Using points and miles to book free flights has allowed me to travel to almost 70 countries. Travel hackers like Chris Guillebeau even managed to make it to all 193 countries by age 35.
This year alone I have save thousands on flights to Mexico, Brazil (twice), Egypt, and Trinidad & Tobago to name a few. I have a full time job that doesn’t pay me to fly anywhere so I have to earn my frequent flyer miles on the ground. By travel hacking I am able to book free flights all over the world for free every year.
You don’t have to be a frequent flyer to fly for free.
What is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is the art of collecting frequent flyer miles and points to travel for free.
The majority of miles and points are earned without ever stepping foot on a plane. Many travel hackers earn hundreds of thousands of miles per year on the ground. Some even earned over 1 millions miles and points over a year.
You don’t need to spend any money outside of everyday spending to earn these miles or points to fly for free. The key is to take advantage of what is already being offered to you to start booking flights for free.
1. Sign Up for a Co-Branded Credit Card
Signing up for a new co-branded credit card is a fast and easy way to earn miles. Most co-branded cards come with at least a 30,000-mile bonus. Many travel hackers have maintained excellent credit while applying for and being approved for multiple cards at once. Each credit card application may hit your credit score between 3-5 points (according to Credit Karma) but that will quickly rebound with on time payments.
Many travel hackers have no trouble signing up for multiple cards at once, which earns them hundreds of thousands of miles in just a few months.
2. Sign Up for a Points-Earning Credit Card
Just like a co-branded card from an airline or hotel, points card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, are a great way to compliment your miles-earning card. Points cards also come with huge sign up bonuses that can be transferred or redeemed with award flights on your favorite airlines.
Combining a points card and a miles card is a great way to earn your way to a free flight.
3. Shop Through Online Portals
Signing up for new credit cards isn’t for everyone, which makes online shopping portals appealing. If you already do a lot of your shopping for yourself, holidays, or birthdays online then you should be using shopping portals. Any purchase you make online should be done through a shopping portal (assuming its not cheaper on another site).
Simply start your search at the shopping portal and continue to check out as you regularly would. You can earn miles for every dollar spent shopping through these portals.
Air Canada- Aeroplan EStore
American Airlines- AAdvantageEshopping.com
Chase- Ultimate Rewards Shopping
US Airways- Dividend Miles Shopping Mall
4. Earn Miles Sleeping at Hotels
Hotel loyalty programs are great for earning free nights at hotels. However, if you would rather earn miles at hotels then you should start your hotel search at sites like Rocketmiles. Instead of earning loyalty points towards a hotel you may never stay at again you will earn thousands of frequent flyer miles every night you stay at the hotel.
5. Earn Miles Eating and Drinking
Every major airline has a dining program where you earn miles for every dollar you spend at participating restaurants. Many even offer a sign up bonus for this free service. Just link your credit or debit card (any card is fine) and swipe it at the restaurant. These miles will automatically post to your frequent flyer account at a later date.
Popular Dining Programs:
6. Debit Cards
Credit cards aren’t for everyone, which is why debit cards offer a simple solution. However, debit-cards are a dying breed. Luckily, Suntrust Bank still offers a debit card in partnership with Delta. You will earn a few thousand miles on your first purchase and miles for every dollar spent.
7. Transferring Miles
In general mileage transfers are not great deals. They cost money for every mile transferred on top of a mileage transfer fee. If the airline is offering a 100% bonus on transferred miles, and they do throughout the year, then it can be a solid deal. You will have to spend money to earn miles in this situation but the value of the flight you redeem with miles will far outweigh the money spent making this a decent deal.
8. Car Rentals
As I mentioned you never want to let a mile earning opportunity go to waste. Airlines have partnerships with a lot of companies and this includes car rental companies such as Hertz. Delta allows you to earn up to 3,400 miles by renting from Hertz. If you are already planning to rent a car then this is the type of deal you can capitalize on.
You might not want another email filling up your inbox but airline newsletters are a great way to find out about new mileage earning opportunities. For example, had I not been subscribed to United’s newsletter I would not have earned a few thousand miles just for signing up for a Netflix account. Newsletters are a great way to stay informed.
10. Follow Along on the Forums
Forums such as FlyerTalk are a great way to stay on top of deals, mileage runs, and ask questions to frequent flyers. Don’t be afraid to engage or just browse the current topics. This is a great way to start saving on airfare.
11. Become a Travel Hacking Cartel Member
The founder of the THC, Chris Guillebeau, has been to every country in the world. He is the godfather of travel hacking (at age 35) and started a site to teach people how to book free flights. It seems too good to be true but I learned a lot being a member of the THC and they even guarantee you will book a free flight.
Yes, you do pay $15 per month (for economy membership) to learn about mileage earning opportunities but they do all the work for you. It is $1 for a 14 day trial but sometimes you have to pay a little to save a lot. I am a member and I have already booked around $3,500 in free flights for 2014 alone travel hacking.
12. Use Amazon Payments
Amazon Payments allows you to send up to $1,000 a month to an individual at no cost. This means you could use your travel credit card to send $1,000 to your roommate for bills, rent, or just simply send it to them once per month. They could write you a check for the balance they didn’t need and you can repeat this process 12 times a year for 12,000 miles or points.
13. Use Venmo to Pay Your Friends
Similar to Amazon payments you can link a card to your Venmo account. Venmo is a mobile payment app that let’s you pay friends for anything. This includes dinner, drinks, or everyday purchases. Use it for any expenses and earn miles and points along the way.
14. Pay Your Rent or Mortgage
Some travel credit cards have large minimum spending requirements. This means you won’t see those 30-40,000 miles until you hit $3,000 in a certain number of months. Since you signed up for the card to earn the miles you want to be sure to receive them. I like to avoid fees whenever possible but I would rather earn pay a little to get a lot.
Using a service such as WilliamPaid will allow you to pay your rent for a 3 percent fee. If your rent is $1,000, that will cost you $30 – but it all goes towards meeting that minimum spending requirement. ChargeSmart will also allow you to make your mortgage payment with your card online, for a fee. While I don’t recommend using these services all of the time, they can be useful for meeting spending requirements for a few months.
15. Pay Your Taxes
Again, I never like to pay an additional fee but if you use services such as payUSAtax and Officialpayments.com to pay your taxes with your points earning credit card online you can earn miles or points. The miles earned often outweigh any fees associated with using a card.
16. Automatic Payments for Bills
Create automatic payments online using your point earning credit card for all of your monthly utilities such as electricity, phone, cable, and internet. These payments will add up over 12 months to a lot of points.
17. All of Your Everyday Spending
Just like you set all of your bills to be paid with a miles or points-earning card you should always use your credit card in every day life. Of course you should not outspend your financial means but you should use it for anything you are already buying.
18. Read the Best Travel Hacking Blogs
I focus a lot on travel hacking but I don’t spend all my time on it. If you are obsessed with accumulating points and miles I recommend following my friend Brian Kelly aka The Points Guy. He is the professor of points and he will show you how to make the most of every card and points program.
I also recommend this list of the 6 Must-Follow Travel Hackers
19. Follow Travel Hackers on Twitter and Facebook
I learn about a lot of new deals from friends and fellow travel hackers on Facebook and Twitter. The best part is they are always willing to share a good deal.
Here are some favorites:
20. Ask For a Retention Bonus
When it comes time to renew your credit card it usually means paying that pesky annual fee. Many people cancel before this charge hits but before doing that give your bank a call. Ask for a retention bonus and ask for that fee to be waived. They might give you a large bonus for sticking around or even waive the fee but you won’t know until you call your bank.
21. Churn & Burn
So you didn’t get that retention bonus from your bank? Time to churn and burn that card. Basically, this is the cycle travel hackers go through to cancel cards that have lost their earning power and sign up for new cards offering big bonuses again. The key is here is to maintain excellent credit all year long. You won’t be able to sign up for 4 new cards at once with sub-par credit. Lose the cards that offer little value and capitalize on new cards with big sign-up bonuses.
22. Read the Art of Travel Hacking
I wrote a book about how I use travel hacking every day of the year. It will go into detail about everything covered here and a whole lot more. The best part is it 50% off right now using promo code: triphackr50
PS: If you buy the book and don’t earn a free flight you can return it no questions asked.
Happy travel hacking!
Keys to Becoming a Travel Hacking Master
- Always use your points and miles earning card for everyday purchases.
- Don’t spend outside of your means just to earn points and miles
- You won’t be able to use all of these methods but choose the ones that work for you and focus on them
- Never let a mile earning opportunity go to waste!
Within a few months you will have plenty of miles to start flying for free and become the ultimate travel hacker.