You've read the stories. You've dreamed. You've fantasized. Over the last year, stories of travel hackers who game and strategize around airline miles and travel points have been tickling the imaginations of many avid fans of travel. No doubt, for many individuals, cost is a major stopping point from going on the next dream vacation. Between baggage fees, skyrocketing prices of airfare, and using up your vacation time, it can seem that a single trip can be a drain on your resources. That's precisely why the idea of "free travel" seems so enticing. This article will pull away the curtain, and let you in on some of the most important travel hacks, you can use to fly to a sandy beach half-way across the world for next to nothing.
Use travel credit cards. As you go about your daily routine, you are most likely making a lot of purchases. From coffee to laundry, expenses big and small end up. If you pay cash, you will get your items, or services, and that will be end of the story. Travel hackers, however, use credit cards to shop for every little thing they can. By doing so, they quickly rack up thousands of airline miles and points that can be used to pay for their next flight. Doing so adds more value to every single purchase you make.
Let's take a look at an example. If you were to spend $30,000 within a given year on all sorts of expenses using cash you would, hopefully, have received $30,000 in products and services back. If instead, you were charging all those purchases to a travel credit card that earns you a flat 2% rewards rate, you would still have your $30k in products and services, plus about $600 worth of rewards points. That's enough to get you a round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles, with Southwest's 'Wanna Get Away' airfare.
In order to maximize what you get out of your everyday spending, it's important to find deals that work best for you. Use the web to find and explore as many different offers as possible. ValuePenguin researchers looked through over 200 different options to find that the best travel credit cards produce a rewards rate of 2%+. You should make sure you are getting this type of deal, inside the areas you spend most of your money on.
Use credit card bonuses. If your plans involve longer trips, or more individuals, a $600 discount on airfare may not be enough. That's where welcome bonuses come into play. Some of the best welcome offers around can score individuals a value of $500 within the first 3 months of opening a card. That, combined with the above mentioned travel rewards, can increase our available travel budget to over $1,000. And that's just accounting for a single card. Seasoned travel hackers will chain several bonuses card bonuses together. It's a process that takes a little bit more planning, but can result in tremendous value.
Keep in mind that you should not recklessly open many different credit card accounts just for the sake of a bonus. Firstly, be mindful that the aim of the game is to come out with a net profit. If you sign up for credit cards with annual fees, and then don't find enough use for them to justify the fee, they will burn a hole in your wallet, in the long-run. Secondly, opening up several credit card accounts (especially in a short span of time), will have a negative impact on your credit score. This can negatively affect your next loan application, or even be used against you the next time you apply for a job (in some states).
Stay loyal to the right airline. Many people are inclined to shop for the best deal. While this is the best approach for individuals who travel once per year or less, it's not always the best option when you find yourself traveling several times throughout the year. Different airlines tend to provide "elite membership" options for their loyal customers, who rack up enough miles with them. This can give access to discounts and other perks - such as free checked baggage.
For individuals who travel in pairs, one of the most sought-after airline awards is the "companion ticket". This is essentially a "buy-one-get-one" offer on your next flight, and can be worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Some airlines unlock these for customers who meet a minimum miles threshold, while others are given out to individuals who sign up for the airlines' credit card. Either way, benefits like this can make brand loyalty pay off in a big way.
Words Of Caution
As with most high-reward situation, there is a decent amount of risk involved. Before one decides to play the 'Game of Miles' they should be willing to invest time and work into it. Before signing up for different credit cards, loyalty programs, or cashing in on offers, it's crucial to always read through the terms. That way you avoid getting into something you didn't bargain for - including hidden costs.
Secondly, know that "free travel" isn't always free. Even when redeeming miles, you will still have to deal with airline fuel surcharges and taxes - depending on who you chose to travel with, these can be minimal ($10) or substantial ($400+). This point goes back to making sure you read the fine print. You don't want to spend a year of your time investing in an award flight to Europe, only to find at the time of booking your rewards program only offers domestic award flights.