Travel Hacking 101 – Part 1, Flights

I would like to introduce Mark from 365 Travel Dates, who has written us a really awesome and informative guest post on everything they learned from traveling long-term using travel hacking strategies to help fund their adventures. Travel hacking has long been something I have been interested in getting into and learning more about, so I’m really pleased to announce this guest post. Mark has a lot to say on the subject, so this will actually be a two part series. Enjoy!

Introduction and a real example of hacking a year-long honeymoon

In 2011 my wife, Camille, and I got married. Like many people that get into relationships, non-negotiables were outlined. In this instance for me, the only non-negotiable was to have a year-long honeymoon. After some protest and a 40-day backpacking trial run we both agreed to the trip.

Of course planning out a honeymoon can be quite daunting, the expenses, the scheduling, the flights, and the stress. Preparing for 365 travel dates took some time and in the process we built up a good knowledge of long-term sustainable travel. One strategy for us was to travel hack our honeymoon as it was something we continued to see it on a variety of blogs. In the end we saved thousands of dollars but more importantly created memories that will last us a lifetime!

What is travel hacking?

Travel hacking is general term used by people who typically accumulate miles and points to be used for travel rewards (free hotel stays, free flights, or upgrades). There are many ways to do so but the most common is through credit card rewards which is what we’ll cover today!

What’s the fastest way to “travel hack”?

The fastest way to accumulate points and miles is through applying and obtaining various credit cards that have large bonus points.  

How do reward credit cards work?

When you sign up (and are approved for) a credit card you usually get 3 months to meet a minimum spending requirement. Most credit cards will ask that you spend $1,000-4,000. While this may sound daunting a quick review of your daily expenses over three months shows that this is easily do-able.

Divided over 3 months that minimum requirement ends up being an average of 333.34-1,333.34. Gas, Amazon purchases, online bills, groceries, put them all on your card. Below are a few ways to hit the minimum spending requirement more easily.

If you’re unsure about what card to choose from here’s a list of what I would recommend.

*Note- Be a responsible credit card holder. We opened up around 12-15 cards over a couple of years. Every time we had any balance it was always paid off on time. This is very important. The interest you would pay on credit card balances sometimes won’t be worth the hassle and fees of high interest rates kicking in.

Credit card churning

Two weeks ago I cancelled 5 credits cards and of course there was a Facebook status to accompany this “accomplishment.” Though, with the comments that followed there was definitely confusion as to what my purpose in doing so was.

Credit card churning is a term used for applying for multiple credit cards on the same day and then cancelling them a few months later. After canceling, the process is repeated. This is a great way to get points faster. Again, be a responsible credit card user!

Hitting the minimum spending requirement

While this is not an exhaustive list of ways to meet the spending requirement these are 3 ways of spending you may or may not have thought of.

  1. Big purchases- Any time I need to make a big purchase such as insurance, flights, electronics, or appliances I usually apply for a new credit card. For example, a round trip flight to Asia from North America might cost $1000. This would be enough to cover the $1000 minimum spending of IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Groups), giving you 60,000 points which could give you 10 nights of free stays in their lower tier hotels, or one free night in an Intercontinental city hotel.
  2. Buy for other people- Some of you may have read 10-15 credit cards, done some math and thought that I spent over $30,000 on my card for personal expenses. However, whenever mom and dad were making purchases such as flights back to the motherland I’d ask if they could just transfer the money into my account and use my card for the purchase.
  3. Barely meeting minimum requirements- Sometimes I’d be a couple hundred dollars short and would be near the end of my 3 month spending requirement. In instances like this I would simply go to Amazon.com and purchase gift cards for future use. If you frequently go to a specific coffeehouse, restaurant, or department store you can also purchase with credit or gift cards with them.

Planning your first flight hack

So you’re ready to do your first hack. If you know where you want to go our recommendation is to check out the how many miles you may need or how much the ticket will cost. From there take a look at various airlines credit cards and see which ones would get you there.

For example, if I wanted to go from Seattle to Mexico I would estimate the flight to cost around $500 round trip. If I got the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and received the 50,000 bonus points I would be able to redeem up to $625 in travel rewards covering my round trip ticket and leaving some extra cash for drinks at the bar.

Alternatively, if I wanted to use miles I could try Alaska Airlines (their hub is in Seattle) or American Airlines as two different airlines. Alaska Airlines would “cost” 35,000 Alaska miles while American Airlines would cost as low as 25,000 points for a round trip ticket.

I could get the Alaska Airlines Credit Card receiving 25,000 points or the American Airlines credit card which gets 30,000 points.

The American Airlines card would cover the round trip ticket. The Alaska Airlines wouldn’t cover the ticket but you could easily combine this with another credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for a free trip.

Of course there are different ways to use these miles to maximize their value (Read: How to Maximize your American Airlines miles), this is just a random example I chose.  


Check out part 2 of this series, where Mark outlines how to travel hack hotels!



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