What is carding?
Carding is a method of earning miles and points from credit card companies, which can be used to travel for free! This is a major tool to unlocking the door to low-to- no-cost travel and is the way my wife and I (and many others) have traveled as much as we have, while spending so little money. Alexis and I have not only earned over a million frequent flier miles over the past four years, our credit scores have steadily gone up!
As a quick history lesson, today is an interesting time for banks in America – after the Financial Crisis, banks became pickier on who they would give credit cards to. This worked well for banks. . . but it worked even better for those of us with better-than-average credit scores! Once all the banks were competing for the same customers, it became difficult for any particular bank to win business. Banks began offering more and better perks to new customers. This has paved the way to many amazing deals, which this website will help you find and use!
The world of banks and credit cards can be complex and hard to understand. I’ve done a lot of research over the past several years and want to make it as simple as possible to not only get free travel, but get free travel in a responsible, sustainable way. The difference between the guides you’ll find on Travel The Smart Way and those on other websites is that I am determined to spread the philosophy of Carding in a responsible manner.
How does carding work?
There are a few ways to earn miles and points from credit card companies. In short, you earn miles by using these credit cards. We’ll get into The Smart Way of using our cards, but before we discuss that, let’s go through the main ways to earn miles. The main ways are as follows:
Sign up bonuses
Points earned per $1 spent on card
Referring friends (how this website stays online!)
Sign up Bonuses
This is the quickest way to earn a TON of free miles. When you sign up for a good travel credit card (see my top recommendations here), banks will give you a big lump sum of points after you have completed your “minimum spend” (typically you need to spend $2,000 - $4,000 with that card within 3 months of getting it; click here for creative ways to reach minimum spend if that may be a challenge).
To put it in perspective, the 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned from signing up for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card would be worth $625 if you book a flight directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal (this could easily fund the tickets for trip to Iceland or this trip to South East Asia!), or could be transferred to United to fund a trip to Peru!
There is, of course, a smart way to do this and a not-so-smart way! We’ll talk about that more soon, but in short, it doesn’t make sense to buy anything you otherwise would not, and it especially doesn’t make sense to not pay off your cards monthly – it’s a real bummer to pay interest! And that can negate the benefit of Carding.
Points Earned by Using the Card
These cards tend to pay 1-2 points per $1 spent on the card. This is a major way to earn miles sustainably over time. If you spend $30k a year on groceries, insurance, rent, etc, you can earn 30k+ miles if you do that with your credit card! If you’re already going to pay for these expenses with a card, why not earn miles too?
Some cards will let you send a “referral link” to friends that want to sign up for the card. If you are the person that sends that link, you’ll get a small bonus for referring them! That’s the premise of how this site stays online – if you sign up for a card using our referral link, we get a commission. My goal is to objectively lay out the facts and help you decide what is right for you. If you decide to sign up for the card using my link, I would be very grateful!
Carding The Smart Way (Card responsibly!)
Because websites get a commission if you sign up for a card using their link, a lot tend to push specific cards or encourage readers to sign up for a ton of cards; I am focused on maximizing travel and minimizing expenses though, so I want to make sure that you Card responsibly should Carding be right for you. Below are my 5 laws of carding:
Never pay interest (pay cards off right away!)
Avoid buying anything you would not otherwise buy
Keep organized and beware of recurring annual fees
Be smart with timing of opening and closing cards to keep your credit score high
If you Card The Smart Way, the payoff in terms of free travel can be immense!
If you buy things you otherwise wouldn’t or don’t pay off your credit card monthly, you would likely be better off not Carding!
Make sure you are ready to be disciplined before signing up for your first travel card.
Where to get started?
The way to get started is to first, pick out your travel goals. After you do that, we’ll look at a couple first cards for you to consider, then your next step is sign up for one, get that minimum spend, get the points, and book a trip!
1) Travel Goals
It’s important to know what you are planning on using your free travel for, as different cards / points are better for different things. I usually think of this by asking which of the following profiles someone is in:
Domestic-only Travelers (Southwest will be your best friend!)
Domestic + Overseas Effort-lite Travelers looking to minimize effort, yet steadily earn points (Chase cards will be awesome!)
Advanced Travelers looking to maximize free international travel by Carding (Using a mixture of Chase, Amex + airline cards is optimal)
2) Which card is right for me?
Most our time here will be spent on helping you become Advanced Travelers, but if you would rather be an Effort-Lite Traveler or a Domestic-Only Traveler, please click the guides below for suggestions! Make sure to read the rest of this guide regarding How to Open Your First Card and Keeping Track of Cards and Miles.
Domestic-Only Traveler Cards Recommendations
Effort-Lite Traveler Cards Recommendations
For Advanced Travelers, I recommend getting a flexible card like the Sapphire Preferred, or looking at airlines’ points redemption charts to determine what airline’s miles are best to get to where you want to visit, then get the card that gives the points you need. If you would like some tailored help for this, please schedule a consultation with me and I will be happy to help with other, more advanced cards!
A few best cards to start with.
My favorite first card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, as it is extremely flexible in terms of how you can use the points (you can book directly through Chase, or send it to a number of different travel partners like United!).
Another good one is Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard (70k points on American Airlines could take you on a round trip ticket to Europe, Peru, or Hawaii!)
For a full list of options, click here to see our top deals.
How do I actually sign up for a card?
To actually sign up for a card, first read the terms of the card (cards have various “minimum spend” requirements, various annual fees – some waived and some not, and offer various other perks. . . I’d recommend understanding the details about the card before signing up. Fortunately, I have some details and am happy to schedule a consultation to discuss further!).
After you read the review and pick your card, just click the link, which will take you to the card application website! You can also Google the card and sign up directly, or go into a local branch, or even call the bank directly to sign up for the card. If you click our link, it gives us a small commission in points, so we like that, but please do what’s best for you! If you do it in person or on the phone, double check to make sure they are giving you the amount of miles that you are seeing in our review!
On the website, just fill in your personal information and, once you’re approved, wait for it to come in the mail!
It’s important to keep organized, especially if you want to become an Advanced Traveler! Most cards that earn miles have annual fees (some cards waive this the first year). You don’t want to unintentionally pay an annual fee, so it’s best to downgrade the card to a non-fee card or cancel the card before you have to pay it.
It’s also important to keep track of what cards you have open – Chase has a policy where if you have opened 5 cards within the last 24 months, they won’t let you open a new card until it has been 24 months + 1 day since your 5th most recent card opened. Click here for a further explanation of Chase’s 5/24 rule.
I am developing a Carding Organization Tool to keep track of your cards, dates, and 5/24 status, so stay tuned for that!
Other items to consider.
Understanding the Effects on Credit Scores from Carding
Best Card Reviews
Points Redemption Charts by Airline
How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass (2 for 1 travel for up to two years!)
Free Hotel Stays by Carding
Explore Potential Itineraries