Hands searching through file folders with personal finance documents

5 Things You Need to Organize Before Travel Hacking

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

Do you ever wish you could travel more but aren’t sure how you could ever afford to take that dream trip?

Have you read or heard about others using airline, hotel, and credit card miles and points to book flights and hotel nights but were confused or overwhelmed about where to start?

This was me several years back. My travel list was growing long and it was getting harder to keep my wanderlust in check.

I discovered the hobby of travel hacking, earning and using miles and points for award travel, and it has been life-changing. I’m talking dream trips from Patagonia to Paris to eating Pad Thai in Bangkok and being on safari in Botswana.

If you’re thinking about getting started with points and miles, there are a few things you’ll want to organize first. This guide covers everything you need to know.

5 Things You Need to Organize Before Travel Hacking

Hands searching through file folders with personal finance documents

As with any new hobby, though, you need the right start. A strong foundation is THE key to success.

Imagine skiing the steepest slope your first time on skis. Or how about ending up in an advanced Spanish course without knowing how to say Hola?

Would you feel confused and overwhelmed?

I would!

The experience might even be a total turn-off for future attempts!

It’s the same for learning how to effectively earn and use miles and points to reach your dream destination. The foundation is everything. 

Take time to organize these 5 things before jumping into points and miles.

1. Imagine your travel goal.

It’s likely if you’re dreaming of traveling there are plenty of places and experiences on your travel bucket list. Stirring up your inner wanderlust is accomplished with just a scroll through your Instagram or Pinterest feeds.

So, where do you want to go?

Imagine that place with you there.

Picture yourself soaking up the sun, zip-lining through the jungle, tackling that climb, or touring those ancient ruins.

Once you focus on specific dream destinations, momentarily pull yourself from the clouds to make a few practical decisions.

Choose the time of year or season you want to go. 

Think about who will travel with you, if anyone.

Decide if you plan to fly in economy class or if you’re determined to book premium class seats.

Using miles and points to redeem for award flights and hotel nights takes planning and effort.

You need to have an idea of how many miles and points you’ll need for the trip you want to take.

Of course, with more people or family travel, you’ll need more miles and points than if you were traveling solo or as a couple. But don’t let that dissuade you!

Plenty of people travel hack for themselves and a family quite successfully. 🙂

Passengers sitting on their chairs in airplane cabin

2. Get in the travel habit.

If you’ve put off travel because, like many, you think you can’t afford to do it, you have too many responsibilities, or your travel anxiety has taken control, you’ll need to get (back) into the “travel habit,” so to speak.

Let’s be honest. Earning and using miles and points for travel is a hobby that takes time.

Why bother if you’re not going to make travel a priority?

Besides, airlines and hotels make changes that could devalue your miles and points at any time. Better to earn them and use them, rather than have them collect dust in your account.

Summer hiking

Is there a museum or hike you’ve been meaning to cross off your list? Plan a day trip or a weekend getaway near you.

Buy a travel guidebook for the place(s) you plan to visit. Start tabbing pages with the things you’d like to see and do.

Update your luggage.

Get Rosetta Stone or Babbel to learn common phrases in the native language for your destination.

Once you set this force in motion, it’ll be hard to go back or talk yourself out of your travel dreams.

3. Get your finances in check.

Do you know where your money goes each month? What do your bills and everyday spending add up to?

Organize your monthly budget before you start with miles and points.

How much money do you earn each month? Understand how that money is being used.

What are your fixed expenses? What are your variable expenses? Do you save or have anything leftover at the end of the month?

You might need to make adjustments and spend less or more on something once you see your budget overview.

Paying Bills

Organized finances are a travel hacking must!

Before applying for travel rewards credit cards, it’s important to pay any credit card debt down/off first. You’ll improve your credit score and have better miles and points-earning opportunities later on.

4. Know your credit score.

The quickest and most lucrative way to earn miles and points is by applying for travel rewards credit cards with large welcome bonuses.

To take advantage of the best offers when you’re ready, you’ll need a credit score of at least 700 and a willingness to monitor your credit score with a service, like Credit Karma. Some credit cards even offer this just for being a cardholder.

Check your credit report for any inaccuracies. If something doesn’t look right, work on getting it removed.

Credit Score

Did you know that, if done correctly, travel hacking can help your credit score in the long run?

There are a lot of factors that go into calculating a credit score and a lot of myths about credit cards, in general.

As you begin to travel hack, be open to debunking what you may believe about credit scores and credit cards. I have plenty of credit cards and my credit score is well above 800.

5. Make the commitment to learn but don’t be intimidated.

It’s not uncommon to want to learn more about miles and points yet to feel frustrated because it seems so “overwhelming.”

Let me tell you, years (and years!) ago when I was getting married, I “discovered” my husband-to-be had quite a stash of Amex points.

I remember thinking to myself I wonder if these will be useful for booking our honeymoon flights or hotels! 

The point is, I started from zero and so can you. Yes, there are miles and points geniuses out there. You don’t have to be one of them to be successful.

Start by learning the basics by enrolling in my FREE, Travel Hacking Basics Course.

Free Travel Hacking Basics Course Sign Up Form

Make a commitment to learning and go at your own pace.

Remember, you didn’t stop biking, cooking, skiing, or gardening because others were better or more knowledgeable than you. These hobbies also took you time to learn.

So, don’t be intimidated or overwhelmed by travel hacking. Stick with it to reach your travel goals. 🙂

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20 thoughts on “5 Things You Need to Organize Before Travel Hacking”

  1. People make travel hacking look easy and risk free, but your post shows what people have to think of before participating in this “sport”. This is really helpful and can avoid having a lot of problems later. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Exactly, Eva. A little bit of organizing can go a long way when it comes to travel hacking.

  2. I like your advice of making a commitment to learn but not overwhelming yourself! I feel this sometimes but remind myself that people need to start somewhere!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      You absolutely have to start somewhere, Anna. You don’t want to miss out on the travel rewards out there.

  3. What great tips you have compiled. I especially like the finances tip. Often it can be quite shocking how much we spend on inane things. Those Starbucks soon add up and could fund an entire trip if you have a daily habit!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks, Anne. If you know how much you spend each month, it also helps you know how much you can spend on a minimum credit card spend.

  4. Great tips I totally agree with all if you want to travel you have to be organised. Visualise your target and then work towards it. I have managed to do some trips using miles even though my country doesn’t provide the same opportunities as the USA does.

  5. I love these ideas! I am currently saving Avios points for a big USA trip, although it can be overwhelming at times. Thanks for explaining everything so clearly, I’m totally going to keep planning for my goal!

  6. Really great tips! It’s always important to prepare for travelling. People think it’s just as simple as booking a ticket and going but there’s so much more to it especially if you have a tight budget!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      You can really organize yourself to maximize your travel hacking, Anita. Saves headaches later.

  7. Travel hacking for an enormous group of people can be the difference between them ever going anywhere on a trip. I must admit I don’t hack too much, but I am still mindful of costs. Having a goal is one of the most important things I think and then really celebrating the achievement once you have been able to tick that off your list. Doing the first one is usually the hardest then it becomes addictive. Hope your course goes well.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      That’s exactly it, Kerri. I could never travel as much as I do without travel hacking. It’s changed my life and it definitely is addictive! 😉

  8. Jackie,
    Thank you very much for the travel hacking insight! As a fellow teacher (HS Foreign Language), I hope to set an example for my students of visiting other countries/places and appreciating the culture of others. This goes to show that where there’s a will there’s a way! I look forward to continuing my learning.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi Jason! Thanks so much for reading. So nice to connect with another teacher. 😉 Glad the post is helpful for you on your travel hacking journey. It is totally possible to travel on a teacher’s salary!!

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