“Travel hacking” is a relatively new concept. But if you are an avid traveler, have credit cards, or both, you should definitely look into this unique practice. Travel hacking involves using different credit cards to redeem travel points or rewards, and it truly couldn’t be any easier than it is right now. 

If you want to learn more about travel hacking, maximizing your credit card rewards, and taking trips for free, keep reading to get the whole scoop. 

What is Travel Hacking?

Travel hacking is the concept of opening up credit cards and using them specifically for the purpose of redeeming their welcome bonus and/or travel-based rewards points. For example, with some cards, you might get thousands of miles in flight points just for opening up the card, with the potential for thousands more as you continue spending money on the card. Sometimes, you can accumulate free flights, hotels, and more just by spending money and using your credit card wisely. 

How Do You Travel Hack?

In the following section, we’ll discuss the steps involved in travel hacking and what you need to do to start travel hacking for yourself. If you want to know how to open up credit cards and start travel hacking in real-time, here are all the details.

Figure Out Your Ultimate Goals

To begin, you’ll need to figure out what your ultimate travel goals are when it comes to hacking your trips. For example, do you want to be able to take a huge family vacation at the end of next year? Do you and your partner want to go on short weekend trips over the next few months? Do you want to do some solo getaways? You’ll need to consider your options and desires before deciding how to travel hack most efficiently. 

Get A Travel Credit Card(s)

After you know what the most critical travel perks are to you (frequency of redeeming, flight miles, hotel points, etc.), you’ll need to apply for one or more credit cards. Travel hacking is only possible if you have a credit card, since you won’t get the points you need through rewards or loyalty programs elsewhere. There are many things you should look for when considering which card to get, including:

Large Welcome Bonus

A large welcome bonus is absolutely essential for travel hacking, and it will make your free flights or hotels come that much easier. A welcome bonus is just a bonus you get for opening the card, which can be a massive amount of flight or hotel points. However, be sure that when you open the card, you know the spending amount required to redeem your welcome bonus. Usually, it’s a certain amount of money in a particular time frame.

Low Spending Minimum

Since welcome bonuses typically require you to spend a certain amount of money within the first few months, you will want to look for a card with a smaller spending minimum. That way, you will likely be able to use the card for the things you buy anyway (groceries, gas, etc.). You don’t want to spend too much money on your card to the point where you are unable to pay it off, so look for a smaller spending minimum.

Category Bonus(es)

All of us typically have a few categories we tend to spend more money on. For some, it’s clothes shopping, while for others, it might be eating out, entertainment, or groceries. Whatever your categories are, look for credit cards with specific category bonuses in the areas you typically spend the most on. For example, some cards might give you triple points on gas or entertainment. This will help you earn and redeem points faster!

Specific Travel Perks 

Of course, when travel hacking, you want to look for credit cards that offer specific travel perks. There are many credit cards that make this obvious, labeling themselves as “travel credit cards.” However, there are many variations between these cards, as some might focus on hotel points instead of flight points, while others’ flight points might be restricted to certain airlines or locations. Whatever perks they have, make sure they align with your ultimate travel goals before signing up. 

Low Annual Fees

You’ll also want to ensure that the credit card you sign up for has low annual fees, meaning there aren’t extremely high costs for keeping the card open year-to-year. Some cards have notably higher fees than others. It all depends on how you can weigh that cost against your expected benefits. 

No Foreign Transaction Fees 

When you are on vacation in another country, you don’t want your credit card spending to rack up even more additional fees or accrue more costs. Unfortunately, foreign transaction fees can seriously mess with your credit card statement, especially if you make many smaller purchases. So, before you go on trips or even sign up for the card, make sure your credit card doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees. 

Make Sure Your Welcome Bonus is Earned

Of course, to redeem your welcome bonus (as we’ve mentioned), you must spend enough money to earn it. The amount you need to spend will depend on the card you sign up for, but usually, it’s around $1,000 to $3,000 within the first one to three months. If you don’t earn your welcome bonus, you have rendered your travel hacking card partially useless, so stay up-to-date with how much you need to spend to redeem your rewards.

Maximize Category Spending

As we mentioned before, category bonuses can be one of the most essential parts of earning enough rewards points to travel hack. Therefore, maximize your category spending (where there are bonuses) as much as possible! For example, instead of using your debit card for gas, use only your credit card for gas if you have a gas bonus and then pay it off using your debit card at the end of the month so as to not accrue interest. 

Redeem Travel Rewards

Once you rack up the points, ensure you redeem all of your travel rewards in a timely fashion! Many companies don’t want you to know how much you can actually save by travel hacking, so they aren’t going to remind you! If you don’t keep track, you may forget about your rewards balance, and your points will expire. Keep detailed records of where your travel rewards points are going and actually use them! 

Enjoy Your Trips! 

Once you redeem your rewards, enjoy! You have basically cracked the code to the best-kept secret in budget traveling. On your trips, take the time to relax, spend time with family, or simply enjoy your own company. Travel is a great way to enrich your mind, body, and spirit, and figuring out how to travel for cheap can be that much more rewarding. Once you return from your trip, you can start accumulating even more points and start planning out where your next hacked trip will be.