Welcome to Travel Hack Thursday, (#TravelHackThursday) a regular feature, aiming to demonstrate that you don’t need to be rich, or constantly circumnavigating the globe, to build a substantial air mile balance. You will hear from a travel hacking expert who shares their top tips for making the most of miles and rewards.
If it’s your first visit to Travel Hack Thursday and you want to know more, you may find Introducing Travel Hack Thursday a good place to start.
Welcome Travelhacking Expert Jackie
Otherwise let’s get started. I’m so excited to introduce this week’s travelhacking expert Jackie, my first travel hacker from over the pond. Jackie lives in the very glamourous city of New York (oh boy, it has been a while since I was last there!) and recently co-hosted our festive travel Twitter chat which was a blast.
She has been travel hacking for a few years now, and shares my passion for using credit cards to rack up points as quickly as possible on her site The Globetrotting Teacher. So without any further ado, let’s dive straight into my chat with Jackie.
Are you rich?
Ha! Let’s get right down to it, shall we? I’m a teacher and we all know how well teachers are paid. Add to that, I live in New York City with my husband, where we collectively spend much of our money each month just to pay for the roof over our heads and the food on our plates. So, no I am not rich.
How did you discover travel hacking?
Many years ago when I was figuring out how to plan our honeymoon, I discovered our credit cards actually were earning miles and points! Who knew?!? Even more astonishing was that we actually had enough to book flights!
We ended up using a bunch of points then, but it definitely got me thinking about how we could be using them smarter. I discovered some blogs and travel hacking forums and just started reading and learning. I realized how the money we were already spending on our bills and everyday expenses could provide rewards and help us travel more for much less than we’d ever thought possible.
Where did you go on your first long haul trip using rewards, and how many points did you use?
So, it turns out we were actually able to use those newly found points for our honeymoon flights. We flew from New York to Italy in economy using American Express points. We should have splurged on a higher class, but seriously I had no idea what I was doing!
I can’t even remember how many miles I used, but I know it wasn’t as good of a deal as I would get today now that I know more about how the system works. All in all though, we spent time in Venice, Florence, Tuscany and Rome and had a blast drinking wine and eating way too much delicious Italian food!
Compare that with one of my travel hacking successes from 2015 when I flew from New York to Patagonia, back to New York, and then onward to Thailand a few months later for just 80,000 miles!
Anne: OMG I am seriously drooling, not only do I desperately want to go to Patagonia to see icebergs and penguins, but that seems fantastic value! What was it like?
Jackie: It was my first major solo trip, and it was life changing. I love travelling with my husband but it was incredibly powerful to explore Patagonia on my own.
It’s also a great example of how travel hacking is an absolute game-changer. So many people think of Patagonia as a “once in a lifetime” or “wish list” type of trip, yet award travel blows this theory out of the water by showing how awesome destinations like this are totally within reach for everyone.
How long did it take you to accumulate the points, and using what methods?
I have a variety of fast and slow strategies to accumulate thousands upon thousands of miles and points.
Applying for credit cards with lucrative sign-up bonuses is by far the easiest and quickest way I earn a lot of miles or points. There are so many travel rewards credit cards available in the U.S. and many of them start off with a minimum of 50,000 bonus points! This is by no means the best bonus either. Last summer I was approved for an American Express Platinum card with a limited time offer of 100,000 bonus points!
Anne: How sickening is that? Unfortunately the best current credit card deal in the UK is the British Airways American Express Premium Plus card paying 25,000 points subject to £3,000 spend in three months. A similiar requirement applies in the US as Jackie explains.
Jackie: Typically, travel reward credit cards come with a minimum spend requirement to be met within a 3 month period. I can use the cards to pay many of our monthly bills, like cable, internet, cell phones, insurance, and even dog walking.
There are ways to pay utilities like electricity and even monthly rent or mortgage. However, these are not straightforward and tend to come with a service charge. While not a great long-term strategy because of the fees, I could pay these larger bills to meet a minimum spend requirement and earn the sign-up bonus on a card.
All of our daily expenses, like groceries, household goods, pet food, subway costs, and entertainment are paid for with credit cards as well.
Maximising Credit Card Opportunities
I always try to maximize the category bonuses of each credit card. The credit card offering double points for restaurants and dining out is used for that purpose. Another card might offer a bonus for certain months of the year.
I recently maximized an Amazon spending bonus offering 10 points per dollar spent up to $1500. I bought everything from holiday toys for my nieces and nephews to household goods like soap and paper towels. I earned 15,000 points just for making purchases I would have made anyway!
Anne: We have something similiar in the UK, with cards like the Lloyds AVIOS Duo offering double points for the first six months, but it sounds like there are much better deals across the pond! Those US companies are clearly much more determined to sign up customers than in good old Blighty!
Jackie: I also earn miles and points slowly and steadily over time. By using my credit cards for everything and never using cash or my bank card, the points really add up. Think those points from purchasing an iTunes song or a coffee don’t matter? When you go to book that award ticket and you’re a few hundred points short of what you need, you’ll be wishing you did!
Combine this with airline and hotel dining programs and shopping portals that help to earn points and miles for dining out or shopping from thousands of online merchants (even offering seasonal bonuses or incentives). Yes, United Airlines Dining Program I’m looking at you! Thank you for offering 10,000 bonus miles just for dining out 10 times over the summer.
Anne: OMG I would have earned massive on this offer! Green with envy right now! Jackie is really ramping up her jetsetting plans!
Jackie: These strategies have been a success because now I have enough miles and points to book much, if not all of next year’s travel, while spending the current year replenishing the miles and points used.
Your top tips for others wishing to do the same?
First, you have to pay off your credit cards in full each month. If you can’t do that or aren’t a responsible spender, this is not the game for you.
With that being said, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the rewards available to you. Find out more about credit cards and the myths about having too many. Set a single travel goal and aim to earn the needed airline and hotel rewards all while staying in your comfort zone.
Remember, use that credit card to pay for everything, including your monthly bills!
TOP TIP ALERT: When you’re ready to use those miles, it’s helpful to split your trip into one-way segments rather than searching for a single round trip. Airline search engines don’t always show all the award availability for a basic roundtrip search, but when searching for individual one-way flights, different options may show up.
One-way segments may also let you take advantage of free stopovers and open jaws depending on the airline’s award rules
Anne: Oh this is a great tip. I visited Fiji for free on this exact kind of stop-over en route to New Zealand. I could not believe my luck! Or maybe you could head East like Jackie did and snap your own sunrise view of Angkor Wat!
What’s the best thing about travel hacking in the U.S.
We’re lucky in the U.S. Our travel rewards are so generous. (Too bad many people don’t have paid vacation time to enjoy the perks! But we’re not talking politics, are we?)
Anne: Ha ha just when I was thinking of moving overseas just to get more points. I knew there had to be a catch! Jackie, just so you know I get 29 days plus bank holidays, but boy do I need them!
Jackie: As a U.S. travel hacker, it continues to amaze me how many people don’t know how to use the travel rewards credit card system to their advantage. Or better yet, the people who think it’s some type of rule-breaking scheme.
In the U.S, we have a seemingly endless array of credit cards with huge miles and points sign up bonuses across a wide variety of banks and airlines. We also have co-branded hotel credit cards offering free nights. Whether you diversify across programs in a strategic way or focus on one, it’s possible to earn a boatload of points for award travel. My husband and I haven’t had to pay for a flight in years!
An Unbelievable Deal
One of the best deals available to U.S. travel hackers is the Southwest Companion Pass. With two credit cards and six thousand extra points, you earn a pass that allows unlimited free companion flights for up to 2 years ANYWHERE Southwest flies. Seem too good to be true? It get’s even better!
The 110,000 Southwest points needed for the companion pass are not in exchange for the pass. Once you reach that level of points earned in a calendar year, Southwest awards you the pass and lets you keep all of your points. So while your companion flies with the pass, you use the points earned from the credit card sign-up bonuses to fly on an award ticket!
There are some taxes and fees, but they are nothing compared to the ones levied by other airlines. Taxes and fees start at just $5.60 per person per way and go up just a bit depending on airport requirements. Not too shabby, right?
Anne: OMG this deal sounds incredible! Considering taxes in the UK start at £35 for an economy fare and can easily run into several hundred pounds, this deal is making me reconsider that potential move Stateside!
Jackie: The point is (lol…no pun intended), as an American, you can dedicate a small bit of effort to earning miles and points or dive in head first. Either way, it’s possible to earn the amount of award travel you want and need to travel anywhere in the world. By the way, thanks Anne for featuring me in your Travel Hack Thursday series. It’s always nice to connect and share with like-minded travelers!
Ponderings from Anne
Wow isn’t she amazing? I’m so thrilled that US travelhacking expert Jackie agreed to be featured. She really has made me sooo jealous of all the amazing options in the US, especially that dynamite companion pass.
UK residents have just a few options to earn points with credit cards, largely limited to American Express, Airline or Hotel branded cards, and the Lloyds Bank Avios options. Whilst these offer exciting benefits, they may not quite be on a par with those Jackie describes.
Don’t let that deter you though as points are points, and everything Jackie has alluded to (putting all your spending on cards including monthly bills) applies equally well to UK wannabe travel hacker experts. Find out more in this eight part series dedicated to the UK market.
One final thought, how awesome would it be to discover that you actually have enough points for honeymoon flights and you didn’t even know?! That is just too cool.
Are you a travelhacking expert?
Hopefully you have found the incite from this post useful, and can use some of the information to help grow your rewards balances. Maybe you are already a travelhacking expert! Whether you are a novice or seasoned award traveller, if you have ever used award points to book free hotels or flights, please get in touch as I would love to feature you.
Alternatively if you have any other top tips, do feel free to share them below. I love it when you talk to me!
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