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If you’re like most people, you dream of traveling the world but think it’s too expensive. Well, what if I told you that there’s a way to fly for less? You can use these travel hacking for beginners tips to get free flights and hotel stays. Sound too good to be true? It’s not! I traveled to 28 countries in 18 months as living proof. In this guide, I’ll explain how travel hacking works and show you how to get started.
What Is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is a term used to describe the process of using points and miles to travel for free or at a greatly reduced cost. By signing up for credit cards with travel-related rewards, you can earn points that can be redeemed for flights, hotels, car rentals, and more.
Should You Be Doing It?
When travel hacking, you’ll need to:
- Open new credit cards and use them responsibly in order to rack up the points. This means paying your balance in full every month and never carrying a balance from month to month.
- Do some research to find the best travel rewards credit cards for your needs. Not all cards are created equal and you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
- Be strategic about how you redeem your points in order to get the most value out of them. This means understanding the ins and outs of the various travel loyalty programs and how to maximize your point earnings.
If you’re ready to start travel hacking, here are a few tips to get you started:
Step 1: Figure Out Your Travel Goals
The first step is to figure out your travel goals. Do you want to travel for leisure or business? Are you looking to travel domestically or internationally? How often do you plan on traveling? Answering these questions will help you determine which travel rewards credit cards are best for you.
Step 2: Find the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
Before picking your next credit card, familiarize yourself with the 5/24 rule when it comes to getting credit cards. This means that most issuers will not approve you for a new card if you’ve opened five or more cards in the past 24 months.
Consider factors like annual fee, sign-up bonus, and ongoing rewards. Some good options include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, American Express Gold Card, and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
Most travel reward credit cards have an annual fee, and the better the rewards, the higher this fee is. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the one with the highest fee—it may be worth your while if you can use all of its benefits. You also want to aim for a card without foreign transaction fees, because those can add up quickly when you’re travel hacking.
Your travel rewards cards should have:
- A welcome bonus: Many travel rewards credit cards offer a sign-up bonus, which is a great way to earn points quickly. You’ll need to spend a certain amount on the card within a specific timeframe to earn this bonus, so choose wisely. The last thing you want is to sign up for the card and not be able to meet the minimum spend for the bonus, which you won’t ever get the opportunity for again.
- Ongoing rewards: You’ll want to choose a card that offers ongoing rewards that fit your travel goals. For example, if you want to fly for free, look for a card that offers rewards that can be redeemed for travel.
- No foreign transaction fees: You’ll want to avoid cards that charge foreign transaction fees, which can add up quickly when you travel internationally.
- Category bonuses: Some cards offer bonus points in specific categories, such as travel or dining. If you spend a lot in one of these categories, it may be worth getting a card that offers a category bonus.
- Perks: One of my AMEX cards provides me with free Global Entry. Some provide elite status with hotels, or offer statement credit for certain categories. For example, my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card has a shopping portal that’ll give me statement credit for shopping with specific stores.
Step 3: Put Your Daily Spending On Your Card
To earn your welcome bonus and ongoing bonuses, put every daily expense on your travel rewards credit card. These can be things like your morning coffee, groceries, gas, and even your travel expenses. You want to use your card for as many purchases as possible to rack up the points quickly.
If you sign up for The Points Guy’s free app, you can link all of your credit cards and it’ll tell you which card to use for the purchase you want to make. It does this to maximize your category spend bonuses—these are the rewards you get for spending in specific categories, like travel or dining.
Start small and scale up as you become more comfortable with travel hacking. Begin by earning points with everyday spending and then move on to bigger ticket items like airfare and hotels.
Step 4: Spend Your Travel Rewards Points
Now that you’ve earned all these travel rewards points, it’s time to spend them. The best way to do this is by booking travel through the travel portal of your card issuer. For example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can book travel through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal and redeem your points for travel at a rate of $0.01 per point.
If you have the American Express Gold Card, you can book travel through the Membership Rewards travel portal and redeem your points for travel at a rate of $0.01 per point.
Be strategic about how you redeem your points. Use sites like The Points Guy to learn about travel loyalty programs and how to get the most value out of your points. They have an app, too, that is really helpful. Consider using Points.me. It’ll tell you the best way to spend your travel rewards, and even offer a concierge to help plan travel.
Keep an eye on travel deals and plan your trips around them. This is where sites like Dollar Flight Club and Scott’s Cheap Flights come in handy. They do all the work for you, so all you have to do is book your travel when they send out a deal alert. To give you an example of how awesome Scott’s Cheap Flights is, I scored a ROUND-TRIP ticket to Oslo for $124 out of D.C. While it isn’t my home airport, I used points to get me to the D.C. airport and back. I also once scored a flight to Iceland for less than $200.
How do travel rewards credit cards work?
A: Travel rewards credit cards earn you points for every dollar you spend. You can then redeem those points for travel expenses like airfare, hotels, and rental cars. Some cards also offer perks like free travel insurance, priority boarding, and lounge access.
How can I get started with travel hacking?
A great way to start is by sign up for a travel rewards credit card and using it for your everyday spending. You can also put bigger ticket items like airfare and hotels on your travel rewards credit card to earn points quickly. Once you’ve earned enough points, you can redeem them for travel expenses. Another way to get started is by using sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Dollar Flight Club to find travel deals.
What are some of the best travel rewards credit cards?
What is the best way to redeem travel rewards points?
The best way to redeem travel rewards points is by booking travel through the travel portal of your card issuer. This will allow you to get the most value out of your points. Another great way to use your points is by using them to book travel through sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Dollar Flight Club.
Are there any other tips you have for travel hacking?
Yes! One tip is to keep an eye on travel deals and plan your trips around them. This is a great way to save money on travel expenses. Another tip is to use points to book travel when travel deals come up. This will allow you to get the most value out of your points. Finally, consider using Points.me to help plan travel and redeem points. They offer a great concierge service that can help with planning travel and redeeming points.
Do you have any questions about travel hacking? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them!