Travel Hacking is this crazy thing that you hear of once in a while on Facebook. Someone used points or credits to get a free roundtrip flight from Atlanta to Thailand with stops in Europe and Australia in First Class with stays in high-end hotels right on the beach. All completely free.
That sounds amazing (and admittedly not very realistic).
But that takes a TON of work.
I’m not trying to dissuade you from travel hacking. There are so many people who are gaming this system and seeing amazing results like the example above. Not joking.
In a travel hacking group I’m in on Facebook, a man used points to pay for his honeymoon for over 4 weeks in 8 different countries, staying in all luxury hotels and flying first or business class.
But it’s not going to happen today. . if you are thinking of planning a trip with your family to Europe in 3 months and haven’t started the points game, you probably won’t be able to pay for your trip with points. That guy from the example above was probably saving up his points for years, and worked extremely hard basically every day to maximize his output
BUT, if you have some general plans coming up for later in the year and in the future, you can definitely do it. Just start now. While I am still in the beginning-isn stages of travel hacking. I have successfully used points to greatly offset the cost of my trips. I have had free flights or free nights in hotels, purely from accumulating points or taking advantage of promotions. It’s addicting.
I wanted to put together 5 things a beginner can do, RIGHT NOW, to get started in travel hacking so that some day you’ll be able to take that first class flight around the world and pay nothing out of pocket. And in the more short term, get a free night stay here and there or even a free flight.
5 Beginner Travel Hacking Tips You Can Start NOW
1. Sign up to join rewards or frequent flyer programs
This is the very beginning. You need to have an account with companies like Marriott, Hyatt, Southwest, or American Airlines. Choose the companies that you regularly use or want to use. You can’t start to accumulate points if you don’t have anywhere to store those points.
I always sign up for the loyalty or frequent flyer programs even if it’s the first time I fly with an airline and I have no intention of using them in the near future. Sometimes you can combine points from partner companies and you don’t want to miss out on those points- however small they seem right now.
2. Use the same companies over and over
This is really hard when just starting out because you usually want to fly with the cheapest airline to same money right now. In the long run, though, you’ll be able to accumulate points from those flights much faster when using one company rather than spread over a few.
Choose an airline that has a hub or is based in your home airport. With Dallas being our main airport, we have a few options to choose from. For flights directly to Wichita Falls (which we sometimes use because of the convenience) we stick with American. Stick with them as much as possible and gain status with that company. Not only will you be accumulating points, but you’ll also be seen as a loyal customer and get rewarded with upgrades or other perks. (but be aware, you usually need to fly A LOT to see these benefits.)
3. Look for company promotions.
Many hotel chains, like Wyndham (I just got their email ad for this today) often have promotions to stay 2 nights and get 1 free. You can save money immediately on your trips by using these promotions and at the same time accumulate points for those stays that you can use on later stays to even further add to the savings.
4. Find credit cards that offer sign up bonuses
This is where many people get the bulk of their points. Sign up bonuses are everywhere. You’ve probably seen those ads: “Spend $3,000 in the first 3 months and get 50,000 points.” Take a look at your preferred airline and look around for their company credit card or a credit card like Chase Sapphire Preferred that allows you to accumulate points to be used on a variety of airlines.
Credit cards offer a variety of benefits just for having them. Some, like… allow you to use the lounges for…. Most airline credit cards get you free or additional baggage for your flights, so already a great savings if you find yourself needing to pay for baggage regularly.
Note: You need to have a decent understanding and control of your finances. You have to pay off your credit cards every month and make sure you don’t get into debt or trouble. Only sign up for cards that you can actually afford and that you actually plan to pay off every month. Getting some bonuses isn’t worth damaging your credit.
Now, hear me out. I’m not saying to just whine and cry over every little thing that happens to you. Because guess what, travel can be annoying, but it’s annoying for everyone. But if you have a legitimate complaint, even a small complaint, let someone know. POLITELY.
My most recent example: A few months ago I booked a stay at a hotel in Dallas the night before a very early morning flight. To summarize: I had a 6 month old who needed a safe place to sleep (I don’t co-sleep. Freaks me out). Hotel manager, over the phone, said they had a crib. They didn’t have a crib. I got no sleep.
I wrote a note to corporate, politely explaining my frustration. They were kind and gave me a free night at any of their hotels. We used it at a hotel in San Antonio directly on the River Walk that I never would have spent the cash on. EVER. So…. it was worth it to us to point out an issue.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you get started in this game. If you want more in-depth information on credit cards that might fit your financial situation or travel dreams, look at The Points Guy. He has a ton of information to take you further into travel hacking.
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