Before I discovered the secret of flying in first class which is ‘you don’t need to be rich to fly in one’ – all I knew about flying and staying in hotels is that you need to pay for every single cent of the luxury. 100% untrue! I came across travel-hacking not long after I had my second baby and sold my business – thinking forward I thought while I’m taking an indefinite and unpaid maternity leave – even though I was also pursuing a new e-commerce business to be able to work from home, I knew I wouldn’t have a steady stream of income to support my gypsy soul and my love for travel so I had to figure out a way how I can still afford to travel the world on a budget – especially now that we are a family of 4 – even on a tighter budget.
What is travel-hacking? Nomadic Matt has defined travel-hacking into these wise words:
Travel hackers are the people constantly chasing miles, rewards points, and elite status. They are looking for every possible way to game the system for as much free travel as they can. Most travel hacking is about using miles and rewards to get free flights or hotels.
I started reading various travel blogs, researching airfares, credit card offers, airline promotions, luxury airline cabins and various destinations.
I became obsessed with the things I can find out online about the art of travel-hacking and when you find out how you can travel in International First Class cabin for as low as $5 (FIVE friggin’ DOLLARS), the idea became more tempting than ever.
Living in the US definitely has its advantages due to its’ (established) large market, competitive airline promotions and generous credit card bonuses, but it turns out travelers in Australia, UK & Europe and even in Asia have been quite in the game too.
So if you’re currently thinking ‘I’m interested but I don’t know where to start’, here are some tips that might help you start:
1. Set Your Goals
Do you have a destination in mind?
Do you know which airline you want to fly with?
Do you want to travel in business/first class or would settle sitting in Economy?
When do you want to go?
When you have a ‘goal’ in mind, it would help you strategize how to earn sufficient miles for your travel. Whether it’s only for yourself or for your entire family.
I setup my first travel-hacking goal to take our family of 4 (3 full seats + 1 lap infant) to Europe, aiming at only London and Paris and to continue the journey to Asia to visit our family. (Back then) I would settle flying in Economy because it seemed to be much more achievable to earn a total of 65,000 miles which would cover a one-way trip from LA to London for all of us flying Virgin Atlantic.
Long story short, after I saw an amazing deal alert on British Airways Business Class, we kissed our economy seats goodbye and never looked back.
Read how we ended up Flying British Airways Business Class after booking our Virgin Atlantic reward economy flights.
British Airways Business Class
We also managed to redeem our flights to Asia and back to Los Angeles, all in Business and First Class. Bear in mind when redeeming miles you need to be slightly flexible with your schedule and might need to fly separately (easier to find a single or two seats) because it is rare to find more than 6 award seats (of the same saver level) on one flight – unless you book way in advance (8 to 12 months out).
Singapore Airline Suites on the A380
Having these travel goals really helped my research to be more refined, because then I can start looking for possible routes and timetables, which business/first class flights I can redeem, which credit cards I should use, how many points I should be earning, etc etc…..
2. Sign Up for The ‘Right’ Credit Cards
Each country has their own credit card promotions and co-branded cards which you need to start to look into. Once you know which airline miles you want to redeem then you can strategize your points earnings and credit card spending. Last year alone, by signing up to 2 new credit cards that rewarded us with generous bonus points at 50,000 each, my husband and I managed to earn 200,000 points within 3 months solely from credit card bonuses (not including flying, staying in hotels and credit card spending). In the end within a period of 8 months, our household points combined were close to 500,000 points which was enough to cover our travel goal for the year and can be used to redeem free flights on various airlines.
Examples of co-branded cards in USA, Australia and Indonesia
We used certain credit cards to pay for certain expenses – for example our Chase Sapphire Preferred rewards us 2 points per dollar for travel expenses (flights/hotels) including Uber, Starwood Amex rewards us 5 points per dollar spent on Starwood Hotel bookings. Some other cards gives rewards on groceries, gas even stationeries.
“It’s about finding out these added benefits where cardholders often don’t realize they can actually earn points quite easily just from everyday spending.”
If you think only frequent flyers gets to collect hundreds of thousands of points then you’re wrong, it certainly helps to fly often, but I’m a living example of someone who is earning majority of my miles from credit card spending (personal & business expense).
I also tend to pay for domestic travels (whether it’s within US or within Europe) instead of redeeming with points because domestic travels are so competitive in pricing and it ends up a lot cheaper to buy them outright so I can save all my points for International Business/First class redemption only.
3. Sign Up for Hotel Rewards Programs
Signing up for Hotel Reward Programs is the easiest thing you will ever have to do, the major reward programs are Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), Marriott Rewards, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Hilton Honors and Hyatt Gold Passports.
Each hotel group has hundreds (if not thousands) of properties all over the world that could help you earn more points. It would be best to try and focus on one or two reward memberships so you can accumulate points quicker and earn an elite status to allow you access for additional benefits such as complimentary upgrades, free hotel stays or dedicated concierge service. Additional benefits from SPG and Marriott Rewards for instance lets you redeem points for Special Events such as VIP Access to dedicated viewing suites at major sporting events or concerts, not just in the US but all over the world.
You will also be able to convert your hotel points into airline miles depending on the hotel group’s transfer partners.
Keraton at The Plaza Hotel, Jakarta – Indonesia (A member of Starwood Hotels)
4. Subscribe to Travel Blogs and Travel Deals Websites
I’ve successfully made redemption bookings or booked amazing discounted airfares thanks to travel bloggers’ tips or airfare deals from my Facebook News Feed. Find them on Facebook, like & follow their page so you can get updates and if they don’t have a Facebook page, simply subscribe to their newsletter for airfare promotions.
Have you followed Wanderlust Mama on Facebook?
I usually publish some amazing airfares from Asia too since I noticed there haven’t been many travel bloggers in Asia that focuses on travel-hacking and also because the majority of WM readers are in Indonesia and Australia so I hope to share as much tips as I can for travelers based in my two home countries.
5. Strategize earning points with your spouse (for Family Travel)
If you only have to worry about earning points for yourself then you’re in luck, because your travel-hacking journey would be much simpler.For those who needs to earn points to cover two or more seats, it is best to have a combined efforts with your spouse or even your children who are already on frequent flyer programs. Every airfare you pay for the children even if it’s not 100% adult fare still counts towards their frequent flyer rewards.
My husband who travels regularly for work would book trips on various airlines (pre travel-hacking) and after I advised him to focus on one airline or one alliance group so he can accumulate points quicker, he has since been qualified for an Executive Platinum status (equals to OneWorld Emerald) year after year where you need to fly a minimum of 100,000 miles per year with American Airlines or partner airlines (One World Alliance).
The same thing with hotels and he’s been consistent in staying within the same hotel group which has also earned him a Platinum status with Marriott Rewards.
I also advised him on which credit card to apply and which one to use for which purpose (’cause he doesn’t have time to do the research) so in the end we can combined our ‘household’ points to be able to cover our travel goals for a family of 4.
It takes two (or more) to tango!
Bottomline is anyone can get into travel-hacking if they’re willing to make the effort to do the research, planning and strategizing reward points earning. But not everyone wants to do the work.
If you’re still skeptical about travel-hacking and thinks it’s too complicated to learn, well it’s probably not for you and you can probably afford it right?
See you in First Class!
Qantas First Class Lounge – Los Angeles International Airport