Is “Free” Travel Really Free?

Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.

When I first got heavily into the miles and points hobby several years ago, many rewards credit cards had offers that awarded a bucket of miles, points, or free hotel nights after you used the card just one time.  You could simply buy a cup of coffee on the card and tens of thousands of miles and points would fall out of the sky and into your account…a billing cycle or so later.  Oh, and the annual fee was often $0 the first year.  Pretty great, huh?  That’s pretty stinkin’ close to free travel, or at least free airfare and hotel nights.

When is “free” really free?

Then as the years passed more and more cards required you to buy more than a cup of coffee to trigger the confetti of miles falling from the sky into your account.  Now most require anywhere from $1,000 – $3,000 in charges in the first three months or so before the initial sign-up bonus can be yours, though there are a few notable exceptions to that rule that still award the miles on the first purchase, like the US Airways card.

So, is it still nearly free travel if you have use the card for your daily expenses for a while to trigger the sign-up bonus?  Let’s take the Hyatt Visa as our example.  This card has a $0 introductory annual fee the first year and awards two nights at any Hyatt in the world after you spend $1,000 on the card in the first 3 months.  Sometimes the card even comes with a $50 statement credit after the first purchase…


Use Hyatt nights to stay at Grand Hyatt Kauai

Those hotel nights could easily be used at a hotel where the going rate is $500+ per night.  Of course that doesn’t mean you have to value those nights at $500+ each if you wouldn’t have paid that much to being with (and most of us wouldn’t have), but they are clearly valuable however you want to slice it.

Those who argue this isn’t really like getting travel nearly for free rightfully argue the point that when you put spending on a card to earn travel rewards you are giving up putting that spending on a credit card that earns up to 2% cash back that you could use however you wish.  That is true.  In this case, the $1,000 you put on that card to trigger the sign-up bonus of two free Hyatt nights means that you missed out on earning $20 cash back on a 2% cash back card.  You could have used that $20 cash back for travel, savings, or however you wish.

I still think that passing up on $20 in cash back in order to earn two free hotel nights at any Hyatt qualifies as nearly free travel, but you may or may not agree.  Assuming you got the offer with the $50 statement credit it is really hard to argue that the nights aren’t free, but it is just semantics in my book as I think everyone can agree that is a heck of a deal.

What about the on-the-ground activities?

There are other parts of travel that really can be free or nearly free, too.  For example, if a credit card you have gives you one-time passes or ongoing access into an airport lounge and you are able to use that to eat/drink things you would have otherwise bought on your journey, that can result in real savings or even free meals.  They may not be award winning meals, but they can be free or close to it.  Same story if you have used hotel points or elite status you got by having a co-branded hotel credit card and landed yourself into a hotel that provides complimentary breakfast or access to a club lounge where you can have breakfast or snacks, that is a free meal and real savings.

"Free" Hyatt Diamond room service breakfast

“Free” Hyatt Diamond room service breakfast

If you do a little bit of internet research into free activities at your destination you will often be surprised what is out there.  It’s well known that the Smithsonian Museums are complimentary for visits to places like Washington DC, but many, many museums have days or evenings that are free or “pay what you wish” all over the world.  If you already have a zoo or children’s museum membership from home you can often use that on your travels to access other reciprocal museums for no additional charge.  If you have a Bank of America card then on the first weekend of each month you can access a host of quality zoos, museums, etc. for free.  This is something you can take advantage of at home or on the road.

On our recent trip to Beaver Creek I searched for free activities online the way I normally do and was shocked to find that even horse rides for young children were free.  There is also a guided complimentary hike daily that we took advantage of that was led by a fantastic guide.  Since they are a sponsor, there were even free Nature’s Valley granola bars which we stashed for later.  Evening s’mores were also free at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, as was room service breakfast thanks to having Hyatt Diamond status.  We didn’t have to pay for very many meals on that trip out of pocket because so many were free for us.

Free guided hike in Beaver Creek

Free guided hike in Beaver Creek

“Free” as a result of previous investment or strategy:

Now you can get Hyatt Diamond elite status “for free” by participating in the Hyatt Diamond challenge, but that does start to take us to the next type of “free”.  You really can get Hyatt status for a while basically for free for a while, but to keep it you need a hefty number of qualifying stays each year devoted to Hyatt, 25 to be exact.  If you aren’t spending any extra to hit that threshold, but instead are just being strategic about the travel you have, then that really can be something you obtain for no additional outlay just by being strategic.

If you are having to invest some extra to hit that threshold then it isn’t exactly free, but rather those breakfasts you enjoy as a result of your status are just your investment paying off.  If the additional investment was small, then they may well be nearly free.  The more you spent to get it, the further they are from free.  The same thing holds true with airline elite status and upgrades, fee waivers, meals in first class etc.  They may be “free” on that given day you enjoy them – and boy does that feel good!  However, they are likely the result of either strategy, previous investment, or both.  That can be virtually free or pretty darn expensive depending on your situation.

"Free" first class meal

“Free” first class meal

Is “free” still possible?

Those newer to this hobby who haven’t yet taken advantage of the multitude of offers out there absolutely can piece together a trip (or really more than one trip) that can be nearly free.  Your airfare, hotel nights, and even some incidentals can be covered easily by the sign-up bonuses that rewards credit cards have readily available.  The elite status levels you can get by virtue of having some co-branded cards, or even what you can get via a challenge can also be free or nearly free.  As I have covered, some quality activities along the way can also be free or darn close (don’t be a total cheapo and “forget” to tip) with a little bit of research.

So is there such thing as free travel?  Sometimes.  Absolutely.  Less so than perhaps there was a few years ago, but it is still totally possible and not that hard.

Is it something that is sustainable for the long haul?  For some people who really push the limits, yes.  However, for most of us the longer we are in this hobby the more we are supplementing pieces of the trip that are nearly free with pieces that aren’t.  Even on the recent trip we took to Beaver Creek, Colorado, that was featured on Nightline, our flights weren’t free.  They could have been close to free if we had used miles, but that wasn’t a good choice given our overall strategy of earning miles and elite status.  It probably would have made for better TV to have our flights be free, but it wouldn’t have been better for what we do and our approach to travel these days.

We paid about $190 each for our round trip flights as all three of us needed those miles to hit status for next year, and burning 25,000 United miles or 15,000 British Airways Avios to save $190 wasn’t a good strategy for us.  We certainly could have used miles from the Barclaycard Arrival to offset the amount we paid for the tickets, but we didn’t.   The deal did get better for us when our paid tickets scored us complimentary space available first class upgrades.  $190 first class tickets to Denver were even better than $190 coach tickets to Denver and did result in the real savings of not having to buy lunch.

Free s'mores at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek

Free s’mores at Park Hyatt Beaver Creek


The free s’more pack

Clearly buying airline tickets means they aren’t free, but the upgrades were a result of a previous investment in status paying off, and the tickets themselves were an investment toward next year’s status….and in earning redeemable miles to use on future trips.  Our flights weren’t free on that trip, but there were elements of that trip that were 100% free, such as hotel suite we won, and those are the sort of things that make trip possible and very affordable.

Free is now a part of our strategy, but we simply travel too frequently (in part because this is my “job”)  for everything to be free or nearly free.  If we wanted just one or two trips a year they could still be nearly free when it comes to flights and hotels, and that is amazing and attainable for many families who have good credit and the discipline to not rack up debt or spend money on things they otherwise wouldn’t just because they are using credit.

Some travel really can be free.  The rest can cost much less.

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

Disclaimer: The comments below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. Summer’s endless greed rears its selfish head once again. As I said in my comment on her Nightline segment, these types of posts/statements are egregiously irresponsible. To say anything we do is free is simply not true. I can go for the easy argument of opportunity cost of spending extra time over what you would normally spend planning and purchasing a vacation.

    But the bigger issue is knowing you have many new, gullible people, whose demographic of wanting free stuff makes them, already, likely not the best financial planners (obviously generalizing here) and telling them, “hey, do what we do, and it’ll be free!”. No, it’s not free. The time you invest, the gas on the way to get the gift cards at a store, the transportation cost to get to those “free” museums. They are not negligible, and they are not “free”. Not to mention the damage financially irresponsible people can make to their credit, endangering their financial wellbeing, putting mortgages and car loans at risk.

    Your consistent hawking of “free” travel, littered with mentions of credit cards that you MAKE MONEY ON, is so morally and ethically reprehensible it’s shocking these banks let you partner with them.

    • Joshua, I’m not sure if you really read this post or just posted in the comments based on the title. Either way, I recommend reading it again. I clearly say some parts of travel can be free or close to it. That is true, and if you aren’t sure how to make that happen I’m happy to help. There are warnings about credit card use, no links to credit card applications, and a realistic looks at parts of travel that aren’t free.

      If sharing that advice is selfish to you, well I don’t know what to say other than to encourage you to make better use of your “free” time on a blog better suited to your needs.

      • Sharing the advice while hawking credit card applications that you make money on is selfish. Why do you not address this glaring issue that many commenters have raised? You seem to skip over them every time, instead responding to some other, less important point. Is it because it is inconvenient to expose your bias? Do you have any justification to the glaring ethical issues? This reminds me a lot of the recent Dr. Oz scandal, using his show to promote products that he stood to gain from.

        How can we trust you?

        • Joshua, rewards credit cards are also how many families travel near and far without spending very much cash, so I’m not sure what you recommend here. There were no credit card links in this post, but what we do can’t be done without the credit card offers, so they are quite relevant. I fully disclose my relationships with banks and I don’t think anyone should blindly trust anything written on the internet, or elsewhere for that matter. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe 100% in what I say, but everyone should evaluate everything from the perspective of what is best for them. Lots of what I share has worked for lots of people, but it won’t be right for everyone and that is okay.

          You don’t have to trust me, but you can decide to look at the deals, offers, opinions presented and see which ones make sense for you.

          • Regardless of whether you disclose your relationship with banks, the bigger issue is that you are irresponsibly promoting the idea that travel can be free, conveniently skip over the very real potential costs/consequences of signing up for credit cards, and then make money on credit card applications. To say, well, people still have to make their own decisions doesn’t mitigate the fact that what you’re spewing is ethically wrong, on so many levels: on the misinformation that travel can be free, on what you stand to gain financially from hawking credit cards to enable this “free” travel, on obviating the aforementioned risks, ALL to brand new, potentially financially irresponsible readers from your equally irresponsible Nightline segment.

          • Pieces of travel really can be nearly free. Some pieces aren’t free. Some can be really expensive. I never said that all travel could be free, but pieces of it can be in some situations, and I have give some examples here. I’ve lived that reality. My family has lived that reality. People that read here have. I also say (in this post even) that eventually most in this hobby piece together deals with “free” parts. I have spoke to the dangers of credit cards and have a whole post on that coming up.

            Feel free to email me if you want to address additional concerns. I have addressed everything I reasonably can here. I may be many things, but I do not believe unethical to be one of them.

      • Joshua, you are obvioulsy just trolling now, stop please. Adults can make their own decisions. They do not need you being their parents. Your bitterness is odd. Why do you feel the need to defend those who you seem to think cannot think for themselves?
        You made your point. Move on.

    • Joshua – if you don’t like this blog just go elsewhere. Why do you keep coming here?

      Otherwise, if you want advice on planning a vacation for less, I suggest you take a look at the Getting Started tab.

      • Thanks for your concern, Stephen. I’d counter your comment with, “if you don’t like my comments, why do you keep reading them?”

  2. The whole “free” stuff is just part of your credit card salesman narrative.

    At least you admit that people or a family can have 1-2 free trips per year.

    Still doesn’t admit that taking 19 trips a year is not possible without heavy MS/credit card churning/unlimited funds.

    Can’t say that because you’d lose your affiliate links and people wouldn’t be as gullible thinking that they can also take 19 trips a year but just signing up for several credit cards.

  3. I’ve been reading this blog for a long time and I have never once heard Mommy Points say that the average family can take 19 nearly free trips per year. Where are you getting that from, John? And, if you don’t care for this blog, why on earth are you reading it?

  4. John, I have never said that 19 trips a year were possible without some pretty crazy stuff. The only thing I will every say about 19 trips is that no one should travel that much unless it is their job. Not trying to dupe anyone into 19 trips, in fact would do just the opposite. I would encourage against anything near that number for most people.

    I would, however, encourage a few trips a year as that is very attainable and hopefully enjoyable for most families.

  5. I think of playing the game as highly discounted travel. As an example, people are always trying to sell me “All In” price Disney packages. Every time I run the numbers, it is vividly clear that I can save us WAY more money than the “packaged discounts” – even adding in character dining. If Disney tickets, meals, and perhaps a car rental are the only real expenditures, I think we’re getting by pretty inexpensively.

    • DaveRamseyisDangerous, highly discounted can be a very attainable goal. That’s where we are with most trips these days. My favorite is example is time share pitches when they show how much we can “save” by buying the time share. With hotel points and knowledge of other deals there just isn’t a contest. 😉

  6. Relax, people. This blog hits on something nobody else does – that families can afford trips they otherwise would not without points/miles. All the other blogs seem to focus on “aspirational” first class awards that are a waste of miles IMO. They peddle credit card apps probably even more, too.

    • Gene, pieces can be free. If you leverage many deals together a single trip could have zero out of pocket cost, but I agree that in general you will spend some to travel, even if pieces are free, just like you spend money every day living life at home.

  7. I’m glad for you that your blogging, because you would have a difficult time in a lot of other businesses. You tell Joshua” go find another blog that meets your needs”. Just image if you we’re say in hospitality, maybe owned a Restraurant and told your customers” you don’t like what I serve go some where else” I guess when blogging attitude doesn’t matter.

    • Larry, I told Joshua I am happy to help him, and I am. However, if someone came in a restaurant and complained every day then I’m fairly certain that the same recommendation would apply. I’m happy to help anyone, but ultimately I can’t meet the needs of everyone, and that’s okay.

        • Joshua, again I’m not sure what you mean. I disclose financial relationships that my business has and give the very best advice that I can. It is advice my family personally follows and it works for us.

          • You are an unethical blogger who heavily promotes the offers that pay you a commission.

            Where were the Amex posts when you lost those links? We didn’t hear how much you loved Amex and SPG when you lost those links.

            Everytime you have a post on Hyatt you NEVER mention the Chase Hyatt card while ALWAYS remind the reader about the whole Chase portfolio that pay you a commission.

          • John, that is all just factually incorrect. I consistently posted on Amex and SPG. The Hyatt card is regularly mentioned – even in this very post.

  8. why are there always a buzzkill like John trolling the blogs?? Summer, I loved the segment on Nightline and happy that you didn’t give away too many secrets!

    Real question for you is: I have 6 1/2 yr old who is a great traveler.. my 18 months are already showing signs of bad traveler (and that’s just in car trips) throwing up, cranky /crying… so we haven’t flown with her to anywhere yet.. we figured we wait until she can talk and communicate what’s wrong with her. I’ve been working hard at this miles/points system and got a $20k Hawaiian vacation past February and actually made $250 in the end. (would have been $750 out of pocket cash but made $1000 in United voucher)

    Ok, I digressed… Right now I have my points and miles everywhere.. 20k with United, 17K with US Air, 22k with Hyatt, 180k with Hilton, 150k with Marriott.. As a family traveler, in your travels, which hotel brand and airlines do you find most convenient/affordable/available and family friendly?

    I would like to choose one airline and hotel chain and just stick to them.( I live in east cost near Washington/Baltimore region.) Thanks!

    • Juno, if I had to go big some something in your case I would make it Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can then supplement Hyatt and United, or even Marriott if you wanted without being tied into any one system. Also, have faith with the 18 month old. Toddlers are hard. If they aren’t hard to travel with, you just got lucky. By 3 or 4 I bet she can be taught to be much better. Hang in there!

  9. My personal experience is that with a bit of hassle and planning (award seats on flights can be tough to schedule) it is possible for us to put together two heavily discounted vacations per year.

  10. Here is the deal: We spend money on a regular basis already – restaurants, groceries, gas, utilities, etc. If we’re already spending, might as well use a credit card that can earn points to be used for much cheaper travel.

  11. What’s up with all the haters? This hobby (which is how I view this whole miles and points game) isn’t for everyone, like any hobby. People who are financially irresponsible are going to be that way no matter what the hobby is until they get their personal priorities in order (like identifying needs vs wants and living accordingly). Summer has provided invaluable information for our family. I’ve been following (and a few other bloggers) for two years. With her information, 8 new credit cards between my husband and I,and strategically spending (but no ms), we have been able to fly out family if four to visit our family twice and taken a handful of weekend getaways. They weren’t totally free, but the cost was marginal. Considering we would have taken these trips anyway, it was well worth food expenses and such. We ended up saving thousands, which is great considering we do not have unlimited income. Summer’s helped us leverage a valuable asset (our great credit) to get some amazing returns. The most important one being a trip to Australia next year to bury my MILs ashes in her homeland. Instead of costing $10,000 to fly coach and stay in cheap hotels we’ll be flying business and staying at very nice hotels for probably $2000. I can’t thank her enough for her blog! Like lots of other fields, she makes money from her knowledge and experiences, as she should. I find no problem with that because she tells you this all over her blog. Whether it’s sponsored or not, her advice is good and works. Sorry for the rant, but I’m so tired of reading all the hater comments lately.

  12. Applying for credit cards like a crazy person is not something you should jump into with no research. There are hundreds of blogs out there providing different perspectives/information on how to travel cheaply(not free). There is no such thing as free travel as you are always spending some money to get something in return. However, by using the right credit cards on your purchases you can maximize points/miles every time. Summer is not forcing anyone to sign up for credit cards along with traveling like her family. You read and decide what is going to work best in your situation as everyone has different credit scores, travel aspirations, size of family, income, vacation time, etc. Summer continue your great work and let the haters stay at home.

  13. Thanks Summer! I love your blog, and I have been reading it for the past couple of years. My family of 6 has been able to take several free and heavily discounted trips because of what I have learned from you!

  14. Wow, there must have been a run Hatorade at the local 5x stand-alone grocery store.
    In my case, I consider it getting free plane tickets and sometimes free hotel nights, rather than free travel. When I travel with my family we’re generally places without a lot of chain hotel opportunities — or else we’d rather stay in a local place than a chain. When I travel with friends, food is generally a major player, and major expense.
    The four-week family trip to Sri Lanka and Thailand this summer probably wound up costing four or five thousand dollars (a thousand alone in admission to national parks, park guides, and ruin sites in Sri Lanka). But the $20,000 of business class plane travel we did was free — and even at economy prices, I doubt we would have spend the extra $7,500 or so for plane tickets.

  15. To: Joshua… Do you ever watch TV and complain that commercials are “unethical”? Have you ever opened a newspaper and gasp at all the advertisements? Have you ever GOOGLED anything and was shocked at all advertisement that followed your search?

    Heaven forbid that a blogger try to make some living off their service…

  16. Wow, sorry about all the haters. I’ve never viewed any travel with credit card rewards to be completely free, but they make it affordable for average people to take extraordinary trips. We just booked a three week trip to Europe next summer for my family of three thanks to many of your tips. I knew exactly how to call BA for Aer Lingus and that we would likely have to sit two in business and one in coach thanks to your posts. For that help, I will gladly apply through your links when I can. You provide a service and if you can make money or a living from it, that’s awesome!

  17. I do a lot of travel for my job. Currently, I am in China and have been here since late July (with the exception of a 5-day return to the US to prepare for the long haul). With any luck, I’ll be back home by Thanksgiving.

    “So what”, you may ask? I use my Frequent Flyer/Hotel Programs on a regular basis so I can have the benefit of a “free” vacation with my wife. I have learned a lot from these blogs, such as the SPG program.

    I also freely relate my experiences, and some people actually find them useful.

    I am probably also hated by bloggers, because I never apply through affiliate links. I think MS is the devil’s own handiwork and is just about as close to fraud as one can get without stepping over the line.

    My employer pays for international BC tickets, and I stay in chain hotels when possible (it is part of our corporate policy). So yes, I am DM in Skymiles, Gold in Hilton and SPG.

    Hints and tips about deals are a good thing, and I have no issue with people who try to profit from supplying that service – it’s the American Way. More power to you.

    What annoys me are the spoiled brats who do the MS just to get status and whine when they don’t get every little perk they think they are entitled to (flight upgrades, suite upgrades, whatever).

    I can attest that since I fly DL so much on premium tickets, I am treated better than most other Medallions. A polite inquiry about a problem with my SPG account allowed me to keep over 8,000 points credited to me in error.

    This is the difference between being a good customer and being in it for the “free” stuff.

  18. Given that one has to put quotation marks around the word free, and explains what it really means, I would recommend to minimize the use of the words “free travel”.

    Most of us know what it means when we see a “free disney tickets” sign in Orlando. A quality blog like this one should avoid giving people a similar taste. And I do mean this is a quality blog when compared to others.

  19. There are those who have targeted this blog for whatever reason. Don’t let them bait you. There is no reason to defend yourself (just sayin).

  20. I’m so thankful for Summer’s great work through this blog. Tonight we picked up our kids/grandkids as they returned from Boston. They picked up the tickets for the 5 of them for just a little bit over $400 total. This is because they listened to me and watched this blog. They had a blast. I’m a huge hobbyist and my wife and I have taken a number of free trips together and with the family off of miles and points. All that said, I am constantly amazed with how Summer finds the great deals and points offers that are out there.

    This is your “job” and I hope you are making money/points off of your hard work. Your profiting off of your research/connections doesn’t diminish what you do for the rest of us. Keep up the great work.

    • Except if you’re as huge a hobbyist as you say you are, you’d know that nothing Summer “finds” as great deals hasn’t already been posted on Flyertalk, Slickdeals, Milevalue or another BoardingArea blog. Dare you to find more than 5 posts worth of original content. If you seriously come to “” as your source of deals, don’t think you can call yourself a huge hobbyist.

      • Not sure what to call myself. I enjoy the travel game. I used hobbyist because it’s on the side and not my main thing for the day. My wife and I have close to 5 million points/miles and we’ve taken free trips to South Africa/Hawaii/Bahamas/Belize/Costa Rica, etc. Yet, I don’t have the time to do my own fresh research.
        I don’t assume any blogger has the original piece. I appreciate when they have the content I need. Whether it was their own or they share what they found out. I use a number of the blogs mentioned and I don’t judge which one has the breaking news. I appreciate this one because it often times brings it to the forefront the soonest. I also find that mommypoints is the most helpful for breaking in those newest to the game.

  21. To those who compared the blog vs. going into a restaurant, there is a difference. If you are going into a restaurant, you are paying for the opportunity to eat there. You do not have to pay to read this blog. No one does. If you don’t like it, don’t read it and don’t click on any credit card links. Simple as that. But your vitriolic spewing ruins it for the rest of us who enjoy reading Summer’s blog.

  22. WTF People. This shit is real. Just saying. 10 days in Hawaii for family of four this summer. Airfare, hotel and car rental all “Free”. Also covered some stuff with the hotel with Barclay card.

    OK So I spent some to get some bonuses on some cards. Who gives a crap! I have great credit. So I take back a little from the banks.

    So “Suck it”! if you don’t like the blog. Don’t read it. I thought this was a very fair post. Thanks Summer for your posts.

  23. Summer,

    Thank you for all you do! My girlfriend and I used your advice here along with advice from Lucky to book our first trip together to Europe next year. We paid only $88 in taxes on an economy flight. We certainly understand the trip isn’t “free” but we earned our points that would otherwise have just been money spent with no return. We don’t have high incomes, but we’ve secured a few sign up bonuses and make the most of the bills and purchases we were already going to make.

    We truly appreciate all the information you provide. Keep up the good work!

    Thank you!

  24. I never look at miles/points bookings as “free”. Instead, I consider miles/points (and even “free night” hotel certificates) as alternative currencies, with a certain value per mile or point, and I book using whichever currency is cheapest.

    The one exception is the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass. My GF’s travel is truly “free” in that case (ignoring the $5.60 Sept. 11 tax 🙂 )

  25. Thank you so much for this blog and all of your help, Summer. I believe these “haters” must have a lot of time on their hands and a very sad life.

  26. Reading these comments seriously blows my mind!

    No, your entire trip may not be free, but your hotel and airfare can be free or almost-free depending on how much you have to pay for government-mandated taxes or fees. Obviously anyone with a brain would know they need to factor in the cost of taxis, incidentals, and meals.

    Don’t like credit card links? Don’t use them. Think it’s wrong for someone to make money on their own website? I honestly don’t understand that argument. People who like to whine when other people make money are obvious envious and have a poor understanding of capitalism.

  27. @Joshua,
    Your comments are blatantly ignorant. In your initial post, you talk about opportunity cost and blog posts about travel being free “simply is not true.” – I beg to differ as I think it depends on the person and their goals. The bloggers will write about doing the gift card thing, doing mileage runs, and going here and there to get points. I agree with you that if they’re doing all those kinds of things, then yes it’s not ‘free’ as they are expending time, energy, gas, etc which is all at an expense in order to reap more points/miles (i.e., the opportunity cost you speak of) – although on the most part the resulting benefit is much greater than the cost put forth. For myself, I have been able to travel for FREE at no extra expense, time, or energy expended than I normally would do to plan a vacation that was paid for. I have never applied for a credit card with an annual fee that was not waived the first year, I’ve never done the gift card thing, I haven’t spent more money than I normally would in order to meet spend requirements and can tell you I’ve even managed to have the airfare taxes, my airport parking, and even some tours and excursions covered by points. So the only thing I spend money on is food, souvenirs, tips, and other entertainment expenses. But the travel portion (air, hotel, car, airport parking, baggage fees) has been completely FREE for me. Also, Summer and other bloggers often do warn about the risk to one’s credit report and have shown how the credit score is calculated and advise not to get too heavily involved in credit card apps if you are going to apply for a mortgage in the near future, so I’m not sure what ‘irresponsibility’ you’re referring to. By the way, my credit score is 830 and I have 15-16 open cards at any given moment. Also, I don’t really see anything wrong with her making money off the credit card links, why would you call her greedy/selfish for that? You’re entitled to do the same thing, it’s called affiliate marketing and you can go sign up right now at Commission Junction ( or Linkshare to name a few and do the same thing. She has a legit website and the banks screen the website before allowing them to put up their links on them. Summer is writing about those very cards, and helping others travel for free or very minimal expense, so it’s a win-win for both parties. If a reader is reading about the benefits of a certain card the blogger is writing about, it’s convenient for the reader to just click the link or picture to apply for the card than going off to another web browser to search for the card application page. If every post she wrote was “apply for this card before it’s gone, apply for that card…” then I would agree with you, but that’s far from the truth. Sounds like you’re jealous to me in more than one regard…maybe you should educate yourself more and be more receptive to one’s that are even offering to help you…

  28. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to express their opinions. Your support (and even challenges) mean a lot. As I said in the post, most travel isn’t totally free, but pieces of it can be. Even more of it can be had for a much, much lower price than most outside this hobby would believe.

    As a side note, thanks to everyone who chooses to come here and make this site a small part of your day. It means a lot. Now onto the next deal….

  29. This hobby (which is how I view this whole miles and points game) isn’t for everyone, like any hobby. It takes time, and effort, research, etc. – but it can save thousands and allow you to do things like stay in five-star hotels you would never do otherwise (at least my family wouldn’t!)

    People who are financially irresponsible are going to be that way no matter what the hobby is until they get their personal priorities in order (like identifying needs vs. wants and living accordingly).

    Summer Hull from Mommy Points blog has provided invaluable information for our family. I’ve been following (and a few other bloggers) for two years. With her information, 8 new credit cards between my husband and I and strategic spending, we have been able to fly our family of four to visit our families a few times and taken a handful of other side vacations. They weren’t totally free, of course, but the cost was marginal.Considering we would have taken these trips anyway, it was well worth food expenses and such. We ended up saving thousands, which is great considering we do not have unlimited income.

    Summer’s helped us leverage a valuable asset (our great credit) to get some amazing returns.

    The most important one was a trip to Asia this past summer. Instead of costing $8,000 to fly coach and stay in cheap hotels we ended flying with free stopovers and staying at very nice hotels (including a five-star hotel in Seoul, which isn’t cheap) for around $1000.

    I can’t thank her enough for her blog! Like lots of other fields, she makes money from her knowledge and experiences, as she should.

    I find no problem with that because she tells you this all over her blog. Whether it’s sponsored or not, her advice is good and works.

    Keep up the good work, Summer!

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