“My experience bears out an adage about airlines: People almost always opt for convenience and price, even while complaining loudly about crowded planes and a dearth of amenities.
James B. Stewart

Earn Frequent Flyer Flights and Hotel Nights: An Introduction

This blog was written before the COVID Pandemic. The COVID epidemics played havoc on the travel business. In 2022, Fifty Plus Nomad decided to focus on traveling and living in Mexico and language learning posts. We will only update these long-term travel-related posts on a time-permitting basis. We would appreciate your comments and updates on these posts.

Travel Hacking Tips Are They Worth The Work?

Travel hacks are experts at gaming the travel industry’s programs and rules to earn more free hotel nights and Frequent Flyer Flights. They employ various techniques to gain frequent flyer flights or free hotel nights from airlines, hotels, etc.

Not every Fifty Plus Nomad, myself included, wants to spend the time and energy to learn about every travel hack. The rules and programs can be complicated and hard to follow hacking can also take time. (Until airlines cracked down about five years ago, many hackers even took certain flights to get points).

I have decided to try to be a more active travel hacker. Since I am lazy and easily confused by all the rules, I signed up for professional help to earn frequent flyer flights and hotel nights through the Mile Method. (As you will see later, it has become more difficult to get benefits by traditional means). Trevor Wright runs Mile Method. I met Trevor at the Digital Nomad Conference in Cancun and was impressed by his travel hacking knowledge. I will report on my success with Mile Method in future blog posts. 

Travel Hacker Tips

The following is a list of typical travel hacker advice and strategies from several major travel hacking websites, including Nomadic Matt.

The Most Important Travel Hacking Tips: Sign Up for Multiple Credit Cards 

  • Sign up for multiple airline-branded credit cards whenever they offer a massive sign-up bonus. However, try to avoid the appearance that you are churning credit cards. Churning involves:
    • Signing up for a card. 
    • Canceling it. 
    • Then signing up for it again right away.
  • The rules against churning can be complicated and vary between different credit card issuers. Most airline-branded credit cards limit the times you can apply for a credit card from their company to reduce churn. For most companies, you can’t get a sign-up bonus from any card issued by that company for 18–24 months. Chase will not give you a credit card if you have applied for more than five credit cards from any company within 24 months.
  • If credit card companies do not offer a significant sign-up bonus, place your priority on cards that offer more than one point per purchase and give you the first year without an annual fee.
  • Since the length of your credit history is a factor in your credit score, don’t cancel no-fee cards.
  • Space out the time between applying for credit cards to avoid getting a temporary ding on your credit. The ding goes away after 2–3 months.
  • Don’t apply for credit cards for six months before buying or refinancing a mortgage or taking out a personal loan. Applying for credit cards will negatively affect your credit score.
  • Call and cancel the card when the fee starts if you are paying an annual fee. The credit card company will often try to sign-up for another card without a yearly fee or waive the fee on your existing card for the next year. They usually move your credit limit to the new card if they sign you for a new card.

Important Travel Hacking Tips

  • Do not stay loyal to one airline unless you want elite status on the airline. Instead, buy tickets on the airlines that offer the best deal for the money and then post your membership number (usually from United, Delta, or American Airlines) when you buy your ticket.
  • Don’t stretch yourself too widely across loyalty programs. Having a tiny balance in many programs won’t get you free flights.
  • Unlike airline tickets, use your frequent flyer points as soon as you amass enough for a reward ticket. If you wait, the airlines may change their rules so that you can’t get the flight of your dreams. You may avoid this problem by using programs that allow you to move points around, like Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, or Citi’s ThankYou points.
  • Take advantage of industry bonus offers on select flight routes, fare classes, and dates.
  • Don’t let points expire. Points usually expire unless you fly on the airline or accrue mileage through a purchase on an airline-branded credit card within a given period. The rules vary a lot, depending on the airline. Here is a list of the different airline rules.
  • Consider carefully buying points directly from the airline. Usually, even if they offer you a special price for the mileage, it is not worth it. It is worth considering; however, if you only have a small number of points, you need to be able to book a frequent flyer ticket.
  • One of the top ways to ensure you get the best deal after you book a trip is to double-check the prices a couple of times before cancellation fees apply to see if they have gone down. Call the travel provider and let them know if the prices go down. Usually, unless there is a penalty for canceling and rebooking the trip, they will give you a refund or a better deal. Unfortunately, with planes, you can only double-check the prices for 24 hours after booking to avoid penalties. However, this works well for cruises and tours. I have checked the prices on cruises twice, found the price went down and negotiated for a cabin upgrade.
  • Many travel hackers use hotel status to get airline status. Here is more information about how this works.

Sign-Up for Newsletters

  • Sign-up for email newsletters to stay updated on special fares, deals, and offers. Airlines and credit cards often send out exclusive deals for email newsletter subscribers. (I once got 30000 miles for signing up for a Citibank banking account that even saved me over $1000 yearly in overseas ATM fees). Also, sign up for newsletters for deal alerts from websites from travel hackers such as Airfarewatchdog Miles to MemoriesThe Flight DealFlyerTalkView from the Wing
  • Take advantage of airline loopholes described in travel hackers’ websites and newsletters. The current hip loophole is the United Excursion Perk. The Excursionist Perk seems like an excellent deal. I suspect United will find some way to make it less valuable (and eventually eliminate it). If I use it in the future, I will detail my experience on my website. I would love to hear from any readers who have used it. 

Use Category Bonuses

  • Get category bonuses. Many cards give you a bonus for making certain types of purchases. The most common category purchases are on restaurants, airline expenses (including onboard meals, baggage fees, etc.), groceries, and office supplies. (Generally, you will get anywhere between one and five extra points. To maximize points, travel hackers recommend that you wait to buy high-value purchases (like office furniture) until the retailers (i.e., in this case, office supply stores) offer a category bonus.
  • Use gift cards to further your category bonuses as much as possible. (Sometimes credit card companies make this impossible). Let’s say the airlines offer a category bonus on office supplies. Travel hackers suggest that you get more points by buying gift cards at an office supply or grocery store. These gift cards are available for use at many retailers, where you may regularly shop anywhere. Be careful that the gift cards do not have any additional fees and that you use the card before they expire. (Note: I don’t use these gift cards because I do not shop much in the US). Sometimes, grocers even offer additional in-store benefits based on spending at their store.
  • Sign up for airline dining rewards programs. Some of these programs also give you an even higher bonus after you become a “VIP member,” which happens after twelve dinners.
  • Order online through an airline’s shopping portal whenever appropriate. Ensure you’re paying a competitive price for the goods and do not buy something just for the points. Also, ensure that you posted your credit card number on the site and enabled your cookies on your web browser so the sales can be tracked easily. If you are interested in an excellent analysis of the affiliate offers, check out the Free Frequent Flyers Mile Website.
  • Airlines also offer additional frequent flyer miles if you book other travel services through their shopping portals. I have used United Cruises to book cruises to get one extra United point for every dollar spent on a cruise.

Other Travel Hacking Tips and Strategies for Maximizing Frequent Flyer Points

  • Put as many purchases as possible on your credit card. Generally, you get one dollar for every mile charged on a credit card. Some travel hackers have found ways even to charge their taxes and mortgage payments. (Note: Usually, the IRS charges a fee for using a credit card. The cost is usually more than the value of the frequent flyer miles).
  • Authorize other people to use your credit card. (The credit card company will send them an additional card with your name on it). Their purchases will help you meet your spending requirements and earn more points. They have to be people who you trust to reimburse you for these expenses.
  • Double-dip on points! For example, American Express users can use their regular points for purchases and get every tenth ride free if they use their card for Lyft rides.
  • Fill out surveys to get frequent flyer points. Usually, you will receive notification of surveys from the travel companies’ newsletters. You can see what special offers are available at erewards.com. Unfortunately, you can’t fill out a survey directly on their website. Instead, you need to receive an offer to complete a survey directly from the travel company.

Want More Travel Hacking Tips?

Check out these posts from Chris Guillebeau, The Simple Dollar, and Zero to Travel.com.

Additional Long-Term Travel Program Related Posts From Fifty Plus Nomad

Paul Heller has been a lifelong avid traveler and language learner and teacher, Even as a child, he told Santa Claus that he wanted to visit all the children worldwide. At seven years old, Paul wanted to retire to Mexico. At eight, he memorized the name, capital, location, and some facts about every country worldwide. At twelve, he found a book "Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" and started developing his own itinerary for a future round-the-world trip. He remained obsessed with travel; after getting a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and working as an administrator, He spent his vacations going to different countries around the globe studying language, touring, and volunteering. In 1994, he quit his job and lived in Russia as a volunteer English instructor. He discovered that he loved teaching languages. In 2004, he decided to make a living out of his travels and founded a community of people who love to travel just like him. He developed 5 three-hour classes about living and traveling long-term worldwide which he taught in over 50 adult education programs throughout the US. After his parents passed, he realized his dream of traveling around the world; cruising and touring some of the most remote places like the North Atlantic, Patagonia, and Oceania; and learning new languages (he knows Spanish, Italian, French, and Russian). Paul encourages everyone to learn foreign languages. He knows that it can be frustrating and slow but that anyone can learn a language if they put in the work and, most importantly, learning a language is well worth the time and effort because it opens up a whole new set of people, ideas, and cultures. He is currently spending the next chapter of his life in Mérida, México. He is excited about using this blog and his classes and workshops to inspire and equip fellow Fifty Plus Nomads with the language, cultural, and psychological skills necessary to be successful and happy long-term travelers and expats over 50.

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