I’m still on vacation week, but I’ve left you in the capable hands of some of my favorite bloggers from past BlogHouse events. Today Lance and Laura Longwell of Travel Addicts talk us through a subject I am clueless about: Travel Hacking.
Travel hacking is extremely popular these days. What is travel hacking and how can it benefit you?
There is a ton of information (much of it confusing) out on the Internet promising free travel. A lot of books and websites want to sell subscriptions to “teach you the secrets.” But all of that information is available for free! We’ll break it down for you.
What is travel hacking?
Travel hacking is about value – getting the absolute best travel experience possible for the least amount of money. Free is even better! Travel hacking centers around gaming loyalty and affiliate programs to reduce your travel expenses. Sometimes this involves credit card tricks, but not always.
Much of the travel hacking information on the internet is geared to working professionals who travel a lot in the course of their jobs (consultants, senior executives, etc.). And while these programs can be the most lucrative for frequent travelers, even the most occasional traveler can still score big.
How can it benefit you?
Why wait to see the world? Travel hacking can jump start your life of travel. Travelers in their 20s are often either still in school or just out of school. Or maybe they are taking a gap year, putting off graduate school, struggling to find a job, or trying to push of the reality of adult life. Whatever stage of life you are in, you can reap the rewards of gaming travel loyalty programs.
How travel loyalty programs work
Before you play the game, you need to know the rules. Travel hacking involves gaming a system of frequent flyer and other loyalty programs to reduce your expenses as much as possible (often with the benefit of actually having an upgraded experience).
Frequent flyer programs, along with hotel and rental car loyalty clubs were established by the companies to get you to consolidate your business with a single brand. The more you travel with that one company, the more perks you get. But, built into these systems are promotions, loopholes and other avenues (all 100% legal – even promoted by the companies themselves) to get you huge bonuses. That’s what you’re looking for.
You won’t see the world if you don’t walk out your door
And you’re never going to see the world via travel hacking if you don’t play the game. So sign up for every frequent flyer, hotel or rental program you can. Even if you’ve never traveled with them. And even if you never plan to travel with them. Why? The biggest mistake new travelers make is not signing up for these programs early! You can never predict your future travel plans. Just do it.
What about credit cards?
The key to earning big points/miles and truly travel hacking is to get a travel rewards credit card. There are two main types of credit cards: General Travel Rewards Credit Cards (such as Capital One Venture or Chase Safire) and Company-Specific Credit Cards. Travel rewards credit cards also provide you an on-going source of points/miles by rewarding you for 1-5 miles per dollar (or euro) spent. So, what credit card is right for you? You first need to ask yourself the question – what are my travel objectives?
A general card offers more flexibility in that you can use it on flights, hotels, etc. But you usually need to redeem those points through the company-specific online portal. And usually, you can find a better deal elsewhere – they offer a lower benefit per dollar than company-specific cards. Company-specific credit cards can be a win if you live in an airline hub city, or have a very specific travel experience in mind.
We recommend travel hacking with a goal in mind. This makes it easier. For us, our first trip on points was to the wine region outside of San Francisco. We picked our loyalty programs based on which would get us that trip the fastest.
A credit card isn’t a marriage, but timing is key
Getting a credit card isn’t a marriage – it’s not for life. Rotating or revolving credit cards (a process known as “churning”) will get you large mileage/point bonuses.
But timing is key. Many credit card bonuses are for a limited time or up to a certain amount (you need to spend a specific amount of money in a defined period of time). The way to win the travel hacking game is timing your purchases. If you have a large purchase (a computer, a car, university tuition, your tax bill, etc.), you can usually charge it to a credit card. Sometimes you might pay a small fee/service charge, but frequently you don’t. Timing these purchases and putting it on a new credit card to get the bonus will have you seeing the world in no time.
Find a rich uncle
Loyalty points are transferrable – often for a small fee. If you have a family member that travels a lot for business, you might be able to talk them into transferring their points and miles to you. We know of several people who have traveled long distances from the U.S. on miles from someone else.
More than just America
Whenever we write about travel hacking, we always hear about how this is just for Americans. While the programs in the United States and Canada have the most lucrative perks (and have been around the longest), travel hacking is really global. There are loyalty programs from Germany to New Zealand. You can get travel perks at your grocery store in the U.K. And in Japan, you can earn free travel with your sushi. You just need to look for the angle in your country.
We are Laura & Lance Longwell. Since 2008, we’ve been writing about our travel experiences at Travel Addicts. Our corporate jobs have us traveling around the world, where we picked up travel hacking tips and tricks to maximize frequent flyer and travel loyalty programs. We’ve had free flights around the world and luxury accommodations from San Diego to Muscat, Oman. We’ve learned travel hacking by trial and error and share our secrets with others.