What is Travel Hacking?
Are you a frequent flier? Or are you a wanderer by nature, always anxious to discover what’s on the other side of the peaks you see from your hotel window? Whatever your motivation may be, if you truly do tend to rack up the miles, it only makes sense for you to save the maximum amount of time, energy, and money while doing so. This is where the modern concept of travel hacking comes into play.
What Is Travel Hacking All About?
You may have heard the phrase “travel hacking” being bandied about and if so, this is your cue to pay close attention. If you don’t know what the phrase means, here’s a quick definition: It’s the fine art of using the money you spend on traveling in a strategic manner, with the object of paying as little as you can, for the most adventure! Sometimes this even means trips for free or when you get really good at it you can start to earn a living while you do it. The term travel hacking has become fairly ubiquitous with the concept of earning as many frequent flier points as possible. Once you have accumulated the maximum number of frequent flyer miles, you can then use them to garner free flights or hotel stays. In itself, this is what a lot of people mean when they’re referring to travel hacking, but it really is a lot more than that!
While the frequent flyer phenomenon is perhaps where travel hacking got most of the attention it involves so much more. Broadly it’s about spending the least you can for the most adventure. That doesn’t just involved the flights but also accommodation, food, drinks and of course any costs around the entertainment you’ll want to be having. Disney Land ain’t free you know. Add all that up and you have some serious costs involved. Where there’s a problem there’s also lots of solutions. Travel hacking is about covering all those costs and still letting you have the most fun you can too.
The biggest costs usually end up being your flights and accommodation so that’s where the focus will be. There’s lots of other ways to hack your travel though so keep on reading. For flights, the easiest way to fly for free is through a frequent flyer program. There’s lots of confusion around this though so read on below to get the low-down!
For accommodation, there are countless ways to cut your costs right down. You can Couchsurf, house swap, house sit, volunteer, become an Au Pair, and even work on a sail boat. You can find detailed information about all of these and much more on the Stay for Free page or for a summary keep on this page and read below!
There aren’t many better ways to fly on the cheap or for free than a quality frequent flyer system. You’ll find a summary below to whet your appetite and a full, in-depth look here. This can be a long or medium term solution though so if you’re just looking to save some money and get the cheapest airfares possible then you need to read our page on booking the cheapest flights. There are lots of ways to get the price down and fly cheaply so read up and get ready to travel way more often!
Do You Need To Fly To Get Frequent Flyer Points?
One of the most common misconceptions is that you need to fly in order to get the number of frequent flier points necessary to pursue this scheme. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, most points that people use for hacks have been earned via credit card sign-up bonuses, as well as simply spending money with their existing credit cards. Under no circumstances do you need to spend more money than you normally do though. Hackers know how to get the maximum rewards from the least amount of expenditure.
How Does The System Work In Practice?
Most airlines and hotels have some form of customer loyalty program that gives points to long time customers. However, were you aware that many banks also buy up these loyalty points in order to get you to sign up for a credit card? This is where the plot thickens. These incentives are called credit card bonuses and can net you between 30,000 and 50,000 points in one fell swoop. Meanwhile, you can earn points for every dollar you spend with your new card and in some cases extra points per dollar. There is a tonne of do’s and don’ts involved with this process so before you go out and sign up for 15 credit cards read here for lots more info. It obviously depends on which country you’re in too but this generally works arounnd the world. This is all obviously advice only so make sure this all fits in with your budget and lifestyle! Don’t go getting in debt to save a little extra.
Once You’ve Got The Card, How Do You Get The Bonus Points?
So you’ve signed up for a new card and are ready to reap the points as your due bonus. How do you make it happen? The answer is that you will need to spend a specified amount with your credit card in a fixed period of time. The usual amount is $5,000 in 90 days, which nets you an average of 50,000 points. Look out for better deals though. My first card only asked me to spend $1 for the 35,000 points. That Mars Bar tasted really nice.
Here’s the trick: You’ll want to sign up for as many cards, under the above arrangement, as your budget (and credit score) can handle. You will then have the maximum amount of points to cut your traveling expenses in half (or much more). Best of all, once you have the bonus safely in hand, you won’t even need to use that card anymore. It’s a good idea to hang on to it as long as any fees the bank charges are worth it in order to keep using the bonus points you have racked up on it.
How Can Banks Afford To Keep This Arrangement Going?
At this point, you may well be thinking that the deal seems rather suspiciously lopsided in your favor. After all, banks are in the business of taking in money, not paying it out. How can they afford to keep such a seemingly disadvantageous arrangement going?
The answer is as clear as it is simple. Most people tend to use the same credit card for many years. The bank makes money every time you use your card, and they often charge high fees for late payments. So the bank continues to make money on long time customers. This equalizes and often exceeds the value of the points they give you as a signup bonus. In the end, it all comes back to the bank (no great surprise there). They also benefit with those of us who are shocking with their budgets. If you can’t help yourself then look at other options!
To Qualify For Points, You’ll Need To Keep Your Credit Score High
Before you can even begin to think about acquiring multiple credit cards in order to rack up the bonus points, you’ll need to work on your credit score. Banks won’t award points to customers who don’t qualify for a card. If your payment history on your existing cards is less than stellar, you’ll have to first spend some time repairing the damage to your score by making a series of timely payments to even out your average.
It’s also a good idea to keep open a number of sources of credit. For example, paying on a mortgage in addition to several credit cards is a good way to both vary and increase your credit streams. Having multiple streams of credit gives you the best chance to keep an overall high average on your credit score, thus affording you the best shot at qualifying for multiple bonuses from banks.
It’s also handy to begin this process when you still have a well-paying, full-time job. There’s finally a benefit to stay in that crummy job while you dream of travelling!
Maintain A Close Eye On Your Spending Habits
In order to stay solvent and keep the scheme going, you will need to keep a close watch on your spending. If you have a credit line of $10,000 on an existing card, it’s an excellent idea to keep the level of your spending under 30 percent. Don’t spend more than $3,000 before you make your payment. You don’t want to spend yourself into bankruptcy while trying to pursue frequent flyer miles to save money on traveling.
I pay for everything from my credit card that nets me the most points per $. I also put all of my pay and extra money onto that too and am rarely, if ever, in debt. I’m not going to pay interest on $7000 of debt to save a few hundred dollars in flights. Stay on top of this and be smart!
Be Picky When You Apply For A New Credit Card
You’ll need to be selective and well informed when you apply for a new credit card. Not every bank offers the same bonus points for a signup. You’ll want to be sure you know exactly what the bonuses are, as well as what the bank charges for using your credit card. The sooner you are exactly sure what getting a new card entails, the sooner you’ll be able to utilize it for frequent flyer miles and hotel deals.
This is basically how you would rack up hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles in the lead up to a big trip. If you only take one big trip every few years this is a very nice way to do it with no extra costs. Once you’re back from your adventure repeat the cycle and you’ll be a pro in no time. Lots of programs cover hotels and rental cars amongst dozens of other things you may need so it really can be the golden ticket.
Do your research, play it safe and never ever go beyond your means.
If you are planning a big trip, one of your chief concerns will naturally be to find comfortable and affordable accommodations. After all, there’s no point in going somewhere if you don’t have a place to stay once you get there. This is also one of the big costs for any trip so making good choices can mean you spend more time enjoying yourself in Europe and less time saving your money to get there. You don’t want to arrive at a beautiful and exciting place, only to discover that you spent your entire budget on your flight and hotel and now have no money left.
What You Should Keep In Mind
There are a number of important factors that should always be kept in mind when making your ultimate choice of accommodation. These factors are bound to include, but will not be limited to:
• The size of your budget
• The destination you’re heading to
• The style and comfort level you are accustomed to (first class vs. coach, a four star motel vs. an inexpensive motel, etc.)
• How many people you’re going with, if any
• Your general range of interests (sight seeing, snorkelling, camping, enjoying the local night life, etc.)
What Options Are There?
This is an industry that has changed more than nearly any other in world. With companies like AirBnB shaking things up, there’s a myriad of options when it comes to cheaper (or free) accommodation.
Couchsurfing is a global phenomenon where an enormous community of users provide opportunities for visitors to stay in peoples’ homes for free. You read that right. You use the CouchSurfing site to find someone who will let you stay in their home for free. What’s the point? It’s an excellent way for people to share experiences and enjoy a whole new cultural perspective. In return, the expectation is that you’ll do the same thing when you’re back home. It’s not limited to just couches though so don’t let the name fool you. Most now offer much more than a couch to crash on! There’s a lot more than meets the eye with Couchsurfing so read more about it here.
Have you ever considered travelling abroad in order to volunteer on behalf of a cause that you believe in? Not only is this an amazing opportunity to do something amazing, most of the time your accommodation at least is covered. If it’s something that makes you tingle inside you first ought to make sure that you know exactly what you’re getting into and, beyond that, why you really want to in the first place. There are many reasons to volunteer on behalf of a good cause. A proper amount of self-examination ought to be the prelude to any serious decision on your part. There are many excellent charities and causes to get involved in, from ecological advocates to war relief efforts. The main question you will need to ask yourself is if you are ready to travel around the world to work on behalf of these causes. If your level of commitment is truly this high, then you’re going to need some accurate and up to date advice on what volunteering is and what it truly entails.
There are many reasons to volunteer on behalf of a good cause. A decent amount of self-examination ought to be the prelude to any serious decision on your part though. This is not for the faint-hearted. There are many excellent charities and causes to get involved in, from ecological advocates to war relief efforts. The main question you will need to ask yourself is if you are ready. This isn’t a Contiki tour! If your level of commitment is truly this high, then read all about it here to find out how you can get involved.
This has been happening for a lot longer than the current phenomenon may lead you to believe. The concept of simply finding someone to look after your house and feed your pets while you’re on holiday isn’t a new one but it’s now much easier to do than before. The best part is it’s no longer reciprocal. In the past, it meant finding someone who wanted to visit your part of the world and swapping places with them. While that’s still happening there’s also House Sitting which doesn’t involve any swapping and is perfect for those wandering nomads that don’t have a nice place for someone else to stay in.
With House sitting you apply to look after someone’s property and usually feed their animals in return for the opportunity to stay at their place for free. It’s a hugely underestimated way to see the world but there are some pitfalls to look out for. Read our in-depth way to make this a part of your travel arsenal.
Becoming an Au Pair
Don’t like kids? Then move along, nothing to see here. This particular option is really limited to a certain type of person so if looking after kids on a mostly full-time basis doesn’t sound like your thing you can skip this part. However, if you like the sound of experiencing another country and getting paid then this may work for you. If you’ve been looking for an excellent opportunity to see the world and still earn a sufficient living, you might consider becoming an au pair. An au pair is a person from a foreign country who stays with a family for an agreed upon amount of time in order to look after their children.
If you’ve been looking for an excellent opportunity to see the world and still earn a sufficient living, you might consider becoming an au pair. An au pair is a person from a foreign country who stays with a family for an agreed upon amount of time in order to look after their children. If this sounds like your thing then read here for lots more info.
Sail while you Sleep
This one is a little out of left field but stay with me here. If you’ve been searching for a way to sail around the world while spending as little as possible, this may be your thing. Have you ever thought about exploring the world while living or working on a boat? The idea isn’t as crazy as it may sound at first. There are a number of services that can help you hook up with a boat captain or crew in order to sail around the world, either for free or in exchange for work that is agreed upon in advance. Think of it as couch surfing on the high seas! Read all about it here.
If none of these seem like your thing and you’re more comfortable being a little more traditional and staying at a regular old hotel then you want to make sure you get the best price you can for the place you want. If that’s the case, read how you can get the best deals on hotels here.
“Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.” – Alan Keightley