Are you traveling again?! How can you afford to travel so much?!
I’m asked these questions all the time and you can make it so people start asking you these same questions, too! The truth is I’m not rich (thus the blog title The Globetrotting Teacher). I haven’t done anything that someone else couldn’t do and I’m certainly not breaking any rules. Simply put. I make my money work for me by earning miles and points for travel, a.k.a. travel hacking.
This introduction is for anyone who wants to up their travel game and turn that dream trip into a reality. By taking the actions in this post, you’ll learn the getting started basics you need to redeem miles and points for award travel.
Before we begin, just one note. The information I’m going to share is best-suited for a U.S. traveler. If you’ve landed on this page and live in the U.K., head over to Travel the Globe 4 Less where Anne shares her incredible expertise on how to earn and use miles and points with her fellow Brits.
The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Travel Hacking: Getting Started
Travel hacking is the skill of using miles and points to earn free or nearly free travel. The description makes it sound pretty easy, right? Well, you know nothing is ever really that simple, right?
What I mean is you’ll need to dedicate time and effort into learning how to earn miles and points and how to redeem them for maximum value. Travel hacking definitely takes organization and planning. Once you get the hang of it, though, you’ll find travel hacking to be extremely thrilling…dare I say downright fun!
The key, though, is getting started.
Let’s face it. Getting started travel hacking feels overwhelming. It involves complicated and important things like credit cards, money, and credit scores. You work hard for these things and don’t want anything to harm them. Skepticism and even feeling as if you’re breaking the rules also get in the way and create yet another psychological obstacle to getting started.
Let’s take the step-by-step actions below together! It’s easier that way. 🙂
Also, make sure to read to the end of this post for your tasks and the downloadable and pinnable resources you need to complete them.
Step 1- Understand What You Want- Set a Goal
When you’re just starting out with miles and points, the usual advice is to have a goal. This is with good reason. There’s a lot of information out there and, as we discussed above, getting started can be overwhelming! Having a target to hit is typically preferable than not, wouldn’t you say?
1. Complete this sentence to clearly state your travel goal.
I want to travel hack because I want to go to [enter destination] for [enter reason] in [enter date and year]. Without travel hacking, it would cost me [enter cost].
For example, you might say:
I want to travel hack because I want to go to Paris and Rome for my 10th wedding anniversary in June 2017. Without travel hacking, it would cost me over $3,000.
Remember, you don’t have to save forever to take that BIG trip. Miles and points can make even the dreamiest destinations possible. Shall I remind you the sky’s the limit! 😉
If you’re a beginner finding this first step hard because you don’t have a specific travel goal in mind, rather just a larger objective of scoring an award flight or reducing the cost of your next trip with a few free hotel nights, not to worry!
Think of what you want to get out of collecting miles and points. Whether or not you’ve set a specific travel goal, consider these questions to help visualize what travel hacking success looks like for you.
- What is your travel style? Are you comfortable sitting in economy or do you prefer a higher class seat? What is your idea of a comfortable hotel or accommodation? Do you have a one-time special occasion or travel splurge you’d like to use your miles and points on or are you trying to squeeze every last cent of value from them?
- Who, if anyone, travels with you? Are you traveling solo or with a spouse/significant other? Do you travel with kids or a family group?
- Where do you want to go? If you have a specific destination in mind, that’s great. If not, generalizing is also helpful. For example, my husband and I want to go to Europe next summer.
- What’s the closest airport(s) to where you live? Flexibility is key to being a successful travel hacker. Know the airport(s) within a reasonable distance from you. For example, in NYC, I have 3 airports close by, but I always consider Philadelphia as another option for award flight searches. Once you decide which airports you can fly into and out of, are any an airline hub? If yes, this means more flights with that airline are likely to route in and out of that airport.
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you create a clearer picture of what your goal is and what travel hacking success will look like for you. It’ll also give you a general sense of how many miles and points you’ll need to redeem for your goal.
Keep reading to the end of this post for your tasks and downloadable and pinnable resources!
Step 2- Understand Airline Alliance Basics
Simply put, airline alliances are groups of airlines that have partnered together in a mutually agreed upon way. Alliances offer passengers more flights to more destinations around the globe than a single airline could do on its own.
I’ll be going into more detail about how to leverage airline alliances to maximize your airline miles. For now, let’s keep it basic. There are 3 major airline alliances, Star Alliance, OneWorld, and SkyTeam. In the U.S., the 3 biggest domestic/international airlines each belong to a major alliance.
- United Airlines-Star Alliance
- American Airlines-OneWorld Alliance
- Delta Airlines-SkyTeam Alliance
2. Take a look at the images below to see which airlines belong to which alliances. Think about airlines you commonly use or already have miles with. Who are their partners? If an airport near you is a specific airline’s hub, which alliance is that airline in and who are their partners?
Every airline is not a member of an alliance, but many are. As a beginner, you’ll want to be mindful of which type of miles and points you work on earning. Spreading yourself too thin with airline mileage balances among several different airlines or alliances could end up being a waste. Having 2k airline miles sitting in an account for an airline you’ll never fly is not a smart strategy.
In addition to being aware of the airlines you fly and which airline alliance they are in, it’s important to understand airline miles earned on one airline can be redeemed for award flights on partner airlines, too. This means you need to know which airline you’d like to earn miles with so miles accumulate in a single account. For example, if you fly on Thai Airways, you can credit the miles earned to your United MileagePlus account to work toward a bigger United balance, instead of separate smaller balances that ultimately could go unused. Your United miles can be redeemed in the future for award travel with Thai Airways or any Star Alliance partner.
You’ve almost reached the bottom where you’ll find your tasks and downloadable and pinnable resources!
Step 3- Sign Up for Loyalty Programs
Regardless of your travel style, where you want to go, or whether or not you’ll be traveling with someone, you’ll need a place to hold the miles and points you’ll be earning. These are also the accounts you’ll be transferring credit card points into. Once you’re a member of a loyalty program, you’ll also get emails with the latest info regarding promotions and specials. I’ve taken advantage of plenty of these deals and earned a ton of points for award travel.
3. As a beginner, you should join the following airline loyalty programs. These are programs you’re likely to earn miles with and in many cases are direct transfer partners for credit card travel rewards programs.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
British Airways Executive Club
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
KLM Flying Blue
ANA Mileage Club
Here are some hotel programs you should sign up with to get started.
These are not exhaustive lists. You may find as you earn miles and points, it’s necessary to join another loyalty program. You’ll be fine doing this for the most part on a need-to-sign-up basis.
A few facts to consider:
- If you and your spouse each anticipate opening up travel rewards credit cards, you’ll both need individual airline and hotel loyalty accounts.
- Children, even babies, can earn airline miles in their own accounts. This is good if you take a lot of paid flights together and you want to get credit for all purchased flights.
- Some airlines, like JetBlue and British Airways, have household accounts. All members of the family can accrue miles to a specific account, which helps mileage balances to grow much quicker!
Make sure to keep all your member numbers and passwords organized! When I first began collecting miles and points, I used a simple spreadsheet I created in Google Drive. I still use this spreadsheet for some purposes, but I’ve shifted over to using AwardWallet now that I have many accounts to track. AwardWallet conveniently tracks most of my loyalty accounts in a single place.
Here is my spreadsheet for you to use as you get started. When the spreadsheet is open, go to the top left corner and click on File, then Make a Copy. The copy is yours to store and organize all your loyalty program info!
- State your travel goal and think about what travel hacking success means to you.
- Familiarize yourself with airline alliance basics, including which airlines you fly already or have hubs near you.
- Sign up for airline and hotel loyalty programs for you and your spouse/partner.
- Use the downloadable resources below, the pinnable infographics, and the link to my Google Spreadsheet to set your goal and organize your loyalty program memberships.
Start a travel hacking Pinterest board to keep all your resources in one place!
Are you a travel hacking beginner? What’s been the hardest part about getting started for you? What travel hacking tips could you offer other people just starting out?
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