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Travel Hacking 101

Welcome to the world of travel hacking, where your wanderlust meets your budget. Contrary to what the name might suggest, travel hacking isn’t about sneaky tactics or bending the rules—it’s a legitimate and clever approach to make your travel dreams come true without breaking the bank.

Intrigued? You should be. Whether you’re a globetrotter or a first-time traveler, learning the art of travel hacking can open a world of affordable adventures. It’s a game-changer that savvy travelers swear by, and we’re here to show you the ropes. So fasten your seatbelt, stow your tray table, and get ready for a journey into the world of Travel Hacking 101.

For a start, let’s dispel any misunderstandings: Travel Hacking 101 doesn’t refer to anything dishonest or legally dubious.

I am not gonna teach you spy-movie tactics to cheat your airline into sending you a free ticket to the Maldives or trick your hotel into letting you stay for a month in Aspen without paying a dime (though that’d be sweet, wouldn’t it?)

It simply refers to various ways you can earn points and use them to considerably lower the cost of your holiday.

By doing so, many people can travel to their great destinations without having to sell their cars and jewels in the process.

Now that we’ve covered basic definitions let’s move on to the more practical stuff.

Relentlessly Join All Reward and Loyalty Programs

How many times have you used an airline or stayed at a hotel without signing up for their reward program?

Maybe you just wrote it off as some cheap attempt to make you buy more of their services, or you just thought the sign-up process wasn’t worth your time.

Guess what? If you had joined each one of those programs, you would have already accumulated enough points amounting to a couple of free holidays.

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Feeling a bit of regret?

Don’t worry. Every travel hacking beginner has been there. You can change your ways and start joining loyalty programs right away.

Each time you book a flight or hotel, check whether they offer a reward program. If they do, don’t hesitate a moment and sign up (it’s free!)


Start Using a Loyalty Point Tracking Website

When joining many different reward programs, it can be stressful to keep track of all the points you have accumulated over time.

This is one of the many reasons people usually don’t bother signing up for reward programs.

They tell themselves: “Heck, I already have too much stuff to keep in mind; I don’t need to add boring loyalty points to the list.”

But you don’t need to. You can use one of many apps and websites that allow you to have a simple overview of all your programs in one place.

These include Award Wallet, Using Miles, or Point Hub.
They are all free and easy to use. Sign up today and start keeping track of those juicy rewards.

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Beware of Hidden Fees

While travel hacking can help you save significantly on your trips, hidden fees can quickly eat into those savings. Airlines and hotels are notorious for tacking on unexpected costs, but with a bit of knowledge and foresight, you can avoid or minimize these fees.

1. Airline Hidden Fees:

Baggage Fees: Many airlines charge for checked bags, and the fees can add up. To avoid this, consider traveling with just a carry-on or explore airlines that include baggage in the ticket price.

Change and Cancellation Fees: Changing your flight details or canceling can result in hefty fees. Book refundable fares if your plans are uncertain, or choose airlines with more flexible policies.

Seat Selection Fees: Some airlines charge extra for preferred seats. Check-in early to secure decent seats for free, or consider purchasing these seats if it’s important to you.

In-Flight Fees: On budget airlines, in-flight amenities like meals, entertainment, and even water may come with a cost. Pack your snacks and entertainment, or be ready to pay premium prices on board.

2. Hotel Hidden Fees:

Resort Fees: Many hotels charge daily resort fees, which may cover services you won’t use. Read the fine print and consider whether these fees are worth it or search for hotels without resort fees.

Parking Fees: If you’re renting a car, be aware of parking charges at hotels. Some offer complimentary parking, while others can be expensive. Explore alternatives like nearby public parking.

Wi-Fi Fees: Some hotels charge for Wi-Fi access. Choose accommodations that offer free Wi-Fi, or plan to use mobile data or hotspots.

Mini-Bar Fees: Be cautious when using the mini-bar in your room. Some hotels have sensors that automatically charge you for moving items, even if you didn’t consume them.

Pro Tip: When booking flights and hotels, carefully read the terms and conditions, and review any additional fees. To avoid or minimize hidden costs:

Use travel comparison websites that display all-inclusive prices.

Sign up for loyalty programs or co-branded credit cards that offer fee waivers or discounts.

Communicate with airlines and hotels directly to confirm policies and fees before booking.

Stay organized by tracking your expenses and managing your budget throughout your trip.

Being vigilant about hidden fees is an important part of successful travel hacking. By understanding the potential pitfalls and taking preventative measures, you can ensure that your savings stay in your pocket where they belong.

Utilize Flexible Rewards Programs

These bad boys, like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, give you the ultimate power to fly the sky like a damn boss and make those travel dreams a reality.

Chase Ultimate Rewards: Earn Points Like a Champ

First up, we have Chase Ultimate Rewards. This program knows how to spoil you with points, and with credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll be earning those bad boys faster than you can say “check-in.”

Transfer Partners: Unlock the Travel Possibilities

Chase has a lineup of airline and hotel partners that will make your head spin with excitement. We’re talking United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, British Airways, Hyatt, and so much more. With these transfer partners, you’ll be able to swap your Ultimate Rewards points for their sweet miles and hotel points. And the best part? The transfer ratio is 1:1 in most cases, so you won’t feel like you’re getting shortchanged.

American Express Membership Rewards: Points Galore

Now, let’s move on to American Express Membership Rewards. These guys know how to treat you right when it comes to earning those precious points. With cards like Amex Platinum and Amex Gold, you’ll be racking up the rewards like a pro.

Transfer Partners: A World of Options

Oh, the places you’ll go with American Express. They’ve got an impressive list of transfer partners that will have you feeling like a travel magician. Delta Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Marriott, Hilton – just to name a few. And while transfer ratios may vary, fear not, my fearless explorer, because many transfers are still at a 1:1 ratio.

Tips for Maximizing Flexible Rewards

Now that you know about these flexible rewards programs, let’s talk about how you can truly own them. Here are some Bold Tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of your points:

Research Transfer Partners: Don’t just blindly transfer your points. Take the time to research each partner and their redemption options. You’re a smart and savvy traveler, after all.

Promotions: Get Your Extra Points On: Keep a lookout for transfer bonuses and promotions. These programs occasionally offer extra points when transferring to specific partners.

Combine Points: Pool It, Baby: Some flexible rewards programs allow you to combine points from different cards or accounts. Trust me, having a larger pool of points can make all the difference when it comes to snagging those dream redemptions.

Diversify Your Points Portfolio: Be the Queen of the Skies: Don’t put all your points in one basket, my empowered friend. Consider having a mix of flexible rewards and co-branded cards. Co-branded cards may come with additional perks for specific airlines or hotels, giving you even more traveling power.

Transfer Times: Stay Ahead of the Game: Transferring points takes time, and availability can change faster than you can say “jetsetter.” Be aware of the transfer times to ensure your points are ready when you need them.

Program Changes: Stay Informed and Conquer: Loyalty programs can be just as fickle as the sea, my fearless traveler. They can undergo changes, like adjusting transfer ratios or partnerships. Stay on top of any updates to make sure you’re maximizing the value of your points like the epic adventurer you are.

Redeem for Different Travel Options: Choices, Choices, Choices: Flexible rewards programs aren’t just about transferring points. They often have their own travel portals where you can use your points directly for bookings. So compare the value of transferring points versus using them directly.

Credit Score Management

When it comes to travel hacking and maximizing those sweet credit card rewards, credit score management is as important as knowing which way to swipe your passport. So, hold on tight, because we’re about to dive into some key points that will keep your credit score flying high while you conquer the world.

Monitor Your Credit Score: Keep It In Check

Regularly check in with reputable credit reporting agencies to see where you stand. And guess what? Many credit card issuers offer this info for free, because they know that knowledge is power.

Opening New Credit Cards: Strategy Is Key

Each time you apply for a new card, a hard inquiry is made on your credit report. One or two inquiries won’t cause too much trouble, but a bunch of them in a short period? Well, let’s just say it’s not going to do wonders for your credit score. So be strategic, plan when you apply for new cards, and give your credit a breather in between.

Credit Utilization: Keep It Low, Rockstar

It’s all about that sweet ratio of your credit card balances to your credit limits. The lower, the better, my bold adventurer. High balances relative to your limit can send your credit score on a roller coaster ride to the bottom. So stay on top of your game and pay off those balances regularly.

Payment History: Pay on Time, Because Late Is Never Fashionably Late

Your payment history is the real-deal player when it comes to your credit score. So pay those credit card bills on time, every time. Late payments can be a total buzzkill for your credit score, and we don’t want anything bringing you down from cloud nine. Set up automatic payments, slap on those reminders, and make sure those payments are happening faster than your jet lag wears off.

Credit Card Accounts: Mix It Up

Closing old credit card accounts may seem like a good idea to declutter your financial life, but think twice before you throw that baby out with the bathwater. Closing accounts can mess with your credit history and average account age, potentially sending your credit score on a downward spiral. So, unless it’s absolutely necessary, give it another thought, my confident globetrotter. And while you’re at it, mix up your credit types. Have a mix of credit cards and installment loans, because having options and variety is never a bad thing.

Annual Fees: To Fee or Not to Fee

Some travel rewards cards come with these little surprises, but before you whip out your credit card, think about whether the benefits outweigh the fees. If it’s not giving you the ROI you deserve, consider downgrading to a no-fee version rather than dramatically closing the account.

Credit Score Impact: Rise Above the Storm

Now, here’s the deal, my brave trailblazer. Engaging in travel hacking may cause temporary dips in your credit score. Those hard inquiries and new accounts can send tiny ripples through the sea of your credit history. But fret not, for responsible credit behavior and time can heal all wounds.

Credit Freeze Consideration: Lock It Down

If you’re not planning to apply for new credit anytime soon, it might be time to consider a temporary credit freeze. Think of it like a fortress protecting your precious credit report from unauthorized access. It’s a little extra precaution that can give you some peace of mind while you’re busy out there living your best life.

Credit Score Tool

Take advantage of credit monitoring tools and services provided by credit card issuers or third-party services. These bad boys can help you keep an eye on changes in your credit score and send you alerts for any suspicious activities. 

Frequently Use the Same Airline or Hotel Chain

Now that you’ve got your loyalty programs set up, the next thing to do is to… earn points!

When you travel, try not to pick just any hotel or airline, but use the one for which you are already a loyalty program member.

This doesn’t mean sacrificing your personal preferences.

Joining different programs allows you to try different providers that offer reward points and then become a repeat customer of those you enjoy the most.

Girls on beach

Travel Hacking 101 Pro: Using best credit cards for Travel Rewards

Hotel and airline loyalty programs are great, but it can take a while before you accumulate enough points.

Things move much faster with credit card travel rewards. The only two prerequisites are that you don’t carry any credit card debt and meet the minimum spending limit.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the best credit cards for travel hacking because it offers 60,000 bonus points when meeting certain minimum spending limits in the first 3 months and 5,000 points for travel purchases after that.

Some great credit cards for travel hacking are also offered in partnership with airlines (like the Gold Delta SkyMiles Card) and hotel chains (like the Starwood Preferred Guest Card).

 The goal is to beat the airlines at their own game, so definitely check this out for a bit more guidance on how to do just that!  And always remember to Travel Till You Drop!

About Jill

Hi, Jill Here

Hi! I’m Jill, a Dallas, Texas girl traveling the world. After a career in the Air Force and touring over 50 countries later, my need to explore keeps going! It’s time to rock & roll and find all those places I never knew I was missing.

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I only recommend products I would use myself, and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.