My Intro to the World of Travel Hacking

travel hacking

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I’m sure you’ve seen some crazy headlines about travel floating around the Web:

“How to Take a Vacation to Hawaii for Free!”

“How We Traveled the World for Under $500”

Pretty bold claims. I started out dismissing them as clickbait, but then my curiosity got the best of me. I started reading some of these articles to investigate the methods they were advocating. Most of the time they talked about redeeming miles or credit card points to purchase cheap flights around the world.

At first I figured this type of strategy was too complicated for the average person. I’m a big fan of simplicity, which is why I don’t usually chase “$100 free when you open a new checking account” type offers.

Then I came across an article that Brandon from the Mad Fientist wrote about how he traveled to 14 different countries for under $1,000. I was impressed and inspired to learn more.

What is Travel Hacking?

Travel hacking is a strategy where you utilize credit card rewards, usually in the form of sign-up bonuses, to accumulate points or miles. You then can redeem these point or miles for nearly free flights and hotel nights.

How I Learned More

It’s much easier to dismiss something as untrue or too much work, rather than diving in and learning for yourself. After deciding that I wanted to learn more, I stumbled across a free email course called Travel Miles 101. I enrolled in the course and started learning the ins and outs of travel hacking. The course was 22 short lessons spread out over 15 days, sent to my email. It was an extensive look at the basics of travel hacking as well as in-depth details that I never would have known about. Rather than explain what was in the course, I’ll just say that if you’re interested in learning more about travel hacking I would highly recommend it.

Who is Travel Hacking For?

Travel hacking is for people who enjoy traveling and want to be able to do it less expensively. However, there are also a few key traits you should have before you consider whether travel hacking is right for you. You need to be well organized, have a good credit score, and have ZERO credit card debt. You NEED to pay off your balance in full every single month and not pay any credit card interest. If you’re unable to do this, do NOT bother with travel hacking yet. Credit card debt is dangerous, and many people find they spend more money when paying with a credit card. The miles and rewards points only benefit you if you’re avoiding carrying a balance and paying interest. My wife and I have never paid a cent in credit card interest, and that’s the biggest factor why I’ve decided to try it out.

I also strongly recommend taking the Travel Miles 101 course, and doing additional research to familiarize yourself with travel hacking before you begin trying to implement the strategy in your own finances.

Two Different Approaches

In the Travel Miles 101 course, the two founders discuss how they each have differing approaches to accumulating miles.

Approach #1: A more conservative approach where you open only one credit card at a time, fulfill the requirements for earning the signup bonus, and then proceed to open additional cards later on.

Approach #2: A more aggressive approach where you open multiple credit cards all at once, fulfilling the requirements for earning the signup bonuses, and then opening another batch of cards later on.

There are pros and cons to each approach. Approach #1 is easier to keep track of everything and isn’t as difficult to fulfill the requirements for the signup bonuses, while Approach #2 offers the potential to earn significantly more miles. As I previously mentioned, I’m a big fan of simplicity, so we’ll definitely just be focusing on one credit card offer at a time.

Jumping into the World of Travel Hacking

The first credit card we’re starting with is the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card. It has a $69 annual fee and a signup bonus of 50,000 Rapid Reward points.

There are a few key reasons we’re starting with this credit card.

  1. We fly Southwest Airlines often, more than we fly any other airline.
  2. The rewards program is very straight forward, points are redeemable for ANY flight and you book flights with points basically the exact same way you’d book a normal flight.
  3. Southwest Rapid Rewards points never expire, even if we close the card.
  4. The minimum spending requirement is low. We only need to spend $2,000 on the card over the next 3 months to earn the 50,000 point signup bonus.

Bonus tip: I’m purposely timing signing up for the credit card right before our semi-annual car insurance bill, meaning a large portion of the minimum spending requirement will already be taken care of.

I’ll keep you updated on further travel hacking experimenting. Right now we’re starting slow, but I’m excited to dive in to this new world!

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8 Responses

  1. Hi there,

    I started travel hacking last November and have learned a lot. Since you are already signing up for the Southwest card, why not sign up for the other Southwest card, and get the companion pass? If you get it this year, it’s still good through December of next year. Southwest actually has two cards with Chase, and you’re likely to get approved for both.

    Simply do them back to back. First, go on to the web and find the highest sign up bonus available, though, and use that link. They both should be 50k each. Otherwise, Chase also offers a business southwest card, and it currently has a sign up bonus of 60k points. Since you have a blog, or sell on craigslist, etc, you have a business. That way you and your girlfriend can travel for the price of one (it’s also an efficient use of Southwest points).

    I wrote about how we are hacking our way to Puerto Rico (family of 4) on my PF blog.

    • Matt Spillar says:

      That’s a really good point, I’ll need to look into that some more. Most of the time my wife just flies herself to visit family, while I stay home to watch our dogs. We only take a couple trips together per year, so I’m thinking of waiting on the Companion Pass until we reach an income level where we’d travel more often. But it’s a great idea, and I’ll definitely consider it!

      • TLC111 says:

        Getting the second SW card also doubles the number of bonus points you get so more of her solo travels would be “free” and when you do decide to go, you also go for just the cost of taxes. In two years, you can get the bonuses again, so you’d probably be eligible again by the time you reach that elusive “income level”. 😉

  2. “How to Take a Vacation to Hawaii for Free!”
    Oh noooo, I’m actually working on a post that’s exactly that. Now I’m worried it’s gonna look like click bait, but it’s totally true!

    My thought is, if you’re going to be traveling any way, then why wouldn’t you want to make it as free as possible? But I get that travel hacking can be kind of intimidating and it’s hard to keep up with all the rules.

    My general recommendation is to figure out where you want to go, then work backwards from there. But if you don’t have a specific plan, you can’t go wrong with Chase Sapphire Reserve/Preferred plus the Starwood Amex card. Those are both versatile enough to get you to tons of places.

    • Matt Spillar says:

      Haha well it’s definitely a catchy title, and seeing articles like that finally inspired me to take a deeper look. It sounds too good to be true, but once I took a deeper look I saw that there is a method to the madness! It seemed complicated with a lot of rules, but once I learned more I realized that it’s totally doable.

      After we do a couple Southwest cards, Chase is definitely next on the list. Love the versatility to be able to book on 11 different airlines. I think Chase points are the most valuable type due to the flexibility.

      Looking forward to reading that post, thanks for stopping by!

  3. Matt Miller says:

    I use the Southwest Chase card too. Got those 50,000 points for signing up and took the family to Disney World for free (the flight that is). I’ll have a free flight anywhere in the continental US for a family of four every year. Thanks for sharing!

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