Points & Miles 101: Who Should & Shouldn’t “Travel Hack”?

I like to think of travel hacking as a game – one I’m consistently winning at.  The best part about this “game” is that almost everyone can play and there are no losers – you all can win. You don’t need to be a financial savant or some airline insider to play the game. If you spend money (yes), have a credit card/ability to open one (yup), and have a desire to travel cheaper (obviously), then travel hacking is for you!

The above sentence seems trivially easy but its the truth. Small changes to your everyday spending and having the right credit cards can make a world of difference. For example, let’s say you spend an average of $1,000 a month (outside of a mortgage/rent payment) but you only spend $800 of that on your credit card and the remaining $200 is split between cash and your debit card. Assuming you have a 1% cash back rewards credit card , over 3 months you will have earned $24 cash back for your spending.

Instead, let’s say you opened the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card (it offers double points on all travel and dining expenses) and for opening it, they will give you a bonus of 45,000 points for spending $3,000 in 3 months. Assuming your spending remains the same but all of it goes on your new credit card, over 3 months you will have earned over 48,000 points! That’s basically two free flights or 3-4 nights free at a hotel. Even after the initial signup bonus, if you spend a lot on dining and travel (and for most of us this is our biggest expense), you’ve doubled your rewards compared to your old credit card.

Now, I’m going to drop a little bit of bad news – below is a list of those who should refrain from this game, at least right now.

  1. If you’re about to apply for a mortgage or car loan. Banks will not want to see a lot of recent inquiries for credit (even if your credit score still remains high). It’s best to get the mortgage/loan first, then dive right in. Literally the day after our mortgage closed, I applied for 4 credit cards.
  2. Your credit score is below 680. Most Americans have a credit score above this but if you do not, I would suggest focusing on raising your credit score first to a safe level.
  3. You plan to carry a balance on these credit cards. The interest rate on these rewards credit cards are a lot higher then other credit cards and any rewards you might earn will be offset by the interest and fees you will pay.
  4. You cannot control your spending with a new credit card. The point of this game is to earn more rewards based on your current spending habits. Spending more to earn more rewards doesn’t make sense.

I’m not going to lie – to master this game, it will require a fair amount of dedication to learn and read more about this on your own. But for a few free trips, you don’t need to be a travel hacking expert – you just need to know which credit cards to open, which miles to collect and then how to use them effectively. For those who want those benefits without the work, I suggest my consulting services and award booking services.

All you need is a desire to stop paying for travel and you will make this game work for you.

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