In October, my whole family will be celebrating my parents 40th wedding anniversary in Hawaii. Since my parents have a timeshare (yes, I know they’re the worst) we only needed to cover the cost of our flight. As a huge credit card nerd, I figured I could sign up for a few cards and travel hack some cheap airfare.
On my very first attempt at Travel Hacking, I was able to SAVE $1941 in airfare.
You read that right. That was not a typo. For three round trip tickets from LA to Hawaii, we paid ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
How I Hacked Hawaii
The cards I signed up for:
Chase Sapphire (referral link) – 50,000 signup bonus (plus 5,000 for adding an authorized user)
American Express Starwood Preferred – 35,000 sign up bonus (special in February)
Capital One Venture – $400 sign up bonus redeemable for travel
Getting that Sweet Sign Up Bonus
All travel cards require that you hit a minimum spend to get the bonus which is usually around $3k or $4k in three months. I know this number can seem intimidating, but for us it wasn’t too bad. If you’re like my family and put EVERYTHING on your cards, averaging $1k a month on a card shouldn’t be too difficult. You could also prepay bills or buy a bunch of gift cards for stores you frequent, which in my case is Target and Costco. It also helps if you’re able to time big purchases after you sign up. For the Chase Sapphire we were able to put $3k towards the purchase of our new (used) car.
Another method that some Travel Hackers use is Manufactured Spending, where you purchase Visa or Amex giftcards and convert them into money orders to deposit back into your bank accounts. It’s not something I’d recommend as it can be pretty time consuming and doesn’t always work. You’ll also get dinged on fees as these gift cards usually have a purchase fee of around $5 or $6 per card.
Converting Points to an Actual Flight
Figuring out how to actually convert those points I earned to a flight was definitely the most confusing part of travel hacking. The Chase Sapphire and American SPG cards are pretty versatile as you can transfer your points to many different frequent flier (and hotel) programs that these cards partner up with. These airlines also partner up with other airlines to give you that much more options.
This happened to me when one of the flights going to Hawaii was American Airlines, which isn’t a direct partner of Chase or AMEX. After a bit of research and going back and forth with Michael, I found out that American Airlines was a partner with British Airways. Three round trip tickets to Hawaii would cost us 75,000 avios (points).
I transferred 35,000 points with Chase and 40,000 with my AMEX SPG to my newly created British Airways Executive Travel account.
I was then able to cover the $33 in taxes and fees from the points from my Capital One Venture card.
I got confused typing this so I’m sure if you’ve never even heard of travel hacking your head is spinning right now :). One thing that I’ve discovered in my first experience travel hacking is that you really have to plan out your trip a lot more than if you actually paid for it ;). Airlines only set a small amount of seats that can be redeemed for points so the availability is pretty limited. Our original plan was to have the trip from Sunday to Sunday, but there was nothing left when I looked. We had to settle for a Monday afternoon flight with a return flight on Saturday night.
So while we didn’t get the exact flights we wanted, we can’t complain that much because you know, it was still kinda free. 😉
What About My Credit Score?
The one question get from people the most when I talk about travel hacking (besides them telling me I’m crazy) is how is my credit score after all this madness. I’ve been travel hacking since the beginning of the year (and hoarding cash back credit cards for awhile) and my credit score has actually GONE UP. Last I checked my score was 825, which is for all intents and purposes perfect.
In my experience the two main things that have affected my score throughout the years is paying on time and having a low credit utilization. Since I have like 10+ active cards with pretty big credit limits, having all these cards helps keep my utilization low.
That being said, if you’re planning on buying a house or getting a car loan anytime soon, you’d probably want to stay away from Travel Hacking.
Travel Hacking Isn’t for Everybody.
It takes a certain kind of crazy financial nerd to really get into travel hacking and score free and cheap travel. There’s a lot of cards you’d have to juggle and figuring out how to use points and miles effectively is a lot to wrap your head around. Most of the travel cards carry an annual fee (that’s usually waived the first year), which is something to keep in mind. Getting the bonuses in the first place can also be a challenge if you don’t spend too much on cards and would never consider manufacturing your spend. If you’re in debt, carry a balance on your card, or are just not a fan of using credit, travel hacking isn’t for you.
For those willing to put the time and effort, it’s worth it. I’ve only been doing this for a few months and have scored free hotel stays and even more free flights. I even found a way to Travel Hack Uber. I see more posts about Travel Hacking in this blog in the future. 🙂
I plan on taking my family to see the world. And if I have to sign up for a card or two (or twenty 🙂 ) along the way to make it happen, then I’ll be hacking away.