Dividend miles programs have been out there for many years and even though I signed up and used Lufthansa’s frequent flyer program in the past, I never really paid closer attention to how you could take this system to the next level. I knew that I can earn miles with every flight and then hopefully redeem my earned miles after a few years for a free flight, if the miles have not expired by then. One time I managed to get a free night at a hotel for miles that I earned for traveling to Germany, but I never had enough miles to redeem for a flight. Then I learned about travel hacking…
Travel Hacking and Chris Guillebeau
A few months ago I stumbled upon the term “Travel Hacking” and it caught my attention. After looking it up and learning that “hacking” has nothing to do with anything illegal, I dug in deeper into the world of frequent flyer miles and discovered this whole world of travel hacking blogs, frequent flyer networks and last but not least Chris Guillebeau. Chris is a best selling author (“The $100 Startup” and “The Art of Non-Conformity”), entrepreneur and famous travel hacker and just recently reached his personal goal of traveling to all of the 193 countries recognized by the United Nations. He is THE source for everything travel hacking and used his knowledge to travel the whole world with very little money and mostly using frequent flyer miles that he earned not only by flying, but also through several different mile earning techniques.
What I always thought was that you have to fly a lot in order to ramp up these insane amounts of dividend miles. But actual butt-in-seat flying is just one way to earn miles. I did a lot of reading in the last couple months about travel hacking and how to collect all these miles and there are so many great blogs and websites about this topic. However, it can also be quite overwhelming and since I don’t have all the time in the world being a family man, I figured it would be best to spend some money to get Chris Guillebeau’s “Frequent Flyer Master” eBook as an early Christmas gift. Why not learn from the best and skip all the other blogs that are filled with plenty of fluff that is just time consuming to digest.
I’m about to start my own travel hacking journey so that I can hopefully get some free or very cheap family trips out of it. In the next few months I’m going to keep you posted on how it went. But since I’m already writing this article with a catchy title, let me share some of the things with you that I’ve learned so far.
How to earn insane amounts of miles
One of the easiest ways to earn a ton of free miles is definitely signing up for credit cards. All the travel hacking blogs out there agree on that, and some of them earn quite a bit of money with affiliate links of credit card companies. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of having multiple credit cards or even one card, there are other ways to earn miles, but cards are the easiest. Credit cards can work to your advantage if you handle them responsively. Do you have a tendency to overspend? Then credit cards are probably not for you. However, if you know your financial situation and know what you can spend and what not, credit cards will help you to get either cash back on everything you buy or points/miles that you can later redeem for travel or other merchandise. The key is to ALWAYS pay off your credit card balance in full every month!
Credit cards also usually give you a huge amount of dividend miles as a sign up bonus. You can easily get 20,000 to 50,000 miles just for signing up for the card and meeting a spending limit within the first few months. The spending limits can be a single purchase or up to $5,000 within the first 3 or 6 months. The limits vary per card, but if you use the card to pay your every day spending, the limit can easily be met and you’ll get enough miles to redeem for a free flight already. The real travel hacking comes into play when you think you have taken advantage of every spending opportunity. For example how you can pay your mortgage or car payment with a credit card.
Credit cards and your credit score
One question that everybody has is how it will affect your credit score, if you sign up for all these credit cards. That’s the number one question that I had when I started reading about travel hacking. Every credit card application will cause a small hit on your credit score, but that is only temporary. Having multiple credit lines open will actually improve your credit score in the long run. You don’t have to use them, but just having access to multiple lines of credit will strengthen your score.
The other major question that I had was what to do with credit cards that you signed up for just to get the bonus, but don’t really want to spend the annual fee for. I’ve contacted several bloggers including Chris Guillebeau and they all advice to keep the cards that make most sense with your everyday spending and to cancel the other cards. Cancelling credit cards will also lower your credit score a bit, but it will recover and you don’t want to spend $100 or more on a card each year that you don’t use anymore. You’ll also have the option to switch to a card from the same bank, that doesn’t charge an annual fee. This way your line of credit with this bank will stay open and your credit score won’t be affected.
There are also a lot of other mile earning opportunities out there, like signing up for services, filling out surveys, earning miles with rental cars and hotels or just dining. You probably go out for lunch or dinner on a regular basis. Why not earn miles with every dollar that you spend?
The world of travel hacking is fascinating and there is so much to explore that I never knew I could take advantage of. I kind of feel stupid for not knowing some of the tricks I’ve learned and applying them before, because I did quite some traveling and spending without ever getting miles back. I earned some cash back through my Discover and Chase Freedom card, but I did miss out on a ton of other lucrative opportunities. And in no other country on earth is it easier to sign up for credit cards while earning insane amounts of free miles as bonuses than in the USA. Chris Guillebeau earned way over a million frequent flyer miles through his travel hacks and was able to travel the world with it. Other people like me, people with family and kids and regular jobs, also have the chance to earn enough miles for a free flight and hotel every now and then. It’s pretty easy once you put your mind to it and it’s possible for everybody to become a Frequent Flyer Millionaire.