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The Beginner’s Guide to Travel Hacking

Dec 22, 2019 | Travel Tips | 1 comment

If you’re trying to live the high life without spending the money it takes to get there, I hear you. That’s why you need to learn about travel hacking.

Travel hacking is the act of working within the rules of airlines, hotel chains, and credit cards to gain free and upgraded travel at a discount.

These 10 tips can help you fly first class at a steep discount, stay in hotels for free, and become the savvy traveler you want to be!

1 // Research Travel Rewards Credit Cards.

At this point, there are travel rewards credit cards everywhere. But, how do you know which ones are the best for your lifestyle and interests?

You research. Like crazy.

I went with the Chase Sapphire Preferred because the Chase Ultimate Rewards system is the most versatile for spending points, and its $95 annual fee was affordable.

However, there are travel rewards credit cards out there that offer luxury rewards, lounge access, elevated hotel and airline status, all for a higher fee.

You have to ask yourself if you will use those perks often enough for the annual fee to be worth it. Let’s just say that an upgrade is in my future after loving my Chase Sapphire Preferred this year…

So, once you’ve done your research, pick the best one for your spending habits and travel goals. The more I learn, the more I save. I want the same for you!

2 // Search for Mistake Fares.

Mistake fares can be very elusive, but they don’t have to be. Basically, mistake fares are a mistake in an airline’s pricing system.

But, if you buy the ticket before the mistake is corrected, then they will usually honor it.

For example, I booked a flight from Atlanta to Glasgow, Scotland for $280. When I looked at the airline’s pricing calendar, the same route usually costs $600+.

I booked that ticket like I was on fire. I needed it IMMEDIATELY.

Had I waited even a few hours, I would have lost that discounted fare.

You can find mistake fares on Skyscanner, and there are several mistake fare chat forums. You never know what’s out there!

3 // Multiply your miles at a discounted cost.

What most people don’t understand about accruing frequent flyer miles is that it’s best to do so when there’s a multiplier involved.

Allow me to explain.

Usually, my Chase Sapphire Preferred gets me 1 point per dollar on purchases that are not travel or food. Sure, that’s an okay perk.

But, when American Airlines offers a points multiplier through their own portal if I book a Marriott hotel stay or do my Christmas shopping through my AAdvantage account, that’s a deal.

Check your emails from every frequent flyer account you have!

(Psst! You should have a frequent flyer account for every single airline you’ve ever flown. Ever. In your flying history. Period. It’s free to have one.)

Because, if you do, they’ll tell you about mile-multiplying collaborations they currently have. If you’re already making purchases from those retailers, do so through their system and reap the bonus miles!

4 // Book business class flights with miles.

I can’t tell you how many business class overseas flights I’ve seen for over $10,000.

There is no reason for someone to pay that much for a business class flight with the multitude of credit card sign-on bonuses and mistake fares out there.

For example, let’s say you get a travel rewards credit card with a 60,000-point sign-on bonus for $3,000. If you spend $3,000 in three months and gain all those points, you could get a business class lie-flat seat for an overseas flight by only paying the taxes and fees (usually under $15).

These exist. Seriously. So please don’t pay outright for a business class seat if you haven’t already exhausted all these other options. That’s literally a savings of thousands of dollars for an amazing experience!

5 // Use hotel status to earn free nights.

This brings me to hotel co-branded credit cards. For example, Marriott Bonvoy rewards has co-branded credit cards with Chase.

Out of these credit cards, you could chose one with no annual fee, a $95 annual fee, or higher than that.

But, the card with a $95 annual fee pays a much higher sign-on bonus than the zero-fee one. You also earn a free night per year on most hotel credit cards with low annual fees, along with automatic status and late-check out perks.

If the average Marriott hotel costs over $100 per night, then using your free night certificate will eat up the cost of the annual fee.

On top of that, you can earn tens of thousands of points through meeting the minimum spend on the credit card.

Not interested in hotel points? No problem! You can move those points to your favorite airline frequent flyer account, turning them into airline miles.

Bing, bang, boom! You now have even more miles by using a hotel credit card.

6 // Apply for small business credit cards for your side-hustle.

Worried about affecting your personal credit? I understand. I love finance, and I love earning points. However, money is the #1 thing that stresses me out.

This blog is a money-making, money-spending small business for me. Out of many I would love to start, this one is the first I’ve really taken a leap on.

I could, and probably should, open a free business checking account and put blog expenses on a business credit card. It helps to separate blog expenses from personal.

That’s where travel rewards business credit cards come in. You can apply for one as a sole proprietor, using your SSN in place of an EIN. Not only does this help you stay more organized, but you can continue to earn sign-on bonuses through these.

The most important thing to remember is that you must pay off the balance in full each month, and you should know that you will meet the minimum spend for a sign-on bonus before you apply.

Don’t wonder–know.

7 // Activate cash back offers in your credit card and bank accounts.

Chase and both of my banks are great about emailing me opportunities to activate cash back.

Once you see one of those emails in your own inbox, click on it and see which merchants are included in this offer. With the click of a button, you can activate those to earn cash back on purchases with merchants you already use.

For example, when I was booking Airbnbs for my most recent trip to Paris, I activated a cash back offer in my Chase portal. With 5% back, I earned some money to go towards my next credit card bill!

Who doesn’t love that?

8 // Search your emails for free status upgrades.

This one is one of my favorites. This fall, I was looking around in my frequent flyer accounts. I noticed that American Airlines had new rewards offers. One of those offers was a free status upgrade to Platinum Pro status.

That’s one of the upper tiers with American’s rewards system. And I got it for free with the click of a button.

So, when my mom and I flew to New York, we got priority boarding included due to my status. Even though we were on basic economy tickets!

Status upgrades do expire eventually unless you meet the minimum spend to keep them, but that was amazing to test out for free!

9 // Book hotels through third-party websites that have their own rewards programs — but only if that deal is better than the hotel’s own website!

Hotels and tours are the only travel products I will book on a third-party website. Some travel rewards credit cards offer alliances with, where members can earn extra points through the website.

Expedia members can unlock special rates, and earn points on the platform toward free stays. is another great example of a site with its own rewards system with secure booking portals.

All of that being said, many travel hackers like to rack up points on these websites, as well. Don’t forget about points through third-party hotel websites!

However, if you see a great hotel, search on Google for their website before booking with the third-party. Sometimes, they offer a better deal on their own that’s worth more in discounts than the points!

I only book with Expedia,, or if their deal and points offerings for that reservation are better than the hotel’s own website.

Large chains like Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and IHG are always better to book on their own website. But, that’s not necessarily the case with boutique hotels.

Also, if you’re needing a last-minute deal, Hotel Tonight is a great option!

Use the code SASTEWART61 for $25 off!

10 // Use credit cards to gain free lounge access.

Again, with travel rewards credit cards, you can improve your travel experiences exponentially. Through paying the annual fee and using all their perks, they can offer such cool experiences and save you money.

This way, you can have a luxury airport experience without having a business or first-class ticket. You can get work done, use fast Wi-Fi, and enjoy free food and drinks.

If you fly frequently and work on the road, access to lounges can help you meet deadlines, keep up with your career, and save you money on food during travel days.

All of this as just one perk in a travel rewards credit card? Sign me up!

. . .

Travel hacking is not only a fun hobby, but an amazing, empowering way to save money, travel more, and learn about finances.

Which of these tips will you use to save?

Pin this post and save it for later!

Machu Piccu in background and text "how to see the world for free"

1 Comment

  1. Krystianna (@VolumesNVoyages)

    These are all great hacks! I love using skyscanner to find cheap deals. When I was studying abroad in Dublin, I was able to get some cheap fares for $20-$30 all around Europe.
    Krystianna @ Volumes and Voyages


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Hi, I'm Sarah

Girl on boat with turquoise water in background

Welcome to my oasis! I am a writer and budding entrepreneur with a love for caffeine, capital gains, and seeing the world. If I'm not writing, you can find me reading a good book, trying out a new vegan recipe, or adding to my coffee mug collection. My goal in life? To see every country in the world. Come along for the ride!

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