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Beginners Guide to Travel Hacking: Beat the System!

What is travel hacking?

Travel hacking is when you collect and redeem points on travel expenses like hotels and flights to save money. It’s how I’ve flown to places like Portugal, Spain, Colorado, etc. for FREE.

5 Beginner Tips to Travel Hacking

1. Sign up for any and all loyalty programs. They are usually free and take a few minutes! I have a loyalty program on every airline. Keep track of your loyalty numbers and use them every time you book a flight with that airline or stay at that hotel. It will add up!

2. Sign up for a travel credit card that has bonus points for signing up and spending x amount of money over a certain time period. For example, I signed up for the Chase Saphire Preferred a few months ago and had to spend $4,000 in 3 months to get 60,000 miles which is a little over $750 if you book travel through Chase! $750 just for signing up and paying my usual expenses and bills.

  • Pro tip: there are other credit cards that have the same sort of bonus miles situation where you have to spend less money than what I mentioned. Be realistic about how much you spend in a month so these miles are actually free and aren’t costing you to meet the minimum! To be safe, I would do things like pay rent and put all our bills on my card and just have my fiancé pay me back. Pick up the bill at brunch and have your friends pay you back! There are ways to meet it without forcing yourself to go overboard if that’s not your typical spending habit.

3. Look for cards that have multipliers for things like food, shopping, hotels, and flights that earn you miles. I suggest a beginner travel card like Capital One Venture One with no annual fee and 0% APR. There are other cards with better multipliers that I’ll talk about later.

4. Once you have your travel credit card, put everything you can on it. Don’t go crazy and dig yourself in a hole, but be financially responsible and just make sure you spend only what you have and pay it off.

5. Use your points!!! It’s so easy to let all the points and miles you’ve earned sit and collect. They don’t do you any good just sitting there, take the trip!

Travel Credit Cards

Choosing a travel card can be overwhelming. There are a lot of options and it’s not like you can just give the card back without hurting your credit! One card does not fit all and there are questions you should consider when finding your perfect match

How is your credit? Cards with more perks, fees, and limits are going to require a good credit score. Make sure you do a credit check before applying to a bunch of cards!

How much do you actually travel? Certain cards will have higher annual fees and spending requirements to get the bonus miles. These will pay for themselves if you travel often and use these perks. If you don’t, you may end up losing money or some of the perks.

What do you want out of your card? Is this card solely for travel? Are you looking for better deals on hotels? Flights? Some cards will have higher multipliers and perks for hotels vs. flights.

What are your monthly expenses? This is important to think about because most cards require you to spend x amount of money to get the sign on bonus points.

Some of my favorite travel cards:

Beginner: Capital One Venture One This was first travel credit card and still one of my favs! Why I think this is a great beginner card:

  • No annual fee and 0% APR for a year. This makes for a great first credit card in general!

  • The amount you need to spend is much lower to get the bonus points, only $500 in the first 3 months for 20,000 points (about $200 for travel).

  • Capital one has great customer service and easy to use.

  • No foreigner transaction fees.

Intermediate: Chase Sapphire Preferred I just got this one! I started with the Venture One and learned how to take advantage of travel hacking and then worked my way up to the Chase Preferred. Here’s why I classify this as an intermediate travel card:

  • 90$ annual fee. This is totally worth it if you know how to use this card and travel benefits. It pays for itself but it still is an investment.

  • The bonus points for signing up are 60,000, about $600 for travel and $750 through Chase Travel! However, you need to spend $4000 in the first three months to receive these points.

  • 5x miles on travel booked through Chase, 2x travel booked elsewhere, 3x for grocery stores, 3x dining.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Capital One Venture Another more intermediate level card and here’s why:

  • $95 annual fee.

  • 75,000 bonus miles if you spend $4,000 in three months.

  • 2 free lounge visits a year.

  • $100 credit for Global Entry and TSA pre check.

  • 2x miles for every purchase, 5x on travel booked through Capital One.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Advanced: Chase Sapphire Reserve My dream card…. Here’s why:

  • $500 annual fee… but…. the perks are SO worth it if you travel a lot.

  • The fee covers access to all first class airport lounges and you can bring a guest.. these typically have free food and drinks which easily pays for itself just in that way alone!

  • $100 credit for TSA Pre Check and Global Entry.

  • 60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in three months. That’s about $600 for travel and $900 if you book through Chase!

  • $300 annual travel credit, 5x points if you book through Chase travel, 10x on hotels and cars rented through Chase, 3x on other travel, and 3x dining.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Capital One Venture X A new card capital one has released. Here’s why it’s more advanced:

  • $395 annual fee..

  • Free access to Capital One lounges and can bring 2 guests

  • 75,000 mile sign on bonus if you spend $4000 in three months (about $750 of travel credit).

  • 10,000 mile anniversary bonus ($100 of travel credit).

  • $300 annual travel credit.

  • $100 Global Entry or TSA pre check credit.

  • 10x miles on hotels and rental cars through Capital One, 5x miles on flights through Capital One, and 2x on everyday purchases.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Other cards to consider: If you live near a large airport that is a airline hub (aka Denver is a Delta hub) it might be worth your while to stick to one airline and book all travel through a card with that airline. You will move up quickly and be rewarded for loyalty. Airline cards have very similar perks to what was discussed above.


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