Living / Travel

How To Take A Free Vacation, & Other Travel Hacking Tips For Your Next Trip

By Monday, June 07, 2021

Pre-COVID, the thought of planning a trip has always been overwhelming, to say the least. From creating a budget, setting up lodging accommodations and outlining the perfect itinerary, getting ready for vacation is a chore all its own.

As we enter a post-pandemic world and resume regular traveling, we spoke to travel  expert, Julia  Menez, to find out how to best go about it, without breaking the bank. Julia is a travel hacking coach, speaker, and founder of Geobreeze.. After traveling to more than 30 countries before the age of 30 and saving thousands of dollars each year by travel hacking, Julia uses her “3 Points of the Travel Hacking Lifestyle” to teach overwhelmed overachievers how to get much-needed vacations for almost $0.

Check out our interview with the travel hacking expert to find out how you can begin your travel hacking journey (or do a major upgrade to your existing strategy) today!

1. For those unaware of what travel hacking is (or the benefits that come with travel hacking), how would you describe travel hacking in the simplest way possible?

Travel hacking (in the style that I teach) is the art of getting free travel by leveraging the loyalty programs set by airlines, hotels, and credit card companies.

2. What is the “Points Strategy Game?”

The points strategy game is the art of utilizing the rules and loyalty programs set by credit card companies, airlines, hotels, and other suppliers to get free travel. This can include free flights, hotel stays, meals, lounge access, and upgrades. It is not a scam, and is becoming an increasingly popular hobby among travel and personal finance enthusiasts.

The single best travel trick is to connect with other people who can show you even more travel tricks! Hearing about lots of different strategies will help you to come up with a points strategy that is specifically tailored to the lifestyle you live and want, rather than scrambling from one shiny credit card offer to the next.

3. What are the three best advantages to travel hacking?

Three of the best advantages that come with travel hacking are:

  1. Free travel! You’ll earn points and miles that you can redeem free travel just by putting regular expenses on high-rewards credit cards.
  2. If you travel hack correctly and pay off your bills in full every month, you’ll enjoy a higher credit score and solid personal finance foundation, and you’ll never have to pay interest on your credit card bills.
  3. You’ll meet an engaged community of other points and miles enthusiasts who can teach you even more ways to travel for free.

4. In your IG video, 5 Common Mistakes Of Beginner Travel Hackers, one of the mistakes you mention is: “Spending more money just to earn more points.” Explain why leaning into your travel card for everyday purchases may not always be worth it?

Travel hacking should be a hobby that saves you money on travel. But a common trap people fall into is, “if I buy that $500 item [that I don’t need], I will earn 500 more points…” and then they purchase things they didn’t need just to earn more points and end up destroying their budget in the process. Instead, it is always better to strategically plan for how to earn more points. For example, open new cards right before a planned large expense or use a free app like the Cardpointers app to see which cards will earn you the most points for a given purchase.

5. You’re extremely personable in your advice-giving. It’s almost as if 100% transparency in regards to traveling is a huge part of your brand. Why do you feel honesty, as it pertains to hacking, is so important?

The cloaking of certain points and miles information has made it difficult to highlight new voices in the industry and has made travel hacking less accessible to the communities that could most benefit from learning how to travel for free.

Historically, the biggest way that points and miles channels made money is through affiliate links when readers apply for credit cards through their page. But sometimes, this creates incentives that can hurt the industry overall. Most points and miles channels don’t backlink to each other, and some even restrict comments that link to other creators’ pages, because having their fans check out another blog lowers their chances of receiving affiliate commissions. In an environment where the payout structure incentivizes creators to be hyper-competitive, it makes it difficult for many new voices to gain traction in the points and miles industry. I think this competitive environment that revolves around affiliate income is also a large contributing factor as to why there has been such a lack of diversity in points and miles media in the past.

This lack of diversity makes the industry really lonely. Even if you’re not looking to become a travel hacking creator, and are just a hobbyist — seeing someone who you can identify with succeeding in the space makes learning travel hacking a lot more enjoyable and a lot less scary. Sometimes, I think about how much faster I probably could’ve leveled up my game if I had found more women, minorities, or first-gen travel hackers to chat with. I get a little upset about all the additional savings I missed out on by not having that network, and my goal is to change that for the next wave of people wanting to get into this hobby.

6. How do you feel COVID has impacted traveling? 

From a travel hacking standpoint, COVID has made the award travel environment much less predictable — but that’s not all bad! Many people who have been waiting to fly business class are able to find award space more easily because most planes only allow a certain number of seats to be booked with points and miles on a given flight. Additionally, credit card companies have launched a variety of new products and benefits to attract and retain customers. Cardholders have even reported better luck with being able to negotiate retention offers in the form of waived annual fees or statement credits.

Of course, COVID has devastated the travel industry in many areas. I visited the Bahamas this past year, and the former cruise port was empty; no restaurants or shops were open. As people start to travel again and look to travel hacking as a way to save money, I would really like to encourage people to use some of those savings to help boost local economies and small businesses that depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

7. As we enter a post-pandemic, vaccinated world, is this a good time to lean into travel hacking?

The best time to get into travel hacking is probably years ago, but the second-best time to learn this hobby is the present. Many credit card companies are offering limited-time increased sign-up bonuses on various cards, and hotels and airlines are offering special incentives to get customers in the door and rekindle their cashflows. For example, I was able to take advantage of a Hyatt promotion to earn top-tier Globalist status by staying 13 nights; in a normal year, Hyatt would require 60 nights to earn that level of status. Now, I get to enjoy free breakfasts, late check-outs, and automatic suite upgrades at Hyatt hotels until 2023! If there is a dream trip that you have been wanting to take for free, this is a really good time to start planning on how to make it happen with points and miles.

8. How exactly does travel hacking allow one to essentially / eventually “travel for free?”

Travel hacking lets people travel for free by earning points on expenses they would normally incur anyway by putting the expenses on different travel hacking credit cards. These points can be redeemed for free flights, hotels, and other travel.

9. You offer a ton of advice for those with travel cards at a membership/”annual fee” level. But what are 2-3 things those with regular travel cards should keep in mind, when optimizing their travel hacking advantages?

When optimizing travel hacking advantages, there are many ways to use the no annual fee credit cards as well!

  1. No annual fee credit cards such as the Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Ink Business Cash card can earn 5x points with certain categories. Keeping track of these categories can help you quickly earn 5 times as many points for a given purchase. For example, if the Chase Freedom Flex is earning 5x points at gas stations this quarter and you need to buy a new laptop at Best Buy, check to see if your gas station sells Best Buy gift cards that you can use for your laptop.
  2. The general rules of travel hacking still apply to cards with no annual fee: pay off your bill every month to avoid interest payments, and avoid making additional unplanned purchases just to earn more points.
  3. Never apply for a new card through Google. If you and your significant other or travel friends are both into travel hacking, make sure you are using each other’s referral links to earn extra referral bonus points. Even no annual fee cards can sometimes offer sizable referral bonuses!

To read more tips from Julia, sign up here for her free travel hacking video course and free hotel email upgrade template!

Image via Pexels

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