When I first started hearing the buzz phrase “travel hacking”, I immediately felt like I was missing out on something. Some big opportunity. But the more I read about it the more I see that I’ve been doing it all along. The truth is if you’re a savvy traveler, you travel hack. Here are my top tips for travel hacking and even a few things to keep in mind before going overboard.
There are many good credit cards out there that allow you to redeem for travel and some that even give you a bonus amount of miles just for applying. However not all of them are actually worth the trouble. When looking for a great credit card there are a few key perks they should all have. Ideally you want to have no annual fee. After all, it’s not travel hacking if you’re simply paying cash for all of the perks each year. Read the fine print. Some offer no annual fee the first year, but after that you’re out of luck. Some cards with an annual fee may be worth it if they offer the option to wave the fee in return for dollars spent. In an effort to earn as many points as possible, I put everything on my credit card so this is actually easy. Think about how many everyday and big ticket items you can use your credit card for. I am even planning on paying my Singapore taxes with my credit card this year which is thousands of points in an instant. You also want to make sure your card has no international fees. Even a small fee can add up with lots of transactions. Lastly, you want to make sure that there are no black out days. My favorite card, Capital One, allows me the opportunity to book my own flight and they credit my account as soon as its booked. Even when I don’t redeem travel with my miles, I still sometimes book travel through this card as they are often able to get me a cheaper rate with their search engine.
Be careful with credit cards. Travel hacking is great, but not at the expense of your credit. If you are American, opening any type of credit card will impact your credit score. So don’t go crazy opening up cards in exchange for miles. When you’re ready to finance a house or car you will be kicking yourself if this was your strategy to fly for free. If you are an expat, you may be interested in looking up local options for credit cards. These accounts may not show up on your American credit report, but you’ll need to double check. I’ve just opened up a credit card in Singapore that does not impact my credit score, has bonus points just for opening an account, and gives you triple points for every travel related purchase and for overseas purchases. I can transfer my miles to Singapore Airlines when I’m ready to redeem.
This is a no brainer. There is no fee for collecting frequent flyer miles. You can sign-up for as many alliances as you like and provided the fair class is eligible, you will be credited. In each alliance, I signed up with the airline I fly most often. And when booking I always pay attention to the airline and make sure it belongs to one of those alliances. In most cases this is easy, and as long as you remember to book with your frequent flyer number you will be credited after each flight. I’ve had quite a few free flights this way on just about every major network; Star Alliance, One World, and Sky Team and even some of the airlines that operate alone such as Philippine Airlines.
Benefiting from fare errors is perhaps the hardest travel hacking category for me. If you live in a larger U.S. city, these errors happen all of the time and you just have to be quick and in the know. There are plenty of Twitter accounts to follow or websites to read that provide updates, such as Airfare Watchdog, The Flight Deal or Secret Flying. I’ve yet to hear of one within Asia aside from the budget airline sales that happen from time to time, but remain optimistic.
Buddy passes are the hardest for most people to get because as the name implies you have to be friends with someone who works for the airlines. But if you happen to make a friend, this is a good option. Rather than pay a full fare you pay for the taxes and if the flight has the space you can fly business class. You won’t accrue any frequent flyer miles, but did I mention you could go business class? When traveling a long distance this is huge! This method of travel comes with a gigantic catch. You really have to know and trust the person with the passes. If someone offers to sell one to you, walk away. Trust me, it’s not worth the trouble. If you are traveling a great distance the fees add up, and you have no control over what day you actually get to travel. You may show up at the airport ready to board your flight only to find that it’s full and will be full for days to come. Be warned, those taxes and fees also add up. My whole summer vacation was nearly ruined because of all of the variables out of my control, not to mention the price. In my opinion, if you’re going to pay that much, you should have less uncertainty.
Last but not least, one-way travel offers great savings. If you have time and creativity, you can put together a great itinerary. On my current trip to South Africa I booked a one way ticket. Rather than fly straight back though, I booked three flights totaling what I would have paid for my direct return trip to Singapore. Instead I’m stopping to visit Abu Dhabi and India. One tip though, if you’ve been searching various routes for a long time and are now ready to book, clear your cookies. Sometimes flight fares go up when the search engines know you’ve been looking for one-way travel.
I hope you enjoyed the tips. Comment below if you have some travel hacking suggestions to share.