I hate to break it to you, but you’ve been lied to all along. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive.
I’m not going to tell you to stop buying your beloved Starbucks every day (although it would help), so you can save enough for that big vacation. The fact simply remains, if you want to travel, truly want to travel, you have to make it a priority. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Someday we’ll go there. It’s just so expensive.” The reality is, it’s just not a priority for you then because as you’ll see, traveling isn’t just a luxury for the trust-fund babies of the world. We have bills, rent, student loans, a savings account and many more of the typical reasons that come to mind when people say they can’t travel. Did I mention the hubster is in medical school too?
There are sacrifices I’m willing to make because travel is so important to me. It may not be as important to you if you have other priorities and that’s totally okay! Just know that if you truly do want to travel, you can make it happen. So, no more excuses. Now go get your camera ready and your bags packed.
What is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is for anyone who likes to travel, whether it be a trip to Disney, a last minute flight to see grandma or a business class ticket to Hong Kong. There’s something for every type of traveler. For me, I want to see more countries and do it for as little as possible. Revolutionary, right?
Through credit cards bonuses and your typical spending, you can gain hundreds of thousands of points and miles that can be put towards your big travel dreams. People in the travel world refer to this as Travel Hacking. As a copywriter, I don’t like the term “hacking” as it leads the reader to believe you’re breaking into something; this term is really only used for shock value. For me, this is all about strategy.
I’ll explain how I collect miles and points in upcoming posts and go through which programs I value more highly. But, a word to the wise: If you don’t like budgets or keeping an eye on spending, then travel hacking may not be for you.
It’s not rocket science, but it does involve a bit of planning and a little restraint on the dollar bins at Target. Damn the man, they get me every time. Again, traveling is important to me and I think of this every time I want (not need) another pair of beige flats from DSW.
This isn’t just for singletons or DINK (Dual Income No Kids) households. (Or in my case, SIMS: Single Income Med Student household.) As you’ll discover, plenty of people make this possible with kids in tow.
Please note: If you do know something about collecting miles and points, I’m not experienced with manufactured spending. More importantly, I’m proof you don’t need to be. If you don’t know what that is, no worries, I didn’t either.
How I got started
I’m relatively new to the miles and points world. I hope you look at that and take comfort. I only started collecting miles and points just over a year ago for the specific reason to travel more. That means you, my little padawans, can do it too.
It may seem silly to some, but I’ve always wanted to fly internationally in a lie-flat seat. Don’t let anyone dismiss your goals, no matter how trivial or ludicrous that may seem. Well, guess what? We’re doing just that in the upper deck business class this summer on our Southeast Asia adventure.
It even has a bar, you guys.
It will forever ruin our future international flights that aren’t in business class, I’m well aware. But I’m so excited!
A majority of our miles were on Delta since we used to live in their hub of Detroit. It just so happened that’s where our loyalty fell because it was so convenient. I had miles from business trips and we both had miles from traveling to see friends and family. It was nothing major, by the way. When we got married in England, I applied for the Gold co-branded Delta AMEX card (was upgraded to Platinum a while later) and amassed some more miles with the sign up bonus and flights to England and back. I put all of our flights onto my Delta card because we’d get 2x the miles. Miles started slowly adding up.
I know it may be shocking seeing as we had a destination wedding in another country, but our wedding wasn’t very traditional. The hubster and I were together for 6 years before we got married–we had more than enough kitchen utensils and hand towels. We set up a “normal” registry on Amazon with a short list that would probably piss off traditionalists. But when people asked us what we really wanted, it was an out-of-the-ordinary honeymoon. We put most money in savings and used some of it for our honeymoon to Cambodia and Thailand.
It was really right before we traveled for our honeymoon that I began reading about how I could use our miles for future travel.
While following several travel hacking bloggers, I couldn’t absorb the information quickly enough. Travel hacking suddenly became my guilty pleasure, it even beat out The Real Housewives sometimes. Sometimes.
Here are a few that I love and still follow today:
I applied for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card right before our honeymoon based on the advice of the experts above because there was a bonus of 40,000 points if I met minimum spending. The best and biggest feature for me at the time was no international fees. So we used the card the entire time we were in Cambodia and Thailand and met the minimum spending soon after by paying our normal bills.
I saw 50,000 points hit my account after I met minimum spending and also got additional bonuses based on which categories I spent money in. (2x the points on travel.) I was hooked. To give you an idea, that’s 2 roundtrip trip domestic plane tickets or nearly one roundtrip ticket to Europe, Africa or Asia.
Where can points and miles take you?
If your flight and accommodations are paid for, you’d most likely go on that trip, right? Well that’s what travel hacking does.
Since starting to methodically collect points after our honeymoon a bit over a year ago, I’ve accumulated enough for our trip to Southeast Asia this July. What does that look like?
- 2 roundtrip business/first class tickets to Seoul, South Korea
- 2 one-way business class tickets to Hanoi, Vietnam
- 2 one-way coach tickets to Yangon, Myanmar
- 2 one-way coach tickets back to Seoul, South Korea
- Free or nearly-free hotel stays in each city
That’s a pretty massive chunk of our trip already paid for, so even if we have to pay for everything else in between, it doesn’t break the bank. We also burned through most of our Delta miles as the program has devalued quite a bit in the last year– but that’s for another post. We’ll most likely fly small, budget carriers between counties as that makes more sense than using points or miles from a points value perspective. But that aside, we only have our food, drinks and really pretty sarongs to pay for.
Just so you know, points don’t need to be used for massive weeks-long international trips. I’ve also used them for our hotel at Disney World and a one-way flight between Spain and Portugal. While flying business class and first class is nice, it’s not my top priority if a travel opportunity presents itself. I’d rather fly 7+ hours somewhere next week than save for a few more months to do the same thing in first class. You’ll find that having points and miles gives you the flexibility to travel how you want. You can even, although I don’t recommend it, use them to buy gifts cards.
I’ll be discussing the ins and outs of where to start in the next travel hacking post.
Traveling opens up all the possibilities that exist in this wild world. I fully believe that everyone should get the chance to travel. A cultural connection and understanding can sometimes only be gained by experiencing it. From drinking whiskey with friends in Scotland to laughing in a tuk-tuk on a cold night in Thailand, each experience is packaged away into little portions of your mind only to be taken out and shared with other open-minded individuals.
I want to share that with you.
Just let your mind simmer on collecting miles and points and imagine where in the world it could take you. Go on, dreamer. I’ll be right here cheering you along.
Is this something that interests you? Any travel hacking questions for me? Where would you travel if you knew your flight and accommodations were paid for?
Anna | slightly astray says
we love using our Chase Sapphire Preferred! We’ve had it for a year and accumulated a bunch of points but haven’t used them yet. We will though for our long- haul flight to and back from Europe this summer!! But I’m seriously impressed at all the things you’ve booked on points. How?!? How did you get that business class seat? It looks incredible!! Our flight to Europe will cost us over 2/3 of our points already!! I don’t see us being able to book hotels on top of that!
Hey Anna! Chase Sapphire Preferred for the win! 🙂 The business class seat is on Korean Air, which we got with our Delta points. We burned through most of ours on this trip with all the flights. I think I only have 30,000 ish left? But as the program has devalued so much, I’m sadly okay with it. I’ll have to pull out the #’s for the future posts, but we both had miles with Delta. That said, we used Ultimate rewards points (17,500) for our flight from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Seoul. (I just added that into this post since I forgot.) Easy-peasy transfer to United. Love Ultimate Rewards. The key is to try and book early at the saver level – which isn’t always possible if you don’t know the dates you’ll travel, you know?
The hotels are going to be with IHG and any brands that transfer through Ultimate Rewards. I can go through that in future posts too. I still haven’t booked them all yet. That said, Southeast Asia is so cheap that it’s almost silly to use points — our favorite hotel in Cambodia is $17/night. Nearly free in my mind.
You guys have always amazed us on your ability to rake in those miles/points! I believe y’all are the reason we got the Chase card 🙂 As young padawans, we were able to book 4/12 nights of our honeymoon in points (~$600). Obviously we have much to learn about “travel hacking” and the miles/points game, but not too shabby for having started this strategy earlier this year. I can sense our midi-chlorian counts rising!
Caroline Peterson says
Haha. I’m so happy to help, Mike! It’s great to hear and I love seeing people take it to heart and travel more because of it.