• I’ve been working toward my goal of visiting every country in the world for a few years. I’m currently up to 87 countries.
  • While I’m not in any rush to finish, credit card points and miles have been a big part of my strategy to afford to reach my goal.
  • Rewards credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve earn me points that I use to book free travel, and I also get valuable travel insurance like trip delay coverage.
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Around the time I became a digital nomad and started traveling internationally (almost) full-time, I set a lofty goal: visiting every country in the world. Before I started exploring the world of miles, points, and credit cards, this would have seemed impossible – but now I’m confident I can make it happen – and I’ve already crossed 87 countries off my list.

Here are three ways I use credit cards to help reach this goal and make my life easier along the way.

Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It’s important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.

Using airline credit cards and flexible travel rewards to fly for free

Frequent flyer miles are a major part of my travel strategy. While airline credit cards like the United Explorer Card from Chase and the Citi®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® can be very useful to boost your mileage balance (and get airline-specific perks, like priority boarding and a free checked bag), my favorite cards are those with flexible rewards currencies like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Platinum Card® from American Express, Citi Premier℠ Card, and the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.

That's because points earned with those cards can be transferred to a wide variety of airline partners, meaning I'm never restricted to a single airline or alliance. It's often the case that different programs will charge different prices for the same flight.

For example, an economy ticket from New York to London on United would cost 30,000 United miles, 27,500 Singapore Airlines miles, or just 20,000 Avianca LifeMiles. Or I could fly from New York to Dublin on Aer Lingus for just 13,000 British Airways Avios points and then use cash to buy a cheap one-way ticket to London. Having access to multiple frequent flyer programs means I can shop around and choose the best combination of price and convenience.

Using hotel credit cards for free nights

While I spend most of my time in Airbnbs and hostels, there are times when a hotel makes more sense - whether for convenience or because sometimes you just really need your own shower for a few days. The points earned from signing up for a hotel credit card like the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, the World of Hyatt Credit Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, or the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express can get you many free hotel nights in cities all over the world.

Each of these cards keeps a permanent place in my wallet, because every year they also give me a free night certificate. Although I can't use those certificates to book hotels at the very top end of the award chart, I've been able to book some amazing hotels with these free night awards, and I consistently get far more value out of the free night certificates than I pay in annual fees to keep the cards.

Using credit card perks to make travel easier

When you travel as much as I do - or even if you travel much less - a couple of credit card perks can make a big difference in your travel experience.

Signing up for Global Entry for free

Many travel rewards cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the United Explorer Card, and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, offer up to a $100 statement credit to cover the enrollment fee for Global Entry, which makes going through US immigration and customs a breeze.

You also get access to TSA PreCheck, which means shorter lines and simpler security screening at US airports. I'd pay the $100 enrollment fee in a second, so the fact that I can get this for free with a credit card is extra sweet.

Access to airport lounges

The Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige® Card, the American Express Platinum, and a handful of other cards include a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. (Non-American Express cards also offer access to a growing number of airport restaurants - a great way to reduce food costs while traveling).

American Express Platinum cardmembers also get access to the exclusive Centurion Lounge collection. And each major US airline also has a credit card that grants access to its own network of lounges: the Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, and the United Club Card from Chase.

These lounges make a big difference in your comfort level when traveling, especially when it means being able to take a shower after a long transoceanic flight.

Taking advantage of credit card protections

When I'm traveling, I'm able to sleep much easier knowing that if I run into problems along the way, my credit cards will help me resolve issues quickly and inexpensively. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers trip delay protection, reimbursing up to $500 in incidental costs if your flight is delayed six hours or more.

Many credit cards offer baggage delay protection or lost luggage protection, offering reimbursement above and beyond what the airline will cover in case your bag is delayed or lost. And though I hope I never need it, the American Express Platinum card provides emergency evacuation insurance for you and your immediate family - even if you don't use your Platinum card to pay for your trip.

Bottom line

While visiting every country in the world would technically still be possible without the miles, points, and benefits I get from my credit cards, it would probably be too expensive for me to reasonably attain. That's why I'm incredibly grateful to have discovered these options - and why I love sharing them with others.