Did you ever dream about traveling the world? Do you think it is only for the rich? Think again! You can do it too! What you need is a determination, organizational skills, and a commons sense. In another words, you need to learn travel hacking skills. Do not let the term scare you. It is just another way of saying, traveling for free! It is legal, doable, and fun if you get into it. Learn from Credit Card TravelingMom the art of collecting points, miles, credit card opening bonuses and more, and then: hit the road!
Basics of Travel hacking: How to Travel for Free
Since my appetite for travel was always larger than my income, I had to find ways to reduce my expenses. I started with one frequent flyers program, then I graduated to hotel loyalty programs, and finally I discovered credit cards offers. That was a jackpot!
It took me a while to actually comprehend that I could travel for free. I started doing it on my own without any guidance and not even knowing that I became a travel hacker. I actually did not know “travel hacking” term existed until I started to dig deeper into the world of free travel.
What is travel hacking?
Travel hacking is the art of collecting frequent flier points and miles to get free flights, hotels, tours, and more. There are many levels of it. Mine could be described like that: I just want to travel and see the world.
I am happy with the inconvenience of a cheap flight or a basic hotel. At the end of the spectrum are those, who not only want to travel but want to do it in style. They play the game of flight upgrades, top of the line accommodations, and so on. I am not at that level and probably will never be. For that reason, I am only sticking here to what I know, the basics!
How travel hacking works.
You probably already belong to many loyalty programs, like your favorite grocery store, Macy’s, Dick’s, Kohl’s etc. The ideas are simple. Spend your money at the merchants and receive coupons, discounts, and special promotions. This is how those stores pay you back for your loyalty.
Travel hacking is very similar. You just need to keep your eyes open and get what comes your way. You would not throw away a $10 coupon from JCPenney, right? Believe me, with travel hacking you can gain much more than 10 bucks.
One thing I need to make clear, no one will just give you money. You have to earn your free travel. How do you earn it? By channeling your spending. You spend money to live anyway, then why not make the best of it?
My motto is simple, every dollar I pay out should earn something, not always possible but I am doing my best. It could be miles, points, cash back, whatever – I want something back! Simple rule, money makes money.
Another thing to remember, free travel is not always 100% free. In most cases, what I am looking for is free flight, hotels, and a car rental. I may not always get it all, but because I travel a lot, if you wait, you should be able to get one free vacation every two years. It is very doable. With smart management, you can make your trip 100% free.
Basics of travel hacking: Different Tactics on How to Travel for Free
Read on for different tactics on how to generate your free travel, from very basic to grabbing it all.
Rules for generating awards are simple. You will be rewarded for your loyalty with points/miles, special offers, and bonuses. Let’s say you travel for work and stay two nights at Marriott hotel. If you sign up with Marriott loyalty program, you will earn points towards your free nights. If you keep staying at Marriott, eventually you will earn free nights.
Same with airlines, if you stay loyal to one of them, after a few flights you should be able to collect a free flight.
These programs work well if you travel a lot. Otherwise, it takes a long time to generate a free hotel night or a flight, and your points could expire!
Also, in order to streamline your rewards, you might not be choosing the best deals available on the market. To correct this, join a few different programs, but that would spread your rewards in different directions and put you even further away from free travel.
Loyalty programs plus credit cards associated with them.
Credit banks compete with each other with opening bonuses and reward programs. If you grab these offers, you can generate a nice income which, I should add, is not taxable! Most people stay away from credit cards, but using them in a smart way could be very beneficial. I use them everywhere I can, which means that every dollar I spend generates some rewards. Also, credit cards are much easier to use than cash and offer more protection than debit cards.
Opening a credit card associated with your loyalty program gets you to your free travel faster. Most airlines and hotels have their own credit cards and often offer great opening bonuses as a jump-start towards your free travel. Plus, every time you travel and pay with your credit card, you will be getting extra points for spending on your card on top of your loyalty rewards.
The best part, these cards can be used outside of your program to streamline your points. Use your card to pump your gas, pay for groceries, or pay your utility bills – you will have a steady gain of points and you will prevent them from expiring.
How it works?
To follow the Marriott example… You already earned some points for your two night stay, but you want your free nights faster. Open a Marriott credit card and use it for any kind of spending. Once you reach the required spending amount, you will get your big opening bonus in Marriott points, plus points for every dollar you spend with the credit card. After you reach your bonus, continue using the card and keep getting points for every dollar.
Credit cards allow great flexibility for your travel
With these cards, your points can be redeemed for any travel related expenses. Cards are not associated with any loyalty program but can certainly be used to accelerate rewards of your choice.
You will find plenty of cards in this category. Some will give you 2% back for every dollar you spend, like Barclay Arrival Plus Master Card and Capital One Venture Rewards, but come with annual fees. Others give 1.5 % back with no fee, like Bank of America Travel Rewards. These cards let you erase your travel expenses with points. For example, you charged $100 for you hotel stay. If you have 10000 points, you can erase this charge.
Cash back credit cards
Cash back credit cards give you the greatest flexibility. You simply get your cash back and use it anyway you want, including travel. My favorite in this category is Citi Double Cash. Get 1% back when you charge and 1% back when you pay. No opening bonus, but in a long run it is a better card than Barclay and Signature, which also give 2% back, but in points. Citi Double gives back cash so it could be used to erase any charges, not just in a travel category.
Learn more about cash back credit cards here
True Travel Hacking – how to travel for free in full speed
I think this is where true travel hacking begins. The rule is simple – grab everything you can and manage it intelligently. That means belonging to multiple loyalty programs, having multiple credit cards, and scanning internet for the latest offers. It might involve opening a card, closing it, and opening it again – with bonuses again! For an average income person, this is the best way to travel for free. Not easy but doable.
More about opening bonuses
To receive a credit card opening bonus, you usually have to spend between $500 to $4000 in three months from the opening of the card. It is a date when your bank approved your application, not a date you received the card or authorized it. In another words, you may not have the full three months to reach your spending goal! When I am working on my bonus, I put all my other cards aside until my goal is reached.
If you have trouble spending a required amount, buy yourself a gift card at your grocery store to use it later. You can also add an authorized user to speed up the process. (If you add your child who is a student in college, you will reach you goal sooner than you want!)
Once you are done with the card, you can put it to rest and move to another one. If the card comes with an annual fee, consider closing it before it is time to pay. Only a few cards are actually worth keeping.
Make it a family effort.
Remember that each eligible family member can open his or her own credit card, but do not do it at once.
For example, Susan gets a new card and makes Joe an authorized used. They both use the card until a required amount is reached. At that point Susan gets her bonus. Next, Joe gets the same kind of card and makes Susan an authorized user. Now, they both use that card until Joe gets his bonus. If, for example, they use this trick with American Airlines 60,000 bonus offer, they both have enough miles to fly round trip to Europe.
Basics of Travel Hacking – how to do it right
If you choose this path, take is slowly. It takes time to fully understand how it works. It is rewarding, but it is not easy to handle. Pay all your cards in full and on time, otherwise you would accumulate debt, not rewards.
For organizational purposes, it is crucial to have an online access to each card. It sounds complicated but in reality, it is not that bad. If you have multiple cards with one bank, you should link them together so only one login is required.
To put together a truly free trip out of different bonuses is not simple. Once, I made three different reservations for a four day stay at the Hilton Tucson, each made from a different source of points.
When planning a trip, sometimes I have to dig out everything I have to make it happen, but for me it is fun. It is like putting a puzzle together. I would rather spend hours preparing my trip than not going on one at all.
How to keep at the top of the game?
Keep you eyes open for any offers that come your way. Scan the Internet for new credit cards offering big bonuses. Open those new cards and close the ones that are not beneficial to you anymore. Sign up for email notification from all programs you belong to. Keep your information organized in one document to have a clear view of what is going on with point and miles. And finally, do not overspend!
Learn more about cash back credit cards here