Travel hacking is something we’ve been aware of for quite some time. But as most Australian based airlines offer poor redemption options for their frequent flier points (although this is changing) we haven’t really delved into the concept.
However, for our U.S readers travel hacking is a huge opportunity to snag some amazing deals. And to help get you started our friend Pam at Travel Hacking Mom has been kind enough to write this guide to travel hacking 101.
So if you’re interested in free flights, free hotels, and luxury upgrades (and who isn’t?) keep reading. You’ll also learn how you can travel to Hawaii for free!
Our Aussie readers can find out more about point hacks for Australia here.
Over to you Pam!
I know that everyone who reads this blog is nuts about traveling – so am I! But did you know that you could travel for free? Yes, that is right! I travel for free or nearly free through travel hacking! Today I am going to introduce you to the world of travel hacking.
What is Travel Hacking? Travel Hacking 101
Many of you have probably never heard of this term but it is the practice of applying for credit cards that offer bonus points (rewards) if you use that card and complete a minimum amount of spending on the card in a certain time period. Usually, the offer is similar to this, “Apply for our card and we will give you 60,000 points after you spend $3000 on it in 3 months”.
We complete that task and then use those 60,000 points to purchase an airline flight or stay in a hotel, depending on what type of credit card we applied for. And we do that over and over again, always using a credit card for our daily spending and getting more bonuses that we book our travel for.
Using this method, I have obtained over 3 million miles in two years. That is a lot of free travel and I have used it to travel (mainly in business class seats) all over the world.
Each card has a minimum spend you have to put on the card to get the bonus. It usually varies from $3,000-$5,000 dollars and it usually has to be completed in 3 months.
That may sound daunting but the trick is to put your usual spending on it. I bet you are all spending more than $1000 in the following categories:
- Groceries, Dining Out, Entertainment
- Phone Bills
- Internet And Cable
- Car Insurance
- Memberships And Subscriptions
- Medical Expenses
- Gift Cards
- Prepay For Upcoming Travel Plans
- Business Expenses
- Income Taxes, Property Taxes
The only work it takes you is to link your credit card up to those online bills you pay and put away your debit card and cash for the purchases you usually make in person. ALWAYS use the credit card you are trying to meet the minimum spend on for all purchases and bills that you possibly can.
Most credit card companies charge an annual fee for using their cards. I am happy to pay that $95 or more annual fee to earn 40,000-100,000 bonus points that I can use for travel that is worth way more.
For example, I often use 70,000 points for a business class seat to an international destination. That ticket, if bought at retail price, is worth $2000-$6000.
Now I am not going to pay that much to sit in business class, but you can be sure I’ll enjoy that seat if I’ve earned points for it through my normal spending!! I will have to pay taxes and fees but that can be as little as $5.60 sometimes.
Sometimes I don’t keep the card after the first year if the benefit isn’t worth the fee. I evaluate that yearly when my annual fee posts.
There are two main types of credit cards I go after. Let’s talk about them:
Transferable Point Credit Cards
These are credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Business Preferred (two of my favorites). Also, some of the American Express Credit Cards and Citi Thank You Credit Cards fall in line here.
They offer you their brand of points that you can then transfer to certain airlines and hotels for travel.
Airline and Hotel Branded Credit Cards
These are credit cards that are branded by a particular airline or hotel. Think United Airlines Explorer Card, Southwest credit cards, Marriott credit cards, Hyatt credit cards, etc.
I’m sure you are familiar with many of them. They offer bonus points for minimum spend and the bonus is put in your account through that airline or hotel.
Which Credit Card Should I Get?
Do you want free flights or free hotels? Is there an airline you love to fly on and is located at your closest airport? Is there a hotel you would pick over others?
Answering these questions will help you decide which card to get. Additionally, on our blog Travel Hacking Mom, we offer free credit card consultations to help you decide what card is best for you.
We also teach all about beginning travel hacking and keep you up to date on the latest credit card deals. Check us out!
You should never sign up jointly for a credit card because you want to get those points twice. This is key to accumulating a lot of points for free travel. Additionally, there are referral points often available if you refer your spouse or partner to the card.
We want ALL the points!!
Many people initially think that their credit scores will plummet if they travel hack. This is not the case if you pay off your bill each month. There are several things that affect your credit scores. Mine are 50 points higher from when I first started in this hobby of travel hacking 101!
Travel Hack to Hawaii!
How would I get to Hawaii using what I’ve learned?
Follow this simple formula and you could have a trip for two for next year! You will only pay for incidentals and taxes and fees.
- Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card.t Complete $4000 minimum spend on it within 3 months. You will receive 64,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards. (60,000 bonus points and 4,000 for spend)
- Refer spouse to the same card and receive 15,000 Ultimate Rewards. Spouse spends $4000 in 3 months and receives 44,000 Ultimate Rewards. You now have 143,000 Ultimate Rewards in about 6 months.
- Apply for the Chase Ink Business Preferred card. Complete $5000 minimum spend within 3 months. You now have another 85,000 Ultimate Rewards. (80,000 for bonus and 5,000 for spend). It is easy to get a business card. You can read about it here.
- Refer spouse to Chase Ink Business Preferred and receive 20,000 Ultimate Rewards. Spouse completes $5000 minimum spend in 3 months. You get another 85,000 Ultimate Rewards. You now have 190,000 from these last two cards.
Total Ultimate Rewards after these four credit cards is 333,000 Ultimate Rewards. What can we do with those points?
I would transfer 90,000 points to United Airline miles for 2 roundtrip tickets to Hawaii. That leaves me with 243,000 Ultimate Rewards. I would transfer those into hotel points, Hyatt or Marriott (whatever you prefer).
That gives me more than enough points for my stay in Hawaii. The best part is that we made it happen through our normal spending habits. We just put our normal spending on credit cards!
You could travel hack your way here within a year!
Of course, this is just a sample. We talk about different places to go and different cards to use on our site. The important thing to remember is that you keep repeating this pattern. Never use cash or a debit card, always try to meet the minimum spend on a new credit card for those big bonus points, and keep earning those points for free or nearly free travel!
If I can do this, you can too! I am a grandmother of twenty and yet I travel all the time and pay little for my travel because of travel hacking. Yep, I’m nuts about travel but I’m really nuts about doing it for free!
Pam Iorg and her daughter, Alex Payne, write for the blog Travel Hacking Mom. They have earned millions of points through travel hacking and travel the world on those points. Their mission is to teach beginners how to travel hack in a simple and concise way. You can follow them on their blog or on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook.