12 Travel Hacking Tips

12 Travel Hacking Tips to help you Travel for Pennies on the Dollar. Lisa Joy Phillips heading off on another Travel Hacking Trip.
Lisa Joy Heading off on another Travel Hacking Trip

I’ve been traveling for pennies on the dollar using Travel Hacking with credit card points and miles for over two years now. Today, I share 12 Travel Hacking Tips to help you stretch your travel dollars as well as your credit card points and miles. Perhaps you’ve been standing on the sidelines wondering if you’ll ever make the leap and start Travel Hacking. I’m here to reassure you that it doesn’t have to be overly complicated and time consuming. After all, I’ve managed to figure this out and have reaped over $18,000 in travel savings. Let’s get started.

Tip Number 1 – Come in with an Open Mind

Flexibility is so important in this hobby. If you expect to find reward seats (and business of first class as that!!) on a non-stop flight to a popular destination a week or less before your travel dates, think again. Yes, there may be times when you can snag that last minute redemption but don’t plan on it.

If your travel dates are set, plan on redeeming your points/miles at least 30-60 days before your trip. Be open to spending down time in an airport due to making a connection. Perhaps there’s a better redemption opportunity at a nearby hotel rather than the one you have your heart set on. Stay flexible and I promise you you’ll be rewarded.

Tip Number 2 – Create a Game Plan

It’s great to sign up for credit cards and earn lots of points and miles. However, if you sign up for a Southwest Credit Card but you want to take a trip Overseas, those Southwest Rapid Rewards points won’t do you much good. Have a Destination in Mind when you get started. No worries if you come into this hobby with a couple of less than wonderful credit cards. There’s plenty of opportunities to earn the points and miles you need to book a great trip.

Tip Number 3 – Don’t Cancel Your Oldest Credit Card

If you want to keep your credit score in tip top shape, don’t cancel your oldest credit card. Banks like to see a long credit history. The only way to show them this is to keep your oldest credit card open. What if your oldest card happens to have an annual fee? You certainly can continue to pay the annual fee. I discuss several other options in this post: Is It Worth Paying Annual Fees on Credit Cards. I repeat, never cancel your oldest credit card!

Tip Number 4 – Handle Credit Cards Responsibly

Tip Number 4 seems obvious to me. However, some people think that they can carry balances on their credit cards and still amass points and miles with Travel Hacking. The reality is that whatever savings you might get by using points and miles is only half of the equation. The other half is that you are paying high interest rates on the credit card balances which will be more than the savings with points and miles. Have patience and pay down your credit card balances as soon as possible. Then, and only then, jump into the hobby.

Tip Number 5 – Note Credit Card Approval Dates

The minimum spending clock starts ticking as soon as you are approved for a credit card. Most, but not all, credit cards require a minimum spending amount be made within a 90 day window from the date of approval. This is so important. People have lost out on lucrative sign up bonuses (like the 60,000 points on the Chase Sapphire Preferred) by calculating the 90 day window from the date they received their new shiny credit card. Don’t make this mistake. It could cost you many many points/miles. Put a reminder on your calendar for 80 days after your approval date. Then, make sure you complete your minimum spend well within the 90 day window.

Tip Number 6 – Start with a Small Win

There’s no need to book a 3 week trip to multiple countries flying in business class and staying at lavish hotels for your first points/miles redemption. Start with a weekend away. Or, how about just covering your next airfare with points/miles? Once you have redeemed your first points/miles, you’ll have the confidence and excitement to plan your next trip.

My first miles redemption was a round trip ticket to San Diego. I was able to do that with one sign up bonus from the Citibank AAdvantage credit card. Start with that first win and go from there.

Tip Number 7 – Pay Annual Fees Strategically

We’re halfway through my 12 Travel Hacking tips. As you begin to add more travel credit cards to your wallet, you’ll likely have some cards that charge annual fees. While we’d all love to have all the benefits of credit cards without paying annual fees, fees come with the territory. It is often worth paying the annual fee if the perks of the card are worth more than the annual fee.

An example would be the reimbursement of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. If the annual fee is only $99, it’s worth paying it for at least the first year. Access to special airport lounges, free checked luggage, free breakfast at hotels and specific dollar amounts toward travel expenses are other examples.

Tip Number 8 – Sign Up for Airline Miles Programs

You may or may not already be a member of an airline miles program. However, once you start in the travel hacking hobby, you’ll want to sign up for more airline programs. Membership has it’s rewards. You will receive both email and snail mail from the airline.

Those pieces of communication will clue you in to special deals and points earning opportunities. Another great benefit of being a member is that you’ll start receiving offers for, you guessed it, credit cards. The next tip will explain how to handle the credit card offers.

Tip Number 9 – Be Patient about Credit Card Offers

Once you’ve signed up for airline miles programs, you start receiving credit card offers. Here’s the thing, in this case, your first offer is not necessarily your best offer. I recently exercised patience when receiving offers to open a Delta Skymiles American Express Card. The offers started at 30,000 SkyMiles and wound up at 60,000 SkyMiles. At that point, I decided it was worth applying for the card. Always check for offers online and compare to the ones you receive in the mail. There’s no rush to apply for credit cards. I believe there will always be more opportunities to earn more points and miles.

Tip Number 10 – Know the Value of Airline Alliances

There are three main Airline Alliances: StarAlliance, OneWorld and SkyTeam. There are also some other strategic airline alliances. An airline alliance is a group of airlines that are part of a family. If you earn points/miles from one airline in the particular family, you can use those points to book a flight on one of the other family member’s flights.

I used this strategy to book my flights to and from Norway. That was The Trip That Got Me Hooked. I used 70,000 United Miles to book a business class seat from Philadelphia through Frankfurt and on to Oslo, Norway. The experience of sleeping in a lie flat bed and arriving well rested in Oslo was amazing. I booked that ticket on the United Airlines website rather easily. Airline Alliances are great!

Tip Number 11 – Take Advantage of Two Player Mode

Are you in a relationship with someone for the long haul? If so, you have the opportunity to double your points earnings. Perhaps your significant other is not interested in travel hacking. That’s ok. You can explain and manage the credit cards for that person. This will get you to your travel goals faster than going it alone. Many couples just starting out, work the two player angle to take fabulous honeymoons for pennies on the dollar. Read here where I explain all about it: Two Player Mode.

Tip Number 12 – Business Credit Cards are Great

We’ve reached the final tip for today. Did you know that many banks offer both a personal and a business version of their points and miles earning credit cards? What this means to you is that you have many more opportunities to earn points and miles. You might be surprised at what qualifies as “business” for the purpose of applying and being approved for business credit cards.

Do you walk dogs, tutor students, baby sit, sell a few things online or own a piece of rental property? These are just some of the things that can get you into business credit cards. The great benefits of business cards often include higher sign up bonuses, various automatic status levels on airlines and hotels and more. One other thing to keep in mind is that most (but not all) business credit cards do not appear on your personal credit report. Why not maximize your points earning opportunities by applying for business credit cards?

So there you have it; 12 Travel Hacking Tips to keep in mind as you progress in the travel hacking hobby. I have utilized all of these strategies myself. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Do you have a tip or trick to add to this list? Scroll down and leave it in the comments.

Credit Scores and Travel Hacking

Last week, I wrote that I’ve saved $18,466 on travel expenses since I started my Travel Hacking journey a little over two years ago. Many people have expressed to me that they are concerned about starting in this hobby. People fear their credit score will suffer if they open up a bunch of credit cards. Let’s talk about credit scores and Travel Hacking.

My Credit Score in Pictures

The easiest way for me to show you how getting into Travel Hacking is not a detriment to having a great credit score, is by showing you my credit score. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. I think that’s especially true in this case. I took screen shots of my credit score from three different sources.

Credit Karma

When I first started writing about Travel Hacking, I discussed the importance of knowing what’s in your credit report. Signing up with Credit Karma is a free way to see your EquiFax and TransUnion credit scores and reports. There is usually a variation in these two scores. I recommend that you look at these as a ball park number to keep in mind.

Let’s look at a screen shot of my TransUnion and Equifax credit scores from the Credit Karma website. I took the screen shot on September 18, 2019.

My TransUnion and EquiFax Credit Scores as of 091819.  Note that the scores are 36 points apart but are both excellent!
My TransUnion and EquiFax Credit Scores as of 091819

As you can see, there is a 36 point difference between the two scores. Both scores are out of a possible 850 points. These scores use the Vantage Score method. Banks and credit card companies most often use your FICO score to make lending decisions.

Even though Credit Karma uses a different scoring method than most lenders, the two scores give me an idea of how I’m doing these days. I’d say that “Excellent” as listed on CreditKarma is just fine for me!! Now, let’s look at my FICO score.

Wells Fargo FICO Score

Did you know that many banks will show you your FICO score for free? I am able to check my credit score any time I want by logging on to my Wells Fargo account. The beauty is that I can do this on my computer and even on my phone! Here is my score as of September 4, 2019.

My FICO Credit Score from Wells Fargo.  Again, it is listed as Excellent after over two years of travel hacking.
My FICO Credit Score from Wells Fargo

The point range of this FICO score is 300-850 points. My FICO score is even higher than the scores reported by TransUnion and Equifax. There is nothing like having an excellent credit score!!

CitiBank FICO Score

Various banks that offer free credit scores will vary in the credit scores they report. I checked on my CitiBank app to see my FICO Score. CitiBank is the bank where I have my AAdvantage American Airlines credit card. I took this screen shot with my phone.

CitBank App Screenshot of my FICO Credit Score as of August 27, 2019. My score is reported as 880 out of 900. Excellent again!
CitBank App Screenshot of my FICO Credit Score as of August 27, 2019

The FICO score range is 250-900 points. Every bank is a bit different. Underneath the credit score, you can see my credit score fluctuation over time. It has ranged from 875-880 over 6 months. The next screen shot shows a year’s worth of my credit score.

My Wells Fargo FICO Credit Score Fluctuation over One Year.  My credit score has fluctuation within a 25 point range over the last 12 months.
My Wells Fargo FICO Credit Score Fluctuation over One Year

As you can see, my credit score has fluctuated in a range of 25 points from 825-850 over the last 12 months. There are no crazy dips of 50 points or more as some people might imagine. The score has remained in the excellent range for the entire 12 months. I only wish I could show you my credit score from before I started Travel Hacking. My score has continued to improve or stay about where it was when I started.

So What Does This Mean for You?

I did not show you my credit score to brag. In fact, I feel rather vulnerable putting this information on the internet. However, I did it to prove a point. The point is credit scores fluctuate. Credit scores improve or stay roughly the same when you open up more credit cards. The caveat is to always use credit responsibly.

You don’t have to sign up for as many travel credit cards as I have ( 16 at last count). Start slowly and build your confidence and knowledge. Make that first redemption and notice how amazing it is to save a lot of money on your travels. Why wait to get started? A whole world of savings is available to you.

I hope I helped you understand how credit scores and travel hacking fit together. Now, I want to know what your next big question about Travel Hacking is. Scroll down and leave your question in the comments. I’ll address it in a future post.

My Travel Hacking Savings

Today I want to show you just how lucrative my Travel Hacking experience has been. I started down the points and miles rabbit hole just a little over two years ago. Since then, I’ve made some mistakes and also learned so much about traveling for pennies on the dollar. Now, let’s dive into my travel hacking savings so far.

My Travel Hacking Savings in the last two plus years has given me so much joy.  I've been able to travel for pennies on the dollar. I've saved over $18,000!
My Travel Hacking Savings

My First Win

When I first realized I could save money by using points and miles, I was searching for a flight to San Diego, CA. While online, I signed up for an AAdvantage American Airlines Credit Card. The card had a sign up bonus of 40,000 American Airlines Miles. By signing up while booking the San Diego flight, I got an automatic discount on the flight of $100. That $100 was instant gratification and a great win to start my Travel Hacking journey.

My First Airline Miles Redemption

About a year later, I got ready to book another trip to San Diego, For this flight I was able to use the American Airlines miles I had earned with the sign up bonus from that first credit card. I only paid $11.20 for the round trip and used just 25,000 American Airlines miles. The savings on that flight was $379. If you’re keeping score, that’s a total of $479 saved from one credit card sign up with over 15,000 American Airlines miles left to spare.

My First Hotel Savings

While on that second trip to San Diego, I stayed in a resort type hotel and shared a room with others to save a bit of money. My portion of the room rate for the four nights of my stay was $356. I used my Capital One Venture Credit Card to pay for my portion of the room. Once the charge showed up on my Capital One Credit Card Statement, I used the purchase eraser to “erase” the $356 resort stay from my account. I still had over $200 left in Capital One points to use toward other travel expenses. Total savings so far $835.

A Trip to Dallas

A couple of friends invited me to Dallas as they were to be there for a conference. I used Chase Ultimate Rewards Points from my Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card to cover my round trip flight on Southwest Airlines. I paid just $11.20 for my flight and saved $428.

This trip, I shared a room with friends at a Hilton property. By then, I had signed up for a Hilton Honors Credit Card. I hadn’t earned the sign up bonus yet but did receive Gold status with the card. So, I paid out of pocket for my portion of the room rate.

However, due to having Gold status, I got myself and my two roommates access to the Concierge Lounge. There, we had a great breakfast buffet each day and snacks and beverages access all day. At night, there was enough food on the Happy Hour Buffet to eat a full dinner. I estimate I saved an additional $100 on food in Dallas. Total savings so far $1,363.

My First Big Trip

One of the friends I got to see when I was in Dallas actually lives in Oslo, Norway. When she invited me to visit, I jumped at the opportunity. By then, I had more credit cards and plenty of American Airlines Miles as well as Chase Ultimate Rewards Points. I wrote all about this amazing trip here: The Trip That Got Me Hooked. I was also featured in Money Magazine where I told my incredible story of Travel Hacking Savings.

Norway Trip Savings

I had decided to splurge on Business Class flights as a gift to myself. courtesy of points and miles. A dear friend flew in from London and shared an Airbnb with me for six nights. While we economized with the Airbnb stay, we splurged on one night’s hotel accommodation in Bergen.

One of the great parts of the trip was the scenic round trip train ride we took from Oslo to Bergen. I booked both the scenic train and the Airbnb with my Capital One Venture Credit Card. As well, there were several types of other transportation including buses, local trains and a ferry paid for with my Capital One card. I offered to pay for meals at restaurants with my Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card to get 2x points. This was helpful as food is not cheap in Norway and I was paying out of pocket.

When I added up my airfare, Airbnb, Hotel scenic train and other transportation costs it totaled $12,492. Note that the Business Class airfare was a huge chunk of that number. The splurge was so worth it. Arriving refreshed after sleeping in a lie flat airline “bed” was amazing. I also loves showering at the airport Business Class lounge on my way home. So how much did I pay? Drum roll please; a whopping $217! This was by far my biggest Travel Hacking win. I saved $12,275 on that once in a lifetime trip. If you’re still keeping tabs my total savings so far; $13,638.

A Frigid Trip to Minneapolis

Lisa Joy Phillips dressed for frigid Minneapolis in November.  Luck for me, I was greeted by a dear friend in her warm car.
Dressed for Frigid Minneapolis in November

I am blessed with wonderful friends who just happen to live all over the world. Now, November would not be my ideal time to visit Minneapolis but when a friend invited me, of course, I said “yes”! This was a quick weekend trip. My friend hosted me and another friend in her home and chauffeured us the whole weekend. I booked round trip airfare on Southwest. Again, I only paid $11.20 of taxes and fees. I saved $306 on that round trip flight. Total savings now $13,944.

A Last Minute Trip to Maui

Around Thanksgiving last year, I was invited to a healing retreat on Maui. I had never been to this kind of retreat and had never been to Hawaii. The trip would take place the first week in January. Knowing that I had a stash of points and miles had me jumping at the opportunity participate. I wound up booking the round trip flight on United Airlines. If you have learned anything from reading my blog, you won’t be surprised to learn that I didn’t have any United miles to use for the flights. No worries, I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to United and booked my tickets. As with other round trip flights, I only paid $11.20 for the flight. The cash price was $889. I saved $887.

Check out that bamboo.  It was enormous!
Check out That Bamboo!

Car Rental with Points

Since I paid out of pocket for my stay at the beautiful Hale Akua Eco Retreat Center, I used points for my rental car for the week. The rental car savings was $111. My Capital One Venture Card came in handy on the Uber rides to and from my home airport in Philadelphia. I saved another $26 on two rides. My total savings on my Maui trip $1,024. Are you still keeping score? I’m up to a total savings of $14,968.

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 did the tourist thing and went to the top of the Empire State Building and enjoyed the views; though not the wind! Total saving so far $15,458.

Hubby’s Trip to Florida

This past spring, I knew my husband needed a break and a weekend away. He has some dear relatives in South Florida whom he hadn’t seen in a while. It was my pleasure to book his Southwest Round trip ticket paying only $11.20. We saved $414 on that trip. Since my husband stayed with his relatives, there was no need to use points to cover his lodging. Total savings so far; $15,872.

Daughter’s Flight to Lisbon, Portugal

My daughter has gotten the travel bug and loves to travel. Unfortunately, she’s fairly new in accumulating points and miles. She got in touch to ask if I had any American Airlines miles. I was lucky enough to be able to help her out.

Her travel companion had picked the flight which had a 15 hour layover in Madrid. This allowed for a day of sightseeing before arriving in Lisbon. I booked her interesting itinerary and used 30,000 American Airline miles. Taxes and fees for the international flight amounted to $56.20. The cost of the flight would have been over $1,200. Savings for my daughter $1,150. It was a joy to help her out. In the future, she’ll return the favor, I’m sure. Now, we are up to savings of $17,022.

Phoenix in the Spring

I wrote all about the savings on my Phoenix trip here:

My Trip to Phoenix for less than $15

The total savings on that trip, which included round trip airfare, a four night hotel stay and Uber rides to and from the airports was $1,444. Now the total savings is $18,466.

So there you have it. My Travel Hacking Savings have saved me and my family over $18,000! This has all been possible for me just from strategically signing up for travel credit cards. I use my credit cards responsibly and am able to reap fabulous travel savings.

What’s holding you back from jumping into this hobby? How can I make it possible for you? Scroll down and leave a comment below.