I’m flying over Louisiana as I write this. After a weekend visiting family, my wife and I are heading home to Northern Virginia. Earlier this month I journeyed to Omaha to attend the Berkshire Hathaway meeting with our son. Two weeks from now it’s off to Minnesota for a week of fishing with a friend. We have travelled enough this year to give Gulliver a run for his money.
Our travels have introduced me to a new concept–travel hacking. The term describes ways frequent travelers save loads of money. It’s more than finding a “deal” online. It’s discovering a magical world of free travel, upgrades, and elite status. Saving a few bucks on your next vacation is as magical as I Dream of Jeannie. Travel hacking takes us to Hogwarts with Harry Potter on a Nimbus 2000.
In this 60-second guide, I’ll share 10 tips I’ve learned thus far.
1. Sign up for airlines credit cards
Frequent flyer miles are the lifeblood of travel hacking. There is an art and science to both earning and redeeming miles. Airline rewards credit cards are the starting point. Every major airline offers a branded credit card. These cards typically come with several perks. They offer bonus miles for new card members; free checked bags, with some limitations; priority boarding; and a shortcut to elite status.
Most cards offer enough bonus miles for at least one free rewards ticket. Examples include the United MileagePlus Explorer card (up to 30,000 bonus miles), Citi AAdvantage World
2. Earn miles in unexpected ways
Beyond the bonus miles, you can earn additional miles from using an airline credit card. In addition to everyday purchases, airlines offer special promotions when their card is used at certain retailers. One site, evreward.com, tracks these promotions. You can search by retailer to find the airline credit card that offers the richest rewards for the purchase you intend to make.
3. Sign up for generic travel cards
Travel hackers also carry generic travel rewards card. These cards enable you to redeem points or miles to pay for travel. The key is to find cards that offer 2% or more on purchases when redeemed for travel. Two such cards are the Capital One Venture card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. The Barclaycard can generate up to 2.2% on every purchase when rewards are redeemed for travel. Like airline miles cards, these travel cards also offer various signup bonuses that can be worth as much as $400 or more.
4. Use airfare aggregators
Online sites like Kayak make it easy to compare airfares across multiple airlines and travel sites at the same time. Kayak makes it easy to compare the fares it finds with other online aggregators, such as CheapOAir, Expedia and Priceline.
5. Go beyond conventional airfare sites
The popular airfare aggregators are just the beginning. Before booking a flight, check sites like Momondo for travel deals. A helpful feature of Momondo is its tool that makes it easy to compare fares for different departure and return dates. If your schedule allows for some flexibility, you may be able to save money by flying on different days. Finally, make sure to check the airline’s website before booking. You can sometimes find the same flights for a lower fare.
6. Watch for cheaper flights
Use Airfarewatchdog to keep an eye on lower fares. The free site will send you an alert when a lower fare is available to your destination of choice. Another option is to search for deals using Adioso’s Deals Radar. This tool shows you airfares to popular destinations over time. You can subscribe to receive email alerts as new deals become available.
7. Follow travel blogs for deals
There are several great miles blogs to watch for great deals. Several of my favorites are The Points Guy, Million Mile Secret, and Frugal Travel Guy. These sites track deals on everything from earning miles to finding cheap fares.
8. Take the Challenge
Airlines offer what are called challenges and matches as a way to earn elite status. Challenges involve earning a certain amount of points or miles within a set time period to quickly obtain elite status with the airline. With matches, you can leverage elite status on one airline to obtain elite status on another. A list of current challenges and matches can be found on The Points Guy blog. A detailed summary of elite status matching and information necessary to request a match from an airline can be found on Flyer Talk.
9. Earn miles at hotels
You can earn airline miles based on your hotel stay. RocketMiles is a free site that enables travelers to earn thousands of airline miles when they use the site to book their hotel. The site has partnered with several major airlines, including Southwest, United, U.S. Airways, American Airlines, and JetBlue.
10. Name your own price
With hotel stays, you can name your own price on Priceline. The NYOP approach to booking a hotel can be unnerving. You don’t know the name of the hotel in advance of booking the reservation. You can select the star rating and location of the hotel. In some cases, this information along with the list of amenities will enable you to identify the hotel or at least narrow down the possibilities. But the key is that the NYOP feature of Priceline can save you a bundle.
As a bonus tip, I’ve found sites like awardwallet.com to be an excellent way to keep track of miles and points. You can link all of your airline, hotel, car rental, and other reward programs with the tool. With a single login you’ll be able to track all of your rewards in one place.