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Reaping Travel Rewards With the Switchback Kids

Dec. 7, 2018
Reward Optimization, Travel, Travel Credit Cards
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The Switchback Kids — otherwise known as Cole and Elizabeth Donelson — are travel wizards. In 2015, they kicked off their adventures by visiting all 59 national parks in just one year. Since then, they’ve traveled to more than 50 countries across the world, all while maintaining a tight budget.

So how’d they do it?

By taking advantage of credit card rewards. If traveling the globe on a credit card company’s dime sounds enticing to you, check out some of the Switchback Kids’ travel rewards tips below.

Choose Chase

The Switchback Kids love their Chase credit cards. They use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card the most because of their flexibility, and their welcome offers aren’t bad either:

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card’s welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card’s welcome offer: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

» Learn more: How I flew for free on a round trip from NYC to India

The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card might be especially tempting for frequent travelers. “The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card has above average rewards for travel expenses [up to $150,000] with 3x points for airfare, hotel, train, car rental and taxi expenses [every year],” Cole says.

As for that “business” listing on the Ink, don’t fret, Close explains: “The criteria for business is very flexible. Basically anything you do in exchange for money now and then qualifies (babysitting, Etsy shop, reselling, etc.).”

Study the signups

One key to using rewards is to take advantage of welcome bonuses. However, it’s important to study them carefully. Here are three things to keep in mind, according to Cole:

  1. Different welcome bonuses are offered to different people, so do some research to figure out how you can find a link or get on a mailing list to access the highest bonus offer.
  2. Welcome bonuses change frequently. If you end up too late or too early for a higher welcome bonus for your card, call the credit card company to ask them nicely if you can still get the offer. Many times they will give it to you — they have done that for us and we got 10,000 more points for free.
  3. Make sure to add authorized users to your account to get a second or third card. This way you can meet the minimum spend easier. Often card companies will also issue extra points for adding someone.

» Learn more: Get personalized travel advice in our community of experts

Get organized

As you might guess, organization is vital to taking advantage of credit card rewards.

“To play the game with maximum effectiveness you must keep track of your accounts, passwords, mileage balances, miles expiration dates, reward points per dollar amounts, credit card payment due dates, annual fee renewal dates, minimum spend targets, minimum spend due dates and a lot more,” Cole says.

“And multiply this by two if you play the game for your spouse like I do. So develop a system that works for you. If you miss a due date or spend amount it could ruin your whole plan or worse — your credit score. So stay on top of it!”

Be flexible

While you should maintain an airtight rewards strategy, you should also be willing to be flexible when the time comes. Rigidness is the enemy of rewards hacking.

As Cole explained, things happen. Things always happen: “You could fail to get the points you need to book the trip,” says Cole. “Or maybe once you get the points, the rewards tickets are sold out. There have been lots of times I have been devastated to find my route has no rewards availability, so be sure to check for that early and often.

“If you are flexible and creative and unwilling to take no for an answer, you can find a way to make most things work. Whenever I start panicking that I screwed up my plan to get rewards flights that was months in the making, I pause, take a few breaths and start looking for new avenues to make the points work for me.”

Photo of kayaking trip through Glacier Bay National Park in Gustavus, Alaska, courtesy Cole and Elizabeth Donelson.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2018, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Travel rewards bucket list: Showering on a plane
How to snag credit card rewards flights in peak season
This strategy is how I started earning major travel rewards

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