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Travel Hacking Resources

Guiding principle: Over the past 5 years I’ve earned more than one million Frequent Flyer miles and points each year. I’ve used them to travel everywhere—literally. You, too, can benefit from travel hacking, even if you don’t want to go to every country in the world.

If you want to take a big trip on a small budget, or if you want to explore parts of the planet you’ve only read about—or even if you just want the option of traveling more without spending a ton of money, all of these things are possible thanks to travel hacking.

Let’s get started! Scroll down to read everything, or click any link on the left to jump to a sub-topic.

Miles & Points

There are other strategies and tactics, but the cornerstone of travel hacking is to maintain multiple accounts of Frequent Flyer miles and points. As your balances build up over time, you’ll be able to redeem the miles and points for valuable rewards all over the world.

Keep these principles in mind.

Always be earning. Each month, you should be adding to your mileage accounts. You can do this through ongoing opportunities and one-time opportunities, discussed more throughout this page. Sometimes you can set it and forget about it, other times you’ll need to be more active.

Have an idea of the general valuation for your miles and points. You can often eke out a value of at least 3 or 4 cents per mile. To be conservative, though, value them at 1 to 2 cents each.

Let’s look at a few examples

  • Basic Domestic Airfare: $250
    Required Miles: 25,000 ($0.01)
    Not usually the best use of your miles.
  • Airfare to Hawaii: $750
    Miles: 35,000 ($0.02)
    A good value.
  • Business Class Airfare to Japan: $4,500
    Miles: 80,000 ($0.05)
    A great value. International, premium cabin redemptions are often the best use of miles.

Key point: Most miles are earned on the ground. You don’t have to fly a lot to earn miles and points. On a given year, I fly at least 200,000 miles a year—which certainly counts as a lot. But remember that I earn at least one million miles and points a year overall. The majority of my miles (and those of most active travelers) are earned before we ever get on a plane or check into a hotel.

Redeem points and miles for high-value experiences. Focus on aspirational redemptions: experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to have.

Cathay Pacific First Class

(Cost: $9,750 or just 62,500 American Airlines miles)

Nearly a dozen times I’ve been fortunate to fly Cathay Pacific First Class to Hong Kong—from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, New York, and London.


Sydney Park Hyatt

(Cost: $800/night or just 30,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points)

This is my favorite hotel in the world. I visit Sydney as often as possible and always stay here—but always with points.

Under normal circumstances I’d never be able to pay for these experiences with money. But I don’t have to pay with money—I can pay with miles and points.

Ongoing Opportunities

Always earn miles when you fly. Never board an airplane without providing a Frequent Flyer number!

  • Register for dining miles. (See the Dining Dash Adventure, where I visited twelve restaurants in one day.)
  • Shop through mileage malls. If you regularly shop from merchants including Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, and countless others, you can earn a bonus without paying anything extra.
  • If possible, do your banking online. BankDirect pays interest in the form of American AAdvantage miles. Fidelity pays a bonus of up to 50,000 miles in your choice of airline for opening an account. [Links: United | American | Delta]

Credit Cards

I’ve been accumulating credit card signup bonuses since 2006. The single best way to earn large amounts of miles and points is through cards. If you’re responsible and pay your bills on time, getting even a single card can help you see the world.

It’s a common misconception that getting multiple credit cards simply for the signup bonuses is “gaming the system.” In fact, banks are happy to pay for acquiring customers. These banks purchase millions of miles in bulk from airlines and hotels, then distribute them as signup bonuses and ongoing incentives for their new customers. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Best Cards

The best current offers are always listed on our partner site, Cards for Travel. A few long-standing favorites are listed below.

Disclaimer: it’s important to make sure you can pay off your balance every month. Travel hacking with credit cards can serve you well in the long-term, but be sure you manage it well, too.

Frequent Flyer Challenge

As mentioned, I’ve been earning mileage bonuses on credit cards for a long time—but a few years ago, I had an idea for an experiment. Instead of just getting one or two cards a year, I’d go all-out and apply for every possible card I could find.

What would happen? Would I wreck my credit and fall into debt, as many people predicted?

Not exactly. I was approved for every single card, I earned 300,000 miles in one fell swoop, and then a year later my credit score was actually higher than before. Nice. Even the haters started signing up for cards.

I’ve repeated a version of the challenge every year, and hundreds of AONC readers have done it in their own way too.

FF Challenge: Original Post
FF Challenge: Archives

    (many other posts linked there)

It’s still possible to do a version of the challenge and earn a ton of points all at once. If you want to be more conservative, though, start with a few cards and see how it goes.


Once you have the right cards, you want to do everything you can to put all your spending on them. If you need to reach the minimum spend required for the signup bonus, or if you just want to earn more miles and points for an award, here are a few strategies.

  • Prepay expenses whenever possible
  • Buy gift cards (especially when you can earn extra miles for them)
  • Consider “manufactured spend,” where you essentially churn money by purchasing debit cards, depositing the funds back into your bank account and paying off the charge

One time I rented out the Oregon Zoo for the largest charge I’ve ever placed on a card … but you may not be able to replicate that one.

Looking for international cards? There aren’t as many, but you still have some options.

Looking for debit cards? Again, there aren’t many—but the Suntrust Delta SkyMiles card is probably the best.

Added Perks

A few cards offer added perks that help with elite status.

Round-the-World Airfare (RTW)

I used to travel around the world once a month. Now I only do so 4-6 times a year, though I still fly at least 200,000 miles a year overall.

An older post details how Round-the-World airfare works. Much of the post is still current, though some details such as the best place to originate from may have changed.

The post mentions these two tools, which I continue to use:

One of my recent RTW itineraries was booked on OneWorld. Beginning and ending in Johannesburg, it consisted of the following segments:


I’ve done many more, and with enough creativity yours can be even more interesting. Have fun!

By the way, a number of people have asked about Airtreks, which is owned by friends of mine. Airtreks isn’t quite the same as taking a RTW through an alliance. Instead, they are a travel agency (remember those?) that strings together a series of one-way tickets, essentially creating a DIY Round-the-World. I prefer the alliance-based products for my needs, but if you’re looking for something different (and sometimes cheaper), they’re worth a look.

Mistake Fares and Big Opportunities

Once in a while, an airline or hotel makes a mistake and prices tickets way too low. The mistake fare usually lasts only a brief period of time before being corrected. Most of the time (though not always) the airline or hotel will honor the original rate for those who booked during the glitch.

In addition to mistake fares, there are often big opportunities to earn miles by exploiting a loophole in an incentive structure. A few I’ve taken advantage of include:

  • Buying $6,000 worth of stickers, which turned into 800,000 (!) miles
  • Buying Vanilla Reloads ($100,000 worth!) from Office Max before the deal closed
  • Purchasing $500 Business Class flights from Malaysia to Vancouver
  • Getting a hair loss consultation at a doctor’s office for 20,000 SkyMiles
  • Purchasing dollar coins from the U.S. Mint ($60,000 worth) and returning them to the bank in a shopping cart

All of these deals are now over. But more deals happen all the time!

How to keep up: join the Travel Hacking Cartel (our paid service) or monitor daily.

Low-Budget Travel

Budget airlines in some parts of the world are great. I used FlyDubai to get to Kabul. AirAsia, Tiger Airways, and Jetstar are good options for many flights in Asia.

Travelers going to Europe for the first time used to take the train on their grand adventures. Now they take budget airlines.

How Much Does Travel Cost?

It costs as much as you want it to. To be safe, I think you need at least $1,000 a month to travel long-term. Many people will need more… but I’m sure that some people could do it with less.

For me the goal isn’t always “lowest cost.” I’m an entrepreneur and an author. I have a business to run. As both of these careers grew, my travel strategy changed. Now I stay mostly in hotels.

The point is to figure out what works for you and do that.

Common Questions & Other Tools

I no longer have to worry about procuring visas in advance, but in the days of going everywhere I used VisaHQ. (There’s a Canadian version as well.) VisaHQ let me down a few times, but then again, I don’t think they had many customers like me. Overall I had a good experience with them.

For car rentals, I usually use and take the cheapest available option. There isn’t much process to it. Priceline often has even cheaper deals—visit to know what to bid. Be aware that everything booked through the ‘Name Your Own Price’ option is non-refundable.

Silvercar is a new service that I enjoyed in Los Angeles. Uber is a nice step-up from regular taxis.

You can download maps of many subways and public transport systems for your phone.

Packing List

An older AONC post detailed my packing strategy in the middle of the quest. The principles of that outline haven’t changed: pack less! Bring the basics and pick up anything else you need along the way.

Less stuff = less stress. I’m not a minimalist (or any other label-ist) and this isn’t a philosophical stance. My practice of taking less stuff is 100% practical.

My main bags are still the Briggs & Riley and the Tom Bihn Empire Builder. These two bags (the originals!) have gone to nearly 100 countries with me. If I ever need to replace them, my plan is to buy the same thing again.

As a matter of principle I never, ever check baggage. Fight for your right to carry-on!

My MacBook Air comes everywhere with me. I’m always amazed when I hear about travelers who only use mobile devices. I guess if you don’t want to work, that’s fine. But I always work. I’d rather have my laptop than my phone or iPad or anything else.

I read books on the iPad Kindle app.

When coming home to the U.S. from an extended trip abroad, I sometimes use Amazon Prime to send a fresh t-shirt, socks, or underwear to my first domestic hotel. The wonders of next-day shipping!

International Readers

Much of travel hacking is fully international. Aside from the large credit card bonuses, there isn’t much you can’t do no matter where you live.

The U.S. airlines have the most generous policies and promotions. You can (usually) benefit from them regardless of where you live—and in some cases, you can benefit more.

A Few Things We Made

Travel Hacking Cartel

In 2010 I founded the Travel Hacking Cartel, a service that helps users earn at least 100,000 Frequent Flyer miles a year. If the complexities of travel hacking still seem overwhelming after reading this 5,000 word page, the Cartel will help by telling you exactly what to do each month.

More than 12,000 15,000 people have joined the Cartel in the past few years. Some have remained lifelong members and others have stayed for a year or two before moving on. [Get a 14-day trial for just $1.]

Upgrade Unlocked

Our new travel hacking guide, Upgrade Unlocked teaches you to use miles, points, and other unconventional strategies to see the world—no matter your budget.

With its different tiers of actions steps, Upgrade Unlocked can be a beginner travel hacker’s best friend, or a veteran hacker’s long-term companion. All the guess work has been taken out for you and boiled down into clear steps that help you turn your travel dreams into reality. [Get it here]

Frequent Flyer Master

If you don’t want to pay for an ongoing service (even as affordable as it is!), you could also pick up a detailed, comprehensive resource that goes into all of these topics in much more detail.

Regularly updated and serving thousands of readers since 2010, Frequent Flyer Master is a one-stop companion for becoming immersed in the world of travel hacking. [Get it here.]

Lastly, if applying for cards I appreciate you using my links on Cards for Travel. You certainly don’t have to, however. If you prefer to apply directly, just visit the main website for the issuer (Chase, AmEx, etc.) and search for the card from there.

Most Important Point

Don’t get lost in all these details.

The details will help you, but travel is about much more than miles. Travel can change your life for the better. It certainly did for me!

Travel is for adventure and discovery, and miles are for spending. I’ve been fortunate to visit every country in the world. Though I often fall short, I try to live with gratitude wherever I go.

I hope you’re able to have your own life-changing experiences through venturing beyond your comfort zone.

Happy travels!