I love to travel, especially when it’s cheap or even better free. When I first started traveling more a couple years ago, I started doing some research on how to travel on a budget. What I discovered was that many people were “travel hacking” by churning credit cards. If you’re not familiar with this, it’s basically signing up for credit cards for the rewards or promotions, with the intention of using it for travel. Say what, free travel? Count me in! I gave it a try and while it worked, I wasn’t sure it was for me.
I signed up for 2 cards and then at that point, decided to give up. At the time, we were shopping for a mortgage and the idea of signing up for a bunch of cards made me nervous for my credit score. If you churn credit cards correctly, it shouldn’t ding your score too much. But still, it made me uneasy. Plus, having more cards to keep track of seemed like a big headache. However, I was still so intrigued by all these people scoring good deals on travel. Could you do it without signing up for a bunch of cards? Of course! You probably won’t be many getting trips or flights for free but you can still save a lot. Here are my 4 tips to travel hack without credit cards:
Be a loyal customer
If you want to travel hack the old-fashioned way, then be a loyal customer. Many airlines and hotels have special promotions and privileges for valued customers, including rewards and loyalty programs, complimentary upgrades, and additional services (like a free upgrade to first class if you are lucky!). Find a airline and hotel chain that you like and stick to it. You have to travel a considerable amount and you have less flexibility but it definitely is nice because it simplifies things. If you find a company you like and show your support as a customer, they will reward you for it.
Sign up for rewards programs
If you don’t want to stick to one airline and one hotel chain, you can go the other route and sign up for as many rewards programs as possible. This makes it harder to rack up points since you’re not putting them all in one place. But you get the added flexibility of choosing whatever program you want.
Find a good travel credit card
Many people who travel hack choose to take advantage of rewards from credit cards. If you want to do this but don’t want a bunch of cards, just stick to one. Find a good travel card that is tailored to your needs (most travel cards have no foreign transaction fees, which is a big plus to me!). Make all of your purchases on this card and rack up your points and miles.
Forget about fancy hotels
If your mind is spinning thinking about rewards programs and credit cards, then just forget about all that and focus on finding a good deal. One way you can save is by forgetting about the fancy hotels. Depending on where you’re going, AirBnB might be a great alternative. Plus, you get all the added benefits of a real apartment such as a fully functioning kitchen (think about all the money you can save on meals). You can also look into hostels but only if you’re comfortable staying in one.
Flexibility is the name of the game
At the end of the day, flexibility is the name of the game. Regardless of what programs and credit cards you sign up for, it’s hard to travel hack without a little bit of sacrifice. You might have to travel a few days earlier or later or go a little bit off the beaten path when it comes to hotels. But if you’re willing to, you can travel on a much tighter budget.
What are you favorite ways to travel hack?