Travel Hacking is the “art” of traveling for free or with a small budget by accruing rewards, chasing miles and discounted fares, and looking for every possible way to “game” the system. The point is to spend as little as possible to have travel experiences that would normally cost much more.
Travel hacking takes time to master and a lot of patience, but with these seven tips you can start to understand what travel hacking really is and how you could really save money on your upcoming trips.
Search the Internet for cheap flights
When looking for airfares, don't just stop at the first site you visit and buy the airfare there. Usually I start with Kayak.com since it is a pretty good aggregator and it includes most flights. But, after reviewing the prices there, I like to compare them with the Google ITA Matrix to see the “actual” fare published by the different airlines. You can’t buy the tickets at the ITA Matrix site, but it helps to know around how much it should really cost.
After that, I like to keep digging deeper in the internet by searching on sites like, skyscanner.com, travelocity.com, expedia.com, smartfares.com, and orbitz.com, among others. Sometimes they offer exclusive discounts that can make the airfare even cheaper than on the actual airline's site.
Finally, I try the airline’s native site (i.e. Asiana Airline’s Korean site instead of their US site). Depending on exchange rates, a flight may be cheaper in the airline’s own currency.
Sign-up for rewards programs
Sign-up to your favorite airline and hotel’s rewards program. One of the most important elements of travel hacking is accumulating points or miles and redeeming them for free travel or upgrades. Think of miles and points as a currency, and just like any currency, they do have a specific value. Some miles are worth pursuing while others are not.
To start, if you don’t know which programs would be best for you, start by creating a frequent flyer account with American Airlines (One World), United Airlines (Star Alliance), and Delta (SkyTeam). These three airlines are the best ones to cover all three airline alliances, thus giving you greater chances of earning and redeeming miles (even good for travel hackers in Europe and the rest of the world). Also be sure to sign up for hotel reward programs; they offer points for hotel stays and even allow you to transfer hotel points to your favorite airline.
Reap the rewards
This tip mostly applies for the United States and partially to Canada. If you find a rewards credit card with a substantial sign-up bonus (like 30,000 to 50,000+ miles/points), apply for it! Usually, in order to earn the sign-up bonus you need to spend a minimum amount of money in a certain amount of time. No problem. Use your credit card to pay your entire daily spending like groceries, gas, online shopping, etc. Be sure though to pay off the card immediately so that you don’t have to pay interest charges on your purchases.
You can do this with several credit cards so you can earn even more miles/points. You might wonder how multiple credit cards will impact your credit score. Multiple credit checks will impact your score at first, but it is only temporary and it will improve with time if you're responsible.
Stay at more than one hotel in a city
Several hotel chains offer promotional rewards for a certain number of “stays”. This means that if you're in a city for 4 nights, you could stay at 4 different hotels to accumulate 4 “stays”. Sure, moving every day is not ideal, but this is a fast way to accumulate free nights very fast!
Buy gift cards
Often credit cards offer 2X – 5X points per dollars spent at specific stores (i.e. office supply stores, drug stores, etc). These stores often sell gift cards for restaurants, gas stations, online shopping, and more. Buy these gift cards (only for stores or services you already use) so you can rack up multiple points per dollar, instead of earning just one point per dollar at the actual restaurant or store.
Multiply your miles by shopping online
A similar concept applies when shopping online at the airline's mileage mall portal. These “online malls” often offer multiple points per dollar or specific bonus miles (i.e. 5,000 extra miles) for certain purchases. A good site to check for current rewards is evreward.com.
If the first person can’t help, try someone else
Sometimes asking nicely by phone or at the front desk or check-in clerk for an upgrade, freebie, or discount is a good way to travel hack your vacation. Often you will get a “no” for an answer, but the best thing to do is hang up or wander around the hotel/place and come back again when the staff has changed (or call back). More often than not, the answer is highly dependent on who you talk to and often staff are more than happy to give you that bigger room, business seat, or other perks that will go to “waste” otherwise.
Of course, this is just the beginning of your travel hacking “career”, but by applying these tips and more for 30 minutes every couple days or so, soon you could earn over 100,000 miles/points without actually flying that much or spending very much money.
Start accumulating miles and points today to travel farther while paying less!