Travel Hacking: Getting Started

Living on Earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip around the sun every year.
— Unknown

Travel Hacking

Part I: Is it Right for You?                         


Part II: Getting Started (This post!)                          

Part III: Card Selection



Part IV: Using Points: Flight Bookings 

Part V: Using Points: Hotel Booking      


Guide: Recommended Cards






So you’re ready to start amassing points, but not quite sure where to begin? You came to the right place! If you didn’t read Travel Hacking: Is it Right for You?, I suggest giving it a quick read, particularly the qualifiers. If what I outline below seems a bit daunting, you can certainly just get a card or two and not worry about most of this. However, even if you think you’ll go the lightweight route, I caution you that it is addicting, so make sure to at least start with the right card. Remember…you are doing this to get free flights and hotels…it’s worth it! I will share my best practices to make it easier and to reduce the risk of mistakes.


Tools of the Trade

We all know the adage about having the right tools for the job…this certainly holds true for travel hacking. Here are the tools I use that will make travel hacking much easier. Hopefully you already have a couple.

  • Credit Monitoring (CreditKarma) – Besides obviously to monitor your credit score, you can also see the age of your accounts and how many you have opened in a given time period (this becomes important).
  • Financial Software (Mint) – You need to monitor your spend closely to ensure you hit your spend requirements on each card in order to obtain the points.
  • Password Manager (1Password) – Besides creating / using secure passwords, you’ll be logging into accounts more frequently when you travel hack.
  • Card Tracking Spreadsheet – I’m happy to share mine with subscribers, or you can create your own. You’ll at least want to track the date approved, the spend requirement / timeframe, when you hit the spend, and if the bonus hits.


Understanding Your Spend

Most cards with point bonuses will have a minimum spend to hit within a certain timeframe, typically $3k in 3 months. It is very important to understand what your normal monthly spend is that does (or can) hit your credit card. When you travel hack, you want every $ to hit a card, both to retire spend commitments as well as to earn more points. You should look at every bill and see if you can pay with your credit card, and obviously avoid using cash whenever possible. There are often fees for items such as your mortgage that aren’t worth it, but you’ll be surprised at how much you can move to hit your credit card. After this exercise, you will know which cards to get and when. 


 Lounge access compliments of Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass benefit.                          San Jose, Costa Rica

Lounge access compliments of Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass benefit.                         San Jose, Costa Rica

Defining Your Goal

At this point, I’m assuming your goal is free or discounted travel, but it’s worth taking it a step further. This will help refine what cards are the best fit for you and the order in which you get cards.

  • Some cards offer perks such as free lounge access, priority boarding, or a refund for Global Entry. These cards may have high annual fees, so you need to assess the value of these benefits. If your goal is one free domestic family vacation a year, the value may be low. If you’re a globetrotter the value may be priceless.
  • If you add on extra days to your corporate business trips (airfare covered), then you may want to pursue hotel-branded cards so your accommodations are free and to obtain hotel lounge access.
  • You may also have a particular trip in mind and can determine how many points you will need with a particular airline by a certain date.

 I realize there is a lot to this, so hang in there. I’m breaking into bite size chunks, in the right sequence, to help make it more palatable and to help you avoid mistakes. In my next post, I will break down the primary point programs and the optimal card sequence, but if you have any questions or comments please post below. For subscribers, who are serious about getting started, I’m happy to talk or email about the best card strategy for you at no cost.

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Read the next post in the Travel Hacking Series: Part III: Card Selection

Safe travels!