How Travel Hacking Works
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The definition of travel hacking is the process of earning travel reward point at little, or no, cost to you and then using those points to either:

1.  Travel for the least amount of money possible.

2.  Experience the joys of first class travel by strategically redeeming points in exchange for upgrades and travel experiences.

Most people, myself included, start off travel hacking by earning points and then using those points to travel for, as close to, free as possible.

Then after as while, when it becomes clear that earning a large amount of points (100,000+ per year is not unreasonable) is rather easy, the focus tends to shift towards flying first class, staying in swanky hotels and ultimately making your travel experience as enjoyable and relaxing as possible.

The vast majority of reward points and airmiles are earned on the ground rather than from actually flying and staying in hotels.

One of the easiest and quickest ways to earn large lump sums of reward points is by signing up for a new credit card that is offering a big signup bonus.

You find a credit card offer you like, you sign up for the card, meet the minimum spending requirements (or other qualifier) and then you earn a large lump sum of points or airmiles as a reward.

  • You’re happy because you are awarded with a large amount of points that you can redeem for free travel
  • The credit card company is happy because they have a new customer
  • The airline or hotel is happy because you will be traveling with their company soon

The beauty of travel hacking is that you can usually earn points without altering your normal spending habits and these points you earn can be use for you to travel, or upgrade your travel experience, for free.

Travel hacking is something that I have been doing for more than a decade and over the course of my travel hacking career I have earned millions of miles which have been redeemed for countless free flights and hotel stays.

The Two Most Important Rules You Must Follow To Be A Pro Travel Hacker

1.  Always pay your credit card balance off in full

One of the easiest ways to earn bonus after bonus is to churn credit cards.  That means sign up for a new card, meet the minimum spending requirements, earn your bonus, cancel the card and sign up for a new one.  Repeating this process over and over can result in you earning hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of reward points each and every year.

I want this to be very clear:  If you are NOT paying off your credit card balance off in full each month and you are being charged interest on your credit card balance then you are NOT travel hacking properly.  The goal of travel hacking is to lower the cost of your travels, not leave you saddled with high interest credit card debt that can cost you a lot of money in interest.

If you already have credit card debt it doesn’t mean that you can’t become a travel hacker.  It just means that you need to travel hack a little differently.  We’ll cover how to go about travel hacking when you already have credit card debt a little further down this Travel Hacking 101 guide.

2.  Use your miles

Don’t treat your airmiles and reward point balances like your bank account.  Reward points and airmiles are meant to be spent!  Having a large amount of points can make you feel great, but it cannot even come close to the experiences you’ll gain while traveling.

On top of showing you exactly how you can earn a lot of points, I’m also going to show you how you can keep a constant stream of new bonus points showing up in your accounts year and year.  Don’t worry about weather or not you’ll be able to earn more points.  You’re going to learn so many tricks that you’re bigger worry is going to be “how can I spend these points fast enough?”

The Best Credit Cards For Travel Hacking

In a good news/bad news type situation, there are countless opportunities to earn sign up for new credit cards and be rewarded with huge lump sum point reward bonuses.

The bad news is that having a virtually endless supply of options can lead to analysis paralysis where you cannot make a decision and never get started on your travel hacking journey.

The good news is that having a virtually endless supply of options can lead to a virtually endless supply of travel reward points that you can use to travel for free.

Churning credit cards to earn miles is, almost universally, believed to be the best way to earn large amounts of miles and points.

Top 4 Credit Cards For Travel Bonus Miles and Points

1.  Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard

This card carries a 40,000 mile bonus which can be used for $400 worth of any travel related expense (flights, hotels, cruise, trains, etc.).  You will need to spend $3,000 in the first 90 days to earn your bonus.  This card has an $89 annual fee that’s waived for the first year.  (Click here to apply | Click here to read the full review)

2.  Barclay Card Arrival World MasterCard

This is the little sibling of the top ranked travel credit card and it carries a 20,000 mile bonus that can be used for $200 worth of any travel related expense.  You will need to spend $1,000 in the first 90 days to earn your bonus.  This card does not have an annual fee.  (Click here to apply | Click here to read the full review)

3.  Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard

Earn 35,000 bonus miles that can be redeemed for flights as well as other goodies.  On top of the 35,000 bonus miles, you will also enjoy a free checked bag and, here’s the awesome part, a 50% off companion discount for a rountrip coach travel between Hawaii and North American on Hawaiian Airlines.  If you’re not into traveling to Hawaii, don’t worry.  You can use the 35,000 miles on American Airlines, JetBlue, Virgin and many more.  You can also earn 5,000 bonus miles if you spend $10,000 in your annual spend.  (Click here to apply | Click here to read the full review)

4.  US Airways Premier World MasterCard

Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you activate your card and use it once.  You read that right, all you have to do is use this card once and you will earn the 40,000 point bonus.  This card has an $89 annual fee that isn’t waived but remember, that with the upcoming merger between US Airways and American Airlines you should be able to redeem these 40,000 points for a round trip flight to Europe in the off season.  A round trip flight to Europe for $89 is what we call a travel hacking win!  This card also has a 15 month introductory 0% APR for balance transfers made within the first 45 days of receiving your card.  This is a great way to travel hack and save money on interest at the same time.  (Click here to apply | Click here to read the full review)

Travel Hacking Pro Tip: Don’t over think your decision on weather or not to sign up for a credit card to earn a bonus. If the bonus is big enough to redeem the points for a free flight, then sign up for that card right away. As long as you manage your credit properly, you shouldn’t experience any downside to travel hacking.

FAQ: Does signing up for too many credit cards negatively affect your credit score?

Answer: I know many travel hackers that have 23, or more, credit cards and they have reported that their credit score have not suffered.  Some have even said that their credit score went up after they received all of their new credit cards!

Understanding and Meeting Minimum Spending Requirements

Almost every credit card offer comes with a minimum spending requirement before they will award you the bonus miles.  A typically minimum spending requirement will be somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000 in the first 90 days.

This is where I need to remind you of rule #1 from above: always pay your balance off in full.  This means that you need to make sure that you’re able to meet these minimum spending requirements without getting yourself into debt.

Most people can easily meet the minimum spending requirements with their normal monthly budgets.  If you can’t, don’t worry because there are ways that you can manufacture spending that doesn’t cost you any, or much, money.

Here are the best articles here at VOSA about meeting minimum spending requirements:

Proof: Actual Examples of Travel Hacking

There are a lot of skeptics out there that think travel hacking doesn’t work, or that travel hacking is too hard for the average person to understand.  I am here to help remove these limiting beliefs and let you know that travel hacking does work and it can save you thousands of dollars in travel for years to come.

Here are two screen shots from a recent trip where I saved $2,645.88 on the flights and hotels when I booked them using points instead.

Using Flexperks Points For Free Flights

80,000 Points redeemed for two round trips flights from Calgary to Portland (Total actual savings: $1,370.96)

Using FlexPerks Points To Book Hotel With Travel Hacking

100,000 Points redeemed for four nights at the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower (Total actual savings: $1,274.92)

The Bottom Line

Travel hacking works.  It has personally saved me tens of thousands of dollars in travel related expenses.  On top of the savings, being a travel hacker and having a big balance of reward points available to redeem also gives you the freedom to book a last minute flight without worrying about how much it’s going to cost.  This freedom has allowed me to book flights at 2AM when the plane departed at 6AM the same day.

Don’t get overwhelmed with all of the credit card options you can sign up for.  I’d recommend starting with one, or more, of the four listed above then continuing to work your way down the list so you will always be adding to your growing point total.

Here Are The Best Articles About Travel Hacking (Including More Examples):

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Enjoy traveling the world!