Travel Hacking | The Complete Guide | 2021

Did you know you can score free travel by signing up for credit card rewards schemes and airline loyalty programmes? 

 

Well, you can and it’s known as travel hacking. 

 

However, there’s a lot more to it than just signing up and getting a free flight… and yes, you will have to spend money and think strategically to get it…

 

So, where does the ‘free’ part come into it I hear you ask? 

 

By cashing in on sign up bonuses and building up points to be exchanged for air miles… 

 

That’s how. 

 

In this post, we’re going to find out exactly how to do this.

Table of Contents

What is Travel Hacking?

So what actually is travel hacking? 

 

The term itself sounds dodgy however, all it refers to is signing up to airline loyalty programmes and using credit cards to take advantage of sign-up bonuses.

 

You can also build up points through everyday spending, to then be exchanged for air miles. 

 

Many airlines offer programmes where points can be exchanged for upgrades, lounge access and yes, discounted tickets and yes, even free flights. 

 

The other side to travel hacking is to take advantage of credit card sign up bonuses. 

 

Many cards offer this in the form of points when you meet a minimum spend. (More on this later). 

 

With more cards on offer than ever before there’s never been a better time to travel hack than here in 2021. 

 

Now we know what travel hacking is, how realistic is scoring free flights? 

Is Travel Hacking Realistic?

Yes, I know what you’re thinking… 

 

“Oh, it all sounds too good to be true”. 

 

“Too much effort, a sneaky catch or I’m just not cut out for it? “ 

 

But if you’re willing to put some effort into it, and think strategically about how you book flights, travel hacking is very realistic and can be very profitable, in the form of free flights and upgrades. 

 

That said, it will require spending money (no more than you normally would) and requires the ability to keep track of all your points.

Different Types of Travel Hacking

In this post, we’re going to be focusing on 1 major type of hacking (credit cards). 

 

However, there are actually three different types of travel hacks you can do…

Airline Loyalty Programmes

Almost all major airlines offer loyalty programmes. 

 

Programmes where you sign up, to collect points with that airline when you book with them consistently. 

 

Loyalty programmes are only really worth it if you fly regularly (or you travel full time) and you should only choose 1 -2 airlines that you like to fly with. 

 

(There’s no point in having lots of points spread out with lots of different airlines). 

 

The points can be used to reduce the price of your next trip, upgrade your ticket or if you have built up enough points, a free trip somewhere. 

 

Points can also be transferred to an airline’s partners, which can be hotels, restaurants and most importantly for you as a travel hacker, other airlines!  

Hotel Loyalty Programmes

Many major hotel chains around the world offer loyalty programmes. 

 

If your travelling frequently and have a hotel you like or usually book with, signing up for their loyalty programme should be a no brainer. 

 

Some major programmes include; Accor Live Limitless, Best Western Rewards & Choice Privileges. 

 

But, be sure to check which programmes have hotels in the areas you want to travel to.

Credit Cards

By far the best (and fastest) way to take advantage to become a fully-fledged ‘travel hacker’ is by using credit cards. 

 

Credit card sign-up bonuses and building up points through everyday spending are the two best ways to get started. Let’s take a look at how you can do this…

Credit Card Travel Hacking

Credit cards are scary, right? 

 

Yep, I know how you feel. 

 

Most of your life you’ve probably been told to avoid credit cards at all costs, that they’re dangerous and can send you into spiralling debt for the rest of your life… 

 

And yes they can do that.

 

But not if you’re smart… In fact, they can be quite the opposite.

What is Credit Card Travel Hacking?

As a travel hacker, you want to be using credit cards to score bonuses for signing up for different credit cards. After claiming the signup bonus, you can then build up your points through everyday spending. 

 

Although the name ‘hacking’ implies otherwise, taking advantage of credit card rewards is perfectly legal. 

 

The most important thing to get right with credit card travel hacking is to ensure you meet the payment every month.

 

 If you spend on your credit card, simply transfer the money over from your current account and stay on top of things. This way you don’t carry debt or pay any interest. 

 

By using credit cards, your money is multiplied through building up points, compared to using your normal debit card, where money gets spent and does nothing else for you. 

 

Sadly, most people don’t know this. 

Pre Credit Card Considerations

Signing Up

Before you sign up for any credit card, there are a few things you need to know. 

 

This includes; The points bonus, the minimum spend and the annual fee. 

 

The points bonus is how many points you’ll be rewarded with by meeting the minimum spend. 

 

The higher, the better. 

 

All credit cards require a minimum spend in order for you to be rewarded with the bonus. For example, a minimum spend of $3000 in the first 3 months. 

 

In addition to this, almost all cards have an annual fee, which will vary depending on what the card offers in terms of its rewards and perks. 

Meeting The Minimum Spend

At first, meeting the minimum spend of a credit card may seem extremely daunting. 

 

$3000 dollars in three months sounds like a lot right?  

 

Well to be honest, not really. 

 

This isn’t spending in addition to what you already spend. 

 

In fact, you should NEVER be spending any more than you already do in order to claim rewards bonuses! 

 

To meet your minimum spend all you need to do is use your credit card to pay for everything, including; Rent, food, transport and pretty much any cost involved with daily life. 

 

You’ll likely find you spend $3000 quite easily over the course of 3 months. Just make sure you pay the credit card in full every month to avoid paying any interest. 

 

As well as this, many cards offer 2 and even 3x points when you spend in certain categories.

Keeping Track

Always keep track of what you spend on a credit card. 

 

Do this by regularly checking your account and being aware of card payment dates. 

 

This is especially true if you have a few different cards on the go. Be sure to pay any credit card in full every month and don’t spend any more than normal.

Best Travel Credit Cards for Beginners (UK & US)

Let’s take a look at 6 of the best credit cards for beginner travel hackers. 

 

All of these cards you can sign up for right now. 

 

I’ve chosen 3 from the US and 3 from the UK.

Best UK Travel Credit Cards

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card

This is perhaps the easiest card to sign up for if you’re a complete beginner. 

 

Just sign up for an AMEX account and apply for this card. The Amex Preferred Gold Card offers a 20,000 point sign up bonus when you spend £3000 within the first 3 months.

 

There is a £140 annual fee, but it’s waived for the first year. 

Fantastic for getting started in the world of credit card travel hacking. 

Sign Up Bonus

20,000 PTS

Minimum Spend

£3000 (3 Months)

Annual Fee

£140 (Waived First Year)

Points/Spend

N/A

British Airways American Express Rewards Plus Card

With this card, Amex partners with British Airways and offers 25,000 points if you spend £3000 in the first 3 months. 

 

Offering 1.5 Avios (the points ‘currency’ BA uses) on £1 spent anywhere. Great for building up points any time you tap your card. 

 

However, there is a £250 annual fee for this card. 

Sign Up Bonus

25,000 PTS

Minimum Spend

£3000 (3 Months)

Annual Fee

£250

Points/Spend

1.5 Avios / £1 Spent Anywhere

Virgin Atlantic Reward + MasterCard Credit

This Virgin/Mastercard credit card offers 15,000 points after your first card purchase within 90 days. A super-easy way to get your travel hacking career kick-started.

 

Despite the £160 annual fee, you earn 1.5 points on £1 spent anywhere.

Sign Up Bonus

15,000 PTS

Minimum Spend

Any Purchase (Within 90 Days)

Annual Fee

£160

Points/Spend

1.5 Points / £1 Spent Anywhere

Best US Travel Credit Cards

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Arguably the best credit card for travel hackers from the US. 

 

Offering an incredible 100,000 bonus points when you meet a minimum payment of $4000 in the first 3 months. 

 

The $95 annual fee is very little compared to the rewards you gain from this card. Points are increased 5X when booked through Chase Ultimate rewards. 

 

In addition to this, you earn 2X points on all travel-related purchases and 3X on all dining purchases. 

Sign Up Bonus

100,000 PTS

Minimum Spend

$4000 (3 Months)

Annual Fee

$95

Points/Spend

1.5 Avios / £1 Spent Anywhere

Chase Ink Business Preferred

An amazing card if you own a business! 

 

Offering a 100,000 points bonus when you spend $15,000 on travel in the first 3 months. 

 

You can also earn 1X points for every $1 you spend anywhere, with an annual fee of $95. 

 

Despite the high rewards of this card, the amount you need to spend in order to get the bonus points makes it only viable if you’re a business owner with existing travel expenses.

Sign Up Bonus

100,000 PTS

Minimum Spend

$15,000 (3 Months)

Annual Fee

$95

Points/Spend

1X Points / $1 Spend

Capital One Venture Card

This is a fantastic card to get started with. 

 

There is no annual fee (yep $0) and you can start earning 1.25X points on everyday purchases. 

 

Another amazing aspect of this card is that you only have to spend $500, in the first three months, in order to gain a 20,000 points bonus. 

If you’re in the US, this should be a ‘no-brainer option.

Sign Up Bonus

20,000 PTS

Minimum Spend

$500 (3 Months)

Annual Fee

$0

Points/Spend

1.25X Points / $1 Spend

Extra Tips For Credit Card Travel Hacking

Always Save Your Points For Miles

Almost all cards offer the ability to exchange your points for discounts on other things such as restaurants and shopping. 

 

However, if you want to be a serious travel hacker, you’re going to need to resist the urge to use your points on such things. 

 

All the points you earn should be saved and only used in exchange for flight miles. This can either be with the airline associated with your card or with one of their partners.

Don’t Get Cash Back

Never use your points for getting cash out, as this isn’t going towards building up your points. 

 

In fact, it’s just going to eat away at them further.

Travel Hacking Summary

After learning what travel hacking is and how you can become a fully-fledged real-life ‘hacker’, the main thing you should take away from this post is that you should ALWAYS be building up your points. 

 

(If you want to find out more regarding points, look no further than The Points Guy). 

 

Never spend, book a flight, stay at a hotel and even tap a card, without using your credit card or gaining points from a loyalty programme.

 

It’s just too much of a waste. 

 

That said, make sure you always pay any credit card off in full and keep track of all the points you earn, so you don’t lose track and let points expire. 

The best way to start your travel hacking career is to sign up for airline/hotel loyalty programs.

Yes, travel hacking is perfectly legal, it is simply taking advantage of the bonuses that credit card companies and airlines offer in terms of points. 

Yes, if you’re committed to doing it and keep track of your spending, travel hacking definitely works.