White sandy beaches, exotic locales, remote islands, foreign culture. Just a few of the many reasons that people love to travel. They want to experience things they see in photos like this:
The common complaint is the cost to visit these places, so many people put these trips off until retirement. Then you end up like Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in The Bucket List, rushing to do these things before you die.
Sound familiar? Then this is for you:
You CAN go to these places for CHEAP or FREE.
Yup, you heard me.
CHEAP or FREE
Airlines and hotels have been giving away Frequent Flyer miles and Hotel Rewards points for quite some time now, but what most people do not realize (and I really didn’t until recently) is that you do not need to actually be on an airplane or in a hotel to earn miles/points.
I had heard about the concept of Travel Hacking over the years, but really got involved in it this past winter. Sure, my wife and I had always stayed at Marriott properties and had racked up some points there, but when I started my foray into this, we only had about 50,000-60,000 hotel points/airline miles combined.
4 months later, we have over 475,000 miles/points. More on that later.
Quite impressive, right? Not really. I am still an amateur in this game. Others have been in this game for much longer and have easily racked up over 5 million points/miles, with VERY LITTLE out of pocket expenses.
In a series of upcoming posts, I will detail all of the tools I use to consistently earn miles from the comfort of my own home, as well as some recommendations for surviving in the travel hacking game. To start off, here are my 5 simple tips for the newcomers to get started.
5 Simple Tips
Sign up for all the Frequent Flyer and Hotel points programs
All of the rewards programs are free, for every hotel, every airline. The quick sign up form typically involves a name, email address and mailing address. Yes, they want to send you marketing email and junk mail, but that is not completely a bad thing. Sure, there will be some SPAM, but there also is the opportunity to get last minute airfare deals that are only sent to hotel/airline rewards members, or emails that offer exclusive discounts for rewards members too. Not bad when planning a last minute trip or searching for great deals, but the ultimate goal here is to have rewards numbers for all the programs so that you can quickly and easily partake in any promotions or giveaways.
Research which airlines fly out of your local airport(s)
It is important to know which airlines are based out of your local airport, as you have a greater likelihood of getting inexpensive airfare or rewards flights when dealing with an airline’s central hub, rather than with an airline that only has a few daily flights in and out of your local airport. AirlineRouteMaps.com is a good place to start. If you are not located near a central hub, then it is equally as important to know who flies in and out of your airport. This will make planning rewards trips easier.
Research which airlines fly into your destination locale(s)
If you are planning on earning some miles for a particular destination, it is also important to match up what airlines fly out of your local airport with ones that fly into the destination you are wanting to go to. Non-stop travel is (at least for me) ideal, as much as I love flying, my goal is to get to my destination, not to spend hours in an airport. Keep reading up on AirlineRouteMaps.com for a good primer.
Understand which airlines are part of which alliance
There are 3 major airline alliances in the world today, Star Alliance, SkyTeam and OneWorld, all with various U.S. Based and international airlines. It is important to know which airlines are part of which alliance as it can increase your overall ability to earn miles towards a goal. For example, if you have the ability to earn miles on both American Airlines and British Airways, you can combine the two when traveling as they are both members of OneWorld. More details can be found on the Airline Alliance page of Wikipedia.
Check your credit scores
I know what you are thinking, but yes, credit scores can actually help you earn more miles, and faster, aside from being just good general financial knowledge for you to have. There are 3 credit bureaus that all retain scores on your credit worthiness, and all 3 combine to make up your credit score. There are a resources out there to check your credit scores with 1 of the 3 bureaus for free, every 6 months, or there is the only U.S. Government authorized credit score site, AnnualCreditReport.com.
Those are the 5 basics that really helped me get started in the travel hacking game. Not only will this knowledge help you in identifying what your ultimate goal is, it will also help you focus your efforts on those that are important to you, ensuring that you will be successful in your goal.
Let’s face the facts here, if this concept of travel hacking was easy, everyone would be doing it and we would be putting the airlines out of business. The truth is, it is very easy to go astray in this game. Most people I know do not have lofty goals of travelling the world, they would just like the ability to not be completely in financial debt by taking their family of 4 on a week long vacation, and those are the people that I want to help.
Stay tuned for the next installment in this series that will detail the tools I use to earn miles from the comfort of my home (or, hotel room).