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.