TRAVEL HACKING BASICS
Hi there, I'm Rachel! I like to travel, and I love to travel for free. Travel hacking is the art and strategy of earning miles and points that can be exchanged for free flights, hotels, and other travel accommodations. Travel hacking can range from saving a few dollars on your next trip to taking an all-inclusive first-class luxury flight. Keep reading to begin your journey today!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. DREAM AND PLAN
The first step on your travel hacking journey is to determine your travel goals. If you have very little time and don’t want to learn everything there is to know about travel hacking (and there is a LOT to learn), you may decide to make one or two simple changes in your lifestyle that passively earns you a free domestic flight or two each year.
Or, if you have more ambitious travel goals, you can regularly dedicate time to earning miles and create a fulltime traveling lifestyle for completely free.
To begin on your travel hacking journey, answer the following three questions:
1. Where do I want to go?
You can answer this question by listing several places you would like to go, which will give you flexibility as you’re looking for the best travel options and prices. Or you can go the other route and focus on one destination which will allow you to focus your travel search and keep things more straightforward.
2. How do I want to get there?
Are you looking to get to your destination ASAP with a family of four? Then go ahead and get economy seats to stretch your dollar (or mile) and make sure you can take your trip at your convenience. Do you want to travel in comfort and style? You can wait a few additional months and apply some intermediate and advanced travel hacks to get $5,000+ vacations for next to nothing.
3. How much time would I like to dedicate to this?
Travel hacking is about improving the quality of your life, so it is important to make the process as enjoyable as possible. For people who enjoy planning their trips as much as taking them, travel hacking will add to the excitement of the journey. For those who want a simpler planning experience, there are ways to automate earning miles with a few small tweaks.
2. SIGN UP FOR LOYALTY PROGRAMS
Loyalty Programs are important because they are the “home” of your points and miles. If you don’t sign up for loyalty programs, there is nowhere for your points to go! Even if you are not travel hacking, loyalty programs will allow you to earn miles on any flights and hotel stays you take. They also often come with benefits. For example, many hotel loyalty programs will provide you with free high-speed WiFi internet, which is not always complimentary with your room.
You can choose to sign up for just your favorite airline and hotel loyalty programs, or all of them if you don’t use any specific company and simply look for the lowest prices. Even though it is good to have an account for each airline company, it is often easier to focus on just one or two airlines or hotel brands when you are beginning so that you build miles and points with them faster.
Airline Loyalty Programs:
Southwest Airlines: Rapid Rewards
Hotel Loyalty Programs:
3. EARN MILES THROUGH SHOPPING PORTALS
Did you know that you could earn tens, hundreds, or even thousands of miles just by making everyday purchases through a website? All you have to do is sign up for your favorite airline or hotel shopping portal and make your purchases through this page. In order to do this, you visit and sign up on the web site, select a company you want to buy from (my favorites are Groupon, Best Buy, and Walgreens) and make your purchase like normal.
Here is a list of all of the shopping portals available. Select your favorite company to earn easy miles through!
4. EARN MILES FROM RESTAURANTS
You can also earn miles simply by treating yourself at a variety of restaurants! This is one of the most passive ways to earn miles. First, you sign up for your favorite airline or hotel to begin earning miles and can add your debit and credit cards to the website. Then, whenever you use your card(s) at a qualified restaurant, you automatically earn miles and points!
Here are all of the details to get your started in Dining Rewards.
5. EARN MILES BY TAKING SURVEYS
Travel Hacking is about getting free perks without spending any more money than you normally do, and surveys are an easy way to get miles with no purchase needed. There is no way to mess this one up if you’re looking to not spend even an extra dime! The trade-off is that surveys are time-consuming, but by doing one or two surveys a day during your free time, you could earn a domestic flight within a year’s time.
Here are some of the major companies that offer miles and points in exchange for taking surveys.
6. EARN MILES WITH CREDIT CARDS
Using credit cards to earn travel miles and points is at the core of travel hacking for those who take it seriously. There are three approaches here:
Open one card for a favorite Airline or Hotel and use it all of the time, earning 1-12 miles on each purchase you make passively.
Open several cards to receive their sign-on bonus, ranging from 20,000 to 100,000 miles each bonus. This averages to about one free economy flight with each bonus, so for example, if you receive 4 signup bonuses in one year, this could be 4 free trips!
A combination of the above methods. Get a few bonuses each year, but focus on using one card for your general spending to keep things simpler than advanced travel hacking can get.
In order to receive these huge bonuses for your credit card, there is a minimum spend, usually $1,000 - $5,000 dollars that you must make on the card within 90 days. This can usually be met by buying things you already planned on getting such as groceries, cell phone bills, cable bills, eating out, travel expenses, and anything else you’d normally purchase. Once you spend this amount, the bonus points will be automatically deposited into your loyalty program account.
Opening credit cards is good for your credit score if you use them responsibly. I have personally seen an 80 point increase in my credit score after a year of travel hacking and know of similar success stories. There is only one crucial rule here: pay off your credit card in full every month. Since you should only be buying your necessities with your credit card, it should be easy to use your cash/bank accounts to pay them off every month. The easiest way to make this process fool-proof is to schedule a recurring auto-payment for your credit card so that you never have to remember the due dates.
Here are our favorite cards to get started. Open one card, and wait 90 days between opening the next one, which will ensure that you protect your credit score and keep things organized.
United Explorer Card
Earn 40,000 Miles when you spend $2,000 within 90 days.
2 passes for free access to United Airlines Lounges
Free Checked Bags
Earn United Airlines Miles on all purchases
25% off all in-flight purchases
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card
Earn 35,000 miles when you spend $1,000 on the card in 90 days
Hliton Honors American Express Surpass Card:
Earn 125,000 Hotel points when you spend $2,000 on the card in 90 days
10 entry passes to Priority Pass Lounges, located in 100s of airports
Complimentary Gold Elite Status: Free breakfast, Bottled Water, and Upgrades at Hilton Hotels
5th night is free when you book 4 nights with your points
Free Car Rental Loss & Damage Insurance
Citibank AAdvantage Card:
Free Checked Bags on American Airlines Flights
25% off in-flight purchases
7. MISC. & ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Finding Low Cost Flights and Rooms:
Track flights on Google Flights by saving them and watching them, and then buy your ticket when it drops. Additionally, you can look at flights with calendar view and find the cheapest days to travel, if your schedule is flexible.
Consider booking your room through the platform Airbnb to save money as well as increase the types of accomodations available to you. This sign up link will provide you $55 off of your first booking.
Nomadic Matt: Great for learning all the parts of travel hacking
The Points Guy: Great for going advanced
Travel Freely: Great for organizing and keeping track of your travel hacking
Travel Hacking Study Hall Facebook Group: Great for asking questions
NEED SOME HELP?
Travel Hacking can be a tremendous amount of work! Not everyone has the time to strategize and implement the methods necessary to earn miles and points. I can help you simplify this process through an intake process that helps us to determine your travel goals and create a path towards them. I provide consultations and custom travel hacking strategies for those that want to save thousands of dollars but don't have hundreds of hours to get there. Fill out the form below and let's talk!