I read through plenty of articles on travel hacking, without being able to action what I was learning.
It’s a sad fact that Australians just don’t get the same great credit card deals that Americans do. The idea of getting a credit card that actually gave me points that I could convert to money for travel was a completely foreign concept to me.
But that didn’t stop me being fascinated by it. Getting free travel just for spending money through credit cards? How crazy and awesome is that! Rob and I already had an Australian credit card which we paid off dutifully each month. If only it would provide us with points for travel, too.
When the two of us moved to the United States in 2015, we decided that this would be a golden moment for us to finally try our hand at travel hacking.
The travel hacking process wasn’t so easy as just getting a great credit card once we arrived in our new home country. As we had no US credit history, we actually couldn’t apply for any of the cards that would give us points for travel. All we could get was a measly $400 limit card from Discover – completely useless for travel hacking.
So we waited. As credit ratings don’t grow on trees, it actually took us about a year to build up a rating high enough to qualify for a decent credit card. It wasn’t until September 2016 that we finally managed to get ourselves into the travel hacking game.
We looked at a few different card options and ended up going with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
This card would give us a sign up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Living in super expensive NYC, spending that amount was totally achievable. We exceeded the spend limit and qualified for our bonus points.
During that time, we were also earning points on our regular purchases (usually 1-2 points per dollar spent). By May 2017, about 8 months after we had acquired the credit card, we had built up 104,000 points.
With a decent amount of credit card points under our belt, we began planning a trip to Colombia.
Using the Chase online travel booking portal, we chose a flight from NYC to Medellin, and from Cartagena back to NYC with JetBlue. The flights were worth $1356.52 USD for the two of us. After using up all our points, we only ended up paying $53.72 out of pocket.
That’s right – we managed to get return international flights from the US to Colombia for a measly 50 bucks.
By June, I had also built up $150 USD of Airbnb credit through the readers of AGWT signing up through my referral link (you guys are the best!). I used that credit towards booking an amazing apartment for our stay in Medellin, making our accommodation only $317 for 5 nights. Bargain.
I had originally intended on using rewards nights from Hotels.com to get a free night during our stay in Cartagena, but due to a debacle with my previous booking in Dublin, I didn’t have anything to redeem. Instead I ended up waiting another month or two for more credit card points, then I used them to discount our hotel.
Being a more touristy destination, accommodation in Cartagena was more expensive than Medellin. I chose this lovely hotel in the Getsemani area, and ended up paying only $341 for 4 nights. Yet another bargain.
We waited another month or two, then used more credit card points (built up over our last few month of spending) to book the internal flight from Medellin to Cartagena. The flight was dirt cheap at only $56 per person, and we ended up getting it completely free.
- International flights: $53.72
- Domestic flight: $0
- Airbnb in Medellin: $317
- Hotel in Cartagena: $341.42
Total: $712.14 USD ($356 USD per person)
- International flights discount: $1302.80
- Domestic flight discount: $113.40
- Medellin Airbnb credit: $150
- Cartagena hotel discount: $228.68
Total: $1794.88 USD ($897 USD per person)
The downsides of travel hacking:
Seeing as the airlines are giving you ultra-cheap or free flights, you’ll often have to deal with some inconveniences when travel hacking.
First up, not all flights are able to be booked through rewards systems. The most popular flight routes and flight times might not be available, so reward flights are often non-direct or at inconvenient times (like early mornings or late nights).
The flight times weren’t too much of a problem for us, but what did end up being a problem was that Rob and I managed to get seated separately for both of our connecting flights from New York to Medellin. Even after calling the airline (twice) and asking staff at numerous points throughout the airport, JetBlue said they could do nothing to change our seats until we actually arrived at the gate.
Luckily, the gate agents did end up being able to change our seats so that we could sit together, but it was a whole lot of hassle that probably wouldn’t have been a problem if we had booked direct through the airline.
My first attempt at travel hacking was a good experience. It amazes me that in less than a year, we managed to get a 10-day trip to Colombia for only $712 for the two of us. The flights were nearly free, and our accommodation was heavily discounted.
Even though it took us a long while to get started with travel hacking, I plan to take full advantage of it in the future. We’ve signed up to a bunch of frequent flyer programs and will soon have enough points for a free flight with JetBlue.
And remember back when I had that nasty delayed flight on the way back to New York from Australia? Well, Delta was kind enough to give us both 15,000 miles plus $200 in flight credits for our troubles, so we just used those bonuses to book a free flight from NYC to Denver to start our southwest road trip, and discount our flight back to Australia!
If you’ve never attempted travel hacking and live in a country where you have access to good credit cards for travel, I definitely recommend that you give it a try.