This is the third post in a five-part series. Over the course of these posts, we will cover general travel tips & tricks, our favorite apps and companies, travel hacking strategies, packing lists, and our choices for travel items/gear.
Caution/Disclaimer/Note: Travel Hacking involves credit cards and opening any line of credit requires careful consideration. We DO NOT recommend utilizing credit cards as a travel hacking strategy if you are unable to pay off the balance of each card when it comes due. If you're paying interest, then you really aren't getting a free vacation.
I get giddy talking about travel hacking. Like seriously, it makes me joyfully elated, a silly happy. Probably close to the same feeling my son gets in a candy store, even at 23. He once described candy as his favorite food, which is the best comparison I could ever imagine since I (literally) live on travel hacking. I could drone on and on and on (and probably have, much to my friends' non-delight, sorry not sorry!) But seriously, who doesn't love free money or nearly free travel?!?! It baffles my mind when I find out people are not utilizing their credit card points, frequent flier miles, hotel points, and other loyalty programs. I want to shake them, wake them, and scream "Use your free stuff, dumbass!"
As you might have guessed, we think travel is an incredible experience that allows you to explore new places, meet new people, and create unforgettable memories. However, it can also be quite expensive. This is where travel hacking shines. (Read my previous post about paying only $310.30 for 10 days in Switzerland!) Redeeming your points and miles for flights, hotel stays, and rental cars is so rewarding.
What IS Travel Hacking?
Ok, now that we've gotten my crazy out of the way. Let's talk travel hacking. Simply put, travel hacking is strategically signing up for credit cards to earn large welcome/sign-up bonuses. In addition, it involves using your credit cards to pay for ALL your everyday purchases so you're always earning points/miles on every single dollar you spend. Earning and using credit card points/miles will get you free flights, hotel stays, flight upgrades, transportation, and more. Travel hacking is also learning to these points strategically to get the best bang for your (free) buck. (If you are considering opening a new credit card, let me know. I can possibly give you a referral which helps keep us traveling too!)
Sounds too good to be true, right? I used to think so too. Someone once asked me, "Is this even legal"? YES! Absolutely yes. I won't go into all the details, but credit card companies want your business, period. I'm sure they hope you'll carry a balance, but we both know better :) Another worry for some is the effect it will have on your credit score. Both of ours have actually gone up!
Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
I'll be honest, I was once a beginner and realize how overwhelming the entire process can seem. Travel hacking involves learning the ins & outs of multiple programs across multiple platforms. I've made it a hobby of sorts. This isn't for everyone and definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but I love it. This 'hobby' of mine has helped us afford travel to many countries and continues to help us travel the world. Even with 10-ish years of travel hacking experience, I still don't consider myself an expert. I would say I'm an advanced user and I continue to learn more every day.
How Can You Learn To Travel Hack?
If you think this is something you'd like to try, then go for it! If I can do it, anyone can. Again, I'm not an expert, but I know some! The sites below have helped me learn to travel hack and continue to be a source of inspiration, knowledge, and resources. These folks have carved out a niche in teaching others how to earn free travel. You can get a lot of great content for free, however, most sites also offer courses for a fee, which goes into greater detail and includes paid resources. I've never paid for a course and still think I'm fairly savvy. On the other hand, I may have alleviated multiple errors and initial mistakes if I had paid for a course. Totally your call.
A couple of notes before you get started. You should have a good credit score, ideally 700 or higher. Also, to reiterate, if you are unable to pay off the balance of any credit card each month, then travel hacking is not a strategy we recommend.
Our Favorite Travel Hacking Experts
Fare Drop: Want to find cheap flights from your home airport? This site was created by our all-time favorite travel vloggers, Kara & Nate (also, check out their YouTube channel). You pick your travel preferences, they email you when they find great deals. Another reason to love them? Their super-cool newsletter called Daily Drop. By far my favorite travel newsletter. We all delete a lot of emails without even opening them, but I can tell you this is one email I read every day! It's simple, short, packed with tips, and usually hilarious to boot.
Thrifty Traveler: I sing the praises of this site all the time! The founders are also near and dear to my heart since they hail from ND/MN and the company is based in Minneapolis. Click here to sign up for their free newsletter, The Daily Beat. As a premium paid subscriber, they offer a free credit card consulting service as well as a 100-day money-back guarantee on new subscriptions.
Travel Hacking Mom: These three fabulous ladies (a 70ish yr old g'ma, her daughter who is a mom of 4 boys, and a mutual friend of theirs) layout travel hacking in an easy-to-read and understand format. They also have a stellar podcast and a paid course as well. Click here to sign up for their free newsletter.
Nomadic Matt (the OG): Matt's a best-selling travel writer who's been teaching people to travel hack on a budget for over 15 years. His was the very first resource I found on my own journey to travel hacking.
Travel Freely: This little app is the best thing since sliced bread, at least to us travel hackers! It keeps track of our credit cards, bonus deadlines, annual fees, and even recommends new cards and tells us when to apply for them. Basically, it's AWESOME (and also free)! This company was started by a school teacher from Denver, CO in his spare time, but is now his full-time job. It's one of those apps I can't imagine living without.
Roame.Travel: This is a fairly new player in the travel hacking game, but one I'm very excited about. Their mission is to help you find award space on flights, which can sometimes be frustrating and difficult. Roame helps you find the best redemption for your credit card points and miles.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, however, these are sites I trust and have found to be invaluable. All contain multiple free resources to get you started. You have the choice to either take things slowly and learn as you go or consider paying for a travel hacking course to jump-start your learning. Bottom Line? Start earning free travel, dumbass. (yes, this is the 2nd time I've berated you for not using your free shit!)
Brad & Jenn's Travel Hacking Stats No. of Credit Cards Currently Open: 20 No. of Points/Miles Accumulated Prior to Leaving the US: 1.5 million Dollar Amount Saved (according to Travel Freely's calculator): $22,875 approx Current Credit Scores: 814-823
Travel Hacking Mini-Tips
The following is a list of mini-tips to get you started. I recommend starting small, which is why I'm sharing some quick money-saving tips.
Pay for ALL of your everyday expenses with a good travel credit card. We only use our debit card to withdraw cash from our bank account and NEVER to pay for everyday purchases. Credit card companies also offer bonus categories for certain spending, sometimes up to 20x the dollar amount. For example, that $300 Holiday Inn hotel bill charged to your IHG branded Chase credit card will yield 10x points to use on another stay. Additionally, I will earn another 6x points just for being a Platinum Elite member of their loyalty program. That's 4,800 points for future travel. On this particular card, I also earn 5x on any travel, dining, and gas purchase. Each credit card is different, so check their earning categories.
If traveling internationally, make sure you choose a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (there are several).
Choose a bank that reimburses ATM fees when withdrawing cash. Charles Schwab is at the top of most lists and they offer a free checking account. This is a game changer when traveling internationally. We NEVER exchange money at the airport or get currency at "home" prior to leaving. We use our fee-free ATM card.
Check the benefits on all your credit cards and use them. Many offer reimbursement for TSA Precheck, Clear, or Global Entry. Other common benefits include trip or baggage delay insurance, free checked bags, extended warranty protection, and lost luggage reimbursement. Benefits vary but most are valuable and you should be utilizing what you're entitled to.
If you'd like a referral to a travel credit card, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You'll get your points and I'll get a few too -- which will help keep us on the road!
What's Next? Life Update.
It's been a minute since we last chatted. May was a whirlwind. We were back in the US for almost 3 weeks. It was exhausting as we were constantly moving around to fit in everything we needed to do and all the people we wanted to see. Don't get me wrong, it was also AMAZING to reconnect - just not the slower pace of travel we've grown accustomed to.
On our way to Ireland, we spent a long weekend in New York City. My husband had never been so we took in all of the sites. We've been in Ireland since May 23 and haven't experienced one day of rain - we feel like we hit the weather lottery! No complaints, but we had prepared for rain gear and chilly weather, not shorts and sunburn. There's rain in the forecast for the next several days which is likely more typical.
Overall, Ireland is GORGEOUS. Like jaw-dropping gorgeous around every corner. We are here for a month and want to see most of the island, which means moving to a different "jumping off" area every 5-7 days. This is a much faster travel pace than we usually like, however, we keep telling ourselves it's only a month.
Mid-June we are moving to a tiny village between Berlin & Hamburg, Germany to pet-sit for a friend of our friends who live there. We are so excited to reconnect with our friends since we haven't seen them since 2017.
Our summer plans have changed (again), but we're learning this is completely normal, at least according to other nomads we've talked to. We will be heading to Edinburgh, Scotland for 10 days for a dog sit, then back to England, near the southern coast for another month. We have vacation planned in Croatia with dear friends towards the end of August and will stay there through September. Home for a very brief visit in September, then heading to Mexico City for 6 weeks and Oaxaca, Mexico for another month before heading into Central & South America for winter. Whew! I'm sure something will change by the next time I post.
Wishing you a wonderful summer!
Cheers, Peace, Love, and Kindness,