Travel Hacking 101
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People always want to know how Mrs. TT and I can afford to travel in first class all around the world. I travel frequently for work earning airline and hotel points, but those points are nothing compared to the amount of points we earn from travel rewards credit cards.
Travel hacking commonly refers to utilizing credit card rewards, maximizing airline & hotel loyalty programs, and finding the cheapest flight deals. I like to think of travel hacking like a tripod. Sure you can save money by just finding flight deals, but if you pair those flight deals up with the other two legs of the tripod, that’s when you really start to save. Even if you don’t frequently travel for work, you can unlock many of the benefits.
Travel Hacking Tripod
Credit Card Rewards
Airline & Hotel Loyalty Programs
Credit card travel rewards can be incredibly valuable if utilized properly. Credit card companies offer sign-up bonuses, which can be earned after a certain amount of spend on your new card in the first three months. If you earn 1-2 of these sign-up bonuses, the travel rewards will go a long way to paying for airfare and hotels. We always recommend first determining where you want to go and then tailoring your credit card choices based on your airline and hotel preferences.
The card we always recommend first is the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card which earns Ultimate Rewards points. Those points can then be transferred to various airlines and hotel programs, including Southwest, United, Hyatt, and IHG. Ultimate Rewards points allow you the flexibility of choosing how to redeem your points. Ultimate Rewards can also be used to book flight deals found at Thrifty Traveler, which is one of the best ways to maximize your points. Not only do you book the flight for free with points, but you also save points by booking when the fare is on sale, which requires less points! This is the best way to compound your savings.
Our Top 5 Starter Travel Credit Cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Barclaycard Arrival+
- American Express Starwood Preferred Guest
- Chase IHG Rewards Club
- American Express Delta cards
Airline & Hotel Loyalty Programs
If you are a frequent flier it’s important to stick to one airline and rack up as many miles as possible. This includes earning airline status if possible. Airline status improves your chances of an upgrade to first or business class, and includes other benefits such as free checked bags, priority boarding, and lounge access.
I live in a Delta hub and have status with Delta. Delta is one of the best US airlines, but their SkyMiles loyalty program is mediocre at best, primarily due to frequent negative changes to their program. Choose whichever airline you can fly most often and pair it up a co-branded airline credit card to earn more points, maximize your benefits, and help you reach status quicker.
You’ll also want to maximize hotel stays to your benefit. Depending on the hotels in your area you should choose one hotel chain and stick to it. Similar to the airline programs, you should pair up a co-branded hotel credit card from your favorite hotel program. It will help you earn more points, and help you reach status with your hotel program faster.
Our Favorite Hotel Loyalty Programs:
- Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)
- Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG)
Airbnb is also a great option to help save money. They also offer a great $40 bonus for your first stay. Want to know a great trick to maximize your bonus? Have your friend or companion sign-up and book back to back nights! That way you can save $40 for each stay! Staying at an Airbnb is one of the keys to being a Thrifty Traveler.
Thrifty Traveler specializes in finding you the cheapest flight deal. By snagging a cheap flight, you can use that cash you saved to put towards hotels and other excursions for your next trip.
Travel hacking is the key to unlocking a world of free travel, upgrades, and elite status. Even if you rarely travel for work, you can easily take advantage of lucrative credit card offers to hack your way to a free trip!