Travel's Best Kept Secret - Travel Hacking

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Travel's best kept secret is travel hacking.  Hands down being able to get free flights, free hotel rooms, upgraded rooms, free lounge access, and more makes travel not only more enjoyable but more accessible too!

Travel hacking come in many forms from hotel loyalty programs and points to free flights on airlines to free days of parking at airport or free rental cars.  

What is Travel Hacking?

Travel hacking is strategy used to maximize the benefits of travel-related programs, like frequent flyer miles, hotel loyalty points, and credit card rewards. The goal is to reduce travel costs significantly or even travel for free while still enjoying quality experiences. 

Here are some examples of travel hacking:

  1. Credit Card Rewards:   From just having one card that you use for all your purchases to get free flights or hotel nights to signing up for multiple cards within a period of time to take advantage of a significant number of points that can be earned during a sign on period when a minimum spend is achieved. Depending on the card, you can earn miles or points for free stays or these points can often be transferred to airline or hotel loyalty programs.  Many of these credit card reward programs also offer other incentives like travel credits, TSA precheck, or lounge access. The more benefits you receive can be directly correlated to the amount of the annual fee but not all cards have an annual fee. 

    We have utilized a Delta Skymiles American Express and a Delta Skymiles Business American Express for several years now because of living in a Delta Hub.  This offered us enough points with our flights and spending to often earn free flights as well as an elevated status. These cards also offer one domestic companion certificate each year which can more than be worth the annual fee.  We used our 2 for trips to New Orleans and Phoenix.  We also enjoy the Delta Sky Club with the cards we have. I also redeemed a free flight to Europe in 2024 and Scott and I both flew for free to Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. 

This past year as our ability to travel more has grown, we have ventured out into using more sign on bonuses and learning about the programs that they offer.  We have booked flights to Curacao with these new cards as well as I have booked a flight to Europe for 2024.

Melissa hasn't paid cash for a flight to Europe in years thanks to the benefits of travel hacking

2. Frequent Flyer Programs: Using frequent flyer programs is essential for travel hacking.  Travel hackers often focus on accumulating airline miles through both flying and non-flying purchases , then using them for free or discounted flights.  Many people are able to redeem them for high value flights such as first or business class which makes travel and absolute luxury.  Always be sure to sign up for the Frequent Flyer Program for any airline you fly and while not always possible, being more loyal to a single airline or an airline code share group often provides the most benefit. Also be sure to check into airline status match programs where if you have status with one airline, you can gain a similar status at another for a time period.  Their goal is for you to swap over to their airline and retain that status which may or may not happen but in the meantime, you can enjoy the benefits. 

3. Hotel Loyalty Programs: Similar to airline miles, hotel points can be earned and used for free or upgraded stays. Many of the credit card programs offer elite status to certain hotel groups such as Marriott or Hilton as a benefit of certain cards. It takes some practice but savvy travel hackers learn the best ways to earn and use these points because not all hotel points redemptions are created equal.  Again, being loyal to a single hotel chain can also have its advantages. Hotel Loyalty Programs also offer status matching.  This year we were able to match our Marriott Titanium Status to get Diamond Status at Caesar's and then match that status to get a free stay at Atlantis in the Bahamas and a free cruise on Holland America.  All because our friends we had on the podcast told us about this particular travel hack. I also have the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express, which along with my status and a modest annual fee gets me a free night annually plus elevated rewards. 

4. Flight Deals and Error Fares: Getting alerts for special travel deals, promotions, and error fares ( low-priced flights that are actually a mistake) is another strategy. The best way to find these is to sign up with a service that will alert you when these occur.  Our favorites are Thrifty Traveler and Going.  Using these alerts and them combining them with airline miles you have feels like winning the lottery. Scoring just one discounted flight in a year would way more than pay for the annual fee the premium versions charge. 

5. Creative Flight Routes: This involves finding unconventional flight routes or multi-city itineraries that might offer better value for using miles or points. For example, when flying to Europe, it may not always be best to fly to or from your destination city.  You may find a flight that is significantly cheaper with either points or miles to a nearby city and then can book another flight on a discount airline to get to your final destination.  Many people think about booking Round Trip Flights but booking Multi City Flights can allow you to see more locations while still spending less.

6. Earning Status gives you Perks: While it is not always best to try and earn or improve your status level, travel hackers often aim to achieve elite status in loyalty programs to get perks like upgrades on flights, lounge access, free checked bags, and priority boarding.

7. Combining These Strategies: Also, don't forget to combine these strategies in order to maximize your advantages of travel hacking.  Sign up for any and all airline parking, rental car, airline, and hotel rewards programs that you stay at or use.  You never know when you might be able to use them and you don't ever want any points to go to waste.

We used a Companion Certificate to get a free flight to New Orleans in Oct 2023 

While travel hacking has a learning curve to understand how different reward programs work because it's not just about accumulating points and miles, but using them in the most effective way. It also requires a disciplined approach to managing credit card payments and your credit.  It doesn't pay to travel hack if you end up paying high credit card fees and interest payments. 

While we don't consider ourselves experts when it comes to travel hacking, we have gotten more savvy over the years.  I haven't paid for a flight to Europe in years and already have a free flight to Europe booked for 2024 plus a free flight to Curacao.  I'm working on enough points for free flights now for our African Safari in October.  Earning enough for a first or business class flight would be a dream. 

Listen to our Podcast were we talk about the Benefits of Travel Reward Programs here.

Here are some other resources that we have found particularly helpful when learning about travel hacking.

I signed up for Travel Freely several years ago.  They give you great information about travel hacking, you can track the credit cards you have and they even recommend not only when to apply for a new one but which ones might be best for you to apply for next. 

Last year I also find 10x Travel Blog.  They have a Free Travel Hacking Course you can go through to learn as well as a podcast all about travel hacking.

I may be wrong but I would venture to guess the one of the first websites dedicated to teaching about points and miles was The Points Guy. This website offers a wealth of knowledge on the topic and even gives awards to airlines and other programs each year. You may have seen one of their logos on the side of a Delta plane.

Do you travel hack? What's your best travel hack redemption? Let us know below in the comments! 


 

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Hi! We're Scott and Melissa

The Sunshine Travelers

 

We are a couple of travel obsessed explorers sharing our travel experiences and stories to inspire you to travel more and better. We are so happy to have you here.

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