Have you ever wondered what travel hacking is and whether you could benefit from it? If you’re a frequent traveler, travel hacking is something you should consider.
Travel hacking involves using credit card bonuses, loyalty programs, rewards credit cards, hotel programs, and other similar strategies to get free flights, flight upgrades, airline miles, priority boarding, and much more. People who fly regularly benefit from taking advantage of these things.
In this article, we will look at how you can use travel hacking methods to give yourself travel rewards that will make traveling more enjoyable and affordable. It may seem daunting initially, but taking the right approach will help you maximize your rewards.
Travel Hacking 101: How Does Travel Hacking Work?
Travel hacking can seem complicated, but it is quite straightforward. It really boils down to being clever about signing up for credit card rewards programs, meeting minimum spending requirements, earning frequent flyer miles, and selecting valuable services.
After you get your new credit card and use the points, you close the account, then apply for the card again to earn more points.
Closing and re-opening an account is known as credit card churning, and some card companies have begun to crack down on it. Many now consider a new card member, which you need to be to earn the card welcome bonuses, someone who has not had an account in the previous two years. It is essential to keep this in mind when beginning to travel hack.
Travel hacking can work for anyone; you don’t have to be a big spender to earn a free trip. However, you must look into rewards and loyalty programs that earn you travel bonus points and plan your trips accordingly.
You’ll then begin redeeming points for free flights and other travel benefits. That might sound very attractive, but how do you get started? Let’s find out!
How Do You Begin Travel Hacking?
Step 1: Figure Out Your Goals
Don’t rush out and sign up for a credit card immediately, no matter what anybody tells you.
The first thing to do is to figure out what you want most from your travel hacks. Are you looking to earn points for free airfare? Free nights in a luxury hotel? Knowing this upfront will make determining which cards offer you the best travel hack value easier.
Step 2: Get a Travel Credit Card
Once you’ve figured out your goals, start looking at credit cards with rewards that align with them. Additionally, consider cards that offer a generous welcome bonus, as this is the fastest way towards a free or heavily discounted trip.
You should also think about who you fly with most frequently. For example, if you’re an American Airlines customer, choose a credit card affiliated with American Airlines. This will allow you to earn points faster and offer other perks too.
You might get priority boarding, free checked bags, and more if your credit card is associated with the airline you fly with. This can help you save money on flights, too. So a branded credit card is worth considering if you’re loyal to one airline.
Similarly, if you consistently stay with a particular hotel chain, check out whether they have a credit card you can use for travel hacking. This will give you hotel points and the option of free nights or upgrades. Some hotels also offer a loyalty program.
Consider whether the credit cards you are considering offer transferable rewards. Some will allow you to swap extra points into other categories, like free gift cards. In contrast, others will only allow you to redeem points in specific ways. Choose a credit card that is as flexible as possible.
What Should You Consider When Looking at Credit Cards?
While you need a credit card to optimize traveling cheaply before you apply for one, make sure you have considered the following:
- Look at how high the annual fees are and ensure you’ll get sufficient rewards to make this worthwhile. There are plenty of options out there that do not charge this fee.
- Check whether the card has a foreign transaction fee, as this will make it expensive to use it abroad.
- Look for a good welcome bonus to earn a free trip quickly.
Note that if your card does have an annual fee, you can sometimes get this waived. For example, many credit card companies will waive the annual fee for the first year. In addition, you can sometimes get it reduced in future years if you call your credit card issuer and say you are considering canceling your card.
Make sure you also pay attention to other credit card fees that may be relevant to you. Finally, always pay your balance in full each month. No matter how many credit card points you earn, if you are paying interest on your debt, you aren’t saving any money.
What is a Welcome Bonus?
In terms of credit card signup bonuses, a welcome bonus is simply an incentive the credit card company offers you to sign up for their card. For example, you earn 30,000 reward points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months.
Make it a point to look for the highest bonus paired with a solid rewards credit card. For example, sometimes a travel rewards credit card will offer a points bonus as high as 100,000, which is a great way to earn many rewards points without spending much of your money.
In many cases, welcome bonuses represent the ultimate rewards that credit cards offer – and having a good credit report will often give you access to better welcome bonuses.
Note that many of these cards have a minimum spending requirement to earn bonus points, which you must ensure you can meet. You may lose the bonus points if you can’t meet the minimum spend.
Things like shopping online can help you meet the spending requirement of your travel credit card but don’t get a credit card if you can’t meet the minimum spend reliably. It’s not worth the hassle.
Which Credit Cards Should You Consider?
There are lots of great rewards credit cards out there, but a few of the most popular options include:
- Capital One Venture Card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- American Express Platinum Card
- Chase Ultimate Rewards
Consider hotel and airline cards if you frequently fly a specific airline or stay at a hotel chain. Also, if you have an account at a local bank, talk to them about their credit cards. They might offer a great card that others overlook.
As you can see, credit cards can be one of the best ways to start your travel hacking journey, but bear in mind that your credit history will affect how well this goes. If you don’t have a strong credit score, you may struggle to get a good signup bonus, which makes travel hacking a slower and more challenging process.
Is Travel Hacking Legal?
Although the name makes travel hacking sound illegal, it is perfectly fine. It’s simply about utilizing loyalty programs to ensure you earn points you can put toward your travel expenses.
As long as you comply with the terms and conditions of your credit card and earn points in legitimate ways, travel hacking is perfectly legal.
In this case, the word “hack” refers to a trick you can use to make traveling cheaper. For example, getting a free flight paid for by your credit card’s annual fee is entirely legal – it’s just a travel hack.
Many individuals have been travel hacking for over a decade. They have enjoyed great benefits using airline programs, credit cards, points and miles, and more.
Can Travel Hacking Give You Free Travel?
Travel hacking can occasionally give you a free or even a round-trip flight. Still, it’s about more than just getting free travel. For example, although many suggest you can see the world at no cost to yourself, this isn’t true – even with the best credit card.
You will end up paying somewhere, even if you make the most of welcome bonuses to get a free flight, upgrade to business class, or enjoy cheap car rental options.
Unfortunately, credit cards come at a cost and usually have a minimum spending requirement, so you will still have to outlay money to earn miles or points. That and annual fees mean you will not travel for free. However, if you do spend the money anyway, being able to redeem points is a great way to reduce your travel expenditure.
So, technically, you aren’t traveling for free, but you are racking up airline miles that you can use on free flights.
What Other Travel Hacking Tips Are There?
Travel hacking isn’t just about hitting the minimum spend on your credit card to earn a free flight or extra rewards points. There are a few other ways to get rewards.
For example, sometimes airlines will publish incredibly low-price fares by mistake. Being on the lookout for these fares is a great way to fly cheaply and earn more points simultaneously.
Look out for free loyalty programs when you’re traveling. Many places offer programs that don’t have an annual fee, which is worth joining even if you only use the company occasionally.
Some airlines offer bonuses for the more miles you fly with the carrier. For example, if you accrue enough points in a year, your status will move from basic to elite, which unlocks additional perks, like waived checked bag fees or no change fees.
Another option is to look at travel booking sites like Expedia. They often offer great last-minute deals as hotels and airlines would instead earn money than let a room or seat go unused. The only downside here is you need to travel last minute, and you cannot be picky.
Finally, another way to save money on travel is by staying with friends or sleeping in a hostel instead of renting a hotel room. Most major cities also offer tourist cards that provide discounts on certain attractions in the city.
The most crucial travel hacking trick is using credit cards where you can meet the minimum spend requirement. So pick a credit card with bonus miles, a low annual fee, and minimum spend, and you’ll hit the ground running.
When you first start, travel hacking can be complicated, but with an organized, determined approach and good credit history, you’ll succeed quickly!
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Jon is the founder of MoneySmartGuides which helps people dig out of debt and start building wealth so they can achieve their dreams. He has over 15 years experience in the financial services industry and 20 years investing in the stock market. He has both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Finance, and is FINRA Series 65 licensed, and has a Certificate in Financial Planning.