How to get Free Bus Passes in Austin (and other places)
Disclaimer: I do not get a referral bonus, or any sort of monetary compensation, for writing this. I simply want to share a cool money saving tip with my friends. Please do your own research.
Until recently I used my debit card for eveything, but debit cards don’t give you any real benefit for using them, and they’re actually more risky than credit cards if someone steals your card information. Credit cards offer protection incase of stolen information and if you can manage your money, then leveraging credit card offers offer significant benefits. Put another way, using debit cards for every purchase leaves money on the table.
No, this isn’t a scam. Honestly you can get 100% free bus passes with little time investment, without jumping through hoops, or doing anything weird. Last week I went to the Capital Metro transit store in Austin Texas, and paid for 6 bus passes with my credit card.
But wait, I thought you said they were free? How can they be free if you had to use a credit card? Let me explain.
If you have a good credit score and you pay your bills on time eah month, you can leverage credit card offers for really awesome benefits. Some credit cards let you earn airline miles, other give you cash back. Although what I’m about to describe is relatively simple, you should still do your research and make sure the credit cards you apply for help further your goal. In my case, I wanted free bus passes, but your goals may be different.
- Good credit score (700+)
- Motivation to research the different benefits of credit cards
- Small time investment.
- A job that provides a stable income (I do not advise going into debt for this, make sure you can pay your bills.)
There are two versions of the credit card I I applied for:
Barclay’s Arrival mastercard. This card has the following benefits
- 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months (which equals a $200 travel credit)
- 2X Miles on Travel and Dining Purchases
- 1x Miles on everything else
- No Annual Fee
There is another version of this card, the Barclays Arrival Plus, which is a little different:
- 40,000 bonus miles after $3,000 in first 3 months ($400 travel credit)
- 2X Miles on Everything
- $89 annual fee, waived the first year
You’ll have to decide which card is right for you. If you can meet the $3,000 spend then the Arrival Plus is arguably better although it has an annual fee after the first year. Personally I prefer the no annual fee version, so I went with just the Arrival, but your situation may be different.
Barclays miles are different than airline miles. If you earn American Airlines miles, you can use them to book direct flights on American to pretty much anywhere. Barclay miles can be redeemed for a travel statement credit. Certain purchases are categorized as travel expenses (airline tickets, cab rides, bus passes), which means they’re eligible for a redemption through Barclays website.
Another unqique thing about these cards is that they allow you to join the Barclays Travel Community where you can earn free miles for writing travel stories. Each new story is only worth 150 miles, but that adds up quickly if you’ve traveled often. A small time commitment of 15 minutes a day can easily net you over 1000 miles, so there is potential here to earn enough miles to sustain free bus passes even after your initial 20,000 bonus.
So you sign up for the Barclays Arrival card. You’ll receive 20,000 Barclay miles after you spend $1,000 on your credit card in the first 3 months. This is called the minumum spend, which just means the minumum amount of money you need to spend in order to earn the bonus miles.
After you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months, Barclays credits your account with 20,000 miles. Hooray, you’re almost there! 20,000 miles can be redeemed for a $200 travel statement credit, so now you just need to find a way to purchase Bus passes that count as a travel expense.
In my case, I can buy bus passes at HEB, but HEB is a grocery store, which does not count as a travel purchase. Luckily there is a physical store where I can buy bus passes in Austin, the Capital Metro Transit store. I tested a purchase here first by buying one bus pass, and making sure it posted as a travel expense.
Next, I purchased 6 more bus passes for a total of $198. After the purchases posted to my account, I logged in and redeemed them for a travel credit. Total out of-pocket cost to me was $0. Redeeming the miles before my statement is due means I don’t actually hae to pay for anything, they deduct 19,800 miles from my account, and redeem them for a $198 charge on my bill.
My specific example is for the local busses here in Austin, but this will work anywhere you can buy bus passes that post as a travel expense. Buying them directly from your local Transit Authority will almost always work, but make sure to be 100% certain before you dive in. Try searching online to see if someone else has tried this, or leave a comment and I’ll try and help!