“Long-term, perpetual travel is the dream of many. But surprisingly, for such a popular desire, few people realize how accessible it is.
Mark Manson

How to Exploit Hotel and Frequent Flyer Programs

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.

Frequent flyer and hotel loyalty program design and rules vary between countries greatly. This post addresses frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs in the US only. I welcome comments about how these programs work outside the US.

As detailed in my posts on Travel Economics 101, the travel industry, by necessity, prices its products differently than most other industries. Two people pay vastly different sums for precisely the same service. 

Not surprisingly, many consumers find the travel industry’s differential pricing unfair. The travel industry uses frequent flyer and other loyalty programs to address consumers’ negative perceptions and encourage customer loyalty. Frequent flyer and other loyalty programs enable participants to travel more often and access high-end luxury travel services at a lower price,

Some travelers spend hours finding little loopholes in the travel industry’s incredibly complicated loyalty program and pricing rules to even the playing field. The search for loopholes has spawned many websites and even some books. Finding and exploiting these loopholes has become known as ¨travel hacking¨.

How Does Travel Hacking Work?

 Travel hacking is the process of: 

  • Acquiring hotel loyalty (and other travel industry programs) and frequent flyer program points from many travel companies.
  • Using these points to secure free or severely discounted travel. 

There is nothing wrong with travel hacking. Loyalty programs are accessible for companies to attract new customers (especially the coveted businesspeople) and keep them returning repeatedly. Airlines weathered 9/11 and the 2008 recession primarily by selling points to credit cards and other businesses. These businesses, in turn, used these points to encourage otherwise reluctant consumers to spend money on their products.

The most lucrative source of points is sign-up bonuses for airline and hotel-branded credit cards. Hackers often use these bonuses to gain hundreds of thousands of points without traveling. 

Nomadic Matt’s book How to Travel Hack and Get Free Flights and Hotels is the best guide to travel hacking.

A never-ending battle between hackers and the travel industry has evolved. It is not easy to be a travel hacker. As more and more people learn the hacks, the travel industry develops rules to close these loopholes. 

I know several people who have become excellent hackers, and I admire their dedication. However, I have not become an expert travel hacker. Until recently, becoming an expert hacker seemed like too much work. However, airlines have made it harder to get many benefits from the simple steps I used successfully to travel around the world between 2011 and 2016.

I also have found myself in a position where I need to be a more active travel hacker to support my travel addiction. Therefore, I am now willing to put the time and effort into being a more expert travel hacker. 

A Simple Way to Travel Hack

Even if you do not want to be actively involved in this battle, Fifty Plus Nomads should use travel hacks. At a minimum, we should

  • Join several travel loyalty programs.
  • Sign-up and use airline and hotel-branded credit cards. 
  • Take advantage of special offers to get travel loyalty points. 

That said, I wish I had tried travel hacking earlier. I suspect that while traveling full-time from 2011 to 2015, I would have been able to fly and stay in many hotels for next to free. 

If you have the chance to travel frequently (I used to fly 25-40 times a year), I would highly recommend you consider seeking some professional help with Trevor Wright from Mile Method. While his services are not cheap, they are well worth it. In 2019 and 2020, he helped me earn around 250,000 miles and a dozen or so free hotel nights. (This, despite that I reduced my spending considerably and had several problems that kept me from maximizing my points during the Coronavirus Pandemic).

As you will save later, these simple steps yielded many results for me. They will work for you, as well.

Fifty Plus Nomad offers personalized workshops and courses in Spanish, English, Living and Traveling in Mexico, and Long-Term Travel Book a Two-hour Free Sample Introductory Session

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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