My Top 3 Travel Hacking Strategies
There are 3 main strategies I've taken advantage of to earn miles quickly over the years.
Credit Card Churning
The fastest and most lucrative way to earn miles is through Credit Card churning. Nervous? You should be! Credit cards are not for everyone. But when used responsibly, the awards are undoubtedly the best way to earn free travel. And after you've shown you're responsible, your credit score will only get stronger, giving you more opportunity for other credit card benefits.
Credit Card Churning is signing up for credit cards in order to get the sign up bonus. You do have to meet a minimum spend requirement within the first few months, but often times the requirement is low. For example, when you sign up for the United Visa Card and spend $1,000 in the first three months, you get 30,000 United miles FOR FREE. Think of the money you spend on groceries, gas, etc. It would be easy to spend 1k in 3 months. Other cards have a much higher bonus, but the minimum spend is also higher. The Chase Sapphire Card gives you 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. This might be a bit tougher to do, but there are strategies to help you do it! More on this later.....
***Now, if you already have credit card debt, this is not an option for you. The only way this is a good idea is if you pay your bill in full every month and don't have any other credit card debt, currently. If you haven't established much credit history yet or are struggling with a low credit score but are ready to work on it, there are cards out there that can help you with that. Do your research and be responsible. Creditcards.com is a great site for research. You can see which cards you might be approved for if you have limited credit or a low credit score.
Does signing up for credit cards hurt my credit score? It depends. Usually your score will take a dip temporarily, but once you start paying your bill on time, your score goes back up and will even climb higher than it was before. If you are just starting out, I DO NOT recommend signing up for a bunch of credit cards at once. This is a recipe for disaster. Take it slow.
I also recommend that you monitor your credit score. You are entitled to a free credit report once a year through the three credit agencies (Trans Union, Experian and Equifax). Nowadays, many credit card companies will monitor your credit score for free and send you updates. Also, car companies have started giving you access to your credit score through their bill pay sites. I was able to check my score through my Capital One Card and the Hyundai site whenever I wanted. This has helped me to know when it's safe to sign up for another credit card again. I've signed up for 9 credit cards over the past 8 years and my credit score is Excellent.
Strategic Credit Card Spending
Now that you've got a credit card (or 9), it's time to put them to strategic use! Remember how I talked about using my Capital One card to pay for everything? You should start doing that, if you haven't already! Most debit cards don't give you any benefits (at least not very lucrative ones) towards travel. And did you know that your purchases aren't protected as well as they would be if you used a credit card? If your credit card is stolen or you see fraudulent purchases on your bill, it's easier to get your money back than it would be if you used a debit card. Just google it and you will find tons of articles explaining why. (Here's one article.)
If you're ready to start using more than one credit card, you can really benefit from your purchases. Different credit cards give you different incentives, depending on what you're buying. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card gives you 2 miles for every dollar you spend on travel and dining. So when I take an Uber to go to dinner, I use my Sapphire card for both purchases to get the extra miles. The Chase Freedom card has quarterly bonus offers. Usually in the fall, they will give you 5 miles for every dollar you spend at gas stations. So every time I fill up my tank during those 3 months, I use my Freedom Card. The IHG card gives me 5 miles per dollar spent at grocery stores, so I use that card when I'm grocery shopping. You get the point. I'll cover my favorite credit cards in a later post.
Online Shopping Portals
We all shop, so why not do it online to earn extra miles? Almost every airline has a 'shopping portal'. By simply going to that airlines shopping portal and clicking on the retailer of your choice, you can earn extra miles per dollar spent. Not every retailer is a participant but you will be surprised at how many options there are.
How does it work? If I want to order a pair of shoes from Macy's, I go to the United Shopping portal. I already have my frequent flier number saved on the site. I search for Macy's and it tells me that I will earn 3 miles per dollar spent at Macys.com. When I click on the Macy's logo, it takes me to the Macy's website and I begin shopping. I purchase a $50 pair of shoes using my SPG American Express card .
On my next credit card statement, I can see that I earned 1 point per dollar spent with my SPG Amex credit card; 50 points. When I go to my United Frequent Flier account, I can see that I earned 3 miles per dollar; 150 miles. So in total, that $50 pair of shoes got me 200 points/miles.
I have found myself shopping online a lot more. I will find something in the store and purposely go home and order it online so I get the extra miles. I also started ordering basic things like toiletries from sites like Drugstore.com. If I'm going to buy toothpaste and face wash, why not have it delivered to my door for free and get some extra miles out of it.
The shopping portals will have bonus promotions quite a bit, as well. Usually around the holidays, they will give you extra miles for shopping through their site. Right now, Delta is offering 500 bonus miles after $150 in purchases through their portal. And if you are really a big spender around the holidays, they will give you 1,500 bonus miles after spending $750! The individual retail sites will sporadically up their miles offering, as well. I once got 12 miles per dollar spent at Macy's!
**As an extra tip, not every portal is created equal. I always check the United Portal and the American Airlines portal before shopping. Macy's might be 2 miles per dollar on American but 3 miles per dollar on United. Also, there are some differences in retailers on the two sites. So if United doesn't have the store you're looking for, check American and they might have it.
-Credit Cards are not for everyone and should be used responsibly. Pay your bill in full every month. Or better yet, pay your bill a couple times a month to make sure you're not over-spending and to make sure your checking account reflects what money you actually have.
-If you have multiple credit cards, use them strategically to get the most miles/points possible. It takes a while to train your brain to remember which card should be used on which purchases, but after a while it's second nature.
-Shopping online can get you more miles than if you shopped in store. Try to get in the habit of checking the airline portals for bonuses and promotions.
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out! My next post will be about the different credit cards I've gotten over the years, how I've used them, and which ones are my favorites today. .