How I Earned $4000 of Free Airfare in 1.5 Months as a College Student

Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses.

Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses are one of the best Rewards Systems ever created- you literally get paid thousands of dollars to just buy stuff you would normally.

Fall 2015- 20 years old

I had been planning to do a lot of traveling after I finished college and about 2 years ago I started to look for ways to decrease my airfare costs. I looked at airline sign-up bonuses and I tried to apply for a Southwest Card- since I had flown with them many times before and I recognized their name.

DENIED

No Credit Card and my young credit score took a beating :(

I had never had a credit card, and I didn’t really know what to expect by applying, but I decided to try anyways. After that happened, I tried to go research more about credit scores and airline miles and credit cards.

And that brought me to my greatest resource: Reddit.com/r/churning

Churning is the act of ‘churning’ through credit cards fast enough to just get the credit card sign up bonus by meeting a minimum spend, and then moving on to the next card for another sign up bonus. Although, I continue to use my cards even after I meet the minimum spending requirement.

Here in this message board I learned all about what makes up a credit score and what cards are good and which cards are bad, and what banks like to see in order to get approved.

BUT

I could not take advantage of any of it because of my lack of credit history (aka I was still a young pup). My only option was to get my Bank’s own Protected Credit Card and wait it out.

I had a $500 limit each month, and my goal was to use it for 1 year and pay everything full and on-time. This would give me 1 year of credit history and paying on time would increase my credit score.

So I bided my time….

….until 1 year later.


December 2016- 21 Years Old

So now it’s has been a year since I got my first small-credit CC. I started reading Reddit.com/r/churning more seriously since I knew I would be playing with the big dogs soon.

But I would have to wait another month to apply because my Credit Usage was at 90% ($450/$500 limit) and it dropped my score 85 points for that month- no bueno.

Any credit usage greater than 30% is detrimental to your credit score. Under 10% is good.

And your credit usage is reported 5–10 days after your statement ends for the month- so pay off in full so it’s 0%!!!


Jan 2017- 21 Years Old

I waited for my Credit Score to rebound after my month at 90% credit usage. I made sure to not use my Bank-Secured CC for the entire month, so my credit usage would be 0% when they updated it for the month.

Sure enough, once that 0% went through, my Credit Score went back up to the mid-700s and I was ready to apply for my first real CC.

1st one on the Block: Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP)

If you’re in the CC game, you know that Chase has all the best cards, and you need to try to get them first. (Follow this flowchart here if you’re trying to get started).

This Chase Sapphire Preferred gave me 50k points for a $4k spend in the first 3 months the card was open. Since I had to buy stuff for my World Trip anyways, I just put the purchases on the card.

When redeemed for Airline Tickets through the the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal these points are 1.25x redeemable.

50,000 points*1 cent per point= $500 regular value.

$500*1.25 = $625 Airfare Value


Feb 2017- 22 Years Old

I applied for my second card 2 weeks later: the Chase Ink Business Preferred.

It offered a sign-up bonus of 80k points after a $5k spend in 3 months (the old Ink+ card was only 60k points, so I had to hop on this offer).

DENIED.

What I didn’t know about was Chase’s 2/30 rule…If you apply for 2 Chase cards within 30 days, the second application would be automatically denied. And this sucks because you waste a Hard Credit Pull and your Credit Score will decrease as a result.

So I was scrambling to figure out what to do and Churning said that you have 30 days to call Recon (Reconsideration line) and ask them to Reconsider your application.

I waited about a week and then called up the Recon line and had to go through their Business Card Interview process- which is THE HARDEST THING EVER.

You better know everything about your business- Industry, Age, Annual Rev, Address, Your Personal Income, Your Income from Business, etc. because they grill you.

Everything has to match what you put on your application perfectly, or they will think you’re lying about having a business, and deny you again.

After the interview where they verified my. business info, I was put on hold to see if I could be approved.

DENIED.

But no fear, I still had 3 weeks until my application vanished from their system after the 30 day time period.

I waited a week before I called RECON back, and in that time I paid off a big $3k balance on my first Chase Credit Card (the Sapphire Preferred [above]). I figured that if I showed them I could handle a big balance they would approve me for more credit.

After doing that, I called RECON the second time. They saw that I had a prior Recon call and brought up my notes from that call. He asked if any info had changed. I told him “No.” and he went on hold. He came back a few minutes later and told me I was APPROVED

PHEW! 😅

Thank God I called Recon a second time when the first call didn’t work.

The sign up bonus offer was 80k points after a $5k spend in 3 months.

80,000 points*1 cent per point= $800 regular value.

$800*1.25 = $1000 Airfare Value

I was able to get these points easily as I was running a few businesses at the time to make money for my 1 Year Round the World Trip- with this business being the most successful.

This put me at 130,000 Ultimate Rewards points, with a total value of $1625.


March 2017- 22 Years Old

Getting my third card from Chase (and in 1.5 months- no less!) was a long shot.

But I HAD to go for the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR). It offered a 100k point sign up bonus if you went in-branch and were approved.

But there were a few things playing against me:

  1. Chase Sapphire Reserve Applications w/ the 100k Bonus closed for good March 11. Anytime after that, the bonus would only be 50k points…didn’t want to miss out on 50k free points.
  2. I applied the first week of February for the Chase Ink Business Preferred (above), which means I would have to wait 1 month before applying for another Chase card or I would be hit with the 2/30 Auto-Denial.
  3. My midterms for college were the week of March 6–10. Coincidentally, March 6 was the first date I would be free from Chase’s 2/30.
  4. The only Chase branch was 3 hours South in NYC. None in Upstate NY.

So the days I could actually apply for the CSR were limited to March 6–10, and I had to fit that into my midterm schedule for school.

Luckily, I was able to schedule some business in NYC for Frida,y March 10. So I bought my ticket to leave at 730 AM and applied in-branch when I arrived in the city at 11 AM.

Now, there was also a HIDDEN BONUS with the CSR that I did not know of before: Ultimate Rewards Points are worth 1.5x towards airfare, instead of 1.25x with the normal Ultimate Rewards Points.

100,000 points*1 cent per point= $1000 regular value.

$1000*1.5 = $1500 Airfare Value


ANOTHER HIDDEN BONUS

The Chase Rep I applied with also told me there are two-distinct Ultimate Rewards Accounts: a Sapphire Reserve Account with 1.5x Airfare Point Redemption towards airfare, and Non-Sapphire Reserve Account with 1.25x Airfare Point Redemption towards airfare.

My CSP and Ink Business Preferred cards are both NOT the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, so points from both of these cards go to the Non-Sapphire Reserve Account with 1.25x Airfare Point Redemption towards airfare.

BUT

My CSR IS a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, so points from this cards go to the Sapphire Reserve Account with 1.5x Airfare Point Redemption towards airfare.

My Total Points and Airfare Values look like this so far:

Non-Sapphire Reserve Account

130,000 pts*1.25x airfare= $1625 airfare

Sapphire Reserve Account

100,000 pts*1.5x airfare= $1500 airfare

Totals: 230,000 points = $3125 airfare

HIDDEN BONUS 2:

The second thing the Chase Rep told me was I could transfer an unlimited amount of points from my Non-Sapphire Reserve Account (1.25x airfare) to my Sapphire Reserve Account (1.5x airfare) and get 20% more value from them in the process.

Now my totals looked like this:

Non-Sapphire Reserve Account: 0 points

Sapphire Reserve Account: 230,000 points

230,000 pts*1.5x airfare = $3450

Look at that, we made $325 just from transferring our points from 1 account to another.


Redemption

The reason I got into credit cards to cut down on airfare was because I had an extreme anomaly ticket to go from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Researching all of the other airplane tickets for my World Trip showed a max price of $500 between all my destinations, with an avg of $200- but my Buenos Aires to Johannesburg ticket was $1500, when I researched it 1 year prior (no way I’m paying for that with dollars).

Now that I had the purchasing power with my 230k Sapphire Reserve Account Ultimate Rewards points, I was ready to spend them on the $1500 anomaly ticket.

I went into my Ultimate Rewards account and searched for redemption options for a ticket from EZE->JNB for July 31. This is what came up.

At $1000 it was 33% cheaper than I had previously researched…..BUT look at that flight time….30 hours no way, not doing that.

So I looked at the second ticket. A little bit more expensive at $1150, but the flight was only 20 hours long. Much better.

And then I remembered a travel hack where sometimes you can book 2 tickets for 2 legs of a trip to get to a destination and save money compared to booking 1 ticket for that same trip.


Travel Hacking

So I took the trip up above and divided it into 2 legs: Buenos Aires->Sao Paulo, and then Sao Paulo->Johannesburg and tried to find a ticket for each.

Here is what I found:

The first leg to go from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo costs only $333 or 22k points.

The second leg to go from Sao Paulo to Johannesburg costs only $450 or 30k points.

Total: $783 for 52k points (33% savings!!)


Recap

So I basically got my $1150 ticket from EZE to JNB for 52k points by booking both legs separately (2.21 cents per point 👍).

This leaves us with 230k-52k=178k points

178,000*1.5x Airfare = $2670 Value

And

$2670(178k pts) + $1150(52k pts) = $3820 in total airfare value.

I’ll be able to travel hack those last 178k points and squeeze a few extra hundred dollars out of them to get to $4k in total value.

And that’s how I earned $4000 of free airfare in 1.5 months as a college student.


Thanks for reading! Take a look at what I’m up to now👇👇

I used these Points to take a 1 Year Round-the-World Trip after College. Follow my adventures here.

Click here to read my Daily Medium Series updating you on all the little things I do each day on my Round the World Trip.