When you hear the phrase “travel hacking,” you may imagine a darkened room where nefarious spies try to infiltrate airline databases to get tickets. In reality, travel hacking means using hotel, airline, credit card, and loyalty program rules that are already in place to travel for free or at a significant discount. Anyone can be a travel hacker if willing to invest some time and effort—no specialized computer skills required.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
Sign up for the loyalty programs of any hotels you stay in or airlines you fly with.
These programs are almost always free, and you can gain loyalty points only by signing up. Why not use the money you’re already spending on travel to earn points toward future trips?
According to an October 2017 study, Wyndham Rewards, Marriott Rewards, and Hilton Honors are the hotel loyalty programs that offer the greatest return on investment. Wyndham Rewards returns about $16.70 in rewards for every $100 spent, while the study’s lowest-ranked rewards program, Starwood SPG, returns only about $5.40 for every $100 spent.
US News Travel ranked the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, Delta SkyMiles, and JetBlue TrueBlue as the top three airline rewards programs based on each program’s benefits, availability of award flights, and other features.
Maximize the benefits of loyalty programs by being a repeat customer when it makes sense.
Generally, you’ll earn more rewards by staying with one hotel chain 10 times than you will by staying twice each with five hotel chains. The more you stay with one hotel chain or fly on one airline, the more rewards you’ll accumulate.
Sign up for a credit card that offers bonus points for signing up.
Many millennials recoil at the mention of “credit card,” but credit cards are an excellent financial tool when used correctly.
Brigham Young University alumna Elizabeth Johnson earned tens of thousands of bonus points on her Chase Sapphire Reserve card by spending $4,000 in the first three months — a threshold she said she met easily by using her credit card to pay rent. Johnson then used those bonus points to get two roundtrip tickets to Hawaii and one roundtrip ticket to Chicago at no cost to her.
Johnson’s resource for travel hacking (www.10xtravel.com) also recommends the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Business Preferred, Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business, United MileagePlus Explorer Business, and Marriott Rewards Premier credit cards.
If you would normally spend the minimum amount required to earn bonus points in the given period, just use your credit card for the purchases you would normally make and pay off the balance with the money in your bank account. If you pay off your balance before the due date every month, you’ll not only never pay interest, but you’ll also build your credit history, which is helpful for large purchases such as cars and homes.
Keep track of the rewards you earn, including frequent flyer miles and credit card bonus points.
Some loyalty rewards expire if they’re not used within a certain period. Make sure you know the requirements for the programs you sign up for and use your rewards to their full advantage.
If you follow these steps, you’ll be well on your way to travelling the globe for free!