What if I told you that you could travel to nearly anywhere in the world for next to nothing? That those luxurious vacations you see online are attainable to the average Joe? That it’s not limited to single people and that even families can enjoy this same perk?
Seem like a pipe dream? Actually, many people young and old are making this a reality for their life and it’s not as hard as you think.
What is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is the hobby of collecting frequent flyer miles and points to travel for free.
The best part is that the majority of miles are earned without ever stepping foot on a plane. Many travel hackers, like myself, earn hundreds of thousands of miles per year. Some have even earned upwards of 1 million miles and points over a year.
You don’t need to spend any money outside of everyday spending to earn these miles or points to fly for free. The key is to take advantage of what is already being offered to you to start booking your next trip.
Where Do I Begin?
If you want to get started generating points quickly, the only way to earn tens of thousands of miles for free is to sign up for credit cards that offer bonus miles or points.
However, earning free travel via credit card rewards is not a game you should be playing if you cannot do these 2 things:
1. Pay your credit card bill in full every month and carry absolutely no credit card debt.
Are you responsible with your money? If you carry credit card debt, does it make any sense to get another credit card and go into more debt? I would say absolutely not. Only put all charges on your credit card if you know in advance that you will be paying it off EVERY TIME, otherwise you will be living under the chains of debt and a compromised credit score.
2. Have the ability to meet the minimum spend requirements to earn the points.
When you sign up for a travel rewards credit card you must meet their minimum spend requirements in order to earn the bonus. For example, some of my favorite travel rewards cards are issued by Chase. The average minimum spend of many cards requires you to charge $3000 in the first 3 months.
For the typical household placing nearly every expense on a credit card, this amount is achievable. But if you are the frugal type and that amount is far-fetched for your budget, you could choose to time a sign-up bonus with a large upcoming expense, such as a home renovation project, computer purchase, large car repairs, and/or expensive medical/dental expenses. Recently our home furnace broke, and immediately I knew this was a prime opportunity to meet almost an entire minimum spend of a card we recently opened. If you are going to spend the money anyway, why not make it benefit you in the process?
A Week in Costa Rica with a Family of 4
When I first learned of travel hacking and grew to understand the process, I caught the bug FAST. I immediately started systematically opening credit cards for both my husband and me; met the minimum spends with both personal and business expenses; and over the course of a few months we magically saved enough points to cover flights, rental car, hotels, and even food for our first big international trip with our two boys.
Costa Rica was our destination due to its family-friendly nature, and we stayed in some exquisite hotels like the Hyatt Andaz Papaguayo and engaged in some fun activities like kayaking and zip lining through the trees of the jungle. To pay out of pocket, the cost would have been between $5,000 to $6,000, but we made it possible for next to nothing. Many moments during this trip, I found myself stunned that we were able to take such a luxurious vacation through what felt like simple and organized planning with points.
How Far Can I Take This?
The short answer is — just as far as you want! Some people spend a significant amount of time opening and churning card after card to score free travel. And they travel often and in luxury! If you’re not ready to dedicate that much time to travel hacking yet, though, it’s totally possible to still benefit without spending hours and hours. Even just opening one or two cards can net you anywhere from $500 to $1,200 in travel savings.
What Are the Best Cards?
I should mention that not all cards are created equal. Some will give you more travel bang for your buck and it’s important to think strategically about which cards to get first. Among the travel hack community, it is widely suggested to start with Chase cards because they offer the highest bonuses that can be transferred to many travel partners. (And there is a limit to how many you can open with them so it is best to start here.)
Here is an excellent list of the best credit cards to grab. (Yes, sometimes an annual fee is worth it!)
Will This Hurt My Credit?
Opening cards can definitely affect your credit, but maybe not in the way that you think. Thanks to a concept called credit utilization, my credit score actually went up after opening these cards. This is only because I paid them off. So while I had a lot of credit available, I wasn’t actually using much of it. This meant my credit utilization remained low. To keep your score (and your spending) intact, you want to keep your utilization low. When banks see that you are responsibly managing larger amounts of credit, over time your score will increase.
One word of caution: If you plan to buy a home or take out any other kind of loan, you may want to avoid opening up a card until the whole process is over. When you apply for a new card, this activity shows up on your report, and your credit will take a temporary hit. Mortgage companies and other lenders don’t like that. It makes them nervous because they think you’re going to get into a bunch of debt and default on your loan.
The bottom line is this – if you are currently carrying a credit card and it doesn’t earn you any rewards points, you are wasting a huge opportunity. Living in the United States, options are nearly unlimited when it comes to rewards credit cards. If there is a card in your wallet that gets used and does not reward you in some way, it’s time to pay it off, cut it up and sign up for a card that actually benefits you.
What are you waiting for? Time to explore the world, one point at a time. Happy travels, friends!
Carrie has a curiosity for all things new and is known to endlessly pursue side hustles, travel, and endeavors in real estate. When she isn’t planning adventures with her kids, she spends her time reading, running, and finding that next (figurative and literal) mountain to climb.
If you’d like to learn more about travel hacking and how it may add more freedom to your life, check out this video from our friends, Tim and Amy, from GoWithLess. Or if you’d like to begin the work of becoming more financially free so that you may someday enjoy the ability to travel for free using credit card rewards, here’s a good place to start allowing money to be a tool that uplifts rather than weighs you down.
Tell us what you think of this idea of travel hacking! Where would you go, if the world was opened up to you for free? Comment below!