Traveling doesn’t need to break the bank. Traveling can be done free or very cheaply. This is something that is not always explained to people. People are made to believe that travel is expensive. Trust me; I used to think the same way until I discovered travel hacking.
Travel has opened up my world so much more than seeing places, eating food, and discovering new cultures. It has shown me how to save, invest, and achieve goals in life. I have learned how to manage my money, save for the future, and start investing in index funds. This has all been a product of travel hacking.
With travel hacking, I flew from Orlando, FL to Taipei, Taiwan, spending a total of $5.60 on a ticket that got me a flight on United and Eva Airlines. The possibilities of seeing the world are numerous if you know how to manage your money and travel hack.
My wife and I flew free from Taipei to Jakarta and back in April of 2019. That is an incredibly cheap flight, and I have more to do with that. I could fly from Taipei to Melbourne on Singapore airline for free in February of 2019 to attend my wedding. The most straightforward answer on how I achieved this was through travel hacking.
What is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is not some elaborate way to hack a computer or something like that. It is simply using the tools from airlines, hotels, and banks to travel for free. Travel hacking is using miles and points to achieve free travel.
The bottom line is that you need to work on collecting points and miles to get free rooms at hotels, free flights and use bank points on credit cards to achieve more.
We all spend money on things like dining, gasoline, and groceries. There are plenty of things we spend money on, and what type of rewards are you getting from that? Is it cashback? Is it nothing because maybe you paid for these things in cash. Well, if that is the case, maybe let me change your mind on how you do something for a second.
Lets’ think about your spending as a key to gaining free travel. Points and miles are accumulated because you spend money, spend a night in a hotel, or ride on an airplane. Maybe you do not travel a lot, but once a year you want to go on a fantastic trip, that can be something you achieve with travel hacking.
Travel hacking is not for everyone. You need to be disciplined in your spending. There needs to be a budget for how you spend your money. With these tools, such as financial literacy, you can achieve free travel.
How Do I use Travel Hacking for Free Travel?
The simple answer is racking up miles and points and redeeming them for free flights, and hotel stays. That is all you have to do. This can be part of a new lifestyle of new opportunities. Travel hacking will help give you the ability to see more and travel more.
So, where do I start?
Sign Up For Loyalty and Reward Programs
It is time to start signing up for frequent flyer programs and hotel programs. Pick an airline or hotel brand you think you will be loyal to. By doing this, you can create miles and points for these programs. So if you live in Atlanta and it is the hub for Delta, then become a Delta frequent flyer.
Joining these programs opens up the opportunity to fly many more flights and see things for free. If you have enough miles within the program, you can buy an award seat, fly for free, and pay a tax like me flying to Taipei for $5.60.
If you only accumulate United miles with these airlines, you cannot use them with Delta. This can only be done if an airline is in the same alliance.
Airlines have joined forces to help each other out. These are called Alliances. You can use miles to book award seats on other airlines for instance; you can book flights from California to Hawaii on United using Singapore airline miles (KrisFlyer Miles).
There are three airline alliances:
- Star Alliance
- One World
- Sky Team
Star Alliance would be associated with United, Singapore Airlines, and Air Canada. There are many airlines that are part of this alliance, but you get the point.
One World would be like American Airlines, Qantas, and Japan Airlines.
Skyteam would be Delta, Korean Air, and Air France/ KLM.
Find an airline you think you would be loyal to and sign-up for their loyalty program.
Sign-Up For Travel Credit Cards
Travel credit cards are by far the easiest way to earn lots of miles and points to achieve free travel. If you are a disciplined spender, you can pay off your credit card on time without accumulating unnecessary debt, which helps you gain lots of points and miles.
Credit cards offer a bonus and spending bonuses to those that use their cards. If you can hit these bonuses, it will help you accumulate a ton of miles and points for your travel hacking journey.
The Minimum Spend
The key is to hit the minimum spending on cards. One of the best cards out there is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It has a 60,000 points bonus if you can spend $4,000 in 90 days. That 80,000 points is worth about $1000.
All you have to do is hit the minimum spending and you will receive the bonus. If you cannot hit that bonus, you will not receive all those points. Those points are enormous. Hitting the minimum spend can be challenging for a lot of folks. So try to do something called manufactured spending. You can buy gift cards at places you know you will use. You can cover people’s meals they can pay you back.
I used one to pay for all the bills at my apartment using my credit card and had my flatmate pay the other back to me in cash. The money would be spent anyway, so I did whatever I could to hit the bonus, and that would not put you in debt. Just be smart about it. Maybe wait until you have a big purchase that will come up and put the purchase on your brand new credit card.
A lot of minimum spends can be lower, like $1,000 to $3,000. When I signed up for the United Frequent flyer program, they sent me a credit card application for 50,000 miles to spend $2,000 in 3 months. Usually, they have 40,000 miles, but I received 50,000 miles.
The Annual Fees
Many of these cards may have annual fees like $95 a year, or they may be waived for the first year. Having them waived for the first year gives you a free year of using the card to the max.
If you think of points in dollar amounts. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 60,000 points with an annual fee of $95. 60,000 points are worth in cash, around $600 for 1 cent per point, but if you use it for airlines or hotels, it will go for $750. $600 can pay the $95 fee and leave you with $505 leftover. That is free money the card is giving you.
Hotel cards may offer free nights for hotel rooms. The World Hyatt card offers one free night for a hotel category 1-4. That one night in a category 4 could be worth $250 for a night. So that free night is worth more than the $95 fee that comes with the card.
The annual fees may scare people, but do the math and see what free money these banks offer. I do the math and make sure I make more money than I am paying with the fee.
Applying For Credit Cards As Couples
Applying for credit cards can help you rack up lots of points with big bonuses. If you have a partner, you can easily take advantage as a couple to rack up even more points. Here are some best tips:
- Never add a partner as an authorized user. It is best to refer them to a card to rack up extra points for both of you.
- Refer your partner to your credit cards. Racking up as many points and miles as possible can help you get cheap and free flights.
- Combing points together.
- You all can help each other hit Companion Status with airlines like Southwest’s Companion Pass.
Having a partner can help you score more significant points so you can all share the adventures. Take these tips and use them to your advantage.
Which Cards Should I Apply For?
There are two types of credit cards you can get. There are co-branded credit cards like cards for United and a card for Hyatt or Hilton. Then there is a bank card like Chase, Citi, American Express, and Capital One.
Co-Branded cards help you with loyalty to your airline or hotel chain. They will reward you with status or priority. If you want to get into the game of travel hacking, it is best to pick one airline and grab that card so you can earn status faster or even more miles quicker.
With a hotel chain, just pick the one you would like to stay at and more likely to stay. Grab the co-branded credit card. They usually offer status at the hotel and a free night every anniversary year.
Bank Credit Cards
Now it is time to find a sound travel rewards credit card. Banks offer excellent travel credit cards to earn lots of points or miles. These points and miles can be transferred to an airline frequent flyer program or hotel loyalty program. That is why we sign-up for these programs.
These banks cards will give our category to spend maybe 2 or 3 points per dollar spent on food, travel, gasoline, or groceries. Then you can take these points and transfer them to your airlines or hotels or even use their travel portals to book free travel. American Express and Chase each have their own portal to book travel through.
Earning Extra Points and Miles
Travel hacking is not all about getting the big welcome bonus. These credit cards can allow you to earn massive amounts of bonus miles. Some of these places can be:
- Dining Portals
- Eating Out
- Shopping Portals
- Buying Groceries
- Buying Flights
- Staying at Hotels or Airbnb
- Putting Gas in your car
- Streaming Services
These are just a few ways you can gain more points by spending on these cards.
Earning More Miles Through Shopping
A lot of these credit cards have shopping portals to earn more points. They get you to spend through their portal, and they get paid from the merchant as well. It is like their affiliate marketing plan.
If you are going to buy something, you might see if it in a shopping portal has a deal, or you can earn points by going through the portal.
You can even buy gift cards to places you use to earn points. The Chase Ink Business card used to have 5 points per dollar spent at Staples, and people would buy gift cards at Staples and rack up those points.
How To Redeem These Points and Miles
You now have a massive amount of points and miles to help you to travel. One of the significant advantages of having credit cards like those with Chase, American Express, Capital One, or Citi is that you can transfer these points to airlines or hotels. Redeeming these points and miles is the best part about travel hacking.
Airline redemptions are some of the best. You can get high value and use them to book business and first class seats for your next trip.
Each point is worth some money. Chase and American Express points are often worth 1.5-2.0 cents per point. You can transfer these to an airline and get more value depending on the price of the flight.
You can transfer 87,000 American Express points to Avianca and purchase an $8,000 First class flight aboard Lufthansa from Miami to Frankfurt. You can also transfer miles and points from Chase and Capital One to Air Canada and purchase a business class flight from Vienna to Taipei on EVA for just 80,000 miles.
Travel Portal Redmetions
Not only can you transfer these points to airlines, but you can use the points in the travel portals. Chase Sapphire Reserve gives each point a value of 1.5 cents. So you can go into their portal and purchase flights or hotel rooms using your points.
It is a great way to redeem your points for flights and miles. Take advantage of any opportunity to get a cheap or free flight.
Time to Book Travel
It is time to go and find good deals. This can be like using different search engines like Skyscanner, Momondo, or google flights. These search engines can help you find the best rates.
You can now use your miles and points to book award flights as well. You can use points to book through travel portals or even transfer to an airline to help you book a flight for free. This is how I have traveled for free on so many different flights. It would be best if you made a plan and booked travel.
How to Start Travel Hacking
Here are a few steps to keep you on track to travel hacking.
- Sign-up For Loyalty Programs
- Sign-up For Credit Cards
- Budget Your Money and Hit the Minimum Spends
- Maximize The Category Spends
- Time to go out and Book Travel For Free.
Travel hacking is a great way to travel for free. The use of points and miles has been around for a while. It will still be around as long as people want to travel. I know people use their points and miles to book business class seats on friendly airlines. It is not as hard as it looks.
Travel hacking is a more straightforward way to cheap travel. Just remember to budget your money. Do not rack up unnecessary debt. Travel is a great way to experience so much, and it can be done cheaply. Remember that “life is short and the world is wide.” as you are looking for a sense of exploration. Have fun and see the world for free.
Have you ever thought about travel hacking?
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.