The Art of Travel Hacking

Today we have a post from one of our readers. Clint knows what’s up, get ready to learn and earn…

What is Travel Hacking?

Travel hacking has become an art. What once relied on the simplicity of frequent flier miles to earn elite status and free flights has evolved in to a world of endless promotions and deals. However, the key to accumulating frequent flyer miles and redeeming them for free or discounted travel is all about knowing where to look. Using the best travel sites, tools, and resources available to find the best travel deals is key. The ultimate goal of a travel hacker is to get to the destination for less and maximize travel experiences without ever paying full price.

Getting Started

Accumulating points and miles are a very important part of travel hacking. The most obvious way to earn miles is to fly but it is time consuming and expensive. The majority of frequent flyer miles are earned without ever leaving the ground. You must take advantage of airline deals, partners, and portals to earn miles instead. For example, take a look at the graphic below from where my Delta miles come from. You will notice the majority of my miles haven’t come from flying. I earned almost 50,000 miles this year without even signing-up for a credit card or getting on an airplane.

That is why it is important to take advantage of mileage programs to start earning miles on the ground. Sign-up for the frequent flyer programs with the airlines you fly the most and never fly without being rewarded for it. There are three main airline alliances that you need to be aware of which are Star Alliance, OneWorld, and SkyTeam. Miles you earn on your favorite airline may be redeemed on any airline that is part of that alliance. I recommend signing-up for all the major airlines frequent flyer programs. It is free and it only takes a few minutes.

Credit Cards

Remember, most miles are earned on the ground and not in the air. Credit cards are a quick way to build your mileage reserve. You can go from zero to 40,000 miles in a few weeks with a travel credit card. Every airline from American to Southwest has a credit card that will earn you at least a free domestic flight just as a sign-up bonus. Often there will be a spending minimum to meet in the first couple of months but most are reasonable.

Credit cards earn 1-2 miles per dollar on every purchase. This doesn’t seem like much but every mile adds up and by the end of the year it may be enough for another free flight.

If you use your travel credit card to pay for gas, groceries, and bills every month instead of using a debit card or cash you will earn miles in return. These are purchases you would be making anyway so using your credit won’t get you into any trouble financially. Pay off the card monthly and by the end the year you will have thousand of miles just from things you need to pay for every month. Some people have even found ways to pay their rent, mortgage, and even do their taxes with their travel cards. This takes a little luck and work but with some research and the right companies it is possible.

Debit Cards

These are a dying breed which is sad because they are a great way to earn miles without excellent credit or a credit check. Bank of America used to have a debit card partnership with US Airways but that expired this year. Delta still offers a partnership with Suntrust. You will earn 5,000 miles just for signing up and 1 mile for every $2 spent with the card. Not a great deal but if use it to pay bills every month it will add up by the end of the year. Paying bills aren’t the only way to earn miles because every airline also has a shopping portal.

Shopping Portals

Shopping portals are gateway to earning miles for things you are already buying and need (hopefully). The portal searches thousands of retailers that are offering miles for everyday purchases. Apple, Best Buy, Nike, Verizon, and even Wine can be purchased through shopping portals in return for miles.

For example, I buy all my Christmas gifts, birthday presents, clothes, and general needs through the Delta shopping portal. Retailers miles per dollar rates do fluctuate throughout the year. For example, when I purchased my MacBook Air for traveling Apple was 8 miles per dollar which is incredible. That is almost 10,000 miles for buying a laptop I already planned to buy. However, their typical rate is only 1 mile per dollar. Luckily you can search many retailers to find who is offering the best deals.

Airline shopping portals:

Air Canada- Aeroplan EStore
American Airlines- AAdvantageEshopping.com
American Express- Bonus Points Mall
Chase- Ultimate Rewards Shopping
Delta- Skymilesshopping.com
US Airways- Dividend Miles Shopping Mall
United- Mileageplusshopping.com

Promotions

Every airline has partnerships with various companies offering promotions throughout the year. Some of these are short term promotions and some are long term partnerships. For example, you can earn frequent flyer miles from Delta every time you rent a car from Hertz year round. All it takes is your frequent flyer number when you rent the car and you can easily earn a few hundred miles.

One of my favorite promotions is the Netflix partnerships with Delta, American, and United. Although this deal is currently inactive, offers like this are available at different times throughout the year. You can earn 2,500-4000 miles just for signing-up for a service you may already use such as Netflix. Be on the lookout for partnerships that you might be interested in.

A great place to stay up to date on the latest promotions for your favorite airlines is on the FlyerTalk forums. Frequent the forums, ask questions, and stay informed. All of the most current travel deals can be found there. Also, signing up for airline newsletters will also keep you informed of the latest promotions and shopping deals.

Hotels

Most major hotel chains in the US have partnerships with airlines. Just like renting a car you can earn miles for every night you sleep in a hotel room. Hotels have credit cards that can earn up to 40,000 points just for signing up. Whether it’s for Starwood Hotels, the Hyatt rewards card, or Marriott most have credit cards to earn bonus points and miles. All of these can be redeemed for free travel as well so take advantage of any offer that suits your needs.

Vacation Rentals

Personally, I prefer to stay in a vacation rental or a guest house when I travel. Of course renting a home will not earn me any miles in return I can easily sacrifice that for a better deal and more authentic experience. Travel hacking extends to any area where you are saving money. If renting a house with some friends is cheaper than staying at a hotel then I do not care about the miles I am losing out on. Not only can renting homes and apartments be cheaper than hotels they can also lead to a better travel experience which is why you are traveling anyway.

My favorite rental sites: VRBO, AirBnB, Roomarama, Wimdu

Hacking a Flight without Miles

Most travel hackers rely on miles to book all of their reward travel. However, it is not realistic to always have 100,000 miles on reserve and it takes some serious effort to get to that point. That is why I have learned how to Hack a Flight without using miles. When my mileage account is down to 5 or 10,000 miles I need use other travel hacking methods that don’t rely on miles.
I could go in to great detail on how to hack a flight but essentially it requires booking the lowest fares without miles and being a very flexible traveler. Flexibility is king in the world of air travel. Here are some keys to remember:
  • Be flexible- Always check a few days before andafter your travel dates for lower fares
  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly and book travel (FareCompare)
  • Cross reference multiple booking sites for the lowest fares
  • Set up fare alerts to get notifications on fares
These simple tips will go a long way to finding the cheapest flight. For more detail see How to Hack a Flight where I break down the process of fare alerts, flight prediction, and which sites are best for booking flights.
Travel Hacking Keys to Remember

Chasing points and miles can be fun but never spend money or buy something just for the miles. The key is to earn miles on things you are already purchasing day-to-day. Remember you don’t have to sign-up for a credit card and be a points chaser to be a travel hacker. Travel Hackers love miles and free flights just as much as the next person but they are also resourceful. Do a lot of research, plan ahead, and cross-reference everything to find the best deals.

If you enjoyed this post please check out my Travel Hacking Newsletter on TripHackr

3 Comments

  1. Rob

    December 20, 2012 at 7:49 am

    I never knew about the shopping portals but it makes so much sense. I’ll be using them from now on and letting my family and friends know about it as well.Thanks for sharing this Clint.

  2. Clint

    December 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    I love earning miles through shopping portals for picking up everything I am already buying online. If only Amazon was available through them it would be perfect. But thanks for having me, Rob and stop by TH anytime.

  3. Kristin of BeMyTravelMuse

    December 22, 2012 at 7:16 am

    I never knew about the shopping portals either, but good to know now!

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