“Travel Hacking?, What is travel hacking?”
What is Travel Hacking? This is the most common question I get after people ask me what my hobbies are. I think the best way to look at it is ‘extreme couponing,’ but the benefit is in travel. Just like couponing, it all depends on what you want to put into it. Many people look at the amount I do and think its extreme. I look at what I do and see it kind of like driving in second gear. I watch others who are more extreme than I am as driving in overdrive.
Like most things, start with baby steps… what extra steps are you willing to take to travel. For some, it will be dumpster diving for a couple of pennies, and others it is just like looking at the sales flyers before going grocery shopping.
So in its simplest explanation Travel hacking is the ability to play within and by the established rules that airline companies, credit card companies, and hotels and use them to your advantage. People who travel frequently or have kids in traveling sports will likely find themselves earning free stays or discounted options if they book through the same hotel chain and use their rewards program. We take this concept and apply it to every purchase we make to see how we can make it happen to our advantage.
Travel hacking is not a new concept after all rewards programs have been around forever. I’m sure even when the first program started; someone finds a way to take advantage of the rules so they would benefit from it.
Travel Hacking Benefits
As we stated, like most things the benefits largely depend on the effort, you want to put into it. It doesn’t have to be super complex if you don’t want it to be. There are a lot of small things you can do that will add up over time. If you’re going to take full advantage of your everyday spending, planning purchases strategically and all-out points redemption, then you will have lots of benefits. Some benefits you may get over time are free airfare, free hotels, upgraded hotel rooms, rental car discounts. The list would be too long for me to list entirely but you get the idea.
Travel Hacking Example
The example of it in use I like to give is my wife’s “Starbucks Addiction“. After several months, I realized there is no use talking her out of her $6 lattes and cheese danish, so I needed to determine how to benefit from the purchase. Knowing my wife uses a Starbucks app to pay for her coffee, I knew it could be loaded using a gift card. That produced two options. Option one is when I was at Staples, Office Max or Target, purchasing a gift card with a specific credit or debit card. This could get me back between five to ten percent back on my purchase to use towards travel. Option two is using an app- Mileage Plus X with a rewards card attached. This allows me to collect rewards credit card promos and nets about 5% back in travel rewards.
When doing the math, if my wife makes 10-12 trips a month to Starbucks in a month. Which unfortunately she does, option one will provide enough points for one round-trip ticket from Chicago to Cancun. Keep in mind; this example is just with her Starbucks addiction. Other stores have many options for purchasing gifts cards as well. We use Target, Walmart, Petco, and Amazon for many of our everyday purchases. And we go to restaurants such as Panera Bread and Buffalo Wild Wings using gift cards too. One simple step we added – Using gift cards, before checking out has allowed us to partially pay for multiple trips to Las Vegas (seven times just in 2017), Orlando and Cancun. This is only one of the examples I hope to show over the next several months as we dive deeper into the ‘hobby’ of travel hacking.
How can I get started?
So now that you’ve read this far, you are probably wondering what you can do to get started. Here are a few simple tips to help you get your feet wet. Sign up for rewards credit cards, but make sure you have a strategy in place to pay them off every month. Carrying a balance and paying interest will net you no real forward momentum and negates your rewards.
Every time you stay at a new hotel chain or fly a new airline, sign up for their rewards programs. You will likely end up with many and may find using a program like Award Wallet to be useful to keep track of them all. Whenever possible use your favorite airline and hotel programs. Being a frequent or return customer will reward you.
On many of your free purchases, you will still be responsible for tax and extra fees. These are usually minimal, but something to be aware of. If you don’t want to have to track every little thing you do, start with what you already do. Such as maximizing those Starbucks purchases or taking advantage of purchases on Amazon.
Do you have any tips you can share on earning free points or for our fellow travel hackers? If so leave us a comment, we love to hear from you.
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