A few years ago, a close friend of mine told me about something called “travel hacking.” He explained to me the art of using points to pay for travel and accommodations.
At first I thought he was joking.
“People actually get to travel the world for free using points? Who are these people? Because everyone I know who has one of those cards has never gotten a free anything,” I said.
But, after further explanation, he convinced me that it can be done. By the end of the day I had signed up for my first rewards credit card and I was well on my way to learning the ways of travel hacking.
Fast forward a few years and I’ve gotten free flights on several different airlines. I’ve been all over the U.S. My family of four traveled for free a couple of years ago and I’ve managed to get 10 free flights from Southwest Airlines alone. In fact, my recent trip to Mexico was courtesy of Southwest points.
So yes, it would seem that this travel hacking thing is totally legitimate. The question is, how do you do it? Below I share some of my tips from experimenting with travel points for the last few years.
In the world of personal finance there’s an anti-credit card camp. I’m clearly not in that camp.
I’m of the belief that if used properly, credit cards can yield some major benefits. In my case, it’s been a bunch of free flights.
If I already have to pay for things anyway – like business expenses and personal bills – I might as well do an auto-pay with a credit card, rack up those points and then pay my credit card off in full each month.
While signing up for travel rewards cards isn’t the only way to travel the world with rewards, it is one of the fastest. Granted, you must be able to use these cards responsibly otherwise you will get yourself into trouble.
Wait for good promotions.
At this point I tend to chuckle whenever I’m on a flight and hear the pilot announcing the airline credit card that will get you 30,000 points. I chuckle because it’s a bad deal.
The key to getting the most points from these credit cards is to hold out for the good promotions. For example, Southwest doubles their credit card sign up bonuses from 25,000 to 50,000 once or twice a year. British Airways recently had a deal where their sign up bonus went as far up as 100,000 points.
The way this works is you sign up for the credit card and then have to meet a spend goal within a certain period of time. For instance, in the case of British Airways I’d get 50,000 points if I spent $2,000 in the first 90 days. I could meet that easily just with my regular business expenses. You’d get an additional 50,000 points for spending a certain amount within a year – again an amount I could easily attain just with my regular bills.
The final step to travel the world for (almost) free is to be as flexible as possible with your dates. Part of the reason I’ve gotten so many free flights it’s because I can play around with dates. For example, my recent flight to Mexico cost several thousand points less because I could fly out on a given Tuesday in March and come back at the end of the following week.
The bottom line is traveling the world for almost free isn’t impossible. There are several thousand people who partake in the art of travel hacking and make seeing the world far less expensive than it has to be.
This post was written by Amanda Abella, a business coach for millennials, speaker, and best selling author.