Your everyday purchases could be helping you rack up enough frequent flier miles, hotel points, and other travel perks to cover a full-on vacation, according to a new study by NerdWallet, the personal finance site. Put another way, simply grabbing the right credit card could have you—plus a partner or friend—flying to Bali for just about free.
The quickest way to earn all that free travel is through sign-up bonuses for opening a new credit card account, NerdWallet says. “Travel rewards credit cards often have sign-up bonuses large enough to pay for, or heavily subsidize, your next trip,” the study says. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve—the best in the biz, in our opinion—come with 50,000-point sign-up bonuses, enough to subsidize most of the cost of a business-class ticket or earn you other travel perks depending on how you spend the points. (Chase points can be redeemed for all sorts of stuff, like flights on Singapore Airlines, United, and other carriers and nights at Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton hotels, among others.)
Between the sign-up bonus and everyday spending, the study says, you can rack up $901 a year on average in free travel. In your second year with any given card, the average drops to just $277 because you don’t earn a sign-up bonus (and often have to pay an annual fee). But! It’s possible to keep the party going by opening another account with its own major sign-up bonus. Mileage nerds call this strategy “card churning,” and it can pay huge dividends as long as you aren’t opening too many cards—and you pay off your balances every month. (Obviously the perks are less valuable if you’re paying huge interest fees!) No doubt, the world of miles and points can sometimes feel intimidating, but a few basic pointers—like those we recently discussed on an episode of our podcast Travelogue—should get you started in less than an hour.