Travel hacking is the art of traveling the world for dirt cheap (or FREE) by using various tricks of the trade. Here’s how to get started . . .
Travel hacking is an art form, but it’s not for everyone. The easiest form of travel hacking is accruing points or credit card rewards such as frequent flier miles for paying regular monthly bills on time. It sounds mysterious and sexy, even a bit dangerous! But in reality, travel hacking is just a wonderful way to vacation and travel without spending a fortune.
In the past couple of years, we’ve traveled to Barcelona Spain, Ireland, France, Guatemala, Greece, Sicily, Malta, Italy, Hawaii, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Costa Rica, Belize, Colombia, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Haiti, St Kitts, Mexico, Grand Turk, Alaska, and Cuba, along with multiple destinations within the continental USA using this very simple travel hacking trick.
We use very specific credit cards to pay ALL of our bills and expenses every month. Think of how much money you spent this past year on groceries, utilities, phones, water, waste/rubbish removal, internet services, satellite/cable tv services, car payment, mortgage, rent, etc.
Did you know, if you were using the right credit card to pay for each of those services each month, you’d have received points for doing what you have to do anyway, paying bills?!
Before you start travel hacking you’ll need to decide on which major hotel chain best suits your needs. We prefer Hilton and it’s partners which include Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Canopy, Curio, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton, Homewood Suites, Home2, Tru, and Hilton Grand Vacations.
There are several reasons why we prefer Hilton (and partners):
- Accessibility– They’re easy to find worldwide- regardless of the remote locations we choose to visit we are always able to find a partner.
- Affordability– They offer a vast range of points options allowing you to pick and choose how many points vs how much cash you’d rather pay with. If you want to save points for a Europe vacation, you could opt to pay for a room with part points and part cash to save your points.
- Perks– each of the partners offers its own perks, such as free breakfast, snacks to go, free beverages, etc
- Tiers of Membership– The Hilton chains offer several tiers of membership, each with its own benefits, Gold and Diamond members receive access to the Executive Lounge which offers complimentary buffet-style snacks, alcoholic beverages, hi-speed WIFI, and a cushy lounge in which to relax in the evening hours.
If you’re brand new to accruing points and travel hacking, then the Hilton Honors American Express card** might be just the thing you’re looking for. It’s a great starter card for those with fairly decent credit, offers a sign-up bonus of 65,000 points which is good for 1-4 nights at a Hilton (or partner) property. This card has no annual fee, which is helpful if you’re literally just paying monthly bills and saving the points for a yearly family vacation (or two).
However, if you will be taking multiple trips or plan on travel hacking on a more serious note within the next 2 years, you’ll likely want to step it up a notch and go for the American Express Ascend card **instead. This one offers up to 75,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months and an additional 25,000 points if you spend an additional $1,000 within 6 months.
This card has an annual fee of $95, but you earn 6x’s the number of points on everyday purchases, 12x’s the number of points at Hilton Properties, there are no foreign transaction fees while traveling abroad and it includes complimentary Hilton Honors Gold Status which gives you access to executive lounges in many hotels. If you’re not familiar with that lovely perk, it’s where you can enjoy complimentary buffet-style snacks, desserts, and beverages (including beer, wine, and cocktails) for a set time each evening at your hotel.
** Full Disclosure- Both links to the American Express cards are referral links in which you & I both gain points if you decide to become a member.
Much like the hotel deals, most major airlines offer rewards cards as well. If you have a particular airline that you prefer to travel, you may want to acquire their card. While on a flight last year we were offered 65,000 points as a sign-on bonus for the American Airlines card. This is the equivalent of Two Round-trip tickets within the United States. We used our points to fly to Hawaii for free for our anniversary where we vacationed on the big island for 13 days.
We travel frequently and have found that it’s often easier to have a credit card that is not limited to a particular airline, we use the Chase Sapphire Preferred to accrue our free flights.
Here’s the Caveat:
Travel hacking using credit card rewards only works if you pay your credit card balance on time every month. If you struggle to pay your bills on time then this will not work for you. Racking up late fees and interest on a credit card will completely offset any benefits that you would receive.