I always thought I was too busy to manage credit card rewards, but I finally changed my mind — and earned enough to fly my family of 4 on vacation in less than 60 days

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  • I’ve worked in the credit industry for 17 years, but I never really took advantage of credit card rewards. I always felt like I was too busy to learn to manage them.
  • I decided to open a Southwest Rapid Reward Priority Credit Card to take advantage of a welcome offer that helped me earn a free Companion Pass.
  • Once my husband and I opened the card and met the spending requirement for the introductory offer, we each earned a Companion Pass and designated our kids as companions.
  • With just the one card, we earned enough points and perks to fly the four of us on vacation, round-trip.

As someone who has worked in the credit industry for the last 17 years, you might think that I would have earned a pile of travel rewards during that time. However, until last year, I actually avoided the travel rewards credit card space entirely.

I know, I know – in hindsight this wasn’t one of my better decisions. Let me explain.

I never believed travel rewards cards were bad, provided they were managed the right way (e.g. paid in full each month, no late payments, etc.). Also, I certainly wasn’t anti-credit card. I’ve always believed that credit cards are usually the smartest way to make purchases due to the fraud protections they offer and the credit-building potential of the accounts themselves.

But when it came to earning travel rewards with credit cards, I simply wasn’t interested. I thought I was too busy to manage what I perceived to be a very complicated process.

So, instead of opening valuable travel rewards credit cards, I primarily used a simple rewards card – the Citi Double Cash card – that gave me 2% cash back (1% when you buy, and 1% when you pay) on every purchase I made. I stuck to my decision for many years until I came across a travel rewards credit card offer that I couldn’t refuse.

Why I changed my mind

Like many people, I love to travel. So, the idea of earning free travel through rewards was always appealing. Again, it was my perception that the process of keeping up with and redeeming travel rewards required too much effort that made me avoid it for so long.

At a financial conference last year, FinCon, I had the opportunity to meet several travel rewards enthusiasts. Many of them embraced the same sound credit management principles that I’ve taught consumers for years, all while leveraging their great credit ratings to travel the world for free. Most of all, several rewards enthusiasts explained that the process wasn’t nearly as difficult to manage as I thought.

I was intrigued.

I began research and read articles written by travel rewards experts, like Jason Steele and Holly Johnson. Finally, I took the plunge and opened my first travel rewards card – the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card.

4 free flights in less than 60 days

Technically, my husband and I each opened a Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card earlier in 2019 when the free Southwest Companion Pass offer was available. Through the offer, if you spent $US4,000 in the first three months of opening an account you could earn a free Companion Pass, allowing someone else to fly with you for free until the end of the year. Additionally, each card holder could receive 30,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points.

Though the offer is no longer available, you can still earn an attractive sign-up bonus from Southwest (the current offer is 40,000 bonus miles after $US1,000 spend in the first three months) or other card issuers.

Back to our story. My husband and I had a few big expenses coming up for our home, so it was a perfect time to meet the two big spend thresholds. Once we received the two new cards, we met both $US4,000 spending requirements rather quickly. (New HVAC units are painfully expensive.)

Read more: The best credit card rewards, bonuses, and benefits of 2019

Although we satisfied the requirements for the sign-up bonus, the Companion Passes weren’t issued automatically. We had to wait for both of our credit card statements to close. Then, we had to wait for both Companion Passes to be added onto our Rapid Rewards accounts. Still, in less than 60 days both Companion Passes plus 30,000 points each were issued.

Because we have two children, my husband and I each designated one child to be the “companion” assigned to our pass. This immediately cut the normal cost we would pay on Southwest flights for our family in half for the remainder of the year. The 30,000-point bonuses were more than enough to cover both mine and my husband’s round-trip flights from Charlotte to Houston.

In the end, thanks to the two Companion Passes and 60,000 in Southwest Rapid Rewards points, our family was able to book four free flights (except for around $US10 each for taxes) for a last-minute spring break getaway. If we’d paid cash for the flights, the total cost would have been slightly over $US1,700.

There are many travel experts who save far more than this amount, but as first-time travel rewards users, the savings felt pretty great. We spent two days with our family in Texas and then enjoyed a five-day cruise to Mexico out of the port of Galveston.

My next goal? I’ve opened a few more travel rewards cards and am saving up points to cover our next island adventure in full. I’m not sure where we’ll visit, but it will be sunny, beachy, and, best of all, completely free.

Learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card from our partner The Points Guy »

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