The idea of traveling in your 20s while is tough. You have rent to pay, $14 cocktails, and potentially student loans. But, you can travel internationally for a lot less money than you think if you’re strategic. I knew that finding the time and money to travel post graduation was only going to get more difficult. So, I made it a goal to graduate with as many frequent flyer miles as possible. This is how I did it and this is how I flew to Thailand for $50.
Step 1- Frequent Flyer Cards.
Benefit from sign up bonuses
Airline credit cards have excellent sign-up bonuses. (You can grab my cheat sheet of airline bonuses at the bottom of this post). The way the work is that the airline will set an amount of time (usually 3 months) and require you to spend a certain amount in that time (usually ~$3,000.) Once you do, you earn an exceptional amount of frequent flyer miles as your reward (usually ~50,000) . So, sign up for one of the credit cards, spend the necessary amount to reach, and watch the frequent flyer miles flow in.
Once you’ve earned the points
Please note that after the first year of having that credit card, there is typically an annual fee of around $100 to keep it. If you cancel the card, your points don’t go away (for most airlines). So, if having open credit cards worries you, you can cancel without losing your points. Please also be sure to check into when your miles may expire, as that also could be of concern. I recommend keeping one or two of these credit cards and paying the annual fee because the cards do have great perks. Particularly appealing is the perk of no foreign transaction fees. This will be great for you when you do travel internationally with your beautiful new miles!
For example, I love my United Airlines credit card because of the great benefits it brings. Their sign up deal is this: spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of having the credit card, and you will earn 50,000 frequent flyer miles. As of this morning, I could get from New York City to Bangkok for 40,000 frequent flyer miles. Yes, I spent the $3,000 to get those miles, but since it was on my credit card, that’s money that I would have spent anyway. I spent it on groceries, taxis, the subway, happy hour, and utilities.
Now, if you’re reading this and thinking, “this is great in theory, but I don’t spend $1,000 a month in spending money. That’s over my budget.” Worry not! I am here to help. I too felt as you did once, where I was in college and didn’t have that much money per month. But don’t worry, there’s still a way that you can get your sign up bonus.
Step 2- Pay for your rent with your credit card.
If you’re lucky, your landlord may accept rent payment with a credit card. By doing this, you can build up to that minimum pretty quickly.
If your landlord does not accept credit cards, there are now online platforms that will process your rent payment with your credit card. Then, they send a check to your landlord. Please note that there are often processing fees associated with this kind of platform. However, I still think paying those fees are worth it.
For example, there is Rent Share with a 2.9% fee. Or, using Rad Pad, there’s a 3.49% fee. So, if your rent is $1500/month, you’ll pay about $52 extra for the website’s processing fee (~3%). This will bring your rent cost to $1,552/month. But! That gets you halfway to your goal just paying rent. You have 3 months of spending on other things to reach the minimum. Yeah, you basically just paid $50 for spring break in Ibiza.
Step 3- Travel internationally!
After three months, your frequent flyer miles will appear in your account and you’re ready to go travel internationally. I encourage you to keep your card because airline cards are great credit cards and a great way to build up credit in your 20s. But, use your own financial discretion.
Either way, you’re ready to go travel. If you’re in college or just starting out at a job and won’t be able to travel for a while, I recommend doing this now and with as many airlines as you can! Be careful with all those credit cards. But, it will feel excellent to have 150,000 frequent flyer miles sitting around for the next time you have the chance to travel but don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on tickets.