5 Steps to Get Started with Travel Hacking
Cernys’ Journeys is excited to collaborate with Geobreeze to bring to you this exciting article on how you can learn travel hack. Keep reading to learn how to save time, money, and stress out of planning a trip.
Julia Menez is a travel writer, speaker, and founder of the travel hacking lifestyle website Geobreeze. Download your free tracking spreadsheet and tutorial at geobreezetravel.com/cernys to optimize your earned points and miles based on your personal spending habits!
Parents are the ultimate hackers as they manage their families’ health, wellbeing, hopes, and dreams. The planning and problem-solving skills that come with running a family are a fantastic fit for the mindset required to be a successful travel hacker.
This article outlines why families should consider getting into travel hacking, and 5 steps to get started with traveling for next to nothing.
What is travel hacking?
Travel Hacking is the art of utilizing loyalty programs set by credit card companies, airlines, and hotels to get free travel. It is becoming an increasingly popular hobby amongst travel enthusiasts. When done correctly, you will save thousands of dollars on travel each year, increase your credit score, and avoid interest payments.
Why Learn Travel Hacking?
Make the most of your resources
Optimize your time, money, and energy. Spend more of your time with your loved ones and less of it worrying about how to afford your next vacation.
It’s an amazing feeling knowing you can achieve your goals and take control of your surroundings — whether it’s planning a successful vacation, getting your finances organized, or finding time to unwind.
Enjoy Tangible Rewards
Sticking with your plans becomes easier when you see incremental progress and enjoy the rewards for all of the hard work. The rewards of travel hacking can range from a large bank of points and miles to cherished vacation photos at a five-star resort.
Unwind and Have Fun
Escape from the daily routines, hectic carpools, and stressful obligations. Take some time to pause, recharge, and enjoy the life you have all built together.
Step 1: Dare to Dream
Visualize Your Dream Life
How many vacations would you take a year? Where would you go? What do you do on those trips? Are they tropical? Active? Relaxed? Far away? Close to home? Write down your ideas. Include your family in the dreaming process, and solicit ideas from your kids.
Assemble Vision Boards
Give your kids some travel magazines for collages, and proudly display their creations for inspiration. For families with older children, you can also do this digitally using Pinterest or by saving articles and pictures into a shared folder.
Step 2: Determine your starting point
Organize Any Existing Points and Miles
Maybe you already have some residual points and miles with airlines and hotels from your travels. Use a resource like awardwallet.com to organize and track points from your different accounts.
Know your Credit Score
If you are just starting out with points and miles, find out your credit score using a free service like creditkarma.com or creditsesame.com. Most travel hacking cards require a score of at least 700-750 to be approved.
Understand Your Spending Patterns
Use a tool like Mint.com to understand which spending categories (groceries, gas, restaurants, travel) incur the most expenses for your household so that you can target cards that give bonus points for these categories.
Remember: No Judgement Here
This step is to help you get a clear understanding of your starting point. No hard feelings if you are not where you need to be yet, in terms of credit score or spending patterns. You’ll get there!
Step 3: Map Out Your Strategy
Research Loyalty Programs
Which airlines fly from your home city to your dream destination? Which hotels are available at your dream destination? Use resources like awardhacker.com and travelisfree.com/complete-maps to help with your research (note: these sites may be outdated these days due to Covid-19).
Research Travel Hacking Credit Cards
Which card currencies are accepted at the airlines and hotels in your dream destination (examples: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards)? How many points do you need to travel to your dream destination? Which cards align best with your high spending categories from step 2? Resources like this Transfer Partner Master Chart can help you decide which programs may be the best fit for your travel hacking strategy.
Set a Timeframe for Applying for Cards
A good rule of thumb for beginners is one new card every 6 months. Don’t go overboard with applying for new cards right away. Understand rules like 5/24, where Chase will decline any applications if you have opened more than 5 personal credit cards across all banks in the past 24 months.
Plan Out Minimum Spending
Most cards require a minimum spend of a few thousand dollars in the first few months in order to get the large sign-up bonus, which is where the largest bulk of points come from. Apply for cards right before planned large purchases such as kitchen remodeling, holiday shopping, or car down payments to meet the minimum spend without inflating your budget.
Make it a team effort
Take advantage of referral bonuses and authorized user bonuses if you and your spouse can team up to get more points.
Step 4: Do the Things
Increase Your Credit Score, If Necessary
Credit.com and Experian.com offer some tips for how to increase your credit score, so you can qualify for travel hacking cards and other credit lines.
Get Travel Hacking Cards
Apply for cards based on your research in Step 3. Once you receive your cards, be sure to set up automatic payments in full each month, or else interest payments will negate the travel benefits. If you need to carry a balance, do so on lower interest cards, not on travel hacking cards.
Optimize Your Spending Habits
Plan out which cards to use for each of your expenses. Download a free template and tutorial for how to do this at geobreezetravel.com/cernys
Step 5: Keep It Up
Track your points
Use apps like awardwallet.com to track your points and miles.
The rules of the travel hacking game can change as new credit cards become available, application rules change, and airlines and hotels change the number of points required for redemption. Set up an account on feedly.com and follow travel hacking blogs such as The Points Guy, 10x Travel, and Frequent Miler for the latest updates.
Celebrate Each Milestone
It’s easy to get caught up in earning more points, but you also need to remember to spend the points and enjoy what you have worked for. Celebrate with your family that you’re proud of yourself for making a plan and making it happen, and now you all get to enjoy some free vacations!
Cernys’ Journeys has additional Travel Resources to help you save when you travel.
Be sure to check out our Travel Resources page!
Todd at Visit50
Great travel hacking tips! I’ve put together a few more ways to travel more here