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What is Travel Hacking?
Travel Hacking is becoming such a popular phrase. Especially in the budget travel world. I get it – I mean, who doesn’t want to travel for FREE? And possibly travel in style for free?
On the off chance that it’s a new to you phrase, Travel Hacking is the (refined) art of using credit card rewards and membership point programs to travel for FREE. It is legal. It works. It can be complicated.
There are entire websites dedicated to helping you master the art of the travel hack.
You can guess, however, that if it’s complicated and there are entire websites dedicated to helping you figure it out… it might take a bit of commitment on your part. Nothing wrong with that if you got lots and lots of time. But most of us have jobs, husbands, kids. (And blogs, gardens, accounting, dirty dishes, laundry.) And so even though it SOUNDS fantastic, I can see why you would be hesitant to dive headlong into something that might require a lot of work.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the idea of travel hacking. I just can’t be that dedicated to making a system work for me. Until I know that the system CAN work for me.
Why I won’t give up on Travel Hacking
I would estimate that I (with my husband) have spent over $50,000 on travel in the last 10 years. This number is scary. We never travel first class or 5 star anything, mind you. For that $50,000 we have visited Australia (2 times), New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Singapore, Thailand, Peru, England (10 times), Denmark, Germany, Northern Ireland, Italy (2 times), Spain, Switzerland, France, Jamaica, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Hawaii, and DISNEYWORLD.
Our yearly visits to England are non-negotiable, because visiting friends and family is important to us. It seems such a waste to go all that way (and pay for a flight), and not see something else new and exciting while we’re in the area. (The “area” being Europe haha).
I also reallllllllly like to get to a beach once a year.
We do not make lots and lots of money. I am always looking for ways to make our budget travel just a little more budget-y.
We prioritize travel, because it’s one of things that we have in common and we really enjoy doing together.
If we could do it for free that’d be amazing – but I was seriously unable to convince myself that I should mess around with my credit score and dive head first into the “hacking”.
It’s ok to start slow! Stay where you’re comfortable.
Travel Hacking for Beginners
It would be totally unlike me to give up on travel hacking completely just because I find it a little nerve wracking or sketchy. There’s gotta be a good way to test the waters!
Because, free (or cheaper) travel, right?
BUT, If you like me, think you are going to
- apply for 6 credit cards (possibly damaging your credit),
- be rejected for all but two
- end up with half of the points it would take to get to anywhere
- have to pay the renewal fee on the card because you haven’t figured out what you’re doing yet (therefore nullifying anything you’ve gained)
Then you’ll be better off with a slow start to this whole travel hacking malarkey. (Good word, malarkey.)
SO. What did I do to get going instead of applying for and juggling a thousand different cards?? Four things.
1 ) Pick ONE really high yielding credit card with a great sign up bonus and good perks. (If you don’t make enough to qualify for the card you want, you might be able to get it anyway. I’ll be writing about that soon!) Use that card for EVERY SINGLE CENT you spend. Pay it off every week. Don’t pay interest! I paid for two flights to Hawaii in one year with points from my high yield card, with 300 bucks credit left over. I also get a free airport lounge membership that we LOVE because it makes us feel fancy… and it allows us to drink nice wine in comfy chairs and eat for free at the airport. WINNING.
2 ) Keep collecting the points and miles the truly free, no risk way. Sign up for airmiles and aeroplan (or whatever the major points cards are in your area) and don’t miss a chance to swipe those cards. Often I can get gas at Esso, pay for it with my high yield card and still collect aeroplan. Double dipping! (BTW, points.com offers a FREE account to track and exchange your points. You can move points from one program to another, making just a few points in each program into lots of points in one program! Way more useful. Plus, it helps you keep track of what you have so you know how to plan!) Sign up for free at points.com!
3 ) Forget about it while you collect. Since you’re in no danger of forgetting to cancel the cards that will cost you x number of dollars if you go over their “one free year limit” or of damaging your credit score by forgetting to pay a bill on time, you don’t need to stress!
4 ) Buy Nomadic Matt’s book The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I RARELY buy books online. I think I’ve bought a grand total of 2 in my lifetime. THIS ONE is worth the money because unlike other books, Matt’s book comes with lifetime content upgrades. For Travel Hacking this is super important because it’s always changing. Don’t buy a book that will be out of date (and a waste of money) within a year. I needed someone to walk me through travel hacking step by step. I was wasting SO much time and finding such conflicting information online. The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking fixed that for me… I LOVE this book! It’ll pay for itself in travel 100 (or more) times over. (If you purchase The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking through my link I will receive a portion of the proceeds. This absolutely does not affect the cost to you – it just allows me to keep on blogging! I would NEVER recommend a product that I don’t personally use and love. Promise!)
Good luck on your Travel Hacking journey! Even if you only earn two free flights and some free airport lounge visits in your first year (like me, pre Matt’s book), you’re still up two flights and some lounge visits. Not too shabby 🙂