Travel hacking requires a bit of know-how and a fair amount of patience. But there's at least one card available now that will allow almost anyone to earn a free trip in just a year.

Everyone knows a rewards credit card can earn you free travel. But, you may have figured out that hacking your way to a truly free vacation isn’t as easy as some bloggers make it seem.

The trouble with traditional travel hacking

Collecting enough miles to take a major trip—gratis, of course—requires a willingness to signup for multiple high-annual-fee credit cards, buy things you don’t need, or even fly somewhere you don’t need to go just to pump your mileage total.

Plus, airline credit cards’ frequent flyer miles are increasingly difficult to use, so you’ll need to know how to navigate their arcane rules just so if you want to redeem them. Finally, frequent flyer miles may only cover your flights, leaving you to pay out-of-pocket for other expenses like hotel and car rentals.

But let’s say you don’t need to be a rockstar travel hacker, you just want to earn a free vacation. And you don’t need to get that trip ASAP, let’s say you’re willing to earn it over a year’s time. It’s possible.

The solution

There are a number of good no annual fee travel rewards credit cards that will help you reach your goal. These cards offer rewards that can be redeemed for any travel reservations.

Here, we’re going highlight one, the Discover it® Miles, because of its industry-leading sign up bonus for new cardmembers and how easy it is to earn travel with every purchase and redeem rewards for nearly any travel expense.

How the Discover it® Miles works

The no-annual-fee Discover it® Miles allows you to earn miles that can be used as statement credits for any flight, hotel, or car rental. In fact, it might be the easiest way to earn a free vacation within a year.

Earning miles

For each dollar you spend on Discover it® Miles, you earn 1.5 miles in Discover’s rewards program. And after one year, Discover will match the rewards you earned in your first year. That works out to a total of three miles per dollar spent during that year.

Redeeming miles

Miles can be redeemed for one cent each as statement credits towards any travel reservations that you charge to your card. Unlike when you redeem most airline miles, there are never any blackout dates or capacity controls with Discover it® Miles, so you can book any flight, hotel, or rental car that’s offered for sale. You can also use your miles to book travel through Discover’s travel service. In fact, you can even redeem your miles for cash back if you decide not to travel after all.

Cardmember benefits

Benefits include a free monthly FICO credit score and the ability to freeze your account instantly via your phone if you’ve misplaced your card.

Customer service

Discover is also widely known for having excellent customer service, with 100 percent US-based telephone customer support. For three years in a row, Discover has earned customer service awards. Discover Card’s mobile app also ranks highest in customer satisfaction among U.S. credit card companies.

There’s no annual fee for the Discover it® Miles. There are no foreign transaction fees and no penalty interest rate. Discover will also waive your first late payment fee automatically.

How to use Discover® it Miles to earn a free vacation in a year

When it comes to using reward credit cards to earn free travel, there are three rules that you need to follow.

First, pay your balance in full every month to avoid finance charges. If you ever need to carry a balance, then you are better off avoiding rewards and looking for a credit card with the lowest possible interest rate.

Second, never make any purchases just to earn rewards or let rewards influence your spending. Just use your credit card in the exact same way that you would use cash, checks, or a debit card.

Finally, use your credit card as your preferred method of payment for things you would already buy, wherever possible.

Once you start looking for ways to earn more rewards from your credit card, you’ll find many possibilities. For example, many insurance companies allow you to charge premiums for health, car, and home insurance to your card. In addition, it’s often possible to charge medical services and even utility bills. Eventually, you’ll find that your credit card is not only the most rewarding method of payment you can use, but also the most secure and convenient.

An example

Imagine you use the Discover it® Miles to make $2,000 of charges each month.

Initially, this will get you 3,000 miles per month for a total of 36,000 miles during your first year. But, at the end of that year, Discover will match your rewards, giving you 72,000 miles to redeem. These miles are worth $720 towards travel reservations…not just airfare.

While that certainly won’t be enough to get you a week at a five-star resort, it’s certainly enough to cover an extended weekend or score an economy airfare and have money left over for ground transportation or or lodging on a longer trip.

In contrast, most airline frequent flyer cards only offer one mile per dollar spent on most purchases. Assuming the same spending, you would earn just 24,000 miles. This is only 1,000 miles short of the least amount of miles that most airlines charge for domestic, round-trip award. But as many travelers have learned, the airlines make extremely few award seats available at those mileage levels.

Bottom line

There are many ways to use travel reward credit cards for a free vacation. But most of the time, award travel is neither free or easy. The Discover it® Miles offers one of the easiest ways to earn and redeem travel rewards and a compelling sign-up bonus that will double all the rewards you earn in your first year, so you can find yourself on a truly free vacation sooner than you might have thought.

Read more about the Discover it® Miles in Money Under 30’s review or get card details and apply here.

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About the author

Total Articles: 33
Jason Steele has been writing about credit cards, travel and personal finance since 2008, and is passionate about using his cards to travel for free. Jason contributes to many of the top personal finance and travel sites and has been widely quoted in mainstream media as a credit card expert. Jason lives in Denver Colorado where he enjoys bicycling, snowboarding and flying. You can follow Jason on Twitter, Facebook or on his website.