¨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
Travel Hacking: Is It Worth The Work?
Travel hackers are experts at gaming the travel industry’s programs and rules to get the best deals possible. They employ a variety of techniques to gain loyalty program points or get the best deals from airlines, hotels, etc.
Not everyone, 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. Travel hacking can also take a lot of 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 pay for professional help through the Mile Method to get more travel industry loyalty points and other benefits. (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 knowledge of travel hacking. I will report on my success with Mile Method in future blog posts.
Travel Hacker Advice and Strategies
The following is a list of some of the typical travel hacker advice and strategies:
Travel Hacking Strategies
- 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 a lot of 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 in such a way that you can’t get the flight of our dreams. You may be able to 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 either 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 that you need to be able to book a frequent flyer ticket.
- One of the top ways to make sure you get the best deal after you booked a trip is to double check the prices a couple of times before cancellation fees apply to see if they have gone down. If the prices go down, call the travel provider and let them know. Usually, unless there is a penalty for cancelling and rebooking the trip, they will either 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 really well for cruises and tours. Twice, I have checked the prices on cruises, found the price went done, and negotiated for a cabin upgrade.
- I have never learned how to use this benefit. However, 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 a year in overseas ATM fees). Also, sign up for newsletters for deal alerts from websites from travel hackers such as Airfarewatchdog • Miles to Memories • The Flight Deal • FlyerTalk • View 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 that United will find some way to make it less and 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.
Travel Hacking Tips and Strategies: 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, and
- then signing up for it again right away.
- Most airline-branded credit cards limit the number of times you can apply for a credit card from their company to reduce churning. The rules against churning can be complicated and vary between different credit card issuers. For most companies, you can’t get a sign-up bonus from any card issued by that company for 18–24 months. Chase will also not issue 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 refinance a mortgage or taking out a personal loan. Applying for credit cards will negatively affect your credit score.
- If you are paying an annual fee, call up and cancel the card when the fee starts. 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. If they sign you for a new card, they will usually move your credit limit to the new card, as well.
Travel Hacking Tips and Strategies: 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 that the airlines are offering 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 as well.
- 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. Make sure that you’re paying a competitive price for the goods and do not buy something just for the points. Also, ensure that you post 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 get both their regular points for purchases and 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 fill out a survey directly from the travel company.