You may have noticed that I took a break from this topic for a while because no one was really traveling. That was by design. However, I’ve noticed more and more people traveling domestically and even internationally at times. So, I thought it was time to bring travel credit cards back to the forefront of my content with this post all about the travel hacking tips I’ve learned over the past three years!
I use all of these travel hacking tips myself and I’m excited to dig a little deeper into this topic with you after skimming the surface for so long.
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1. Consider which perks you’ll actually use
When choosing which travel credit card is right for you, the first thing you’ll do is look at which perks are included and try to figure out if the annual fee is worth it. For example, it might be exciting to think about a free night at a hotel every year, but do you usually stay with this specific hotel brand? It might be fun to think about having airport lounge access, but do you usually fly with that airline?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself before you make a decision on whether or not you’ll sign up for a particular credit card.
I’ll tell you a personal story that might put this into perspective.
I had signed up for an American Express Platinum credit card a while back. It got me access to several different airport lounges. It was part of a program called Priority Pass. Having the Platinum card got me free membership into over 1200 Priority Pass lounges around the world. That was pretty exciting for someone who LOVES free food and drinks before a flight.
The first time I traveled after I got the card, I tried to find one of these lounges to relax before my flight. However, I quickly realized that the only lounges available in Chicago were in the International Terminal. If you’re from Chicago or you fly in and out of O’Hare often, you’ll know that Terminal 5 (the International Terminal) is VERY far from the rest of the domestic terminals.
Turns out, these lounges are only in a handful of US cities and the rest are located globally.
Of course, this might be perfect for someone that flies internationally often, but had I done some research before signing up for the card, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it.
If you’re new to the game and trying to figure out which travel credit card is right for you, I’ve created a spreadsheet to break down the benefits of some of the most popular cards on the market! It’s yours for free – just fill out the form below!
2. Pay for your friend’s meals
This is one of my best travel hacking tips for when you’re trying to meet your sign up bonus threshold to receive that big lump sum of points right after you open your new card. But there’s one very important part to this:
Make sure they pay you back!
Either Austin or I usually offer to pay the bill when we go out to eat with friends. This way, we will get the points from the entire bill without actually spending that money. We especially do this when we are trying to hit a sign up bonus.
Then, we have everyone Venmo us their portion of the bill, so we aren’t stuck paying for everyone’s meals all the time!
This can even work for other things – not just meals out. If your friend is purchasing a new appliance, couch, TV, or anything else relatively expensive, offer to pay for it if they don’t use Travel Credit Cards themselves. Just make sure they pay you back right away. I always caveat this tip by saying ONLY do this with trustworthy friends and family. You don’t want to be stuck paying for your friend’s second cousin’s new furniture set.
3. Send your friends a referral link
If your friends are thinking of opening a travel credit card and they’re interested in the same one you have, ask if you can send them a referral link! You’ll get a bunch of extra points and they’ll be starting their journey to earning free travel.
The first step is checking to make sure your card actually has a referral link. I’m most familiar with Chase cards. I can say that the Chase Sapphire Reserve does not have a referral link. However, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the United MileagePlus card both do have referral links! You can earn 15,000 points (up to 75,000 points each year) for each referral to the CSP!
Speaking of, the Chase Sapphire Preferred happens to be my favorite travel credit card. It’s the one that I recommend most people start out with. If you’re interested, here’s my link to it!
4. Combine points from multiple cards
Now, I’ve only done this with Chase, but I’m fairly certain you can also do this with American Express and others. If you have two bank cards (i.e., not airline or hotel specific cards) from the same bank, you can combine the points you earn from both cards.
I’ll give you an example here:
I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Freedom Unlimited. I usually use the CSP when making purchases. However, sometimes the point percentage for groceries (or whatever category I’m spending in) will be higher for the Freedom Unlimited. So, I’ll use the Freedom Unlimited for that specific purchase because I’ll get more points while spending the same amount of money.
When it comes time to combine points, I know that I get 25% more points when using my CSP points toward travel. So, If I have 1,000 points total and I transfer everything over to the CSP and redeem for travel, I’ll actually be able to spend 1,250 points!
Because of this, I always transfer my Freedom Unlimited points over to my CSP. Then, I’ll book travel through the CSP.
This is one of the best travel hacking tips out there because that 25% more goes a long way when we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of points.
This doesn’t work with airline or hotel specific cards because you actually redeem those points through the airline or hotel directly. Since I have the United MileagePlus card, I have to go to United’s app or website to redeem points instead of using the Chase portal (even though the card is technically through Chase).
5. Sign up separate and combine cards later
I recommend this plan to spouses who are both interested in travel hacking. If their finances are combined, I often get asked if they should put both of their names on one card or if they should open cards separately. I usually recommend the latter. Here’s why:
If you think that each of you can meet the requirements to earn the sign up bonus independently, then I’d sign up separately, earn the sign up bonuses, then combine cards (if you want) later on. That way, you’ll get two sign up bonuses instead of just one. If you’re finances are merged, you can then combine cards later on. If you’re doing this several times, just make sure to divy up the cards evenly. That way, one person isn’t the primary card holder on every card.
This is the exact strategy that Austin and I plan to use when the time comes for us to merge our finances.
If you don’t think you’ll meet the sign up bonus individually, that’s when I’d suggest opening one card between the two of you to start. If both of your names are on the card, both of your purchases will count toward the sign up bonus. So, you can ensure you’ll meet the requirements.
Did this spark any questions?
If any questions came up while you were reading through these travel hacking tips, leave them in the comments below! I’ll personally answer all of them as soon as I can.
Again, if you are new to the travel credit card space, my ebook, Free Travel Formula, will get you up to speed!