Prior to our trip we weren’t really sure how to plan a year-long honeymoon, how does anyone plan a year of anything really. By American standards we’re middle class and hustle just like the rest of you in our day-to-day lives. I’d previously written about travel hacking over a year ago and in between have consulted for a few of you who wanted to learn more.
This guide is for the beginning travel hacker it’s a bit long so you can skip around to different sections that you find interesting or move forward to the actual hacking of our honeymoon.
What is travel hacking?
Travel hacking can be defined in many ways but basically the art of accumulating points and using them for travel rewards including free or discounted flights and hotels.
But I already use have a credit card that gives me points for every dollar I spend.
This is something I hear from people who think they are getting a great deal on using their credit card to accumulate points. Most credit cards will give you 1-2 points for every dollar spent. So for you to get 30000 points you would have to spend $15,000-30,000 USD. That’s not that great of a deal.
Do the math: $1 spent = 1 or 2 points
What’s the easiest way to travel hack?
The easiest way to travel hack is through a process of evaluating and choosing credit cards to apply for. The typical set up is you have 3 months to spend a minimum amount usually $1000-4000 in 3 months. I find that most people spend over 1500 a month on daily expenses such as gas, bills, and grocery shopping. That should easily cover the minimum spending you need.
Once you hit the minimum spending a bonus is given, anywhere from 25,000-60,000 points. You can now use these points for free hotels, free flights, or upgrades while traveling.
For this specific credit card you have to spend $4000 in the first 3 months (or 1334 per month, easy!). Once you spend the $4000 you get 50,000 points that you can use for travel.
Do the math:
50,000 ÷ $4000 = 12.5 points per dollar spent
Earn 12.5 points per $1 spent rather than a measly 1 or 2 points.
* READ MORE on the Chase Rewards Cards.
Bonus, bonus points- Get 5000 extra points for simply adding an authorized user. They have to make a purchase within the first month. Have them make a dollar purchase and get your 5000 points.
Do the math:
5000 ÷ $1 = 5000 points for this dollar spent!
Or 55000 ÷ 4001= 13.74 points per dollar spent.
What do these points mean?
When you use the points for travel redemptions you automatically save 20% of the dollar amount. For example, if you find a flight for $200 it will end up costing you 16000 points (or equal to $160). That puts the value of each point around $0.0125 (most card points are $0.01 per point).
For the AAdvantage Card you have to spend $1000 in the first 3 months to earn 30,000 points. Expect to spend $334 each month for 3 months and you’ll get enough points for a one-way flight to Hawaii or even South America!
Do the math:
30,000 ÷ $1000 = 30 points per dollar spent
What do these points mean?
What you’ll want to do is check the AA travel rewards chart to see where you can go on 30,000 points.
Some trips you can do with 30,000 points include (when flying from the contiguous 48 US states) the following one-way flights to Hawaii, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and Europe. Within the contiguous states you can do a round trip flight and still have some leftover points.
How do I cancel a credit card?
Quite recently, I posted “Just cancelled 5 credit cards” on my Facebook status and I received a number of messages congratulating me on my financial freedom from debt. This was obviously a huge misunderstanding from those that read the status.
The reason why I cancelled the credit cards was because I had gotten my points reflected into their different accounts- American Express rewards points, Alaska Airlines points, Marriott Hotel, IHG hotels, and Club Carlson Hotel points up. I never used the cards I saw that I had gotten hit with the annual fees about $50-100 per card, some of them were in their second year as I had kept them for various reasons.
I cancelled the cards, calling the customer services on the back of each card, making sure that the points wouldn’t be forfeited and that my annual fee would be refunded (in the form of a check they’d send back to me).
How can I get a credit card?
Usually after researching I just go straight to the credit card website directly and apply but for because I’m overseas I like to call and apply by phone. Decision is usually within seconds (online) or minutes.
Our Travel Hacked Honeymoon
I discovered travel hacking after reading tons of blogs and books including The Art of Non Conformity by Chris Guillebeau and Nomadic Matt’s How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. Once I learned the basics of travel hacking I started getting credit cards about 6-9 months before the trip to use on flights and hotels. I went a bit over board getting more cards and accumulating more points than we would use and even a year after the trip I have thousands of points that are unused.
This part of the article will be broken down into two sections flights and hotels.
Part 1: Travel hacking Flights
Nearly every flight we booked was travel hacked in some form. We lived in Shanghai where we were working and that was the end of our China journey/life and the start of our honeymoon. Of course we also ended up in El Nido where we are currently at. Here’s a breakdown of every flight we took.
Shanghai to Seattle- Asiana Airlines; FREE
Using points from American Express we booked a one-way flight for Camille for free (I can’t recall if we had to pay for a booking fee). My flight was provided by my employer as a benefit. We booked on Asiana Airlines because we took Pepper our French bulldog with us back to the US.
Seattle to Atlanta- Southwest flight; $5 per head
I got the Southwest card while we were still in Shanghai which gave us almost free flights (there was a $5 booking fee per ticket).
Southwest credit card at the time had a deal for 60,000 points after spending $2000. Easy points, easy hack.
Atlanta to New York- Southwest Flight; $5 per head
Washington DC to Chicago– JetBlue Airways approximately $150 per head ($300 total)
This one was a last minute trip as my mom had joined us and we went to Chicago to visit family.
Chicago to Seattle- Alaska Airlines $242 per head ($484 total)
Again this was a last minute trip and I hadn’t taken this flight into account when I initially started travel hacking.
Seattle to Dubai to Nairobi – EMIRATES; FREE as a wedding gift from mom and dad
Emirates does free stop overs in Dubai whenever you fly with them. We did 3 or 4 days in Dubai before moving forward to Kenya.
Instead of getting stuff, I’ve gotten use to asking for airfare from my parents. They’ve been pretty gracious and have now come to expect this from me.
Zanzibar, Tanzania to Tanga, Tanzania- AURIC AIRLINES, FREE USING BARCLAY CREDIT CARD POINTS
This was a last minute flight on a small charter plane. We had just gotten robbed and didn’t want to have to go back through Dar es Salaam. Read about that here.
Nairboi to Seattle- EMIRATES- part of the round trip flight
Seattle to Guatemala City, Guatemala- American Airlines ALMOST FREE (paid taxes)
We got an American Airlines credit card which as I recall (maybe incorrectly) gave us 50,000 points after 2000-3000 spending.
Quito, Ecuador to Seattle- American Airlines ALMOST FREE (paid taxes)
We got a US Airways card that gave us 30,000 points after making a purchase ($1). US Airways merged with American Airlines and we used these points to go back to Seattle.
Seattle to Austria and Austria to Manila- FREE; approximately $200 saved
I booked this flight on Kayak.com but my employer paid for this as part of the employee package/benefit. I only went for a couple of days to try to get my work visa.
Seattle to Manila- FREE; approximately $800
Camille ended up flying to Manila the same day I went to Europe. This flight was also provided by my employer as a benefit.
Summary of flights
Camille and I could have definitely saved on our flights in the US but hadn’t planned for them We ended up getting the Alaska Airlines card and currently have 33,000 unused points as we haven’t been to the states and haven’t been traveling lately.
All in all we spent around $1500 for flights including the taxes for the “almost free” flights. Not too bad for 16 months of travel.
Part 2: Travel hacking Hotels
Travel hacking hotels was a bit different as we were under the impression that we would somehow finish our trip in Europe and use most of our free nights in that region given the high costs of accommodation. As a result we have a ton of Marriot (40,000 points), IHG (60,000 points), and Club Carlson (90,000) points.
A bit of commentary:
Hotel credit cards are nice to have as they give good value for the minimum spending especially if you can’t do $3000-4000 of spending in 3 months.
During our trip in the US we mainly using Airbnb. However, we stayed at a few Holiday Inns and Marriott hotels that were valued around $100-150 a night while we were road tripping and hadn’t even used 25% of our points.
For example, we stayed in a Holiday Inn in Vancouver, WA for 5000 IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Groups) which at the time was $100 a night. From the stay you could say that I could get 12 stays with my 60,000 total points that I got after meeting the $1000 minimum spending in 2-3 months.
Do the math- 12 nights x $100= $1200 in hotels
That’s more than I actually spent on the card.
This card had a free night stay at any IHG hotel in the world after your first year of having the card. You don’t get hit with an annual fee on the credit card until after your first year but that’s only $49. So essentially you’re paying $49 for a one night stay in an Intercontinental in Maldives, Paris or anywhere else in the world. While we planned to use it on a night in Paris (we never got there), I ended up gifting it to my sister-in-law for a stay at The Intercontinental in which was about $300 a night.
While some people pride themselves on having no credit cards or debt. The would have a deep misunderstanding of how travel hacking is set up. After opening and closing over 10 cards over 1-2 years I’ve raised my own credit score over 800, consistently paying off any expenses put on my card immediately. To me this is just a game and a way to get free flights, upgrades, and hotel stays. This has helped Camille and I travel, saving tons of the larger expenses of travel, mainly flights. This post is intended for you to start thinking about how you can travel hack your next solo trip, family vacation or couples retreat. As always we are here to help you!