This guest post is the start of an occasional series featuring every day Millennials who made their travel dreams come true without the big price tag. Today, Cinneah, creator of flynanced.com, teaches us travel hacking 101 and tells us why NOW is a perfect time to prepare your travel hacking strategy.
One of the best ways to save money on travel is to maximize credit card reward points to score reward flights and hotel stays, also known as “travel hacking.” Historically, travel hackers were credit fanatics who combed Reddit threads and niche blogs to find the best deals. Now, thanks to increasingly popular travel blogs anyone – even those working a traditional 9-to-5 – can enjoy the benefits of travel hacking.
I am so excited to share a feature post on BGA on why NOW is a perfect time to prepare your travel hacking strategy. I’ve been able to visit countries like Colombia, Antigua, and Barbados by using these strategies below, which have saved me hundreds of dollars in flight fares.
Prepare to Travel Hack | Travel Hacking 101
What is travel hacking?
“Travel hacking” is the art of earning credit card travel rewards points or miles, either through spending on the card or earning bonuses, to redeem for reward seats on flights and hotel room stays. Some of the best known travel reward programs are American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Delta Skymiles, and Hilton Honors, each with their own benefits and perks.
The beauty of travel hacking is how much money you can save by being strategic with how you earn and use your points, whether that means making the most of your travels or experiencing luxuries you wouldn’t necessarily pay for outright. In order to reap the most of your rewards, it is important to prepare a strategy. Above all, travel hacking requires preparation and there’s no better time than now to plan!
3 Things to Do Right Now to Prepare to Travel Hack
1. Know Your Credit Score
You should know your credit score before you embark into the world of travel hacking. You can sign up to see your score for free online. I recommend signing up for a free account using the Discover credit scorecard (which reports from Experian here) and the American Express MyCredit guide (which reports from TransUnion here).
Both of these sites will generally give you a sense of your average credit score across the three major bureaus. You do not need to be a customer of either company to sign up and there is no pull on your credit to use either service.
If your credit score is less than optimal, focus on paying down debt, keeping up with payments, and lowering your credit utilization (aka the amount of credit available minus what you owe) until you’re ready to apply for new credit cards.
If your credit score is in the high 650+ range, move on to the next step.
2. Research Which Travel Rewards Cards Best Fit Your Lifestyle and Budget
Now time for the fun part: deciding which travel rewards cards to begin your travel hacking journey! It’s critical that you pick a travel rewards card that best fits your lifestyle and budget.
To offset the cost of travel benefits, most travel rewards cards will come with an annual fee of $95 or more. Based on your budget, you’ll want to ask yourself: What is the most I’m willing to pay for an annual fee? You also will want to consider other card benefits, like access to airport lounges, no foreign transaction fees on purchases made abroad, built-in insurance, and more.
In general, I recommend starting with a card part of a broad based rewards program like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Depending on your budget and lifestyle, you might want to consider the American Express Green Card, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or Chase Sapphire Reserve. All offer flexible redemption options to airlines and hotels, rich benefits, and are generally accepted in most places.
For additional research on new travel rewards cards, offers, and inspiration on potential rewards, I recommend reading ThePointsGuy.com.
3. Create a Plan to Earn the Intro Offer
Every travel reward card will offer an introductory offer to incentivize travelers to open their card. These offers will give you points or miles in exchange for spending money on the card, typically within the first 3 months after opening. Use the time NOW to create a plan for how you will earn the offer, to avoid overspending and racking up unnecessary debt.
Say for example, you decide to open a card with a $2,000 spend minimum in order to earn 50,000 reward points. Ask yourself: What purchases are already part of my lifestyle that I could switch to this credit card to earn points? You might want to pay your rent or mortgage, which could give you a great boost towards the spend minimum. Check to see if your landlord allows credit card payments and beware of added fees. I’ve also used Plastiq, a provider that allows you to pay virtually any bill with a credit card, like rent, mortgage, utilities, and more.
Before opening the card, write out your plan and save it in an easily accessible place, to stay on track with your spending. Keep in mind that most points will be issued in a few weeks after you meet the minimum spend. Above all, do your best to avoid racking up unnecessary debt just to earn points.
If you want to save money on your next vacation, travel hacking can be an incredible way to do that! Now is the perfect time to prepare to travel hack responsibly with a little research and proper planning. I’m wishing you amazing travels ahead!
If you’ve had success with travel hacking, drop a comment below or send me a note on Flynanced. I’d love to hear from you!
Cinneah is the creator of Flynanced and works full time in product development. She has traveled to 27 countries across 6 continents. When she’s not blogging or planning her next adventure, you can probably find her in her home of NYC searching for the next best taco spot.
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