It’s time to talk about some of the misconceptions many people have around travel and Travel Hacking. Here are Six Travel Myths and my thoughts on each one.
Myth Number One
You’ve got to fly thousands of airline miles in order to accumulate enough points/miles for a free round trip. While some frequent flyers on airlines earn a tremendous amount of points/miles for actually flying on a plane, it’s not necessary. Simply applying for and opening up a combination of bank and airline co-branded credit cards will get you large sign up bonuses of points/miles to use towards free (plus taxes and fees) airline tickets.
That is how I fly Southwest for $11.20 round trip. I have used both Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Southwest Rapid Rewards points to book those flights. My most awesome trip to Norway included two business class flights courtesy of points/miles and a small amount of taxes and fees. With a little bit of time and focused effort, you too can fly for “almost” free by using points and miles with Travel Hacking.
Myth Number Two
Your credit score will be ruined if you apply for many credit cards. This is one of the biggest misunderstandings about credit scores and Travel Hacking. The reality is that with responsible credit card use (paying off the balance each month and not overspending just to earn more points/miles) your credit score will improve. Yes, your credit score improves when you have more credit outstanding. The reason is that the credit you are using actually goes down as a percentage of the total credit that’s been extended to you.
Called “credit utilization”, this number going down is what banks want to see. In turn, this metric makes up close to a third of your credit score. Lower credit utilization equals increased credit score. Read more about this here: The Elephant in the Room.
Myth Number Three
You have to have an excellent credit score to participate in Travel Hacking. It’s helpful to have a high credit score to be approved for some of the best travel credit cards. If your credit score is less than stellar, start by making timely payments on the credit cards you already have. Pay off any balances before starting into this hobby.
When you do start travel hacking, there will be credit cards you can get that may have smaller sign up bonuses. Even so, you’re likely to realize savings of $200 or more on travel.
Keep making timely payments of your full credit card balance each month and watch your credit score improve. Credit Karma is a great place to check your credit score. Check your credit score with a free account from Credit Karma.
Many banks like Chase, Citibank, Discover and Capital One to name a few, show your your credit score in their online platforms and apps. With patience, you’ll be able to open the better credit cards and reap even larger travel savings.
Myth Number Four
There are so many annual fees which eat into the savings realized from points and miles. True, many credit cards charge annual fees. Credit cards offer more than just great sign up bonuses. The perks are numerous for many of the best travel credit cards. Perks like airport and hotel lounge access can save you half the cost of some annual fees just in food and drink. You need to weigh the perks against the annual fee for each card.
With many credit cards, the first year carries no annual fee so you can try the card out for a year after earning the sign up bonus. Then, when the annual fee comes due, you can make an informed decision about how to proceed. I discussed annual fees and the pros and cons here: Is It Worth Paying Annual Fees on Credit Cards? For me, it is worth paying annual fees on some cards while not on others. We all have different travel needs and can make our own decisions about annual fees. One example of a no annual fee ever card is the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card.
Myth Number Five
It’s way too difficult to find availability for free flights and hotel stays. In the world of Travel hacking, it’s a given that being flexible and planning ahead whenever possible are two important strategies. Even on short notice, there’s always a way to use points and miles.
Each of us needs to decide how many of our valuable points and miles we want to trade for a free flight or hotel stay. Redeeming points and miles for at a value of $.01 is perfectly acceptable if you are happy with your redemption.
If you’re looking to maximize the redemption to upwards of $.03 to even $.10 or higher, it will take more effort and more flexibility. It’s possible to find what you want if you keep and open mind and consider many possibilities for airlines and hotels.
Airline alliances come in handy to find availability. Using fixed value points rather than branded Hotel points can often get you hotel nights at a great redemption. Above all else, keep an open mind and look at the process as a treasure hunt!
Myth Number Six
This is all way too time consuming. We all have different amounts of time available to devote to travel hacking. I ask you to think about what your time is worth. Anything worth having will take some effort and time. The thrill I get out of being able to take free round trip flights and stay in hotels for literally pennies on the dollar is worth a bit of time to me. If you stay organized, it doesn’t have to take that much time out of your life to fly and stay mostly free.
What other myths besides these six travel myths would you like me to speak to in future posts? Scroll down and leave a comment.