Travel Hacking 101 – The Ultimate Guide to Becoming A Travel Hacker

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In this ultimate guide of travel hacking, you’ll learn how to travel for significantly less and be able to vacation and indulge yourself more than you can ever imagine.

I’ll teach you what travel hacking is, which kind is best for you, and the ins and outs of travel, airline, and hotel credit cards. You don’t want to miss the top notch hotels I’ll show you how to get in this guide with certain credit cards.

What is Travel Hacking?

Travel Hacking

Travel hacking is the act of collecting points from banks, hotels, and airlines to travel for free or for huge discounts.

We all know what loyalty programs are. A good one is every tenth cup of coffee you get a free cup.

This makes most people think that travel loyalty programs are the same. Spend 1000s of dollars and maybe you’ll get a free checked bag.

I'm going to teach you that you don’t need to spend money outside of your daily spending to earn these points and miles for free. The way to do this is to take advantage of what is being offered to get these flights, hotels, and even cash for free.

Travel Hacking Joseph Sleek

Is Travel Hacking for You?

Now, travel hacking isn’t for everyone. There are some people that I wouldn’t recommend to get into this hobby.

Probably the most important requirement to get started travel hacking is that you must be 100% fiscally responsible. I’ll get into credit cards and everything a little bit later but we all know credit cards have insanely high interest rates.

The only way this will work is if you’re able to pay 100% of your balance each month.

Is travel hacking for you

Because if you use a credit card to get 15% of your spend back in free travel but you’re paying 24% in interest that doesn’t really make sense, right?

Most people that do this hobby/lifestyle are either very number-driven and can remember when cards are due and what they’re charging where. Or they have a system to keep track and stay on top of things.

Stephen Liao racks up millions of points and says that being number-driven can help you out a lot in this game but it isn't necessary. 

Stephen Liao

Usually the second group keeps auto-payments on all their cards and a spreadsheet just to keep track once you get a good collection of cards.

If you’re applying for mortgages or other loans, travel hacking shouldn’t be done at least six months from when you think you’ll start applying. We’ll get into this a little bit later about how doing all this affects your credit score (believe it or not, it makes it higher!).

But for now, you don’t want the flow of signing up for new cards on your report when it’s time to get that huge mortgage.

Speaking of which, if you have zero credit or below a fair level of a score (650 or below), you probably won’t be able to get far.

90% of the recommendations I’ll give you around credit won’t work unless you have a 700+ score.

If you are in the category of 650 or lower credit score and even if you’re in the area of 650-699, you should focus on simple tactics to build your credit.

Learning to increase your credit score is essential and everyone needs to learn it.

This won't work if you don't want to do any work.

Travel hacking isn’t entirely just go crazy with no strategy and don’t put any kind of thought into it. It’s actually entirely strategy and thinking.

Which sign up bonus is best?

Is this bonus better than the past history of bonuses for this card?

Should I use card A or B for this redemption?

Do I pay with this card or that card?

How will my next vacation be free?

These are all questions I ask myself when I’m thinking about being a travel hacker and if you don’t have the patience, stamina, or brainpower to do this, this probably isn’t for you.

thinking hard gif

What we won’t cover here

Now this is a guide to getting started. So there are things involved with travel hacking that won’t be brought up here that some hardcore guys think should be in this post.

I just want to clear the air here and explain some things I won’t be talking about if you’re looking for those answers here.

These are all things I’ll talk about in future posts but for now it doesn’t make sense to go in my guide for getting started.

I’m not going to talk about manufactured spending. There are some good ways of doing this and lots of ways that could end up getting all of your accounts closed.

Basically, this is creating fake charges and putting the money back into your checking accounts without spending any real money.

It’s a dirty game and banks and credit card companies are getting more aware of it and they will take all of your points and shut down all of your cards - they have the right to do it too!

Status with companies is a huge ball game and one of my favorites when it comes to travel hacking. I got upgraded to a better suite because of my hotel status in Vegas and I reserved a basic rental car and got to drive a convertible in San Diego because of things like status.

Mustang Rental Upgraded

But I’m not going to talk about it too much here just because getting status with these companies can be it’s own ultimate guide.

Not really going to get into churning here just because it's more advanced. Churning is basically signing up for a card, getting the bonus, cancelling the card, then signing up again as soon as you're eligible.

Banks are getting savvy to this as well and you can end up with your accounts being shut down if you aren’t careful.

Using The Game to Our Advantage

Now we are already so far into this guide and I bet you’re thinking this all sounds great but what exactly is travel hacking about? What is the process to get started? Well here we go…

Becoming a travel hacker means that you are using the rules of credit cards, airlines, hotels, banks, and other travel topics to win at their own game.

Think about a credit card for a second. There are a couple different levels of credit cards but let’s break them down.

You have Credit Card A.

This card gives you no points, you get no cash back, it’s basically just a piece of plastic in your wallet and it’s building your credit. These cards have no offer when you sign up with them but they have the easiest approval odds and basically anyone can get them.

Credit Card A

Most likely someone you looked up to told you to get a simple credit card and that’s the one you have. Nothing wrong with that but you’re going to learn why that card is worthless (besides the age of it) to you.

Then there’s Credit Card B. It is a good card. Every time you use it, you get 1-2% back in cash or points. Usually no or very low annual fees on this card and they usually are where most travel hackers start when they want to get into the early game.

They usually have pretty easy sign up bonuses like get “$50 back after your first purchase” or “spend $500 and get $150 back in points.”

Credit Card A & B

This sounds pretty good right?

Now let’s look at Credit Card C. These are the big ones. You get 5x points when buying airplane tickets or 3x points on every dining option you can think of.

They give you access to airport lounges, you get credits back when you purchase within certain categories like travel, you get free nights and status with hotels, you get priority boarding and free checked bags with airlines and lots more that we will get into below.

Now what’s the bad side about Credit Card C? They are expensive to get (annual fees) and they aren’t available to anyone (must have good credit).

Most of these annual fees range from $95 a year to $550 a year!

Now 90% of people are going to tell you that any card with an annual fee isn’t worth it. Why spend that much money on a piece of plastic that stays in your wallet?

Because of the huge expected value you’ll get that outweighs the annual fee.

Most of the luxurious cards could involve you paying $400+ for the annual fee but you’ll get thousands of dollars back in value when you factor in the sign up bonuses and the benefits from the specific cards.

Now I feel you asking, “Joseph, I want to know these cards already and find out which one is right for me!” I’m going to get to that but first I got to explain why credit card companies do this.

You see, these sign up bonuses aren’t cheap. I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and got 50,000 points after hitting the minimum spend requirement of $4000 in three months.

Now with Chase Ultimate Rewards points I could cash that 50k out for $.01 per point meaning I get $500 back just for hitting a bonus. That comes out of Chase’s pocket.

I actually made that bonus worth more than $800 because of certain tactics that I go into detail in this resource and you can find out about that in the link below.

Travel Hacking Joseph Sleek

Anyways, on the bank's side, $500 to get a credit card customer is pretty expensive. These banks are averaging 25,000 people getting new cards every day. 

Why do credit card companies do this?

The most obvious reason is because they want to make the money off the interest on your card. Remember in the earlier section where I said travel hackers must pay off their card every month. This is why.

I’m getting $500 back off $4000 spent. I’m getting 12.5% back on the low side of redeemable points which you’ll see what I mean later. But if I’m getting 12.5% back and I’m paying 20% in interest what happens?

I’m paying 8% more interest than if I just paid cash. So it makes no sense if you’re trying to hack the system.

Pay your Interest Rates

But banks know that a lot of people do this. We all know at least one person who has a maxed out credit card gaining interest each month and they’re only paying the minimum amount.

I sure hope this isn’t you. But this is how the banks make more money than they are paying on the sign up bonuses. That’s their first revenue stream on making their money back.

The second stream is from processing fees. Every time you swipe any card, debit or credit, the place of business that you are purchasing something from, has to pay fees to everyone in the middle handling the money situation.

If you have a Hilton credit card from American Express that’s hooked up to your Apple Pay and you scan it on a machine at a food truck, Hilton gets a cut, Amex gets a cut, Apple Pay gets a cut, and the company that owns and operates the credit card machine gets a cut.

You’ll find a lot cards will do things like give you a free hotel night or some other benefits once you hit a certain threshold of spending with that card because you’re making them money every time you use it.

Travel Hacking Joseph Sleek

Even if you’re paying off your card 100% with no interest before the statement date, the bank is still making money off you so they can’t be too upset.

You also can’t be too upset because by putting certain daily expenses on different cards, you’ll see in just a second how beneficial it can really be.

Introduction to Bank Credit Cards

Top Credit Cards for Travel Hacking

Now we’re going to get into the good stuff. I’m going to walk through how Bank Credit Cards like Chase, Amex, Citi and others work and what some of these credit cards can get you when you get their sign up bonus.

I’m going to mix in a couple easier cards and also some advanced cards but we’re not going to go over secured cards or cards that don’t offer anything of value.

Keep in mind that almost all of these cards generally need a recommended credit score of 700+ and above. This doesn’t mean that you will get denied if you have a score below that and it also doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get approved if you’re above it.

Don’t come back to me yelling because that’s my warning to you. Every company and application is different.

One of the earliest things you’ll learn on your journey to becoming a travel hacker is the Chase 5/24 rule. The Chase 5/24 rule states that you can’t get a good amount of Chase credit cards if you have gotten 5 or more credit cards within the last 24 months.

This means if you have gotten two Chase cards, two Amex cards, and two Citi cards in the last two years, you’ll automatically be denied for about half of Chase’s cards. If a card is being issued by Chase, you need to research and see if it is affected by this rule or not.

Because of this rule though, most people’s strategies involve getting Chase cards first. Think about it. If we sign up for five cards with other banks, you can’t get any Chase cards for two years.

But if you sign up with the Chase cards and get them first then you’re free to get whatever after that and not worry about this rule. This is just one of the ways that strategy plays a big part in this game.

Now let’s get into some different bank cards and what they all mean.

Because of the 5/24 rule, I’ll start with some Chase cards first. That is usually what I recommend to people when I do one-on-one coaching with them on travel hacking.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom Unlimited

The first card I try to start people with is the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. This card is a no annual fee card and the sign up bonus gives you 15,000 Chase UR points after spending $500 in your first three months.

The card is a pretty great everyday card because it gives you 1.5x points back on all your purchases. So if you spend $100 on a car repair, you get 150 points into your account. You’ll see later about different category spend and how to utilize it.

Now with each one of these cards I’ll explain some things you can get for obtaining the sign up bonus. I’ll either show you a cool redemption with it or the cash value of it depending on the card.

Because the Chase Freedom Unlimited is technically a cash back card, you can really only redeem those 15,000 points for cash back at $.01 a point. This means your 15k bonus gives you $150 back. That doesn’t sound bad at all but we’re travel hackers now and travel hackers always want more.

I’m going to show you how to turn this into more right now.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Let’s get into one of Chase’s premium cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This card is powerful because not only can you redeem for cash back but you can transfer it to the hotel and airline partners that Chase has.

Chase Transfer Partners
Chase Transfer Partners

So with this card I can transfer any of my Chase UR points to United, Southwest or any other airline partner and redeem it for flights. I can also transfer it to Hyatt, Marriott or other hotel partners and get free hotels with it.

I’m not going to get into the exact actions to make this happen because I can do that at another time.

Now the Sapphire Preferred is definitely on a different level than the Freedom card. It comes with a 50,000 point sign up bonus after $4000 spent in three months. Now this could be very difficult for some of you.

After the credit card section of this post, I’ll talk about some ways to help yourself reach these high requirements in a way that is simple, efficient and without buying things you would never use.

Now because this is a premium credit card, it comes with an annual fee but it’s not bad at all. It’s a $95 annual fee and it’s actually waived within the first year. This means that you can test out the card and get the sign up bonus before even paying $95 for it.

You get 2x points on everything you buy within the travel and dining categories. Travel classifies as airlines, hotels, motels, timeshares, campgrounds, car rental agencies, cruise lines, travel agencies, discount travel sites, passenger trains, buses, taxis (including Uber and Lyft), limousines, ferries, toll bridges and highways and parking lots and garages.

Any company that serves food or drinks should count as a dining purchase including bars, coffee shops, and food delivery services. As long as the business registered as a resturarant when applying to accept credit cards, the purchase should qualify for 2x.

Now let’s talk about that 50,000 sign up bonus. Just like with the Freedom Unlimited, you can cash it out for cash making that 50k equal to $500. If you have $4000 in bills, who would turn down paying your bills and getting $500 back?

Now another option that you have with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and their more luxurious card the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the option to use their travel portal and pay for anything travel related with points.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal

If you want to stay at a hotel that you can’t transfer to, this is how you would do it.

Basically the travel portal takes the cost of the hotel, or flight, or rental, or even ticket to certain things and it’s proportionately calculated into points value. If you are using the CSP it turns into 1.25x cents per point and 1.5x cents per point for the CSR.

Now I know that made no sense to you so I’ll give you an example.

Let’s say we have a hotel room that costs $250. With the CSP, you can use 20,000 points to pay with Chase points instead of cash.

If you remember, if we wanted to cash out 20,000 points we would get $200. So we’re actually turning $200 into $250.

If you want to go on a flight that’s $625 to Europe, that would cost you 50,000 points. So you’re turning $500 of the cash in value to a $625 flight.

Now the last way you can use points is the best and that’s transferring out. This is different though and can get kind of difficult for some people.

Travel Hacking Joseph Sleek

Transferring points to airlines and hotels can become very confusing and you have to make sure the math is good for you. But a good rule of thumb for transfer partners is to try to get at least $.02 per point here.

So let’s say you are finding a flight to Hawaii. You find one that is $700 and it costs 35,000 miles. 700 divided by 35,000 equals .02. This means that the value you would be getting for 35,000 points is 2 cents for this $700 flight.

If you find this flight to Europe for $350 and it is also 35,000 points. 35,000 divided by $350 equals .01 or 1 cent per point. This is where redeeming here wouldn’t make sense.

You would get more value finding the flight on Chase’s travel portal because this same flight would be worth 28,000 points, saving you 7,000 points.

Transferring points is where you get some tremendous value and I’ll go through some of the best redemptions that you could get from the Chase Sapphire Preferred sign up bonus.

Here’s some crazy things you can get with 50,000 Chase UR points.

Two Nights at Maldives Hadahaa Resort

Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa

This wouldn't be your average vacation. These Villas are some of the best in the world and the weekend that I randomly inputted came out to only $2,125 A NIGHT for these villas.

Now 99.999% of people can't afford that. But what you can afford now is signing up with a credit card and getting to stay for two nights at 25,000 points a piece. Making your weekend getaway cost you 50,000 Hyatt points. 

Because the room cost is $2,125 and the point cost is 25,000, we can figure out the cost per point value we are getting here is 8.5 cents a point. We get that by dividing the cost which is $2,125 divided by the points which is 25,000.

2,125/25,000 = .085 * 100 = 8.5 cents. 

A great redemption value is two cents and you're getting more than 4x that! Just make sure that you send Chase a travel notice to let them know you're going out of the country. 

Extra tip: you and your significant other get this card and you have a 4 Day Getaway.

Introduction to Airline Cards

Now we all know bank credit cards aren’t the only kind of credit card you can have. Airline credit cards are pretty much the second most popular after bank cards and rightfully so.

Now I’m going to give you my opinion here and a good amount of the community agrees with me but 95% of the time bank credit cards are going to be the card you’re using.

Airline cards and hotel cards, which we’ll get into later, give points that are only useful for one thing. That’s using the points with their own company.

Now this is bad for two reasons. The first one is because let’s say you have 100k Delta points and you want to go to Europe. You can only go a specific week and Delta doesn’t have anything available that week because their flights are full.

You’re basically out of luck here. Unless you want to pay with cash, you can’t go on this trip. Now if you had 100k Amex points or Chase points, it would take a lot more for 10 or 15 different transfer airlines to be full to get you over to Europe.

The second reason that bank points are a lot nicer than airlines is because banks can’t devalue their points too much.

Let’s say you have family in Canada and you always fly United Airlines home. It costs 20,000 points to get there and 20,000 to get back. Nothing is stopping United from changing the point cost for this flight to go from 20,000 points to 30,000 points.

So your flight home could go from 40k points to 60k points overnight!

not good gif

This happens a lot and it’s just part of the game. That’s why I’m recommending for you to focus on everyday spending on bank credit cards.

Now I wouldn’t have a section talking about Airline Credit Cards unless there was a reason for them in this game and of course there is.

Airline cards sign up bonuses are some of the best in the game. Almost all of them give you enough to get a round-trip flight and some give you a chance to take a business class international flight as well.

Let’s go into some of these cards…

United Explorer Card

United Explorer Card

The United Explorer Card is offered by Chase and you need to be below the 5/24 rule to be accepted. If you’ve gotten more than five new cards in the last 24 months, you’ll be automatically denied for this card.

It has a $95 annual fee but it’s waived in the first year. It comes with a 50,000 point sign up bonus and you need to spend $3000 within the first three months.

I’m not even going to mention the points you get on spending because like I said, once you hit the sign up bonus you probably shouldn’t use this card unless you only will fly United.

But now you’re thinking, “If I’ll never use the card, why would I keep it?” This is a good question and depends on your use of it.

It comes with extra perks that can justify you keeping the card.

The first perk is that you get free checked bags for you and one other person when flying with United. It costs $25 per bag to check so if you take one round-trip flight with someone that would be $50 on the way there and $50 on the way back.

This already makes you positive (only a little) over the annual fee.

You get a $100 credit for Global Entry which is a great perk and one I’m taking advantage of soon.

You get priority boarding and a 25% discount on in flight purchases. That $10 vodka and Sprite just went down to $7.50!

You can use this 50k sign up bonus to fly anywhere in the United States on four flights. 12,500 miles gets you anywhere in the continental United States. This could be two round-trip tickets for free or four one-way tickets.

Most airline cards work the same way and I think you get the gist of it.

Introduction to Hotel Credit Cards

Now we’ve gone through bank cards and airline cards. Now we’ll move on to the last and probably my new favorite category of credit cards which is hotels.

It’s very hard to find a hotel credit card that isn’t worth keeping because 75% of them offer a free night every year that you keep the card.

This means you pay an annual fee of $79-$95 and you get to use it at certain categories of hotels but these hotels usually cost $300-$500 a night. Plus a lot of them give you some sort of status with the hotels meaning you might get some upgrades, free breakfast, gifts and more.

Just like with airline credit cards, spending on hotel cards usually aren’t recommended unless you’re staying at the hotel. But the main difference is if you’re getting those free rooms, most likely you’re getting positive value from keeping the card before you even factor in the sign up bonus.

Speaking of bonuses, hotel cards have some of the highest you’ll find in the credit card game.

Let’s go through a couple and see what you can get…

Hyatt Credit Card

The Hyatt Credit Card has a two tier sign up bonus. You get 40,000 points after spending $3000 in three months and you also get 20,000 more points if you spend $3000 more in the first six months.

Basically spend $6000 in six months and you’ll get 60,000 Hyatt points.

Want to spend some time in Paris? You can stay at the Hyatt Paris Madeleine and check out the Eiffel Tower for two nights at 25,000 points a piece and still have points left over.

Or maybe you want to see the ball drop in Times Square.

Stay at the Hyatt Times Square New York for 25,000 points a night but make sure to have give plenty of time before booking. These rooms go fast! This view would be crazy!

Hyatt Times Square Ball Drop

After the first year and you pay your annual fee renewal, your loyalty account receives a free night credit that can be used at any category 1-4 hotel in the world.

This free night can easily be worth $300. The annual fee is $95.

You can get this card along with your significant other or travel buddy and pay $95 each year and take a fancy weekend trip that can easily be worth $600 - $1000 a weekend. All by paying just $190 a year in annual fees.

Ways to hit sign up bonuses

Now part of the travel hacking game is getting all these cards to hit sign up bonuses. You’re probably thinking that you only put $200-500 on credit cards a month right now. You’ll never be able to hit these $4000+ sign up bonuses.

That’s not true. I am going to show you a couple easy ways that you can hit these and do it in a way that you won’t get in trouble with the credit card companies.

Now my first tip is to always have a strategy before getting the card. If you don’t have a lot of spending coming up and you want a card with a $5000 minimum spend, you should probably just play it safe and get one with a smaller minimum requirement.

I’ll never go to get a card with one of these huge sign up bonuses unless I can plan out exactly how to get to those $4000 and $5000+ numbers.

Next is if you don’t have too many expenses in your life you should probably only go for one sign up bonus at a time.

You might be thinking who signs up for multiple cards in the same month and you’ll be surprised.

Once you take action on this stuff, you’ll be gaining confidence after you start hitting these bonuses and you’ll maybe think you can do more than one at a time. I wouldn’t start it in the beginning phase just because you don’t want to miss out on the bonus from a silly mistake.

The first actionable tip I would suggest is to make the card you’re aiming to hit the bonus your primary card. You can use a different card if it has a specific purpose and you need the extra insurances on it or another benefit but mostly use your new card until you get the bonus.

The second tip is to pay your rent with the card. Most people don’t know you can do this but if you have a high rent cost and you don’t have much else that you pay for to hit minimum spend you can use a company like Plastiq.

Basically you pay Plastiq and these guys send a check over to your landlord or whoever receives your rent. Fair warning that there are fees with this and I wouldn’t say to use this for whenever you’re not going for minimum spend. You can also do this with mortgages, car payments, and many other things.

But when you need a big number to hit that bonus that will get you $1000+ in value, you wouldn’t mind paying an extra $30 or so for it.

The third tip also involves necessities. You can always pay for future bills now. You can do this with utilities, rent, and I actually do this with car insurance.

I save up and every six months, I pay $1200 or so for the next six months instead of paying $200 each month. $200 barely makes a dent in most sign up bonuses but $1200 sure can make a difference. I just plan out a specific card to get around that time and go to town.

Here's a bonus: Some people reading this will now say, “Hey I don’t pay rent or have any expensive bills like this.” Well maybe you still live at home or you are in a lucky situation where you’re living somewhere for free.

Talk to someone you trust about maybe charging their bills to your credit card and then them just reimbursing you. I did this when I was younger with my parents. They paid their car insurance and phone bills with a transfer from their checkings every month.

With all of their kids, these two bills added up to over $1500 a month so I would charge it on my cards and they would just either give me the cash or transfer me the money and I would pay it off.

It was an easy way to hit those high minimum spends without me worrying about buying something ridiculous I don’t need.

This last tip is something I only really recommend if you have around two weeks left and still need to hit around $500 or so. This is to go to your grocery store or any store that you would think and buy gift cards to places that you shop all the time.

I say grocery stores because this is probably the easiest. If you shop at Trader Joe’s every week and spend $200 a month there, you know you’re going to be doing that for the next three months.

Gift Cards

Why not buy gift cards now to ensure you’re going to hit the minimum spend and then just use up those gift cards how you normally would spend?

Amazon would be another perfect place to do this if you shop on there frequently. You can go and buy $500 of gift cards and just use that until the balance is gone.

I don’t advise you to do this all the time just because I don’t like getting bogged down with having all these gift cards to different places, especially because you probably would buy more than you need if you have a huge amount of gift cards. 

But it is the perfect way if you have that little bit left to ensure you'll hit the bonus.

So here are a couple different ways to hit minimum spend that is easy. The main thing about hitting these bonuses is to not spend more than you usually do.

Most people saw the first part of this ultimate guide and probably think, “oh I have to spend $4000 in three months. Let’s go buy a new computer or a drone." Or "let's go spend some money at the club and act like a huge alpha male.”

Obviously if you were going to spend that money anyway that’s great and you’ll get a free trip out of it.

But travel hacking is all about optimizing your spending that you do everyday. 

Not spending beyond your means just to get a “free” flight because that doesn’t really make the flight free.

F.A.Q.

I know by now you probably have a lot of questions if you made it all the way through this article and I wanted to take this time now before sending you to start taking action to answer some of the most common ones I get.

1. Won’t this hurt my credit score?

Credit Karma Snippet

95% of the people don’t know how credit scores really work and that’s why they believe this will hurt your score. Honestly, the best travel hackers I know are in the 800s with their score. Opening a new account will have a small temporary hit of a couple points but it moves back up.

As long as you build a base out of cards that you’ll keep for life, you can apply, open, upgrade, downgrade, and close cards without really worrying about your score taking a hit.

2.What are the best airline and hotel programs to start looking into?

This question has a different answer for each person and the only answer I can give here is it depends on your vacation plans and situation.

For hotels, I almost always recommend to just look into the next plan you have and what hotels they have around there. If you’re planning to go to France and you find a really nice hotel there that you want to stay at, think about ways to get points to use for that trip.

Another consideration is to find out if you have status with any hotels from having certain credit cards. If you have a hotel credit card, you probably can get some kind of status and even some premium bank cards come with status as well.

For airlines, this one almost always is based on where you live. Major airlines have different hubs around the United States and this plays a big factor in who you’re going to be using.

Check out the major hubs list here.

If your main airport is the Atlanta airport, then that is a hub for Delta. This means that most of the flights going in and out of that airport are run by Delta. They’ll have the most routes and you’ll end up using them the most.

It doesn’t make sense to focus on getting a lot of Southwest miles besides from sign up bonuses in this case because  Delta will almost always have better routes and coverage.

3. How do I get my credit score up so I can start travel hacking?

I’ve done a whole post on this so you can read how to grow your credit score here but I’ll give you a short synopsis here.

Get Credit Karma and see where you stand with all six major factors. Focus on getting your credit utilization down to below 10%. Then focus on building a base of cards that you’ll have for life so they grow your average age of accounts. 

The longer you keep your utilization below 10% while growing your average age of accounts, your score will keep jumping up month after month. 

One easy way is next time you're sitting down and watching Netflix or a Ted Talk, just open up your computer or phone and get on Credit Karma to check. That's what I do once every two weeks or so. 

4. What is the best travel credit card for me to get?

Just like question 2, this is entirely different for every person. Like I said earlier if you don’t have some of the main Chase cards, you should probably look into those because of the 5/24 rule.

I actually offer some free card consultations from time to time and you can sign up for one of those here. I have to ask you some questions about what cards you have and where you’re planning to go but you’ll get an answer pretty quickly.

It’s a perfect way find out what card to apply for.

Tools And Resources I Use

Before you start going into action, I want to give you some tools and resources that can help your travel hacking get started and take it to the next level. 

Credit Karma - You need to use a service to check your credit score, keep track of the cards you have opened and when you opened them, along with track your utilization and average age of accounts. Credit Karma can do all of this for you easily.

AwardWallet - You'll be getting lots of points and miles and it's going to be hard to keep track of all of them. Some of these points expire and it will be really bad if you have 50,000 Marriott points and they expire on you and you can't use them. AwardWallet helps you keep track of all points programs out there and they also keep track of things like when they expire and when your balances change. 

Seat Guru - Want to make sure you're seat is inline with a window? Maybe you want that extra leg room? Or what if you're on a long international flight and you don't have a plug on your seat? Check Seat Guru and just input your flight information and it will tell you which seats are the best and which seats you want to avoid. 

Google Flights - This is Google's flight booking service which access all airline websites and shows you the prices of flights from each airline. You can search within days, weeks, or months if you're flexible to really find the lowest cost flight. 

Kayak - Sometimes Google Flights doesn't always show the lowest price though. You should always do a couple different techniques when researching a trip. I usually check Google Flights, then check Kayak, then go into my Chase Travel Portal and find the price there. I enjoy Kayak more but you can use Priceline, Expedia, or all the other options. 

The Points Guy - Probably the biggest travel hacking blogger out there. He's got millions of miles and points and is never going to stop travel hacking. I read his posts all the time and actually use his posts to know what to value certain miles and points at to see if I'm getting a good deal. If he says something is 1.5 cents a point and my specific redemption is 1.7 cents a point, I know I'm getting a better than average deal. Check TPG current valuations here. 

The Points Guy

Doctor of Credit - DoC is more of a news site about credit cards and even offers things like checkings account bonuses you can get and other options for you to make or save some money. His site is kind of bland so don't expect to be entertained for hours but if you want more information about different cards, DoC is a good place to look. 

Let's Get Started

So you've made it all the way through this post and thinking one of two things...

The first one is "I'm pumped! Let's do this!"

The other thought could be "Isn't this a lot of work for a vacation?" I agree with this in some aspect. 

The average cost per vacation is $1145 and that's only for four days. If I get that same vacation for $300 doing this, I can go on three vacations for the price of one. 

All by learning how to optimize my spending. Sure the tracking, spending, and applying for cards can be tedious. 

But when you book a flight or hotel using points and brings you around the world for basically pennies, this small effort is more than worth it. 

What do you think about travel hacking? Do you have any other tips or strategies? Comment them below!

Travel Hacking Joseph Sleek