WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

The trick to traveling for almost no cash

Posted October 3

There are plenty of flash sales and discount tickets out there. To get them, you usually need to be ready at a moment’s notice and be willing to sacrifice on comfort (lower quality hotel, cheaper seats on a plane, etc.). Did you know that there is a better, cheaper option that doesn’t sacrifice comfort?

Everyone has heard of airline miles. You buy a ticket, fly somewhere, and earn some miles. When you earn enough miles, you get a free flight. Hotels work pretty much the same way. Simple, right? But what most people don’t realize is that there is another, better way to earn these miles and points, and that there are lots of ways to use them to get more value. If you do it right, you can earn thousands of miles very quickly, and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on travel. How, you ask? Well, you don’t actually have to buy a single plane ticket to earn airline miles.

The key is to use your everyday spending to capitalize on credit card rewards. You can earn more airline miles and hotel points with a smart personal finance plan than you ever would by actually traveling to accrue those rewards. Enough miles, for example, to fly a family of 3 round-trip from Raleigh to New York in just 2 or 3 months for just $33 of cash cost (no way to get around paying taxes!). But you have to do it right, and that’s where things can get tricky. This is a complex issue, so we’ll just unpack the basics for now, but more detailed information can be found at

Understand a few things: most importantly, this is not for everyone. Unfortunately, we’re not all good at being disciplined about paying our bills on time. Sometimes situations change and people borrow money on credit cards -- which I highly discourage. If you ever carry a balance from month to month instead of paying it off in full at the end of each month, that’s not a good pattern for this practice (or your finances in general). Not only do you run the risk of having too much debt to pay off, but you’ll also be paying interest charges that eliminate the travel savings. You should first get to a place where you pay your cards off completely every month. Always. Without question.

Once you’re there, you’ll realize that a credit card is not for borrowing money, but instead it’s a way to earn miles and points for every dollar you spend instead of spending the same amount of cash or using a debit card and earning nothing. If you’re spending money and not getting anything back, you’re leaving money on the table. This fundamental concept is the basis for using your everyday spending to start earning a ton of reward points that can help you travel for almost no cash. And then the fun part begins… the strategies!

We’ll be able to dive deeper into this in future posts. To help drive the conversation, what thoughts or questions do you have?

This article was brought to us by Jon Hayes, founder and CEO of RewardStock. We are excited that Jon will be contributing money saving articles to the Smart Shopper blog on a regular basis.

A first-time entrepreneur, Jon was previously an investment banker on Wall Street, working in the Mergers & Acquisitions group at Citi, where he advised companies across a broad range of industries and eventually specialized in Master Limited Partnerships, natural gas transportation and storage, and Renewable Power Generation. He was promoted from the role of Analyst to Associate and finally to Vice President before leaving banking to create RewardStock. Prior to investment banking, Jon graduated from Princeton University with a major in Economics and a certificate in Spanish Language. He is also a graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham, NC. Jon currently serves as the President of the Triangle’s Princeton alumni organization. He is the recent recipient of WRAL’s Full Steam Ahead award in association with the RewardStock startup. Jon and his wife Alison live in Raleigh with their newborn daughter Elizabeth


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  • jdouglas13 Oct 4, 11:26 a.m.

    I'm familiar with cash back programs on credit cards and have been working very hard on our budget to get to a point where we can use them to our advantage rather than just as a temporary bail-out or convenience. I am thrilled that we have made it and are now in a position to do just that.

    I didn't occur to me that an airline credit card could yield airline miles in a significant enough way to actually get seriously discounted travel. That's a great idea, we'll be checking into it.


  • Faye Prosser -WRAL Smart Shopper Oct 3, 10:22 p.m.

    Amomoftwo - most sites like that make money through affiliate links and sponsorships. If you click on certain posts on his website and sign up for credit cards and offers, etc, he probably gets an affiliate bonus of some sort. That's how most bloggers and websites work these days and why I have the affiliate disclaimer at the bottom of posts with affiliate links.

  • Amomoftwo Oct 3, 7:00 p.m.

    Probably an odd question..but why does Jon do this? i did a very quick read and thought I read that this does not cost how does he make money from this? from the vendors? I am fine with that...and appreciate the work he has put in developing the system. Thx!