Throw a stone in a room full of people claiming they know how you can make money to travel and chances are you’ll end up chipping the tooth of some poor bastard who’s in the process of saying, “travel hacking”.
Excellent articles and even whole websites have been written to address how to travel hack so I won’t waste your time by hitting you over the head with a 1-hour read on every single detail surrounding travel hacking. And guess what? That's a good thing.
Travel hacking has a virtually infinite amount of intricacies but fortunately, you only need to know a handful of those things to start scoring free flights, hotel rooms, and all kinds of other incredible perks. So, in this article, I’m going to give you simple, actionable answers to all of the biggest travel hacking questions and tell you the exactly how I personally travel hack.
Armed with that info, you'll have everything you need to score your first free flight in as little as 15 minutes! Without further ado, let's dive into The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking the Easy Way.
What is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is the practice of redeeming "rewards currency" offered by credit card companies, airlines, and other businesses for travel-related expenses such as flights and hotels.
What is “Rewards Currency”?
A type of money you can exchange for things you want. Depending on the issuer, rewards currency can go by different names. I usually see it called “rewards points” but I’ve heard other terms used like “cash points”, "cash back rewards", and “miles” to name a few.
So 10,000 "Miles" = 10,000 "Rewards Points"? Not 10,000 Physical Miles worth of Air Travel?
Unless explicitly stated otherwise by the credit card you're using, that is correct.
What Are These Various Types of Rewards Currencies Worth?
It depends on the issuer. There’s no central rewards currency that all programs use. For instance, 5000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points = $50.00 cash (or slightly more sometimes when you shop for things through their rewards portal). 5000 points on Spirit Airlines has no cash value and may not even be enough for a one-way ticket to a neighboring state. I even had a credit card recently that valued 5000 points of their rewards currency at only $25.00 cash, half of what Chase values their currency at.
The point is, the company that issues you your rewards currency dictates how much it's worth based on what they let you exchange it for (usually cash back, airline tickets, and hotels) and how many points they ask for during the exchange.
Can You Be a Little More Specific on How I Can Get Rewards Currency?
There are a lot of ways, some of which I’ll walk you through during this article. Primary ways to get rewards currency, points, miles, etc. are:
- Completing random offers on the internet
- Enrolling in an airline’s frequent flyer program and logging into your account/using your frequent flyer ID whenever you book with them
- Being awarded a credit card sign-up bonus
- Getting a credit card that offers rewards currency every time you make a purchase and using that card frequently
I’m Still a Little Confused by All of This...
I don't blame you. Hopefully my answers to the most important "how to travel hack" questions above at least got the wheels turning in your head. Next in The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking the Easy Way, I'm going to give you some insight on the simple way I go about travel hacking which should put everything into perspective.
Online Offers: A Waste of Time
I don't part-take in doing random online offers for rewards currency. These offers generally give you opportunities to pick up 100 points here by subscribing to a YouTube channel, 100 miles there for commenting on a post, sharing a tweet, completing a survey, etc.
The people I know who have dabbled in chasing online rewards usually go crazy completing tasks for a week or two and then quit since it’s a ton of work for points that end up being virtually worthless because A) They’re very small amounts and B) Different offers give you points for different programs so you don't really end up with "1000 points" for your efforts but "100 points" in ten different programs which you can’t combine.
That means it would take you forever to build up enough points in any single program to actually cash them in.
If despite my distaste for online offers you still want to try your hand at them, I recommend checking out FlyerTalk Forums for news on points offers. Also, set up an account on awardwallet to keep track of all of your points.
Frequent Flyer Programs: Definitely Worth Your Time
Every major airline has a loyalty program that gives you credit towards future flights when you sign-up for them. These programs go by a lot of different names but are popularly referred to as "Frequent Flyer" programs.
Signing up for your favorite airline's frequent flyer program is easy. You can do it for free through their website.
Be sure to pay attention to the fine print around the frequent flyer credits you earn. Many programs will make it so your credits expire after a certain amount of time if you don't keep your account active.
Keeping your frequent flyer account active is done by earning more frequent flyer credits (buying a plane ticket while logged into your frequent flyer account) or by spending your existing credits.
Every time you take an action with your frequent flyer credits your "inactivity timer" resets. That means that if you're about to lose your frequent flyer credits because you haven't used your account in almost 12 months, all you have to do is use a few miles to buy a flight or something smaller like a magazine subscription through your airline's portal. You'll then have another 12 months before you need to take action again.
To keep track of your frequent flyer credits across multiple loyalty programs, sign-up for awardwallet for free which will keep all of your credits in one easy to reference place!
Credit Cards: The Ace up Every Travel Hacker's Sleeve
My (and most other's) travel hacking strategy is centered on credit card sign-up offers and making everyday purchases with credit cards that offer good "point percentages" (the amount of rewards currency cards give you per dollar you spend).
"Credit cards!? But credit cards are the devil!"
If used irresponsibly, yes. Credit cards can really hurt the quality of your life.
But if used to your advantage, they’re 100% risk-free money-making machines that offer you great consumer protection and allow you to build a positive credit history which can get you lower interest rates on cars, homes, and more!
The 3 Golden Rules to Using Credit Cards to Your Advantage
- Never charge more money to your credit card than you can afford to pay back from your checking account.
- Always set up "auto-pay" on your credit card's online portal immediately after receiving your card so the money you charge to it pays itself off automatically in-full each month.
- Enjoy the free money and the awesome credit score you’re going to build over time!
Pretty simple, right?
Believe it or not though, a ton of people don’t follow the rules above and credit card companies end up making a killing off of them in interest (the amount of money credit cards tack onto what you owe them when you don’t pay them back in full at the end of each month).
In order to attract more customers who don't follow the golden rules of using credit cards, companies offer attractive incentives to get people to sign-up with their cards as opposed to their competitor's. Those incentives are called:
Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses
Credit card sign-up bonuses are MASSIVE rewards points generators. They make up a big part of my Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking strategy.
Sign-up bonuses typically work like this:
“Spend X amount of money 1 in X amount of months 2 and you’ll get X amount of rewards currency 3 ”
Let's elaborate on each of those sections:
- The amount you have to spend using your credit to receive your sign-up bonus is anywhere from $0.00 - $6000.00.
- The time frame in which you have to spend that money in is almost always 3 months.
- The amount of rewards currency you receive varies based on the amount of money you have to spend to get the offer (if you only have to spend $100.00 in 3 months, you may only get $50.00 or so worth of rewards currency. If you have to spend $6000.00, you might get $1000.00 worth of currency.).
The biggest bonus offer I've ever got was $1000 worth of travel credit via the Chase Ink Business Preferred card.
Pro Tip: If you're having trouble hitting the spending amount you need to get your credit card reward bonus, it's worth your time to learn what it means to manufacture spend.
When hunting down good credit card sign-up bonuses, you may find that some cards with big bonuses charge annual fees (usually $95.00 but sometimes much more). Cards with annual fees tend to offer benefits that outweigh their annual fees. These benefits include things like higher cash-back percentages, discounts on flights, free checked bags, etc.
Know that you don’t need a card with an annual fee to travel hack. For that reason, feel free to go with a card that offers a smaller sign-up bonus and has no fees if you feel you can't afford annual fees right now.
How Many Credit Cards Should I sign-up For?
Some people get a whole bunch of credit cards to take advantage of as many sign-up offers as possible. You’re welcome to do that and based on the factors that hurt your credit score, having a lot of credit cards you use responsibly shouldn’t hurt you (in fact it should help).
For me though, I don't know what I'd do if I was managing 10-20 credit cards all at once.
I tend to just look for a new big sign-up bonus offer every 2 years or so. If I have an old credit card that isn't valuable to me anymore, I’ll close it to make room for the new card. Right now I have a total of four credit cards.
People have unwittingly told me how bad the process described above can be for my credit but in my unprofessional opinion, so long as you keep your oldest credit card open (the older the card you have in your possession, the longer your credit history is which is one of the factors that determines credit score) you'll be fine.
As of 9/13/2018, my credit score is over 780.
Getting Rewards Currency From Credit Cards on a Daily Basis
We've talked about getting a credit card, using it responsibly, and making sure the card we get has as big of a sign-up bonus as possible (that we can meet the requirements for). Now, let's talk a little bit about how to earn rewards currency with your credit cards on a daily basis!
On top of giving you a sign-up bonus, a good credit card will also give you roughly 1% - 5% back on all of your purchases in rewards currency! That means, if you were to charge $100.00 to your credit card, you'd get $1.00 - $5.00 worth of rewards currency credited to your account.
There's not much more to say about that other than to just make sure that you're using a credit card that offers you the highest percentage back for your everyday purchases. With regular use of a high percentage back card, you'll amass a huge sum of rewards currency with no effort!
Summarizing The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking the Simple Way
There you have it! That's everything you need to know on how to travel hack to start scoring free flights, hotels and more right now! Seriously, if you wanted to, you could sign-up for a credit card, score a sign-up bonus and have a free flight in a few minutes!
To wrap up my Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking, I'll quickly recap how I personally travel hack:
- Sign-up for a credit card with an excellent sign-up bonus you can meet the requirements for.
- Use your credit card for all of your purchases to accrue rewards points throughout the year with no effort.
- Pay off your credit card balance in full each month via your credit card’s auto-pay function so you never owe anything.
- Sign-up for free with your airline's frequent flyer program to get credit towards future flights when you buy tickets.
- Redeem all of your points for cash back, flights, hotels and more!
If for any reason you're opposed to getting credit cards, there's really not a viable way for you to travel hack as credit cards are the lynchpin in the how to travel hack machine. Also, as a final reminder, always pay off your credit cards in full each month. If you don't, you'll lose more with them than you'll gain.
Below are travel hacking credit cards I'm using right now in case you're interested in trying any of them out. Also, if you want to dive deeper into travel hacking, check out one of my favorite websites here.
Credit Cards I'm Using:
Chase Freedom - Excellent starter card that gives you access to Chase Ultimate Rewards and has a good sign-up bonus with no yearly fee!
Chase Ink Business Preferred - If you have any sort of operation you can consider a business, this card offers excellent perks and an INCREDIBLE sign-up offer. It does have a yearly fee.
Amazon Prime Card - If you're a frequent Amazon shopper this card is a no-brainer. 5% cash back ON EVERYTHING on Amazon and sometimes during special offer periods the percentage can get as high as 20% back! No yearly fee but you do need to be an Amazon Prime member to get the card so click here for a free trial!
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