Psst….(whisper) There’s something your boss doesn’t want you to know! Actually, there are 10 things your boss hopes you don’t know!
They’re about travel hacking, you know, the art of collecting miles and points for award travel. Did you know 41% of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day in 2015 and a big reason was because they couldn’t afford to go on vacation?
Were you one of them? Well, you can change this! It’s always a great time to plan a trip, especially when you use miles and points to travel for less. 🙂
Why do I travel hack? It lets me travel to places around the world I never thought were possible. I’m going to share all my secrets so you can make your travel dreams happen.
Ok,make yourself look busy so your boss doesn’t suspect anything. Then, listen closely because I’ve got 10 travel hacking secrets your boss hopes you don’t know. They’re your keys to using those vacation days and taking that dream vacation you’ve been imagining. Ready?
1. Airline and Hotel Loyalty Programs are FREE to join.
In order to earn miles and points and eventually use them, you need to be a loyalty program member. Join a few major programs to get started like United, American, and Southwest Airlines and IHG and Hyatt hotels. Where do you want to fly? Which airline flys to and from your home airport? Do you have a favorite place to visit and always stay in the same hotel brand? The answers to these travel goal questions can help you get started signing up for loyalty programs. Remember to keep your username, passwords, and loyalty member number organized. A basic spreadsheet can help you keep track of your information so you know how to log in to your account later on.
2. There are a ton of great credit card offers for beginners.
Banks offer many different credit cards. So, which cards should you look at? There are many myths about credit cards. Mostly, they’re bad and will kill your credit. Both are untrue, as long as you’re a responsible person who doesn’t overspend and pays off their bills at the end of each month. So which credit card(s) are right for you?
While it depends on your travel goals, there are a couple tried and true credit cards all beginners should apply for first. The Chase Sapphire Preferred and/or Reserve cards are arguably the best travel rewards cards out there. With a variety of airline and hotel partners, you can flexibly transfer the points you earn. Pair it with the Chase Freedom to earn 5x the points on purchases in different bonus categories and you have a powerhouse beginner points earning strategy. Chase has also tightened its rules about the number of credit cards a person can apply for from any bank. Starting with these cards ensures you won’t be denied later on for too many previous credit card applications.
3. Minimum spend requirements are a lot easier to meet than they look!
You’ve got your eye on a travel rewards credit card to begin earning miles and points. You stop in your tracks when you see the $4k (Each card is different so check.) minimum spend requirement over 3 months. Your boss is hoping you give up, discouraged and dejected. After all, there’s no sense in applying for a credit card and missing out on the sign-up bonus because you didn’t meet the minimum spend.
Relax! It’s easier than it looks. Think about your monthly expenses. What expenses could you pay with a credit card that would normally be paid from your bank account? Things like mortgage and rent are difficult to pay with a credit card, but cable, cell phone, and insurance bills can be paid easily with a credit card. What about other expenses like doctor co-pays, Netflix, a vet bill, groceries, or a gym membership? All of them can be paid for with a credit card. Planning to buy something expensive like a laptop or new TV? Need a gift for upcoming birthdays? Use your credit card. In fact, put your debit card away altogether (see below)! Just be sure to pay your credit card bill in total at the end of the month the same as if it had come directly from your bank account.
4. Earn miles and points buying your morning coffee.
Once you have points-earning credit cards like the Chase Sapphire and Chase Freedom, use them to buy your morning coffee. Every guide to travel hacking will tell you to use your credit cards to buy all the things you would regularly purchase. And, those guides are right! Don’t use cash or your debit card for everyday purchases unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your boss hopes you’ll misinterpret this and spend beyond your means so you’ll have to work even more to pay your bills. Be smarter! Use your credit cards for all the purchases you’d normally make, like your morning coffee, and nothing more. A successful travel hacker earns award travel by getting a return in miles and points from the money they already spend. Spend smarter, not more.
5. Earn miles and points on your way to work.
Every day you travel to work, you can earn miles and points to help you eventually travel away from work! Your boss definitely doesn’t want you to know this! The Citi Thank You Premier earns 3x the points for every dollar spent on travel expenses, which includes gas! The American Express Everyday Preferred and the American Express Premier Rewards Gold both earn 2x the points on gas. Chase Freedom typically offers a quarter of 5x the points on gas station purchases. Like the Citi card mentioned above, Chase Sapphire Preferred/Reserve gives 2x/3x the points on travel. This could include train or bus tickets, subway passes, even automatic toll responders! Maximize these bonus categories and you’ll be commuting to a Caribbean beach, zip lining in Costa Rica, or sightseeing in a European city faster than you know!
6. Earn miles and points on your lunch break.
It seems this is one of the best-kept secrets in all travel hacking, except maybe for my next point. When I tell a beginner about airline and hotel dining programs, it seems too easy and they almost don’t believe me! Use your airline or hotel loyalty number to sign up for that airline or hotel’s dining program. It’s free! Sometimes you even get bonus miles or points just for signing up. As part of the sign-up, they’ll ask that you register a credit card. Use a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred/Reserve because you get 2x/3x the points for dining. Now every time you eat at a participating restaurant and use the card you registered, you’ll earn 3x-5x the points from the dining program plus any points your credit card gives you for dining. Just imagine how many miles and points you could earn for lunch or any other meal!
Pro Tip! If your boss finds out you know about dining programs, order in from a participating restaurant. The same points-earning applies to delivery when you order directly from the restaurant.
7. Earn miles and points buying work clothes.
Or buying anything else you need for work or otherwise! Have you heard of shopping portals? Similar to dining programs, many airlines, hotels, and even banks themselves, have shopping portals for their loyalty members or cardholders. Using your member number or credit card account, log in to the shopping portal. Here you’ll find thousands of the same merchants where you likely already shop. Macys, Petco, Nike, Best Buy, Walmart to name a few. Each merchant has an earn rate. For example, Petco will earn you 3x the points in the United Airlines shopping portal. (Earn rates change regularly.) Click on the merchant and you’ll be redirected to the merchant’s website just as if you’d typed in that web address directly. Only now, you’ll earn the number of miles per dollar indicated from within the shopping portal! What could be better than saving time and buying the things you need using shopping portals to earn miles and points right under your boss’s nose?!
8. Gift cards aren’t only for gifts!
It’s a no-brainer to use your credit cards for purchases that fall into their bonus categories. Chase Sapphire Preferred/Reserve offers 2x/3x the points on dining so you always use it for dining. How about when you need to buy something at a hardware store or electronics store? Grocery and office supply stores have kiosks that sell gift cards. Use credit cards with these bonus categories to buy the gift cards you need for your purchases. For example, during Chase Freedom’s 5x the points bonus quarter at grocery stores, I buy Home Depot gift cards. Then, I use the gift cards to make my purchase at Home Depot. With a little bit of planning, I just earned 5x the points on my Home Depot purchase! Oh, remember, you can also buy gift cards for gifts this way, too!
9. Airline alliances are your friend.
It’s no secret your boss wants those vacation days to go unused. But, they won’t if you recognize the power of friends and friends of friends. If United Airlines doesn’t fly to where you want to go, you can bet one of their Star Alliance partners does. When you search on United, it shows partner flights, too. American Airlines might not have availability but a partner like Cathay Pacific or Finnair might. I’ve used American Airline miles to fly on Finnair, United Miles to fly on Thai and Swiss Air, and even British Airways Avios (points) to fly American. Knowing about airline alliances is a major key to award travel success. It’s even possible to use partner award charts to your advantage and get the same exact American, United, and Delta flights for less because you’ve booked your seat with the cheaper number of miles needed by the partner. Want to know how to get miles with these partners? Keep reading!
10. Transferable points-earning credit cards are better than Capital One Rewards.
Here’s where your boss has enlisted the help of A-list celebrities like Jennifer Garner and Alec Baldwin to convince you that your airline miles will be useless because there’ll be no award seats when you try to book a flight! They try to convince you to get the Capital One Rewards card because then you can use the points you earn for any travel expense. What they don’t tell you is that you’ll often need more Capital One Rewards points to book that flight than you would if you transferred miles from a points-earning card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Thank You Premier or American Express Rewards Gold.
For a rough example to illustrate this point, I did a quick Google Flights search from New York to Paris in June. Prices range from $750-$1,000. Let’s say you choose a flight for $850. You’d need 85k Capital One points to redeem for that $850 flight. United and American Airlines would only ask for 60k miles for the same seat because they’re giving you greater value for your miles. Some of their partners would get you to Europe for even fewer miles (see Airline Alliances above!)! You could easily transfer the points you needed from credit cards with a variety of airline and hotel transfer partners to book your flight and accommodations.
Now that you know these 10 travel hacking secrets, share them with your friends and family. Quietly go about earning award travel for your vacation and smile to yourself as you submit your request for time off. Won’t your boss be surprised!
What did I miss? Have any secrets to add? Which secret will be the most helpful for you?
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