You don’t have to be rich to travel the world; but you do need to be savvy on your spending. Join the ranks of frequent fliers around the world by maximizing your travel perks to travel more and save money overall. Scroll below for insider tips on how to score everything from free flights, hotels and more.
It all starts with taking advantage of reward programs from credit card companies that offer bonus miles if you hit a target spend within a period of time. The problem is that hitting that spend to maximize your travel rewards is often challenging. Most people can’t spend that much money on a credit card to earn hundreds of thousands or millions of points to travel for free. As Travel Hacking Legend Chris Guillebeau says “always be earning, always be spending.”
So how do you always spend and earn? Well, the secret is a tactic called “Manufactured Spend” and it’s actually quite easy to do if you know how. Once you get it down, the world is your (travel) oyster! While the topic is somewhat controversial, many travel hackers have the process down. According to Scott Mackenzie of Hack My Trip, “There is no such thing as “too much” manufactured spend.” We tend to agree 😉
Below, a guaranteed way to earn the points you need to travel the world for free:
Sign up for credit cards
Before anything else, you’ll want to sign up for a few point-earning credit cards, whether it’s via a major bank, an airline or hotel. Not all cards are created equal, so make sure to do some research ahead of time to determine just how much you’ll need to spend to get that thousand-something bonus. If you’re looking to find some of the best cards, the POINTS GUY usually has the most up to date listing of credit cards by point value and benefits, including all the annual fees which we’ll discuss how to avoid later. Another great place to search is CARDS FOR TRAVEL that provides a pretty strategic guide as to how to pick the best card to maximize travel points.
Note: As of June 11, 2017 one of the only cards to get 100,000 miles with is the British Airways Visa Signature® Card as outlined. See all the details on how to work the point magic in this VIEW FROM THE WING post.
Here are three things to keep in mind:
This is the number of miles you will earn when your spend the required amount of money within the designated time frame. So, as an example, owners of the Capital One Venture Card will earn 40,000 bonus miles after they spend $3000 in the first three months. Yes, that’s a lot of money—don’t worry, we’ll get to workarounds in a bit. If searching for cards based on the best Sign-up bonus seems daunting, take a look at the TRAVEL HACKING CARTEL which has a paid membership granting access to the right privy information and they guarantee that you’ll earn four free flights per year!
Using the same example from above, owners of the Capital One Venture Card earn 2 points for every dollar they spend—regardless of whether it’s travel related. This means that you can use your credit card for literally anything—from your morning coffee run to after work drinks—and you’ll earn double miles. Whereas, other credit cards might only count double points for travel-related purchases, like flights, hotel stays and dining during trips.
*Speed at which you can sign up:
In a perfect world, you could sign up for a card, earn the bonus miles and then cancel the credit card and re-sign up. YOU SHOULD NOT DO THIS. Travel Hacking expert Clint Johnston from triphackr warns us “This is a red flag and looks very bad for future applications. Wait until there are about 2-3 months left before your annual fee is due. This is a good time to call your bank and negotiate the fee.” In fact he even took the time to outline many creative ways to avoid paying credit card annual fees, including asking for a “retention bonus!”
However, that doesn’t work for most credit card companies. The majority of these companies make you wait 18-24 months before you can get another sign-up bonus. So, it’s a good idea to space out your sign-ups so that you’re always earning miles.
How to meet the spending requirement
If you’re signing up for several credit cards each year, you’ll need to spend a fair amount of money to keep your bonus miles. As such, we’ve rounded up a few smart tactics for doing so without breaking the bank.
1) Pay off big expenses
In the United States, and perhaps in some other countries, it’s possible to make your tax payments online via a credit card. This works especially well for digital nomads and freelancers who have to pay quarterly estimates every three months. If you’re renting an apartment or a homeowner, find out if you can pay your monthly bill via a credit card as well. Other big expenses might include a flight home to see your family, a gift for an upcoming wedding or student loan payments.
2) Ask friends to reimburse you
Because what are friends for? The next time you’re heading out for dinner or drinks, ask your crew if you can put the bill on your credit card and have them pay you back in cash or with an app like Venmo, which offers on-the-go reimbursements. For large parties, restaurants usually limit the amount of credit cards used to split a bill anyway, so this is actually easier for everyone.
Similarly, you can ask family members to pay for upcoming expenses and have them reimburse you in the same way. More often than not, friends and family are happy to let you make a payment on your credit card if it means you can fund your next adventure.
3) Travel with Grabr
Hundreds of our travelers have used Grabr to save money on their trips—everything from hotel stays and roundtrip flights to steak dinners and walking tours. Beyond subsidizing your trips, the Grabr process allows travelers to earn points on their credit cards.
Once a shopper accepts a traveler’s delivery offer, it’s up to the traveler to purchase the item with his or her own money. Later, upon delivery of the item, this money is reimbursed to the traveler plus a nice bonus reward for the effort. In short, it’s one way to earn points minus the financial spend. (More: How Grabr Works)
4) Allocate business spending
If you’re an independent business owner, you’re bound to have some business expenses. Consider using one of your credit cards strictly for business-related expenses, whether it be office supplies, your daily commute or dinners entertaining clients. Come tax time, it will be easy to total up all your expenses, because it’s all on one card anyway.
5) Sign up for Amazon Payments
Using Amazon Payments is one of the easier ways to manufacture spending and as such, has become a popular tactic for travel hackers. To get started, first sign up for a personal account. Then, send money to another person with an Amazon Payments account (use the credit card you are trying to earn points on).
Because this is an individual account, Amazon doesn’t charge you for goods/services, so make sure to choose this option when making your payments. The max spend allowed is $1,000, which is a cool 2,000 miles per month—or more—depending on the credit card’s policy.
6) Stock up on gift cards
Both Visa and MasterCard offer gift cards at a small activation price—between $3.95-$6.95 a pop. Despite the small fee, you’re still getting a good cost per point, especial if you purchase the higher value cards.
Since every card has a small fee attached to it, regardless of the amount, many experts recommend getting ones with a higher credit, like $500.
7) Buy and sell on Amazon/Ebay
This is fairly self-explanatory but we’re including it anyway. The general idea is that you buy items, which puts a charge on your mile-earning credit card, and then you sell it shortly thereafter.
Before buying an item, make sure that you’ll be able to re-sell it; otherwise, you’ll still earn points but you’ll also be stuck with a product you might not need or want. Keep in mind that this tactic does require a good amount of time and effort, so make sure you are up for the challenge.
8) Visit shopping portals
In short, airlines, hotels and other lifestyle brands have merchants that they prefer—and, by ordering from these partners via shopping portals, you’ll earn extra points. These merchants aren’t necessarily travel-related; it could be an apparel retailer or a general business store.
For price and point comparison, head to Evreward or Cash Back Monitor where you’ll view a list of bonuses the different point programs are currently offering. Nomadic Matt uses a really good example of how buying clothes from Gap will earn you 100 through one program, but 300 from another.
9) Choose your cards wisely at checkout
Another way to maximize spend is by taking a look at the fine print of your credit cards. For example, the American Express EveryDay Preferred and the Citi ThankYou Premier allocate 3 points for every dollar spent on groceries. Considering this is a basic necessity, you’ll rack up a lot of points this way.
Going office shopping? Use your Chase Ink Bold card for 5 points per dollar for all items purchased at an office supply store.
And if all this is still not enough for you, from Summer Hull from MommyPoints has an exhaustive list of 31 Things You Can Pay With a Credit Card to Earn Points! Some of this we covered, but there are some other great ideas too, like buying a car and paying college loans!