Adventures in Travel Hacking


Greetings from LHR Terminal 3, soon to be departing to San Francisco after a weekend in London for the U.K. launch of The $100 Startup.


We’ve had a lot of new readers join our community over the past month (hi, everyone!) and I thought it would be good to provide an overview of travel hacking: the means of seeing the world in style while on a budget.

For the past five years, I’ve been to at least 20 new countries a year on my quest to go everywhere. In addition to overland travel by bus or train, I get to many of them through a variety of paid and almost-free plane tickets.

People sometimes ask how this is possible. The first part is easy: I value travel. I plan much of my life around the ability to go anywhere, anytime. I’ve stayed away from debt (no car, no student loans, etc.) so that I could spend money on seeing the world.

The second strategy, however, is through travel hacking.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve posted a number of tutorials and lessons on travel hacking on the AONC blog. By combing through the archives, you can learn about topics such as:

All of these resources are free. Over at Unconventional Guides we also have additional, paid resources for those who want them.

Travel Hacking Cartel + Frequent Flyer Master

Last year we debuted a new service, the Travel Hacking Cartel. The goal of the Cartel is to help thousands of people travel for free by earning large amounts of Frequent Flyer Miles. Since launching in February 2012, more than 10,000 people have signed up for membership.

Some stick around for a few months, then go off on their own once they have the basics down. Others stay for the long-term and enjoy the ongoing Deal Alerts that we send, preferring the ease of the service to tracking down all the info on their own.

If you’re looking to learn more about the world of travel hacking and want an easy introduction, you can get a 14-day trial in the service for just $1.

I also have an older product called Frequent Flyer Master, which includes a guarantee of 25,000 miles in the first 90 days. (“Buy the guide, get a free plane ticket.”)

Note: sometimes people ask about the differences in these two offers. Frequent Flyer Master is a one-time product (you read it and apply) whereas the Travel Hacking Cartel is an ongoing service that offers monthly help.

Credit Card Bonuses

One of the easiest ways to earn a lot of miles all at once is through getting a new credit card, or several cards. Several years ago I conducted a public experiment where I applied for a dozen cards all at once, earning more than 300,000 Frequent Flyer Miles. I was never declined, and after a minor decline of 10%, my credit score actually increased in the long-term.

If you’re just interested in credit card bonuses (typically available to residents of the U.S. and Canada only), I maintain a companion site,

Here are a few current offers that I personally use and recommend:

Chase Sapphire – Earn a 40,000 point signup bonus (transferable to United, Hyatt, or many other partners) and pay no annual fee. The card also features no foreign transaction fees and double points on all travel and dining purchases.

Chase Ink Bold – Earn an additional 40,000 points when getting the business version of the Sapphire card.

AmEx Platinum – This card has a hefty annual fee ($450), but includes lounge access in airports all over the world, a $200 annual credit for your choice of airlines, and other benefits that are good for frequent travelers.

Starwood Preferred Guest – An old standby, the SPG card has a much lower annual fee and includes a 20% bonus on mileage transfers to almost every major airline.

There are many other offers on the site; those are just my current favorites. Make sure you can manage your credit responsibility. In the long-term, the responsible use of credit cards will improve your credit score, not damage it—but make sure you can use them responsibly before signing up for anything.


I’m still on the road for the $100 Startup tour. Tuesday night I’ll be in San Francisco, Wednesday in Santa Cruz, and Thursday night in Los Angeles (details here).

We’ll have more articles with the option for reader comments soon. In the meantime, I hope your week is starting off well.

Happy travels,

– Chris


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