Ever since we discoved the many ways to earn miles and points about 18 months ago we have been able to take several almost free flights-most in international first or business class!  Since we know some of our readers do not participate in travel hacking, we thought it would be a good idea to create a comprehensive beginner’s guide to earning miles and points in order to redeem for (near) free travel.  Our goal with this guide is to keep it simple and avoid complex or time consuming schemes for earning miles in order that even our busiest readers can benefit.  This is our first post in this series-stay tuned for more detailed posts.

Index:
Introduction
Which Frequent Flyer Programs Should I Sign Up For?
Which Hotel Loyalty Programs Should I Sign Up for?
How to Earn Miles and Points by Shopping Online
Earn Miles and Points for Eating Out
Earn Miles and Points Through Online Survey Sites and Other Methods
Applying for Credit Cards In Order to Earn Large Sign Up Bonuses
How to Meet Minimum Spend Requirements on Credit Cards
Learning about Category Bonuses on your Credit Cards
Using Manufactured Spend
What is Churning and Using it to Earn More Miles
How To Minimize Annual Credit Card Fees
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What is Travel Hacking and How Can I Benefit?

Travel hacking is a term used to describe the practice of earning air miles and hotel points by other methods than simply flying or staying at a hotel.  The goal of travel hacking is to use those miles and points for “free” flights and hotel stays.   A lot of people use the term free but really there are some fees and taxes depending on the airline.  They can be as minor as a couple of dollars-for example, on a recent American Airlines first class flight from Chicago to Tokyo we only paid fees of $2.50 per person!

Some people think the only method for travel hacking is signing up for multiple credit cards.  While applying for credit cards with large sign up bonuses is one of the fastest ways to accumulate large number of miles and points, there are other ways for anyone to earn miles and points, including, online shopping, dining programs and survey sites.  You do not have to use all of these methods –we would recommend you pick whatever methods you feel most comfortable with.

Please note, this guide is geared towards readers that live in the United States as we understand that the opportunities for earning miles and points in other countries are not as numerous as for those of us that live in the United States.

Tips on Getting Started

1) Start Early.

In order to earn enough points and miles for free travel, the key is to start as early as possible.  We would recommend starting at least a year before you are looking to book an award reservation.  This allows enough time to accumulate miles and points and have them credited to your account.

2) Set a Goal.

It helps if you have a goal to work towards when collecting miles and points.  That way you can research how many miles or points you will need to accumulate in order to earn a free flight or hotel stay at your chosen destination.

3) It Helps to Be Flexible.

Award availability can be limited so those who are flexible can benefit the most from travel hacking.  If you are flexible on your travel dates there is a better chance of finding a free flight or hotel stay.  If you are not flexible on when you can travel, consider being flexible on your destination.

How Do I Earn Miles and Points Without Flying?

Following is a brief summary of steps you can take in order to start travel hacking-we will provide more details on each of these in future posts:

1)  Join Frequent Flyer and Hotel Loyalty Programs.

If you are looking to earn free flights, sign up for a frequent flyer accounts for any airlines you fly or want to fly.  If you would like to earn free hotel stays sign up for hotel loyalty programs.

If you are new to travel hacking and not sure where to start, we would generally recommend that focusing on earning free flights before earning free hotel stays although that really depends on you and your travel plans and preferences.  The reason we recommend focusing on earning free flights first is that if you are looking to earn free travel and are not concerned with luxury, it is much easier to find free or low cost accommodation than it is to find cheap flights.  There are many more ways to save money on accommodation: staying with a friend or relative, couchsurfing, home exchange, housesitting, hostels, vacation rentals or low cost hotels.  If none of these options are appealing or if you are looking to stay at a fancy hotel for free, travel hacking for hotel stays is the way to go.

2) Earn Miles and Points For Online Shopping.

If you online shop (which most people do) always go through an airline or hotel or other rewards portal.  These portals will give you extra miles or points for going through them before clicking to the website you want to shop with.  The payouts are always changing but range from 1 mile per dollar to as high as 30 miles per dollar.  Going through a portal first only takes an extra minute.  If you are a member of various mileage programs, two websites to compare which portal is offering the best payout are cashbackmonitor.com and evreward.com.  Please note you do not need a mileage earning credit card to use online shopping portals.

3) Join Dining Rewards Networks.

Many airlines and hotel chains offer dining programs as a way to earn extra miles or points when eating at participating restaurants.  Once you register and your credit card is linked to a dining program, you’ll automatically earn extra bonus miles or points every time you visit a participating restaurant.  These miles and points are in addition to any miles, points or cash back earned for using your credit card.

4)  Sign Up For Online Survey Sites.

There are online survey sites (e-rewards and e-miles are our favorite) where you can sign up to earn miles and/or points for taking surveys.  If you sign up through an airline’s webpage you can also earn an initial sign up bonus- for example, 250 United miles for enrolling to e-rewards through the link on united.com.

5) Apply For New Credit Cards in Order to Earn Large Sign-Up Bonuses.

Many credit card companies offer a large number of miles or points for signing up and using their credit cards and often waive their annual fee in the first year.   Our Best Credit Cards page lists what we consider to be the best credits cards for earning miles and points.   In future posts we will discuss various ways to meet the minimum spend requirements for those cards, including manufactured spend.  We will also cover the factors in deciding whether to keep the credit card past the first year or whether to cancel it and reapply for that credit card again to earn another sign up bonus.

6) Learn Which Credit Card to Use For Each Purchase.

Take a few minutes to learn which of your credit cards offer extra points for certain categories.  Usually credit cards earn 1 mile or point per $1 spent.   Some credit cards earn more in certain merchant categories (for example, 2 points for dining or travel, 5 points for cell phone, internet, cable, etc.).

In conclusion, this a brief step by step guide to earning miles and points through travel hacking.  In future posts in this series we will go into more detail for each of these steps.

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