Traveling seems to be an expensive hobby. You are paying for flights, hotels, meals, and transportation. Then you go on the internet and see people traveling in business class, luxury hotels, and have adventures to the craziest places around the world. As you look at your wallet, you think to yourself, “this will never happen to me.” What if I could tell you that “yes,” it could happen to you. Have you ever heard of the term travel hacking?
Free flights, free travel, plus more can all be done through travel hacking. It is something that people have discovered. The adventure is waiting, and all you have to do is learn a bit of the game of travel hacking. You will be up in the skies drinking champagne like those other people that are travel hacking as well. It seems like a dream come true, but is it a dream? How can I start? Where do I go to find this information? Is it legal?
What is Travel Hacking?
Travel Hacking is not an illegal activity where you are hacking your way through travel sites’ mainframe computers. We are not talking about 1s and 0s like you see in the Matrix, and this is a tool at everyone’s fingertips to make travel affordable.
If you want a free flight, you need to learn how to score miles and points. Travel hacking is all about getting deals on flights, collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel points, and using credit cards to maximize points to pay for trips worldwide.
You are using credit card bonuses to create a mountain of currency to use on trips. That is using travel portals to find the best deals on flights and hotels. Travel hacking is not paying the price you see. It is being frugal and finding the best deal you can score.
Travel is expensive. It is not the cheapest way to have many wonderful experiences around the world. Airlines are making money off you, and hotels want you to stay longer and spend more money. As a traveler, you want to see the most that you can spend as little as possible. These two ideas conflict with each other.
By winning at both ends, airlines have created loyalty reward systems through frequent flyer miles. They have teamed up with other airlines to help each other make money. Hotels have developed their loyalty programs to give you status and free nights. These are things to bring more customers inside the doors and spend money on vacations.
So how is this done? Where can I start?
Get Deals on Flights
Flights are usually the most expensive part of the trip. You have options. There are budget airlines that give you the bare minimum experience. You have major airlines like Delta, United, and American Airlines that will provide you with a much better experience. Then you also have great international airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, and Qatar.
Most people fly on the weekends, which does not reap the best bang for your buck. Most ticket prices are highest on holiday weekends, Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays. So you must be strategic in finding the best deals.
When looking for deals, here are some tips:
1. Book on a non-holiday or during the week.
When booking travel, we must look for the best deals during the week like a Tuesday, Wednesday or a Thursday. Avoid a big holiday weekend like Thanksgiving. Everyone travels on holidays and weekends. So the prices will be higher then.
2. Use a Search Engine
When looking for flights, you can go to the airline or use a search engine to find the best deals. My suggestions would be:
These places will help you find some of the best deals around.
3. Budget Airlines
If you do not care much about comfort, then try budget airlines. There are plenty of them, but not all are good. You get what you pay for.
Collecting Miles and Points
The next thing you need to do with travel hacking is to start to collect miles and points. The first thing to do when collecting them is to sign up for frequent flyer programs like Delt, United, and American Airlines.
What you really should do is find an airline that you think you will fly often. So if you live near a hub, try to use that airline most often to max out your miles with that program. So if you live in Atlanta, then Delta should be your choice. If Dallas is your place of residence, then fly American Airlines, and it makes it easier for you to collect lots of miles to get those free flights.
Then also, sign-up for your hotel programs. The good ones are Marriot, Hyatt, Hilton, and IHG. It is also time to pick and be loyal to accumulate the most points.
Collecting points and miles through memberships allows you to create an arsenal to travel hack with the best of the best.
Credit Card Rewards
Diving into the frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs is like step 1 to getting your free flights, and step 2 is all about the credit card.
When you create money habits that will last you a long time, you must remember that credit cards should be something you use responsibly. If you overspend and then have to pay interest payments due to debt, you will be losing valuable money on your travels instead of gaining free travel.
With credit cards, there are two steps in maximizing everything. First, you should find a credit card that fits your needs. Usually, go with a co-branded card with an airline or hotel and a travel card with points and miles to transfer to the loyalty programs.
Find a Co-branded Credit Card
So if you are a Delta member, go and grab a Delta co-branded credit card that can help you accumulate more miles towards Delta. If you like staying at Marriot hotels, find a credit card that is co-branded with Marriot.
Once you have these credit cards, then you try to hit their bonuses. Each credit card will have a bonus. So the Delta Skymiles Gold card from American Express offers 70,000 miles if you can spend $2,000 in the first three months. It has a $0 introductory fee for the first year, with a $99 fee after the first year. So if you can spend $2,000 in 3 months, you will have an extra 70,000 miles worth around $840.
Find a Good Travel Credit Card
The next thing to do is find a sound travel credit card to help maximize your points. Many are now on the market, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred or even the Amex Gold Card.
They will allow you to make 2-4x points on such things as travel, food, and other categories. The great thing is that these programs will enable you to transfer points from the account to your favorite airline frequent flyer account or even your hotel loyalty program.
So your Amex Gold card can transfer points into your Delta account. This is great because you can now top off your points to buy more free flights. Often these travel credit cards can accumulate more points than your co-branded credit cards. Remember to get those bonuses; they will help you have a massive amount of points at once.
How to Start Travel Hacking
Now it is time to plan, strategize, and get ready to fly for free, vacation for cheap, and adventure more in your life. Here are some steps to begin your new journey.
1. Sign-up for Loyalty Programs
It is time to figure out which programs you want to sign-up for. That will help your planning for travel hacking. As you sign-up for programs, you can begin to collect miles and points by spending time traveling.
2. Grab a Credit Card
This is the more challenging part of travel hacking. It is time to use your everyday spending to max out category spending and get bonuses to help build up your stockpile of points and miles. This starts with applying for a credit card. First, look at co-branded cards to your loyalty program. Then find a generic travel card to help max out more points to transfer to your loyalty account.
Make sure to pay your credit card off on time.
3. Maximize Your Category Spend
These credit cards will have categories to get more points. The categories could be restaurants, groceries, gasoline, or even buying flights and hotel rooms. If you can maximize these for the greatest bang for your buck, that will help you the best. If you can get 5x points on one card and 2x points on the other use, the 5x points card.
4. Budget Your Money Wisely
Travel hacking seems fun, but you must have good budgeting skills to ensure you do not overspend. One way is to have a sinking fund to help you save for a trip. That is a fund that you are committing to use the money for a purpose, like travel.
Work on also creating your budget. One of the best budgets is the zero-based budget that helps you put every dollar to work. YNAB, a popular app, helps with this type of budget, and you can also use the Frugal app to help budget and explicitly save your money for specific uses.
Making a budget helps you to take advantage of deals and help you fund your next adventure.
5. Book Travel and Enjoy
Now it is time to find some deals online to book your travel. You have the points, the budget, the destination, and the deals. It is time to enjoy that vacation, that travel, or new adventure in your life.
That is just the beginning of your journey into free and cheap travel. Travel is not for everyone, but it is time to start travel hacking if you want to do more of it. With the simple steps that have been put before, you can start now. Many people have taken advantage of free flights, points and have flown business and first-class. It is time for you to do the same. The time is now.
Importantly, you’ll want to always keep in mind and know that traveling comes with the expectation of being required to access various documents and information at any given time, so it’s essential to make sure you safeguard and protect what’s needed to help you continue travel hacking away.
Are you ready to be a travel hacker?
Kristian is an experienced marketing leader who has helped multiple fintech startups scale their marketing over the past few years. He is currently the Director of Marketing at Future Vault (https://www.futurevault.com/) an online digital vault where advisors and their clients can securely share documents and communicate.