The word hacker usually conjures up an image of a person who gains access to restricted information using a computer. It’s not always a positive image, but it is an enviable one.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to use the computer to “hack” information out of companies for your gain? Imagine what you could find out!
Very recently I found out how to “hack” into travel companies data and use it to book flights for free! It’s amazing!
I know what you’re thinking. It may sound like a good idea but it’s illegal. Let me assure you everything I did and will subsequently teach you today is 100% above board. You won’t get in trouble or have to explain yourself to any of these companies (or their lawyers) ever.
Finding the lowest priced flight has never been easier thanks to comparison sites like Kayak.com or Google Flights. When you book a flight this way you feel assured that you found the lowest price out there. Up until a few days ago I would have agreed with that sentiment. That is until I found out about travel hacking and how it can save you hundreds if not thousands on airfare and hotel stays.
If you do a Google search on the term ‘travel hacking’ you will find blog posts out the yin yang about accumulating points, chasing miles, and earning elite status. They don’t make it sound very glamorous or easy to do.
All of that is just smoke screens and mirrors. To me travel hacking is about fighting back against the high price of travel. I game the system in order to bring my travel costs as close to zero as possible. It leaves me with more money to spend on the actual vacation.
The one caveat to travel hacking is the time it takes to do it. You can spend hours finding deals. To combat this I’ve put together this ‘guide to hacking’ so you can travel cheap without wasting time.
Airfare seems to swing wildly depending on the day. The rising cost of oil, increasing personnel costs and airline mismanagement has all but ensured higher fares that seem to increase by the day.
If you want to find a super cheap flight you have to be flexible. Flexible on your travel dates, airline and airport. It’s rare now-a-days to get a direct flight on the exact days you want to travel for a good price.
Start by using a flight comparison website. These kinds of sites will search all the airlines routes and airfare for you and display the cheapest results. Just be sure you use more than one because not all search aggregators troll all airlines. Use at least two if not three to be sure you are receiving airfare deals from across the board. My top five favorite flight comparison websites are:
After you’ve selected a flight go directly to that airline’s website to see if they offer that same flight for less. I’ve found this to be true more than 50 percent of the time. You see airline companies want to encourage people to book directly through them so they don’t have to pay fees or give a commission to another company. The price break won’t be significant, but saving $5 still gives me $5 more to spend on other activities during my vacation.
You can also save money by checking alternative airports to fly into. What most people don’t realize is that different airports charge different fees to airlines to allow them to land and take-off from. Some are cheaper than others. Check to see if adding a stop so you fly in from a different airport hub is cheaper. For example it might be cheaper to fly from Chicago to Cleveland to Orlando than it would be to fly from Chicago to Orlando.
The last thing you should check before you book your flight is for other carriers that fly to your destination. Do a web search to find out all of the airlines that fly into the airport closest to your destination. You may find a small, unlisted carrier that wasn’t picked up by the flight comparison website you originally used. If you find an unlisted carrier go to their website and find out if they offer a cheap flight that works for you. This step is a double-checker for me to ensure I got the cheapest flight offered.
Booking flights this way can save you 20-30 percent off your flight and it shouldn’t take that long to do the cross checks. But if you want to save even more money than that there are bigger ‘hacks’ available that can get you flights for free or virtually free! However, these methods require a bit more time and energy.
If you use credit cards in your daily life then this ‘hack’ may appeal to you. Since nearly everyone has a credit card now-a-days, companies put a lot of work into attracting customers away from competitors. The most common way to attract new customers is with reward and bonus programs and a lot of times those come in the form of free travel points or airline miles.
I don’t want to be Debbie Downer, but before you read any further about this ‘hack’ I want to warn you that this is only for people who are self-disciplined and have good credit. If you’re the type who uses credit cards as a means to afford the world without a thought to how to pay for it, then this isn’t for you. Only use this method if you pay off your credit card bill in full every month.
OK back to my travel hack guideline…No matter which your favorite airline is sign up for their credit card. If you don’t have a particular favorite or fly several different carriers sign up for all of their credit cards. In fact, the more the better.
You’ll want to pick an airline(s) that has routes where you want to travel. But don’t worry about this too much because many airlines are affiliated with other carriers so the points or miles you gain can be used on multiple airlines.
Choose one that gives you a large amount of bonus points or miles just for signing up. In most cases you should receive enough points to pay for an economy flight within the continental U.S. You will have to meet the minimum spending requirement to get these points/miles though (it’s usually somewhere between $1,000-3,000 within the first three months).
Most credit cards will reward you one to two miles per dollar you spend. This means that if you spend $1,000 a month living your life, you’ll earn between 1,000 and 2,000 miles per month. Add these to the miles you received as a bonus for signing up and you’ll quickly have enough to get two free (or virtually free) round trip tickets. Awesome!
The third thing you should consider when choosing a credit card to sign up for is the annual fee. Some cards offer more points per dollar than others and a bigger sign-up bonus, but have a higher annual fee. Nearly all of these cards waive the fee for the first year. The ‘hack’ here is when your year is nearly up and you’re about to get charged the high annual fee call up the credit card company and say you need to cancel the card because the fee is too high. Don’t say it’s too expensive for you or you can’t afford it. Those keywords won’t help you. If you say it’s too high for you nine out of ten times the customer service rep will offer to waive the fee for you for another year if you keep the card. Win!
This ‘hack’ will only work for the first two years, but by then credit card deals will have gotten better and there will most likely be a better card out there for you to own anyways.
Now if you don’t spend $1,000 or more per month on your card you may find the process of building up enough points/miles to earn free flights rather lengthy. Do not fret! There are a number of ways you can earn points/miles fast and easy.
First off look out for any promotions from the airline companies. Sign up for their mailing lists and you’ll receive daily information about specials in which you can earn points/miles faster. A lot of times this will be offers to watch videos, join trial offers, take surveys and such. These kinds of special promotions can help you quickly build up your points/miles accounts.
You can also earn miles/points quickly by using airline shopping portals. If you ever do any online shopping then this ‘hack’ is ideal for you. A shopping portal is a web page you go to through your credit card rewards program that gives you points/miles for items you buy through it. How many points/miles you earn depends on which store you are buying from. Different stores give you different rewards amounts. But the important thing to remember is that this portal costs you nothing extra. You still buy the same things you always do online, it’s just that now you get extra airline points/miles for doing it!
The most advanced travel hackers sign up for multiple credit cards, spend the required minimum spending, earn the free miles and then close the card and repeat the process with several other credit cards. This earns travelers several free first class tickets a year. If you are more of a casual traveler you don’t need to open several cards at a time, just do one at a time and use the other ‘hacks’ to earn points/miles.
It’s also beneficial if you don’t cash in the miles/points you earn for signing up right away. The more miles/points you accumulate the more you’ll move up in status with an airline. The higher status you achieve the more rewards you earn like qualifying for cheaper flights, advanced boarding, no baggage fees, and statement credits.
Check out creditcards.com to compare which is the best credit card for you. They’ll explain how many bonus points you’ll get for signing up, the annual fee, the minimum spending requirements and what type of credit you’ll need to qualify.
No matter what you choose though you should be able to earn a free flight within just a few short months!
Keeping Money in Your Pocket,