The Ultimate Guide to Free(ish) 2012 Summer Travel

This week I had a post appear at Get Rich Slowly. That’s probably not new news to half of you since many of you just discovered this blog as the result of that post.

In addition to receiving an influx of new subscribers, I also had a whole battalion of credit card consult requests. Of course, I’m not complaining because I got to help a ton of people, and it was good for business :).

I did notice a theme in the requests. There were a lot of people who have travels scheduled for May – August 2012, and they want to know how to travel cheaply.

Important Facts About Mileage Posting Schedules

Stage #1: Apply for the card. That can happen today! Sometimes you will be approved today, and sometimes it can take several weeks. To expedite the process, if it’s pending a review you can usually call after a few days.

Stage #2: Waiting for the card to arrive. This depends on the credit card company, but it can take up to a week.

Stage #3: Reach the minimum spend. Depending on the card, you’ll typically have 3-4 months to reach your minimum spend requirement.

Stage #4: Wait for miles or points to post. Most companies say it will take 6-8 weeks, but you’ll typically see the points post within a couple of weeks of the statement closing where you completed the minimum spend.

Stage 5: Find flights.

So, what does this have to do with 2012 Summer travel?

I want to highlight that traditional mileage based credit cards may not be the way to go if you want to travel in the summer of 2012 and you’re just getting started. The reason is because even if you applied today you probably wouldn’t get your points for another two or three months (depending on how long it takes you to reach the minimum spend).

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I wouldn’t expect to get miles in March and then use them for a trip to Europe in June.

Why?

Award availability fills up quickly – especially in the summer months. You may find availability, but I’d hate to count on it. Sometimes you need to book 10-11 months in advance to get the flights you want.

But, it’s not a hopeless cause!

Two viable card options that will help you save a bundle on travel this summer.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a 40,000 Ultimate Rewards point sign up bonus (after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days).

Because these points can be used in several ways (like transferring to airlines, hotels, or as cash towards travel), it is the ideal card for 2012 summer travel.

How so?

Let’s say Roger wants to go to Rome in June 2012. He’s not a typical boring person who wants to pay full price. He wants to travel as close to free as possible. What does he do? He signs up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and after reaching the minimum spend, he gets his bonus 50,000 points. Let’s say his points post March 1, 2012.

Roger now has two possible options:

Option #1: If Roger has at least 20,000 United miles already, he can see if any Star Alliance members have flight availability to Rome. If they do, he can transfer the 40,000 miles to United and book an award seat to Rome. If there is no award availability, he can move onto option 2.

This is the beauty of the Chase Sapphire Preferred – there actually is an option two. With other mileage based cards this is *the* option.

Option #2: Roger signs into his Ultimate Reward account and looks for flights to Rome. He knows that whatever the cost is, he’ll get a $500 discount when he applies his 40,000 points towards the purchase.

A $500 discount is not too bad of a worst case scenario.

Another possible credit card option for summer travels in 2012 is …

Citi Thank You Premier card.

I must hang my head in shame because I thought this card was being removed last week (and emailed all of you to tell you). However, I just found out that it was the Citi Preferred card (not Premier) that was removed. (My bad.) However, I was told that the Premier will be removed at the end of the week (unless Citi extends the length of the promotion).

Thus, one reason to get the Premier card is the limited time availability.

The Citi ThankYou Premier card offers 30,000 ThankYou Points after spending $2,500 in the first 90 days.

Those 30,000 bonus points can be used to apply towards cash travel at a 33% bonus. Thus, the 50,000 points would give you $399 worth of travel. You can learn more about that card here.

These cannot be stacked with the Ultimate Reward ticket purchases, but if you’re buying several tickets, then you could apply some of these points towards a ticket purchase.

Premier vs. Sapphire Preferred for Summer 2012 travel:

Personally, I’d get the Sapphire Preferred if I had to choose. But, if you can swing the minimum balance, it might not be an either/or question.

Why?

Just get both.

If you’re married or traveling with someone, get both cards for both of you. Combined, you could have up to $2,516 worth of travels for four credit card applications (as long as you can do the minimum spends on all the cards).

To sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred (and get 40,000 bonus points) you can click here.

To sign up for the Citi ThankYou Premier  (and get 30,000 bonus points) you can click here.

Where do you plan to travel this summer? What’s your mileage strategy?

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