I was able to get two free roundtrip airline tickets for my honeymoon. It saved my wife and I hundreds of dollars with hardly any effort. And it has me wanting more!
What is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is using credit card points and special offers to get free airfare and lodging for your trips. It is entirely legal, despite its “hacking” denomination. Most often, this is done by signing up for a credit card that’s offering a sign-up bonus that can be converted into airline tickets or hotel stays. There are many of these cards out there.
For example, I signed up for an in-flight offer with American Airlines for their AAdvantage Card, which gave 60,000 after I made a single purchase of any amount and paid the $95 annual fee.
That was enough points for two round trip tickets to anywhere in the Caribbean. Our flight took us from Chicago to the Cayman Islands. Tickets at the time were about $350 apiece, so that saved us $700 all told! The card also has no foreign transaction fees, which made being abroad that much easier.
Who Can Do It?
Thankfully, you do not have to be extremely rich or have an 800 credit score to take advantage of travel hacking’s benefits. However, you do need to have a solid credit score, in all likelihood, as most of the cards that offer large introductory bonuses require a score in the 700s and a sizable reported income. But that’s the same for just about any good credit card.
If you have recently taken out new credit (within the last couple of months) it might be best to wait before applying for a new card to travel hack. You have a much higher chance of being denied if you do not wait a little while between credit pulls, since creditors generally do not like to open up cards for someone who is aggressively looking for new credit.
Of course, if you already have a rewards card that earns you points each month, you can slowly build your way up to free tickets and hotel bookings. How quickly you earn points depends entirely on your monthly spend. But the end result is the same as using an introductory bonus!
In short, just about anyone can do it so long as your credit is intact and you are responsible with your monthly credit card spending and payoff.
How Can You Do It?
Although you do not need to have the best credit score in the world, you will need strong credit to be able to pull this off reliably. Without it, you may get denied from many credit cards which will block you from their introductory offers.
There are tons of different offers in any given month; www.creditcards.com usually has a great database of currently available offers to check out!
Most of the time, all you need to do is apply, get approved, and then usually meet some minimum spend or meet some simple requirements. Then, ta-da! You have your points to use at your leisure.
If you hang onto the card, you can earn points by spending on the card and paying it off at the end of each month. Although this is probably way slower than earning the introductory offer, it can still be plenty effective.
What are the Drawbacks?
As with any new credit card, having a recent hard inquiry on your credit history will likely ding your score, but this goes away in a few months and can be more than made up for by using the credit card for a while and being sure to pay it off each month.
Many travel cards also come with annual fees, which are usually around $100. If you are just using a card for the introductory offer and never plan to use it again, it is probably not worth keeping the card after your trip and you would be better served canceling the card before the next annual fee hits. This can temporarily ding your credit as well, since you would be losing some credit history that you had with the card during the short time that it was open.
Sometimes, travel points expire. This is something to keep in mind before applying for a big introductory offer. If you are not planning to travel soon, be sure that you know when the points expire and be sure to use them before then!
And, ultimately, there is a finite amount of offers out there, so you can’t keep churning introductory offers forever. That said, new offers come around frequently and it would take a very long time to get through all of the ones currently available.
Travel hacking is a fantastic money-saving tool that anyone with a solid credit score should at least entertain. The points are there for the taking, and your dream vacation could be a whole lot cheaper than you might have realized. Or maybe you have a friend’s wedding coming up out of state that you feel obliged to go to and can use this handy method to cover the cost of the flight. If only I had shared this post before my wedding…
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