Conservative Travel Hacking

Conservative Travel Hacking

Late tonight, Mr. T and I fly to the UK to celebrate our tenth anniversary! We’ll spend 2.5 weeks driving around the UK, fly to Paris for the last three days, and then fly back to pick up our children. We have awesome posts lined up while we are away, so don’t be a stranger. If we’re slow on reading/responding to comments, I promise we will catch up upon our return. The comments are one of our favorite parts of blogging, so please share your thoughts even though the response may be quite delayed! And be sure to follow us on Twitter if you want to know what we’re up to!

While we’re off and away, I think it’s time we shared how we travel hack conservatively. I’ve been interested in travel hacking for years, but I only found sources churning 4-12 credit cards every three months and doing something called manufactured spend. Then I found the ultimate travel hacker resource for every level of travel hacker: Brad and Alexi and their FREE Travel Miles 101 Course (not an affiliate link, but I highly recommend signing up if you are interested at all in travel hacking). Alexi is a heavy credit card churner while Brad churns only a few cards a year and they teach you everything (earning money on the credit card sign-ups through their affiliate links).

FEARS: Brad and Alexi will cover everything you need to know much better than the quick outline I provide in this post. But know that travel hacking doesn’t lower your credit score (though you may want to avoid opening credit cards if you’re close to applying for a large loan like a mortgage) and ONLY PARTICIPATE IF YOU WILL PAY YOUR CREDIT CARD BALANCE IN FULL EVERY MONTH.

How to Be a Slow and Steady Travel Hacker:

  1. Always Be Spending Toward a Bonus on a Credit Card: The initial sign-up bonus on a credit card is the main way travel hackers accrue so many miles and points. Airline credit cards will offer 25,000-50,000 and hotel cards often offer free nights or a large amount of reward points after spending a certain amount (usually $1000-3000) on the card in a certain period of time (usually 3 months). The sign-up bonus is often enough for a domestic and sometimes international flight on airline cards. When you hit the minimum spend on one card and qualify for the bonus, apply for another card.
  2. Have a Trip in Mind: It’s easy to just get all excited about the MOST points, but airline and hotel points don’t usually go up in value and they do expire if you just let them sit. So plan a specific trip as you are accruing miles and points (ie: I would like to get the kids to the grandparents’ and Mr. T and I to the UK for our tenth anniversary. We plan to stay in both London and Paris, which can be very expensive for lodging, so I would like to offset those costs if possible).
  3. Buy Gift Cards: If hitting the minimum spend will not happen with your typical spending, buy gift cards for stores you frequent. Since almost 70% of our grocery budget is spent at Costco, we buy large Costco gift cards. ***Little-known fact: Costco allows you to use ANY variety of credit card on their website to purchase gift cards, so you’re not limited to American Express (or Visa starting next week!) as you are in the store.*** I also buy discounted gift cards on to Target at 4% off. I then use that Target gift card to buy Netflix gift cards to save money on my monthly membership! Wait to sign up for your next credit card until you’ve spent down a manageable amount of the gift cards. The point here is to keep your spending comfortable. You don’t want to spend more because you want more points and you don’t want to get overwhelmed paying for and accumulating gift cards faster than you can use them. Even if you can only sign up for 3 credit cards a year, that can easily be enough for three airline tickets to somewhere amazing!
  4. Keep a Spreadsheet: You want to keep track of when you open credit cards, how long you have to reach the minimum spend, the amount you have to spend on the card, and when you plan to close the card. A lot of cards will waive the annual fee for the first year, so you want to close the card before that hits. But you also want to keep the card for almost a full year for the sake of your credit history, etc. (You don’t want to be blacklisted for future applications, if that’s a thing.) Make sure you know when you need to close each card to avoid paying the annual fee.
  5. Set a Closing Date for All Your Cards: Consolidating my monthly bills was one of the best financial moves I’ve ever made. I no longer have to get overwhelmed with rolling due dates and constant bills. All of my credit card statements post on the 25th of the month (or a few days earlier if the credit card can only set due dates instead of closing dates… I’m looking at you US Bank!). Now, when I call to activate my card, I immediately request the closing date to be set to the 25th of the month. When the 25th (or whatever date you choose) rolls around, you know it’s time to PAY ALL YOUR BALANCES IN FULL (check your spreadsheet of credit cards if you’re worried you’ll miss a new one).
  6. TRAVEL THE WORLD!: The world opens a lot wider when you’re not paying as much out of pocket. Though this trip only sent Mr. T and I international, it’s possible for us to save tons of money taking our family of five abroad as well. We just need to plan ahead and start accumulating. Future plans: Cambodia with everyone and a summer spent in the UK with the everyone as well. As soon as we had the miles and points for this trip, we started (and continue) working towards accumulating the miles and points needed for those two trips.

Again, I recommend signing up for Brad and Alexi’s course because they walk you through every single step, tell you about the best redemption options, and the Facebook and Forum community are both really helpful in keeping up with latest offers, tactics, and helping with specific questions. The point is, you don’t have to be a heavy credit card churner to take advantage of free travel. If you’re comfortable doing it slowly, you’ll still get results! On Wednesday, I’ll go through exactly what we spent on airfare and lodging on this trip and how we did it.

Do you travel hack to any extent or have a million miles/point from work trips? Where have you gone on miles?


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  1. thejollyledger

    We are just now completing our first travel hack, an *almost* free trip to Disney World! I took Brad and Alexi’s course and Brad has a supplemental on how to do Disney. So far this trip has only cost me $150 in resort fees, but I have booked 5 nights and three flights, and one adult 5 day park hopper pass for nothing. Just two more cards for the additional passes plus I will have $700 cash back to pay for food. Pretty amazing I think, but you are right, you need to be organized, pay the cc in full every month and meet those bonus spends! Have fun in Paris!

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s so awesome! It’s so fun to hear the stories of others! I’ve read his Disney course as well!

  2. The Green Swan

    Great tips on travel hacking. We are still novices but we’ve taken advantage of a few bonus programs and saved over a thousand dollars last year. Still lots for us to learn to maximize this though. Thanks for sharing!

    • MaggieBanks

      Any way to save money on travel is worth it in my book. I’d love to hear more about the “bonus programs” you’ve used.

  3. Ah, funny this, Mrs. PiE also just posted on the same and made many of the same points. I will take it that you are both equally very smart!! Travel Miles 101 is awesome, especially for newbies.
    You will love Paris. Ile de la Cite and nearby Notre Dame are worthy of a day on their own. Just wandering Paris is the best way to see this city in our opinion. Le Marais, quartier Latin (lots of writing inspiration here), St. Germain walking tours are all fun. Have fun.

    • MaggieBanks

      We did have a great couple of days in Paris thought it was overly crowded for Euro 2016 (pro: fun to be there during the action. Con: TOO MANY PEOPLE EVERYWHERE!)

  4. Thanks for the Costco tip! We’re die-hard fans too. We also made out pretty well with the Southwest Visa.
    Have a fabulous trip!

    • MaggieBanks

      The Southwest Companion pass is one of the biggest goals for most travel hackers. But because SW doesn’t fly to Anchorage, it’s not worth it for us.

  5. Enjoy your trip! I’m slowly getting into this travel hacking world. We definitely try to put all of our expenses on our main credit card, which gives 2% rewards points back that we can use toward travel. Adds up quickly especially when I use the card to book plane tickets for work travels as well.

    • MaggieBanks

      I only travel 1-2 times/year for work, but that is my absolute FAVORITE when I can pay for work travel and get all the points/miles AND the reimbursement!

  6. We haven’t entered the travel hacking realm yet, however, I’m feeling we may dip our toes in and test the waters out next year. We have a MT trip and a NC wedding and we will be flying the whole family to both, GAH!!! We’ll ahve to figure out a way to defray those costs somehow. Plus, we also want to do Disney with the kids in a few years and that is it’s own travel hack opportunity we will definitely take advantage of.

    Enjoy Paris and your trip! I can’t wait to hear about the Harry Potter plays!

    • MaggieBanks

      As The Jolly Ledger mentioned, Brad and Alexi have a DisneyWorld hacking course as well which is EXCELLENT.

  7. So exciting, have a great trip. Look forward to seeing the pics.

  8. TheMoneyMine

    Have a good trip there!
    I have started looking into travel hacking as well and with all the tips you mention, I hope to be saving several $100s a year in travel. We’ll see how that goes but this is definitely an interesting experiment.

    • MaggieBanks

      As you say, it’s always worth experimenting. For us, the results have been worth it! And we are definitely pretty conservative about it compared to lots of others.

  9. I’m just learning to travel hack too, using the Travel Miles 101 course! We pay for our rent using travel cards. It’s a bit of a pain – have to buy two $500 gift cards, then use those to pay for a money order for our rent (how handy it comes out to $1,000). It does cost some money for the gift cards ($6), but it’s an expense we can handle. That, plus 100,000 miles I racked up for work several years ago, means I get to fly to FinCon for free this fall! 😀

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s awesome! We haven’t managed to get points from our mortgage, but that would be awesome! I usually try not to pay any fees because I’m fee-adverse, though there’s hardly an argument that sometimes it would be worth doing.

  10. I know you already left on your trip (hope you arrived safely!), but hope you guys have an amazing time! You already know how jealous I am that you’re seeing the new Potter. 🙂 I will have to settle for the stageplay in writing like the rest of us mere muggles. As for this post, I completely appreciate that you shared this perspective! As you know, so many travel hackers go all in, and the manufactured spending stuff alone is enough to make me break out in hives! I love your more reasonable, moderate approach to it! We may start doing more of this stuff after we quit, but for now we rack up enough work travel points to make extra hacking seem like too much effort. As of right now, I have 900K United miles and 500K Marriott points, but should be over a million miles before we quit. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      You know I’m completely jealous of your accumulated points and miles. (Though not the insane work travel that goes with them!)

  11. Congrats on your anniversary, I hope you guys have a great time in the UK. It’s probably too late now but if you manage to spend some time in Lincoln & York, it’s well worth it.


    • MaggieBanks

      We did spend time in York (and lots more in Yorkshire), but didn’t make it to Lincoln this time. Maybe next!

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