Before we even get started on the concept of travel hacking, you should know that this isn’t going to be some all-encompassing article that will teach you everything about travel hacking. Entire websites are built around this topic (mommypoints.com, millionmilesecrets.com, and milevalue.com are just a few that we read), so it isn’t something we’ll be able to cover in a single article. This is just to introduce you to the concept, if you aren’t familiar with it, or have heard of it in passing, but want to know more.
What is Travel Hacking?
If you’re not familiar with the idea of travel hacking, it’s basically a way to reduce travel costs. This includes using airline, hotel, and bank rewards programs, online tools, price reductions, and clever tricks that can save you money if you know about them.
We’ve been immersed in the world of travel hacking for several years now, and there are always new skills to learn that help make travel more affordable.
By far, though, the first and biggest thing you want to learn when it comes to travel hacking is how to get points and miles in reward programs that you can use toward free (or almost free) flights and hotel stays. And the easiest way to do that is through credit card sign-up bonuses.
For a lot of people who are serious about saving money, credit cards seem dangerous. “They want me to pay how much in interest to borrow their money so I can buy crap I don’t need?! No thank you!”
But credit cards can be incredibly useful if you use them right. For travel hackers, the biggest draw of credit cards is the sign-up bonus that some give you just for applying for the card and spending a certain amount on that card during the first few months you have it.
So you sign up for a credit card, make you normal purchases using that card for a couple months, and boom! They give you tens of thousands of points (sometimes a hundred thousand, or more) you can use instead of paying for flights or hotel rooms.
It can get way more complicated than that, but it’s the basic gist. And you can always keep it simple–sign up for a new card when you hit the spending on your old one, and just naturally accumulate points from your regular spending.
You have points! Now what?
Points are cool. If they’re with a specific airline, you use them for that airline to get flights. If you get a bank card (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or American Express cards), you receive bank points that you can transfer to different airline programs or use as cash through their bank portal.
Let’s say you want to get from California to the East Coast to visit family. You could pay $600 for a roundtrip ticket, or you can use 25,000 airline points for the same flight.
We have signed up for dozens of credit cards, accumulated well over a million points, and have used them for tons of free flights around the United States, as well as flights to Europe and Australia, and several nights in hotels, too.
We still have plenty saved up to get us anywhere we might want to go next (we have over 500,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, for example, that could be straight-up redeemed for $5000 cash, but we’re saving to use on travel, because we’ll save much more than that). Travel hacking has given us even more freedom than we already had, and has made this full-time travel lifestyle much more feasible and flexible.
Please don’t read this post, think “credit cards are the best!” and sign up for a ton of them and go on a spending spree. There are a few things to know when playing the credit card game:
- Avoid buying extra stuff you don’t need in order to accumulate points—the reason the credit card companies can afford to give away such great bonuses is because people are so terrible at curbing their spending that the company makes way more from interest than they give out in bonuses.
- Pay off your balance each month—again, credit card companies profit from people leaving balances on their cards and paying interest on that balance. If you’re going to apply for credit cards, be smart about it.
- Pay attention to the sign-up date—if you have three months to spend enough to get the bonus, but you take three months and five days, you just lost out on those points. Call after getting the card to find out the exact deadline you have.
- Be aware of any annual fees—you can sign up for credit cards and cancel them the next year, before the annual fee comes up (if it has one). You don’t need to pay a hefty annual fee every year if the card isn’t valuable to you after you’ve gotten the original sign-up bonus.
Check out some of those travel hacking websites linked above, learn the ins and outs of cheap travel, and go have an adventure! Good luck 🙂