Last year my wife Maria and I took two weeks to traipse around Italy.
[Venice, Florence, Positano, Rome]
It cost us about $300 for two coach tickets from NY to Venice AND two first class tickets from Rome to NY that came with airline lounge passes.
$300 for both sets of airline tickets, that’s absurd, travel hacking is real.
Travel hacking is not a game, or a sham, it’s the term used for clear cut actions to make the most of point systems [mostly credit card] to acquire free or mostly free travel. At it’s core, it’s just managing information and does not hurt your credit.
As someone who previously hadn’t “hacked” travel anywhere, and my wife who likes the traditional ways of doing things, we found ourselves pleasantly surprised at how easy it is with the right knowledge.
This post is going to break down the steps, our experience [with pretty pictures] and provide where we got our information.
First, Information is Power
This website, Extra Pack of Peanuts, and the man behind it, Travis Sherry was essential. The information and his support is the reason we were able to travel. I dare you to e-mail him and not get a rapid response or find an amazing deal on his website.
Second, the Simple Recipe
Using information from above and various sources…
1. Apply for credit cards
2. Strategically spend money you would spend anyway
3. Plan your flight well in advance with knowledge of reward travel booking
NOTE: If you have bad credit, travel hacking isn’t an option for you, sorry. The whole system, or I should say 85% of the system is built on taking advantage of credit card offers, which does no lasting damage to your credit worthiness when done right. It’s heavily advised you have some savings in the bank to leverage, [although not required] as you need to spend money on things you would anyway over the course of 6 months all at once.
There’s really not much more to it, but here’s the sequence we took in detail below.
Plan to take your trip at least 6 to 8 months in the future. Start by picking a few places you’d like to see, and looking up popular travel credit card offers to get a very low baseline of what needs to happen. “Spend $3000 and get 50,000 points, enough for one trip to Europe” will read some credit card offers.
You can then try to gather all the info on your own in how to gain enough points to get there and back, what deals are available, how to book, etc [expect a ridiculous amount of reading] or you can pay an expert to consult with you, or the middle ground, buy an information product by an expert to speed you along.
Regardless of which option you go with, you should be reading a few blogs on the topic, the “best practice” information is a moving target and changes as the deals and airlines change so you’ll want to read a few articles a week.
We wanted to go to Italy, we saw American Airlines flew there, and that there was a American Airlines Advantage card deal that would gain us enough points to get us there. At the time, this was the article that detailed the cards that would net us most of the points.
We knew of the deal because of Extra Pack of Peanuts website, we knew the points we’re enough after logging into American Airlines and attempting to book the flight with reward points. We contacted Travis to run our plan by him and he abounded in information packed replies.
Apply and Spend
We applied for three credit cards, two for Maria, one for my online business IT Arsenal. We then used tactics outlined on Extra Pack of Peanuts to hit spending minimums by doing holiday shopping, buying groceries, and gift cards, so no unnecessary expense was needed and we gained the points to book the travel.
It was easy to spend $1500 in grocery gift cards [Acme and Costco] for the next 6 months and not feel like we were wastefully spending. It was also pretty fun. Obviously you maximize this ability when you have a savings cushion to cover the initial costs, but it absolutely comes back to you as you spend %0 on groceries for the next 6 months.
*This is the “management” part of the process, and if you use a calendar, is really not that difficult.
*Applying for credit cards once or twice a year does not in any way hurt your credit.
Get Your Points, Book Your Tickets
With massive airline points in hand, a personal consult with Travis gained us the information of how to book our flight. We we’re glad we talked with him first because although reward travel is free, fee’s can sometimes cost as much as tickets and Travis advised us on which partner airlines to American Airlines our points we’re good on, meaning what was the best airline to use to avoid large fuel charge fees and how to call and book a flight on a partner airline. [just calling American Airlines instead of using their website was the process in this case]
After that, our tickets were booked, for roughly $300 due to “regulatory” fee’s and a $25 charge per ticket booked through the phone vs online. [again, in order to get the flights without crazy fuel charges, we had to call, so this was the smarter option.]
There are of course, as with any system, variables. You can squeak out more points through “shopping portals”, there are cards that give you points for spending on specific items you purchase, there are somewhat changing nooks and crannies to the process. Again, this is why a website with someone who spends all their waking hours sniffing out deals and ways to maximize the process is really important.
I hope you weren’t expecting something more complex, I have no idea why more people don’t do it, perhaps putting a few things on a calendar, reading roughly a books worth of information, and taking out credit cards over the course of a year seem like too big a hurdle for free international travel worth thousands of dollars, who knows, but Maria and I will be traveling outside the US and using points to “travel hack” our way there every year from here on out, this year is the Netherlands!