When I was in college, I opened an American Express card to collect travel points to supplement frequent flier miles. For twenty years I dabbled in points/miles collection and enjoyed a free flight from time to time. In 2012, two things happened which raised my travel hacking to a new level:
- I took my first international trip with my now husband to celebrate his birthday. Not wanting to be too pushy about travel planning, I left the flights to him and because he waited until the last minute to book, he paid rates so high I refused to look at the credit card statement. (To this day I still don’t know what those flights to the Virgin Islands cost!)
- I left my full time job and realized if I was going to have the time and the freedom to travel without a steady paycheck, I needed a plan for extreme budget flights.
The travel hacking game was officially on! Since then, I’ve gotten a little more savvy and a little more creative in getting not only me – but my husband – on airplanes without opening the wallet each time. This year I’ve booked 20 flights between the two of us and I’ve only paid for TWO of them. People think that because I travel often I’m accumulating frequent flier miles, but the truth is that I’m relying on credit card points to transfer into miles, as that’s a heck of a lot faster because regular purchasing happens daily.
Here’s an outline of my points to miles strategy:
- I pay for all personal purchases of at least $10 with credit cards that accumulate points toward travel. Please don’t think I advocate for credit card debt, as the only way to make this work is if you pay the entire credit card bill every month. But think about it … if you’re going to make purchases anyway why not have those purchases work for you? My two favorite credit cards are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Southwest Rapids Reward Card. Both offer wonderful bonus point benefits, neither have foreign transaction fees and Chase points can be transferred to Southwest points, so they’re great partner cards.
Not all programs are created equal, so be sure to read exactly what you’ll be getting to see if it meets your travel needs. I’ll be breaking up with my American Express and Frontier cards later this year, as the programs aren’t what they used to be. American Express no longer has flight partners that I’m using regularly outside of Delta and Frontier’s new business model has turned me into a loyal Southwest flier. Break-ups are hard, but accumulating points that won’t be used is sad and wasteful.
- I pay for all business purchases (including some not so obvious ones) with the Chase Ink card. Besides all the benefits of the Chase Sapphire card, you’re also able to earn extra points for office supply store purchases, cell and landline service as well as internet and cable TV each anniversary year with the Chase Ink card. I cannot say enough about the Chase products. They’ve been my most consistently beneficial travel partners.
- I use portals (whenever possible) for online shopping. My husband and I have a question that flies around the house on a regular basis when we’re putting together mundane shopping lists: “Can you portal it?” Because when you’re able to “portal a purchase” you can get points through the portal, and, through the credit card you’re using as payment. So what the heck is a portal anyway? Shopping portals are websites you can access to shop big name retailers that give you points just for using them – no joke.
There are two kinds of portals:
Rewards search engine Evreward.com makes it really easy to earn points. By searching for the name of a store, you can bring up every loyalty reward program the retailer is associated with including frequent flyer miles (and hotel rewards). I “portal” drugstore.com regularly as it puts four points (!) per dollar spent into my Chase Ultimate Rewards program. I can stock up on shave cream, bubble bath, shower gel and other beauty products while collecting additional points, and, I stay out of Target where I’m sure to come home with a bag full of things I don’t need. The only negative to the evreward search engine is that Amazon isn’t a retail partner.
The other opportunity to use online shopping to earn points is through airline specific shopping portals. I’ve used American Airlines and United Airlines shopping portals to purchase items I needed anyway. The great thing about this is that when your miles are about to expire and you don’t have any travel plans, you can keep those miles alive by using a portal. While using these portals will never replace the community benefit – and fun – of shopping local, it will help you collect points faster when you’re just purchasing those everyday items such as toothpaste and dish soap.
These are the three ways that have exponentially increased my ability to have regular travel adventures via free airfare. I invite you to create your own travel hacking plan, so you can find new adventures that are only an airplane ride away! Let me know what you discover.
SHOW: 3 Blind Dates
Denver’s only unscripted romantic comedy, and, YOU get to choose the couples!
Saturday, September 12th, 7 p.m.
Voodoo Comedy Playhouse (Denver, CO)
& September 12th – 27th at the Boulder International Fringe Festival (Boulder, CO)
PLAYSHOP: Recess for Adults: Laugh and Play with Mindfulness
Calm your mind and boost your energy with a play break designed just for adults.
Saturday, September 19th, 9 a.m. – noon
Creative Life Center (Boulder, CO)