes I use my Chase points for purchases on Amazon! For reals. It’s easy to sync that up and Amazon just offers my points as a payment option during checkout. They do it with Discover Card’s cash back too. Most points can be used for all sorts of things, like concert tickets, NYC Broadway shows, luggage, gift cards and a plethora of other things. Recently, I used 6,000 Southwest miles for a $50 gift card to Target and another 6,878 points for a new 3 piece luggage set. Then I cancelled the card so I didn’t have to pay the annual fee.

Are you worried about your FICO credit score? That’s a valid concern. The short answer is that new credit cards will affect everyone differently. What I will say is that two things actually help your credit score: on time payments and available credit. So, simply having credit cards - and not using them - will help your credit score. It’s all about not using all of the available credit to you. Naturally if all of your cards are maxed out, this will negatively affect your credit. So don’t go crazy until you know you can control yourself. Also, don’t buy things you don’t need just so you can earn points. That’s irresponsible. However if you know you have to spend money, then do it right and get something out of it, whether it is cash back or travel perks, that’s up to you.

Keep in touch with me over on my lifestyle blog, Parallax Life (!) I love hearing how my tips help and if you have any of your own tips or success story to share.