Have you heard about “travel hacking?” It’s the process of collecting frequent flyer points and other travel discounts without necessarily traveling a lot.
There are quite a few blogs and web sites that collect information on this, the first (and best) that I’ve used is Chris Guillebeau’s “Travel Hacking Cartel.” It’s a membership site where you pay a small monthly fee to get access to loads of information on how to get started.
I joined it for two months in the fall of 2012 and using what I learned, gathered enough points for several free flights that I will use this year (including international flights).
My points were gathered mainly by signing up for a few new credit cards with generous point bonuses, some on signup and others after spending a certain amount in a few months. It’s not the only way to get points, just one of the easiest ways if you have good credit and pay off your balance in full each month.
It turns out that this doesn’t affect your credit rating negatively if you follow the instructions on his site and others. I signed up for two new cards in late 2012 and one more in early 2013. Each had generous signup bonuses and reasonable minimum spend amounts to get more points a few months later.
From the travel hacking sites, I also learned:
- how to meet the minimum spend on new credit cards in creative ways
- how to negotiate your way out of an annual fee (if there is one… many of these cards wave the fee during the first year and you can sometimes switch to a fee-free card from the same company after that)
- which rewards programs (frequent flyer and more) are the most generous and have the fewest restrictions
- other kinds of offers for getting points (surveys, restaurant spending, etc)
- ways to maximize your points when it comes time to redeem them
- deals on car rentals, hotels, airport lounges, premium upgrades and shared office space worldwide
In addition to the Travel Hacking Cartel, there are quite a few good free blogs you can read to gather this information. (list below)
The only downside is that it’s time-consuming to learn and then keep track of everything! I set up a Google spreadsheet for keeping track of all my frequent flyer programs, and used Evernote for keeping track of details about which credit cards I was using for certain auto-payments. (I also use Award Wallet, but it doesn’t include everything).
Since I knew I would be leaving my salaried job at the end of the year, and traveling more in 2013, it was a good time for me to do this. I used my new cards for every possible purchase, so that I could gather the maximum points. Some cards give double or 5x the points for certain kinds of purchases (for example Chase Ink gives 5x points on purchases from office supply stores, like Office Max or Staples). It was also a good time to rack up points because I bought a new computer and a new iPhone during this time. In the neighborhood where I lived before I moved to Mexico, the local independent coffee shops took credit cards for even the smallest purchases, so I rarely used cash for anything. I also volunteered to put the bill on my card when going out to eat with groups of friends who paid me back in cash.
After two months of access to the paid site, I realized I had enough information, so I stopped my membership. After that I followed several free blogs to keep up with the latest travel hacking news.
I recommend this for anyone, unless you are not in a position to pay your card balances in full every month. Even if you don’t want to apply for more credit cards, there are other kinds of deals that result in gathering points (surveys, shopping portals, etc).
Here are my favorite sites:
- The Travel Hacking Cartel (Membership site with cheapest version for $15/month. This is my affiliate link).
- Extra Pack of Peanuts – Newbie Guide
- The Points Guy: beginner’s guide
- View from the Wing
- Million Mile Secrets
- Free Frequent Flyer Miles
I hope you will give this a try and let me know how it works out for you! I will do another round of collecting points in the future. For now, I’m spending my points for travel during this first experimental year of my “location-flexible life.”