A Brief Introduction to “Travel Hacking”
“Travel Hacking…that sounds sketchy, what is it?”
While the word “hack” certainly gets a bad rap, especially in light of the recent issues at Sony, “travel hacking” is best viewed simply as a way to save money on travel.
A brief internet search will net you a litany of different websites that delve into the world of travel hacking. This is particularly great, because there is never a shortage of opinions and information out there to help you reach your goals. No matter where you look, the hobby, as it is often referred to, centers around collecting (and using) points and miles.
Points and Miles: The Basics
As of the date of this entry, I am 31 years old. It wasn’t until about 30 1/2 that I actually began to understand all the benefits associated with collecting points and miles. I started working at at the age of 16, which means I have 14 years of earning some form of income in which I wasn’t gaining anything extra on top of my purchases. And that’s quite a bit! I spent a fair amount of money in my twenties to say the least.
This may sound a bit extreme, but literally every dime you spend should be netting some kind of return by way of points or miles. Sure you’ll gain the return of goods and services purchased when you use a debit card or cash, but that’s where the value ends.
So what’s the best way to go about accumulating points and miles?
- Credit Cards: One of the simplest and most effective ways to boost your points and mileage is by signing up for a credit card. A credit card can give you a huge head start, for those just getting started, or can top an expert’s account off. I’m not here to pitch certain cards to you or even say that they are mandatory, but this is what got me started. I signed up for a diverse card (Chase Sapphire Preferred) that allows me to earn points and then transfer those points to a variety of airlines and hotels (and Amtrak too for good measure). At the time of my signup, the card was offering a bonus of 50,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first three months. Plus an additional 5,000 points were awarded by adding an authorized user. Right off the bat, that number of points is enough to go just about anywhere domestically within the U.S.
- Shopping Portals: Did you know that essentially every major airline you can think of has their own shopping portal? The shopping portals are a fantastic way to earn more points and miles on everyday purchases. All you have to do is search for the airline’s shopping site, find the retailer you were going to buy from and then click through the link and make a purchase. The bonuses can be anything from 2x – 30x the points/miles just for clicking through the site (and entering your frequent flyer information). These sites often have flat rate miles in bulk that are offered for certain purchases, such as signing up for a newspaper (Wall Street Journal and others) or the purchase of a new cell phone (Verizon and others). This is such a fantastic way to add extra points and miles to your accounts. That $100 at Gap you were going to spend anyway for the new clothes, can quickly net you 500 miles (assuming the site is offer 5x miles/points).
- Dining Rewards: Similar to shopping portals, you can register a credit card (or debit card) of your choice with an airline and when you dine at select restaurants, you’ll gain additional miles. This isn’t going to make or break your balances because I’ve often found that the restaurants listed aren’t always my preferred option or location, but it can be a nice little bonus when you do eat at a participating restaurant. Dining rewards can be even more lucrative if you combine them with a credit card that nets you an additional bonus for dining. For example, my Chase Sapphire card offers double points on dining out any day of the year. On the first Friday of each month, that bonus is bumped up to triple points. So I’m getting triple points from my credit card and triple miles for eating at a specific restaurant from the dining portal on that same day. It’s a great way to double dip and will certainly make the points feel more lucrative.
- Bonus, Bonus, Bonus: There are so many other way to gain more points and miles, particularly with bonus categories from specific credit cards. As I mentioned previously, I love the Chase Sapphire Preferred card because it offers a tremendous amount of flexibility to partner with a variety of airlines and hotels. I also love that I can get double points on dining and travel expenses with the card. But there are a number of other great cards out there as well that will offer different bonuses depending on what your goal is. For example, the Chase Freedom offers rotating, quarterly category bonuses (currently 5% cash back at grocery stores, movie theaters, and Starbucks). Another card I love is the Chase Ink Plus Business card that Julie picked up for her photography business. That card offers 5x the points on purchases at office supply stores, cell phone and landline bills, cable and internet TV services, while also offering double points on travel and at gas stations.
What to do next?
My hope at this point, is that you’re at least moderately intrigued by the prospect of points and miles. I’ve only been aware of this hobby for just over a year now, but I love it, and I can spend an obscene amount of time talking to people about it. I am by no means an expert, but as I continue to learn, I will be sure to share my findings with you. As I mentioned in the previous post, we booked a points only trip to Europe for this June/July. I’m already searching for the next trip to follow this one and I am excited to get even more in depth into the world of points and miles world in 2015. For even more information, I recommend following or at least reading some of the information from the below blogs. Happy Travels in 2015!
One Mile at a Time: Definitely my favorite points and miles blogger. His posts are incredibly in depth, and while he almost exclusively flies business and first class routes, he is a real person and incredibly approachable. A question I asked him (and he quickly answered) saved me a ton of miles on our Europe 2015 trip. Lucky also has a great introduction guide if you are looking for more information.
The Points Guy: A great resource for points and miles. I read TPG on a daily basis for up to date information. Similar to Lucky, TPG flies almost exclusively in first and business class, but also has a fantastic introduction to the hobby. He has a number of writers working for him, so there is a good variety to the posts on his site.
Million Mile Secrets: Another regular visit for me, MMS has a number of great step by step instructions for redeeming points and miles as well as other deals. Similar information as the other two sites, but much of his travel is with his wife, so things are often focused on couples versus single travel.
Mommy Points: This is another frequent site visit for me, mostly because she comes across as a down to earth, real person. She does fly in premium class, but is also often seen in economy. Her angle is geared towards family travel which is a nice change of pace from the other three sites.
Flyertalk: I don’t read this site as much as I probably should. Mostly because I go to the other blogs above, and they pass along all of the pertinent information. However, the site is great and similar to Reddit in that you can get lost in the forums for days on end.
Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line!