I love to travel. Finding deals, saving money, and heading out to explore the world is a wonderful feeling. There are plenty of travel blogs and other resources to help you plan better and create whatever travel adventure you want. Travel has never been more accessible or affordable.
But that doesn’t mean travel is ALWAYS affordable, though.
Plane tickets still cost hundreds of dollars. Hotel stays cost money. There are lots of travel expenses that chip away at even the most frugal budgets.
Fortunately, there’s a way to dramatically cut travel costs without sacrificing your plans and without spending extra money.
It’s called travel hacking.
People who started travel hacking years ago thought of it as an obscure “hobby”. Few had heard about travel hacking and most people dismissed it as a scam. Today, though, it seems as if everyone is doing it to some degree. Travel hacking has become more popular than ever.
Best news of all? You can do it with no additional spending!
What Is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is the art of signing up for travel credit cards and collecting credit card points, hotel points, and/or airline miles you can cash in for free flights, flight upgrades, hotel stays, transportation, and many more perks as well.
It’s traveling while getting the most value for the least amount of out-of-pocket expenses. One friend of mine thinks of travel hacking as the art and science of unlocking free or significantly discounted travel experiences by strategically earning and redeeming reward points and airline miles. That’s a good way to describe the term!
I’ve been travel hacking for years. It’s what has allowed me to travel more for less. I’ve enjoyed countless free flights, free upgrades, and hotel stays because of travel hacking. And all with just my regular spending. You too can start earning free travel today.
To help you save money and travel the world for free, here’s everything you need to know to start traveling hacking:
1. Figure out your travel goals
Before you start comparing credit card deals and researching airline transfer partners, you need to figure out what your priorities are. Makes sense, right?
Are you looking for a free flight, or do you want to prioritize free hotel stays?
Do you fly the same airline regularly? Certain airlines have their own credit cards and specific transfer partners. Knowing what airline you will fly helps you optimize your point earnings.
Are you aiming for upgrades to business class or first class, or do you just want a free economy flight?
Are you saving up for a trip to a specific destination?
There’s no single perfect credit card.
Start by writing down your travel goals. This helps you choose a credit card that will get you what you want. Each card has different transfer partners and different perks, so knowing your goals will help you find the best card that has the best rewards for you and your goals.
2. Look for cards with a huge welcome bonus
The best travel credit cards offer a large welcome bonus designed to entice you to sign up. These offers are usually tens of thousands of points, which roughly translate to a free flight.
However, to earn the welcome offer, you need to meet a minimum spending requirement. These vary from card to card.
If your regular spending (gas, groceries, eating out, miscellaneous expenses) covers that minimum spending requirement, then you’re on your way to free travel.
But what if you don’t usually spend that much?
Here’s one idea. If you don’t think you will meet the requirements for the minimum spend, ask friends and family if they have any large purchases coming up. You can pay for them on your new card and they can pay you back.
In general, when comparing welcome bonuses on various cards, look for cards offering 50,000 points or more. That’s a good place to start as you work your way towards free flights and hotel stays.
Once you’ve reviewed your options, apply for the best card that meets your spending habits.
3. Optimize your spending to earn more points
Now that you’ve got your first travel card, it’s time to maximize the rewards you earn.
First, start putting all your expenses on your new travel card.
Buying dinner? Use your travel card. Getting gas or groceries? Use your travel card. Need a bottle of water? Put it on your credit card. No expense is too big or too small. Put all your spending on the card because you need every single point you can get!
If you have more than one travel credit card, make sure you understand which card is best for each purchase. Most cards offer extra points for specific spending categories (travel, restaurants, groceries, etc.). To ensure you earn the most points, always use the right card for the right spending category.
You can also use airline shopping portals to boost your rewards. Most hotels, airlines, and travel brands have preferred merchants. These companies partner with these portals to boost sales.
By ordering through these online shopping portals, you can often earn double or triple what you would earn by visiting the store in person or using the merchant’s regular shopping website.
For example, say you need supplies from Target. Going into the nearest Target store will earn you one point per dollar spent on your travel card. However, by using sites like Evreward to find deals, you might discover that by purchasing online through an airline shopping portal, you will earn three points per dollar spent. So as an example, if you spend $100, that’s 300 points instead of 100. Better deal, right?
To find the best deals, simply visit Evreward, type in the product you want, and you’ll see a list of bonuses the various point programs are offering at that moment. This helps you know which portals to purchase from.
With a little planning and organization, you can easily level up your travel hacking and get yourself much closer to earning that free flight.
To start out, focus on the following (and in this order):
- Maximizing category bonuses
- Using shopping portals
- Using dining portals
- Asking friends and family to put purchases on your card
Stick to these basics. They are enough to get you a free flight!
4. Ready to travel? Consolidate your points first
If you have points and miles spread out over multiple accounts, remember to consolidate them into one program before you book your trip.
Most travel credit cards have multiple partners you can transfer your points to. This allows you to consolidate your points for maximum rewards.
It’s important to outline a goal in the beginning of this process. By choosing a goal first, you can avoid spreading your rewards too thin over too many cards. By focusing your rewards on cards that have transfer partners, you can earn rewards faster and easier.
5. Enjoy the perks of travel hacking
In addition to free flights and hotel stays, the best travel credit cards offer all kinds of other perks: lounge access, priority boarding, discounts on car rentals or ride sharing services, free checked baggage, free upgrades, free deliveries, no foreign transaction fees, and free supplemental travel insurance.
It’s always a good idea to make sure you understand the perks your card offers. Remember, travel hacking isn’t just about saving money and earning free travel; it’s about improving your entire travel experience!
Does Travel Hacking Hurt My Credit Score?
Does travel hacking hurt my credit score is a common question. Travel hacking will not hurt your credit score as long as you continue to pay off your monthly credit card balance. Paying off your monthly balance means you avoid those high interest rates while still enjoying all the perks your card offers.
Credit cards are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. They are only bad if you spend more money than you have.
That’s not what travel hacking is about.
To maintain a good credit score, here are a few things to consider (besides paying off the balance in full each month):
- Don’t apply for a lot of cards at once.
- After getting a new card (or cards), wait a few months before applying for more. Applying for new credit cards causes a temporary drop in your credit score. However, after 2–3 months, your score goes right back up.
- Don’t apply for a lot of credit cards less than six months from applying for a mortgage, refinancing your home, or taking out a personal loan. That can negatively affect your credit score.
- Don’t cancel no-fee cards. The length of your credit history is a factor. If a card doesn’t have a yearly fee, leave it open.
- If you are going to cancel a card because of an annual fee, try to get the card moved to a no-fee version card instead of canceling. Many credit card companies do this. This helps protect your credit score from the effects of cancelling a card.
It’s true that traveling for less is great. But what’s even better? Free travel is even better! Don’t leave money on the table and miss out on amazing travel perks and travel discounts. By leveraging the benefits of the best travel credit cards, you can open the door to all kinds of adventures and opportunities. And all without any extra spending.
Don’t leave your travel dreams on the back burner. Start travel hacking today and make those travel dreams an affordable reality!
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