Travel hacking is the ultimate life hack!
- You earn Free vacations!
- You learn about your credit!
- You learn about your finances!
- You can help others along the way!
By definition, travel hacking involves traveling for free or at a discount; this requires significantly less cash out of pocket for your adventures. A popular way to achieve this is by redeeming points and miles towards your travels. The reason why I feel it’s the ultimate life hack is due to its versatility. When it comes to the art of travel hacking, there is no discrimination. It’s a tool for anyone with the will to learn a new skill. From young-and-poor to old-and-rich, travel hacking can be utilized by all.
As of 2017, Americans take an average of 17.2 vacation days per year and only 8 of those were used for travel. Most people take 1-2 vacations per year. The average cost of a vacation is $1,145 per person or about $4500 for a family of 4. With those numbers in mind, travel hacking can help you save money and increase your net worth at the same time! If the average American family takes 1 small and 1 large vacation, the annual savings could be $6,000 or more when travel hacking!
The only downside to travel hacking is the time it takes you to learn how to do it. The simplest investment can net you a couple of free domestic flights, and becoming a travel hacking “guru” could result in years of free travel around the world. The time you invest is a personal choice. I suggest everyone give it a try!
Who shouldn’t travel hack?
- 1. People without good financial habits.
If your instinct when you open a credit card is to instantly max it out and make minimum payments, this is not the hobby for you. If you are an impulsive buyer who has the mindset of “my next paycheck” will pay for it and you continue to spend tomorrow’s money, this is not the hobby for you.
- 2. People who can not stay organized.
If you’re someone who doesn’t open their mail or check their email for weeks at a time, this is not the hobby for you.
If you’re some who loses track of dates or forgets to set a reminder, this is not the hobby for you.
If you’re constantly late on your bills and forgetting to make payments, this is not the hobby for you.
- 3. People who need the extra cash.
If you’re someone that desperately needs money, this is not the hobby for you. Giving yourself instant access to a cash advance is not the answer!
- 4. You’re planning to buy a house within the next 6 months.
If you’re planning to apply for a mortgage within the next 3-6 months, this is not the right time for you to begin travel hacking. It’s important to have a high credit score to get the lowest interest rate on the loan. You can utilize the tips below to make a plan on how you can begin the day after closing!
Where to start?
The most popular form of travel hacking that I’ll mention here is by opening credit cards. The best cards to open come with a hefty SUB (sign-up bonus) after you meet a spending requirement. You then stack these bonuses with other cards to cover your airfare, lodging, and car rentals. Some cards offer cashback and others offer points or miles. There’s a good chance that you already hold a credit card that earns rewards. If this is the case, take note of what cards you have and your available points.
If you don’t have a credit card or plan to open more, it’s important to learn about how opening multiple credit cards affects your credit prior to travel hacking. Also, there’s NO reason to spend more money or go into debt in order to travel hack. This can all be achieved with your normal, everyday spending.
Having a high credit score is a bonus, but not an absolute requirement to travel hack. Learn how you can increase your credit score by reading this article. I’ll add that my wife and I have opened numerous cards annually with little effect on the score of our credit. Our scores have never dipped below excellent.
Please consider using my referral links if you plan to open cards!
Not all travel hacking requires a credit card! Keep in mind that you can watch for loyalty bonuses when staying at hotels. Sometimes staying at a hotel for two nights can net you a free night depending on the promotion. Be savvy about when buying tickets or choosing your travel routes. Sometimes Google may route you onto a subway instead of using local trains. Taking the time to do research online can help you find hidden discount codes resulting in hundreds of dollars in savings!
It’s important to have a plan in place when starting to travel hack. Obtaining points is great, but if they expire faster than you can use them, then why bother? Depending on your budget, I recommend planning about one to two years in advance for the trip you wish to take.
Here’s an outline to help you start:
- Make a list of destinations to visit.
- Where? When?
- Research transportation to your chosen destination.
- Plane, Train, Bus, Automobile, etc.
- Determine your lodging.
- Hotel, Air B&B, Camping, Couch surfing, etc.
- Plan a general meal and experiences budget.
- Does your lodging include breakfast? Special event ticket costs?
Once you have this list, you can strategically begin to open cards with bonus pertaining to your chosen destination. Having a back-up is important as well. Some cards get discontinued, and others have a bonus that may change. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
Keeping track of your points/miles can be difficult once you begin. Opening multiple reward accounts becomes a requirement and you shouldn’t be using the same password for all websites. It’s important to keep track of your logins for all of the different websites and to use strong passwords.
Staying organized with your logins is not the only thing to track. You also want to track what cards you open and when. It’s important to know when you have an annual fee do so that you can decide if the card is worth keeping for another year. Use this free spreadsheet to begin tracking your cards. Keep in mind that some points do expire! You can strategically keep certain cards open and spend in certain ways to keep your points/miles active.
Planning your trips requires organization as well! You don’t want to accidentally book the wrong dates or forget booking a portion of your trip. I recommend creating a folder on Google drive for each of your trips. On there, I suggest making a basic itinerary and saving all of your tickets printed in PDF form.
You don’t need to know it all to start!
So you’ve learned about SUBs, credit scores, planning, and staying organized, but you’re still hesitant to start. The hardest part is taking your first step. I challenge you to go open your first card and see how far you can go!
Once you start, I’m willing to bet you’ll be hooked like we are!