Travel hacking is something you’ve probably heard of, but have not investigated too much. The name itself sounds a bit criminal, so most people don’t want anything to do with it. However, I’m sure you’ve heard stories about travellers taking luxurious vacations for next to nothing thanks to travel hacking, so there’s no doubt that it can be appealing.
Travel Hacking Tips For Your Next Getaway
The term travel hacking is a bit misleading since the strategy is to simply apply for credit cards that give you a generous welcome offer. There’s no ‘hacking’ involved, you’re just taking advantage of any promotions that are available to the public.
So why aren’t more people doing it? That’s a good question. There’s no denying that travel hacking can be beneficial, but it also comes with some risks. As long as you know how things affect you, here’s how you can start travel hacking now.
Establish your travel goal
The first thing you need to do when travel hacking is to determine what your travel goal is. Generally speaking, everyone just wants to save money on their next vacation. How much you can save depends on how far you’re willing to travel hack. If you take a look at the list of the best travel credit cards in Canada, you’ll quickly see that you can save big if you apply for multiple cards.
Besides saving money, some people travel hack for aspirational reasons. For example, you may want to fly business class or stay at a luxury hotel. Those may be things you’d never pay full price for, but it would definitely interest you if it came at a minimal cost.
For the purpose of this article, let’s take a look at two travel goals and how travel hacking can get you there.
A Family Trip to Orlando For Cheap
Orlando is not a cheap destination, but families looking to save money can easily do it with a few simple tricks. First off, if you read my WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard review, you’ll learn that the current welcome offer is $350 WestJet dollars after your first purchase (normally $250). The standard benefits that come with the card include free checked bags and an annual companion voucher starting at $119.
If both parents in a family of four applied for the card, they could save big. Right away you’d get $500-$700 in WestJet dollars as the welcome bonus. Depending on where you’re flying from, the companion voucher could save you $250+ each. Then there are the free checked bags which normally cost $30 each bag, each way. If you add that all up, you could get $1,440 in savings just by applying for 2 credit cards. If you factor in the annual fee of $119 each, you’re still up over $1,200.
But what about hotels? There are multiple Marriott category 4 hotels near Disney World that cost 25,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for a free night. With Marriott Bonvoy, if you book 4 nights, you get the 5th night free so that means you need 100,000 points to get 5 nights free. That may seem like an insane amount of points, but it’s easier than you may think.
If you sign up for the Marriott Bonvoy Amex card using a referral link, you get 51,000 Marriott Bonvoy points as a welcome offer. Once you have the card, you could refer your spouse who would also be eligible for the 51,000 Marriott points. Amex also gives 10,000 Marriott Bonvoy points when someone makes the referral. That means when you meet the minimum spend requirements for the bonus and combine your points, you’d have a minimum of 123,000 Marriott Bonvoy points which puts you just 2,000 points shy of a sixth night free. Read my Marriott Bonvoy Amex card review now for other tips and tricks you can do with your points.
Flying Business Class to Asia
Under the new Aeroplan, it’ll cost you anywhere from 150,000 – 350,000 points for a roundtrip business class flight between Toronto and Tokyo. Many people won’t even earn that many points in a lifetime, so is this just a dream? Not a chance, it’s a lot easier than you think.
The American Express Business Platinum Card has a welcome bonus of 75,000 points when you use a referral link. Alternatively, the Amex Platinum personal card used to have a generous signup bonus, but as you’ll learn in my American Express Platinum Canada Review, it’s recently been decreased.
A better choice might be the American Express Gold Rewards card which will give you up to 30,000 points when using a referral link. There’s also TD and CIBC who often have promotions where you can earn up to 40,000 Aeroplan points. When you factor in the minimum spend requirements for each card, you could easily have more than 150,000 points in less than a year.
As you can see, how many points you can earn just depends on how aggressive you are with your credit card applications.
How Travel Hacking Affects Your Credit Score
The biggest concern of travel hacking is how it’ll affect your credit score. Based on the above, you would need to apply for 2-4 credit cards each if you’re looking for big rewards. Every time you apply for a new credit card, your credit score takes a hit of 10 points. The good news is that your credit score will typically go up after a few months after you’ve paid your bills on time.
Having your credit score drop is something many people don’t want, but you need to keep in mind that as long as your credit score is 760 or higher, you’re in good shape. What I mean is that if you had a credit score of 850 and then it dropped down to 820 because you applied for three credit cards, it likely won’t make a difference. That said, I wouldn’t advise you to apply for a bunch of credit cards if you plan on getting a mortgage in the near future. The last thing you want is for the lender to wonder why you’re seeking so much credit.
One of the best strategies is to not rush things. Applying for one or two new credit cards a year is pretty common. You could plan your applications so you have enough points for a trip that’s coming up in a few years. By doing this, you’ll only see mild dips in your credit score.
Be Smart About Your Spending
The other tricky thing about travel hacking is meeting the minimum spend requirements. When you’re applying for multiple cards, that’s a lot of spending you need to do to get your bonuses. However, a little planning can go a long way.
If you have any major spending coming up such as insurance renewals, new appliances, car maintenance, etc., consider applying for a new credit card in advance. Alternatively, you could also prepay certain services. For example, you could load up your Amazon account, public transportation card, or prepay your wireless bill. In addition, you could easily pay for grocery gift cards that you can use later. As soon as you meet the minimum spend requirement, stop using the card.
One thing to note is that you don’t want to spend just for the sake of spending. Only purchase things that you were going to buy regardless if you got a new credit card or not. Also, this strategy only works if you pay your full bill on time every month. No rewards are worth it if you need to pay interest for them. You would also have to cancel your cards before the annual fee is due in the second year since you already received the sign up bonus.
Final Thoughts on Travel Hacking
When done responsibly, travel hacking is something that anyone can do. There’s no need to dive right into the deep end, you can start by applying for just one new credit card now. If you’re comfortable, apply for more cards later. Either way, you’ll reap the benefits.
Today’s guest post comes from personal finance and travel expert Barry Choi. His blog, Moneywehave.com is one of Canada’s most trusted sources for all things money and travel.
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