5 First Steps for Travel Hacking


If you’re new to this blog, one of the things I write about is travel hacking—the art of having incredible experiences that would otherwise be unobtainable for most people.

It’s a bit different from budget travel, which tends to focus on staying on hostels, flying on low-cost carriers (LCCs), etc. Travel hacking can not only help you travel, it can help you travel better.

I stumbled on this world by accident. I just wanted to learn to travel for less, and then I got upgraded on a transatlantic flight. When it happened again a year later, I was hooked. Then a couple years later, I began my quest to visit every country in the world.

Travel hacking allowed this experience to be much, much cheaper. I can say with confidence that a full third of the 11-year project was either free or nearly free thanks to miles and points.

If you’re like most people, you know a little about frequent flyer miles, but you may not know a) how to earn large amounts of them over and over, and b) how to best use those miles and points for incredible trips. That’s what it’s all about!

So here are five things you can do right away. Most of them are completely free, and two are low-cost.

1. Make sure you’re a member of at least 3 mileage programs.

You should never board a paid flight without a mileage number included on your boarding pass. This is free and easy to accomplish!

Which programs should you join? Well, start with the airlines you actually fly. And to be safe, you should probably be a member of one airline’s program in each airline alliance: Oneworld, Star Alliance, and SkyTeam.

A few links are below:


Oneworld (Choose One)

Star Alliance (Choose One)

SkyTeam (Choose One)

North American Independent (Choose any that you fly)

International readers, you should join these programs too. They often offer better redemption opportunities than the national airlines in your country do. You can still join the national airlines’ programs too.

2. Earn miles and points for stuff you already do—like eating.

What if you could earn extra points for dining out at restaurants, bars, and coffee shops? Well, you can. Simply sign up with a program from Rewards Network, a company that provides miles and points bonuses for anything you purchase at qualifying restaurants.

For three years, my travel hacking colleague Stephanie Zito and I went on a “Dining Dash” (not to be confused with Dine and Dash) adventure to ten restaurants in a single day. We did this to requalify for VIP Member status, which earns you additional points through the year.

You don’t need to be so hardcore. Just sign up (it’s free) and you’ll automatically earn points and miles. It’s that simple!

3. Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Despite many other changes happening in the travel hacking world, there’s no better single offer to earn a big bonus and then keep earning as you continue spending. If you can only get one card, this should probably be it.

It’s the #1 recommended card for a good reason:

  • You’ll earn 40,000 currently 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months
  • You can also earn an extra 5,000 points when you add an authorized user within the first 3 months and they make a purchase of any amount (there’s no charge to add an authorized user, and no minimum spend to earn the additional bonus)
  • Ultimate Rewards points transfer (usually on a 1:1 basis) to nearly a dozen travel partners, including United, Hyatt, Marriott, British Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, and Southwest Airlines
  • You’ll earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants & one point per dollar spent on all other purchases (very helpful the next time you visit 12 restaurants in one day)
  • There are no foreign transaction fees (that’s why this is my primary card for travel)
  • The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year (and if you want, you can cancel before it shows up in year two—though for many of us the card is well worth keeping)

–> Get the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

4. Learn how Round-the-World tickets work.

Round-the-World tickets issued by the three big airline alliances offer interesting opportunities for some people. When I was trying to go everywhere, they were ideal. I needed to get to Warsaw, Tallinn, Copenhagen, and Lisbon on a single trip—no problem. I needed to fly to places like Mongolia and Mauritius—totally doable.

The most economical way to use these tickets is to plan your origin (first flight) from a country that offers a cost advantage. Sure, you have to get to that country to begin, but once you’re earning a lot of miles, that shouldn’t be difficult. At the time I’m writing this, the countries with the most affordable pricing including Mozambique (so fly to Johannesburg and then hop over), Egypt, and Sri Lanka. Read more here.

(Note: if this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry about it. It’s a good option for frequent travelers, those going to unusual countries, or those who are taking time for an extended trip (3 months – 1 year.).

5. Consider a trial in the Travel Hacking Cartel.

Seven years ago, I founded a deal alert service to help travelers earn miles without becoming an expert or reading a thousand forum posts. I’m no longer actively involved in it, but it’s still pumping out deals week after week.

If you remain a member for at least a year, you’ll learn everything you need to earn large amounts of miles and points, how to use them to go anywhere you can image.

–> Get a free 14-day trial and see if it works for you.


If you do at least four of these five steps, all of which are quick and easy, you’ll be off to a good start. See you in the airline lounge?


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