Travel Hacking Basic Strategy

Travel hacking Basic Strategy. It's time to refresh our memories on the important elements of how to save money using credit card points and miles.

It’s a new year and I’ve been thinking a lot about how it’s easy to lose sight of the key elements that let us save so much money on travel using credit card points and miles. Today, we dive back into Travel Hacking basic strategy. It never hurts to refresh our memories on how to get great value from the points and miles we earn from travel rewards credit cards.

Goals and Dreams

When I started out using credit card points and miles, my first goal was to redeem American Airline Miles for a free round trip ticket to San Diego. My motivation was that I wanted to take that trip to San Diego to see some dear friends. I saved $379 on the cost of the airline ticket. However, there’s no way to put a price on the experience of spending time with people who mean so much to me.

Everyone has different travel goals and dreams. Before you start down the road of applying for a travel credit card, get clear on what you want out of the hobby. Is there an exotic destination on your bucket list? Do you have a family member or friend whom you haven’t seen in years? What would it mean to give that person a hug? Maybe your goal is to save money on a weekend getaway with your best friends or significant other. The possibilities are endless. Choose one goal to get you started. It will make the savings that much more meaningful. After all, it’s a lot easier to reach your destination if you know where you’re going.

Your Credit Score and Travel Hacking

My Wells Fargo FICO Credit Score Fluctuation over One Year. Having 14 credit cards has helped me maintain my credit score over time.
My Wells Fargo FICO Credit Score Fluctuation over One Year

There’s a myth floating around that having more than a couple of credit cards can hurt your credit score. The reality is that if you use credit responsibly, you can maintain and even improve your credit score while having ten or more credit cards. My credit score has remained in a range of 25 points for the last 12 months. The key to remember is to continue to spend the same amount that you did before starting in the hobby. Responsible spending comes before all else.

Your First Travel Credit Card

Congrats; you have a travel goal and are ready to start! Now it’s time to choose your first (of likely many) travel rewards credit card. It’s no secret here on the Joyful Travel blog that the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card is my go to recommendation for your first card. Earning $750 in free travel with one sign up bonus is a big win. However, you may have a specific travel goal that makes airline miles a better first sign up bonus. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me for a recommendation tailored to your situation.

The Sign Up Bonus

When you apply for travel rewards credit cards, it’s the sign up bonus that gives you the point or miles that make up the $500-$1000 value you can use towards travel. Sign up bonuses are “buckets” of points or miles that the credit card company awards you after you’ve met the minimum spending requirement. These can range from 30,000 points or miles on the low end to 80,000 and more on the higher end.

The Minimum Spending Requirement

In order to meet the minimum spending requirement, you are required to spend a specific amount in a 90 day period. Typically that minimum spending requirement is from $3,000 to $5,000. This equates to roughly $1,000 to $1,700 per month in the first three months. For many households, this is an easy requirement to meet. If this is too big a nut to crack, check out this post where I explain How to Meet Minimum Spending Requirements.

What’s Next?

You’ve applied for and received your first travel rewards credit card. Then, you met the minimum spending requirement in less than the 90 day window. You did this just to be sure that every charge posted to your account in time. The bonus points or miles have now landed in your account. At this point you have options and decisions to make.

Option One

You can redeem the points or miles right away on a specific travel purchase. This can be airfare, hotel, rental car, train and other kinds of travel expenses. If you happen to have Chase Ultimate Rewards Points, it’s easy to redeem your points for travel in the Chase online portal for all kinds of travel.

You may have received a sign up bonus of airline or hotel miles/points. In this case, you’ll head to the website or app of the airline or hotel where you want to redeem points. There, you’ll be able to use your points/miles to cover airfare or hotel rates. There are many options if you have even the slightest bit of flexibility when booking. It’s amazing how easy it is these days to use your sign up bonus.

If you started out with a Capital One Venture Rewards credit card, you have likely earned $560 in travel savings. With this card, you use the card to book your travel with any travel company. Then use the “purchase eraser” within 90 days, to effectively remove the charge from your account. It almost feels like magic!

Option Two

As we continue to learn Travel Hacking Basic Strategy, you may have a bigger travel goal in mind. In this case, you want to keep earning more points/miles so you’ll have even bigger savings on that first travel experience. Now you have a decision to make.

You can continue using your one and only travel rewards credit card to earn more points/miles. Wouldn’t it be great though, to earn another large sign up bonus? I hope your answer is yes. If so, now you look for your next travel rewards credit card and apply. Meet the minimum spending requirement and receive another large sign up bonus.


Some people want only one kind of point or mile. Others, like me, like to have several types of points and miles for more versatility. An example is a trip I’m taking to Orlando, FL in the spring. I used Chase points to book 5 nights in a hotel but used Southwest Airlines miles to book my round trip flight from Philadelphia.

I have a soft spot for Marriott and Hilton points too. It also never hurts to have some other airline miles of the airline that flies most out of your closest airport. By the way, I’m paying $11.29 out of pocket for my Orlando trip resulting in $1,683.78 in savings!! Can you see my huge smile?

Rinse and Repeat

The process is really that simple. You now have a blueprint for a Travel Hacking Basic Strategy. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Take it one destination and one credit card at a time. To be sure, there are next level strategies to really leverage your points and miles. All in due time. Start at the beginning and figure out your first travel goal and soon, you’ll be realizing crazy saving like I do.

College Travel with Points & Miles

Today, I have another way that you can use Travel Hacking. You can save money on college travel with points & miles. I had an interesting text exchange with my niece who is in her second year of college. She lives on the East coast and attends college in California. Lea was flying the next day back to school when we communicated.

How to save on the cost of College Travel with Points & Miles. Your college student can travel back and forth to school using travel hacking strategies. text exchange with my niece
Text Exchange with My Niece

Can you imagine how it felt to learn that Lea’s plane ticket back to California was free? I really do get so much joy out of other people’s travel savings. How about the fact that Lea knew that the flight was free?

How Did They Do It?

Kudos to my sister, Donna, who has stuck with me as I constantly talked about saving money on flights and travel in general. Donna took the actions necessary to earn the miles and or points needed to save the cost of Lea’s flights to school.

Donna uses American airline miles earned with her Barclay’s Aadvantage Aviator credit card to cover flight costs. However, sometimes, she uses fixed value points like Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to cover the costs of Lea’s flights. Over the course of a four year college experience, you can save a lot of money on travel costs.

Another Strategy

Did you know that once your child reaches the age of 18, he or she is eligible to apply for credit cards? Before we go any further, this is a strong reminder that you and your college student must use credit cards responsibly. That means paying off the balance in full every month. While in college, most students are considered to still live at home. This offers a unique opportunity for points and miles earning.

Qualifying on Total Household Income

When applying for credit cards, the banks allow the applicant to include all income earned in the household. That means that even if your child is not earning money while attending college, there’s an opportunity to apply for a credit card and be approved based on parent income.

This works the same way for married couples where one partner is not working and relies on the income earned by the spouse. When both members of a couple are applying for credit cards, it’s known as Two Player Mode in the Travel Hacking world. It’s a great way to accumulate additional miles and points.

Back to My Niece’s Free Flights

How to save on the cost of College Travel with Points & Miles. Your college student can travel back and forth to school using travel hacking strategies.
Save the Cost of College Travel with Points & Miles

American Airlines has the best flights to get my niece back and forth to California. To earn American Airline miles, there are several cards both personal and business available to you. The Barclay’s Aadvantage Aviator card is unique in the points and miles world. This is because, the card holder need only make a single purchase in any amount to earn the sign up bonus.

There is an annual fee, currently $99 not waived the first year. Think about how great this is. Buy a $5 coffee and earn 60,000 American Airline miles (the current offer). Those 60,000 miles are enough for a round trip flight to Europe! All for a $99 annual fee.

Credit Card Perks

Of course there are perks that come with this card as well. College students who schlep a large suitcase back and forth to school over the long recesses will appreciate the free checked bag perk. I bet their parents love this perk as well!! Other perks include 2 x points earned on eligible American Airline purchases for every dollar spent. At various times, there are offers of companion tickets for $99 plus tax. This is great when parents want to visit their students at college.

Strategies for Other Credit Cards

What about credit cards with large minimum spending requirements? In this case, you may want to have your college student apply for one of these credit cards. Timing of the application is important with this type of card. Have your child use the card to cover a large household expense. Then, you front the money to your child so he/she can pay the credit card bill when it comes due. This works well only if you are confident that your child can handle the credit card responsibly. Picking credit cards with smaller minimum spending requirements can be a great way to teach your child fiscal responsibility. This also helps to build your child’s credit history. Minimum spending requirements must be made within the first 90 days after the credit card approval date.

Examples of lower minimum spend requirements credit cards are:

I hope this has gotten you thinking in bigger ways when it comes to covering the cost of college travel with points & miles. Apply these strategies to more than just airfare. Think creatively and you will realize that college visits often require hotel or Airbnb stays. Why not get started now to earn the points to defray all or a large portion of these travel costs?

As always, I’m here to answer your questions. Please scroll down and leave a comment for me. It lets me know you are reading what I have written for you.

Joyful Travel Year End Review

It’s that time of year; the time when we look back and reflect on all that has transpired in the previous 12 months. I’m not one to spend a lot of time looking back but this year has been filled with abundance for me. Please indulge me as I share my Joyful Travel Year End Review with you. Read all the way to the end to find out what I’ve got planned for 2020.

In the Beginning

Early in January had me taking a trip to Maui, HI to a healing retreat. I’d never had this type of travel experience before and wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I went with an open mind and was not disappointed. The scenery was beautiful but the deep inner work was the magic of this trip.

Ever the travel hacker, I booked my airfare on United with points and spent under $20 in taxes and fees. I also scored a free rental car by using Chase Ultimate Rewards points in the Chase Portal online. As well I used points for a free night in a hotel on my arrival. All in all, it was a fabulous trip. I wouldn’t have done it had I not been able to use points for the airfare, rental car and hotel.

Joyful Travel Blog is Born

I had been toying with the idea of starting this blog as a way to share my enthusiasm for using credit card points and miles to travel for pennies on the dollar. I dragged my feet (or more likely my fingers) on this one for several months. The main reason is that I didn’t know if I could write well enough to keep readers informed and possibly entertained too. The important thing was to just take one step and write the first post. My hope was that someone out there reading, would find a nugget of information to help jump start a travel hacking hobby.

That first post in the beginning of March was titled Travel Hacking in a Nutshell. I just wanted to get the basics about this wonderful hobby down in a post. Of course, there’s way more to travel hacking than what I wrote in that post. For me, it was the catalyst to write more.

Sister Weekend in NYC

I had been wanting to spend the weekend with one of my sisters in the Big Apple. We finally coordinated our calendars and chose a weekend in March. The weather was beautiful and the time together was great. I used Hilton Points to cover two nights in a hotel. Breakfast was included which always saves money, especially in NYC.

The hotel savings was $490. Since I had used points to pay for the hotel, my sister booked my Amtrak Ticket. That saved additional money. We had great time in NYC.


In April, I had the opportunity to travel to Phoenix, AZ. Again, I used points and miles to pay for my round trip airfare on Southwest from Philly and 4 hotel nights in downtown Phoenix. That trip cost me only $11.20 and saved me $1,432,82.

In May, I sent my husband on a weekend getaway to Florida and used points to cover his flights. He stayed with family so there was no lodging cost. Edward had a great time and I was thrilled that we payed only $11.20 for the airfare.

The Travel Expert Summit

Also in May, I embarked on a project that took much of the early part of the summer to complete. It was a proud moment when I released The Travel Expert Summit into the world. Positive feedback on the content offered by our 15 World Travel Experts continues to come in. It gives me great joy to know that people learned so much from the interviews. CLICK HERE to watch the Summit.

Summer Turned to Fall

Lisa Joy and Edward Phillips on our family celebration trip in Ohio.
Lisa Joy and Edward Phillips

My husband and I took a long weekend to celebrate a family event in Ohio. Our hotel room for 3 nights was booked with cash as we got a special family group rate. Since we drove, there was no need to use points or miles for airfare.

While we were there, we had a few issues with the hotel. By speaking up while on the property, we received a $100 credit on the stay. After we arrived home, I wrote to the manager about our experience and was rewarded with enough Hilton Honors points for a free one night stay. It always pays to take the time to bring concerns (or positive feedback) to hotel management.

My Weekend in Florida

Just a few weeks after our OH trip, I took a weekend trip to South FL. Staying with family saved my hotel points for future stays. The flights were booked with Southwest Rapid Rewards Points. Again, I paid just $11.20 for the taxes and fees out of pocket. Points earned with my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card covered my rental car for the weekend. I had a great time with family and friends and came back thoroughly refreshed.

Minneapolis in October

As the weather got cooler, I traveled to MN for a retreat with dear friends. I used Marriott Bonvoy Points to cover the two night stay at the hotel. Southwest Rapid Rewards came in handy for the round trip flights. Of course, I only paid $11.20 for the taxes and fees. The hotel stay was wonderful and I took the time to write to the manager to tell him.

I was really surprised when he rewarded me with 5,000 Marriott Bonvoy points as a thank you for my constructive feedback. As I have said before, take the time to give feedback. You never know how you might be rewarded for your efforts. Even if you don’t receive more than an emailed response, you are offering worthwhile information. It’s a quick act of service that any of us can do.

November Trip to Phoenix

Sunrise at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, a beautiful resort hotel outside of Phoenix.
Sunrise at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass

In early November, I was back in Phoenix and spent 3 nights at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass. The weather was gorgeous and I so enjoyed my morning walks at sunrise. Reconnecting with friends was great and I made a few new friends as well. Again, I used points and miles to cover hotel and airfare. I even covered a restaurant meal for two with points. My total cost out of pocket was $23.70 for a savings of $1,29697.

Football Weekend in NJ

My husband’s alma mater, Ohio State Buckeyes, played Rutgers in mid-November. We stayed in North Brunswick at a Hyatt. I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt to cover the two night stay saving over $400. Capital One points covered the $50 parking fee. Our out of pocket costs were from the gas and tolls as we drove there. Buckeyes for the Win!!!

Thanksgiving in Ohio

Last minute, we got invited to visit family in Ohio to celebrate Thanksgiving. We drove so needed no airfare covered with miles or points. I used my Hilton Honors points to cover the three nights in the hotel. One of those nights was covered with the points I had received after our less than wonderful stay in September.

This trip was great but again, there were a few issues with the hotel. I brought the issues to the attention of the front desk personnel who chose not to do anything about them. After my stay, an email to the manager brought a profuse apology along with another batch of points to cover a one night stay. While I prefer to have a great experience when traveling, being compensated with points when things don’t go right is a good trade off.

The Year Comes to a Close

We did not do any traveling in December which was just fine with me. Staying in Philly when others go away brings a beautiful quiet to the usually bustling city streets. It’s been a great year for saving money using points and miles earned with credit cards. However, this Joyful travel Year End Review would not be complete without mentioning what I’ve been working on for 2020.

Lisa Joy Phillips Travel Hacker as she does her Joyful Travel Year End Review
Lisa Joy Phillips Travel Hacker

Drum Roll Please

It’s time for me to dig in and teach the ins and out of how to take your everyday credit card spending and turn it into travel savings. To that end, I’ll be offering a course to help you take steps to travel for pennies on the dollar. Look for this in the first quarter of 2020.

Finally, I have set a goal of helping 500 people save at least $1,000 on travel in the coming year. That adds up to a Half a Million Dollars in travel savings. I want you to be one of those 500 happy travelers.

Scroll down below and reply to this email if you are interested in learning how you can save $1,000 on travel next year. Better yet, share this post with family and friends who would also benefit.

So there you have it; my Joyful Travel Year End Review.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year filled with money saving Travel!