By Anne Slater-Brooks of Travel The Globe 4 Less
What if there was a way you could stay in top hotels for free? Or you could fly business class for less than economy? Would you be tempted to travel more?
Well rest assured, it really is possible to bag free hotel nights and fly in style for less than the price of an economy ticket. It’s called travel hacking and for those unfamiliar with the term, this is simply the art of using airline and hotel rewards programs to travel for less.
Travel Hacks To Get You Going
Whether you’ve never heard of travel hacking and want to get started pronto, or are looking for some tricks to add to your arsenal, here are my top tips for kick-starting, or growing, your travel-hack journey.
Hotel Loyalty Programs
Make sure that every hotel night you book is rewarding you in some way by signing up to their rewards program. You have two choices, either join the individual hotel loyalty program (but then you will be restricted to hotels in that group) or opt for hotels.com, which allows you to earn rewards for every night booked, irrespective of the chain or hotel you stay at.
The latter offers more flexibility but means you may miss out on achieving tier status (levels reached that result in greater rewards) and thus better benefits. You do however, earn one free hotel night for every ten stayed. Other programs allocate a grade to each room type and this corresponds to the number of points required for a redemption.
The best thing about hotel reward programs is that rooms are entirely free. No taxes or fees to pay on top. All you have to do is collect enough points to book one or more free nights. It has been known for me to enjoy a trip to the Florida Keys almost entirely free (excluding flights from the UK of course!)
You can also double dip by taking out a branded hotel credit card, meaning that every hotel you book will not only count towards your ten free nights, but will earn you additional hotel rewards.
This is just a minor point in relation to existing points balances. You may occasionally find that a long forgotten balance you collected from some past hotel stay has expired. This is by no means a guarantee but I have had success by simply emailing them and politely asking them to reinstate the points.
This is less likely to be successful with airlines but often you can prevent miles expiring with them by simply buying something through their shopping portal or taking part in an online survey. For instance, to prevent my American Express miles expiring this week, I simply signed up to E-Rewards and completed a brief survey. I also bagged 100 points in the process!
Flight Reward Programs
Most airlines offer a loyalty scheme but before you go filling in lots of forms to join them all, you need to think smart. Many airlines are members of an airline alliance meaning you only need to join one loyalty program within the alliance to earn points for all flights taken with any of the airline alliance members.
This is a much better approach as it allows you to build points balances quicker than building up minuscule balances in lots of programs only to see them expire if you don’t use them within a specific time period.
Miles collected can be redeemed for flights in any class but the downside is that usually taxes and fees are extra. If you are based in the US, you are lucky because your taxes can be incredibly low allowing you to redeem points for flights for little more than a Starbucks coffee!
If you are in places like the UK or Canada, the taxes and fees are a killer and for this reason, I don’t usually advocate using rewards to book flights in economy and instead prefer to go upmarket booking flights in business or first class and depending on the program, using these rewards for upgraded seats can even allow you to fly business for less than economy.
Get Credit From Your Credit Cards
Now this is where it gets super interesting! Once you are signed up for those all important airline reward programs, you can apply for a credit card allowing you to add to your balance significantly. American Express offers a variety of cards which allow you to convert membership rewards into points for many airlines, giving you great flexibility.
They also offer very attractive sign up bonuses with the AMEX Gold card paying tens of thousands of points after spending an initial minimum amount. The sign up bonuses tend to be really high if you are US or Canadian based, though they’re pretty significant for those in other areas of the world as well.
American Express may not be for everyone however and if not, branded cards providing rewards for specific airlines such as Emirates, Etihad and Lufthansa are available in the UK . There’s a much longer list of available cards in the US (you lucky things!) so you can really target the card you sign up for to coincide with the airline reward program you joined, such as Southwest, Delta, and Jet Blue. In Canada, credit cards are often available with a travel rewards option and the points can be converted into the specific points used by each airline before a ticket purchase is made.
As an example, I have a British Airways American Express card and AVIOS points, but I also have a Lloyds Bank AVIOS Duo which includes a MasterCard for those occasions when AMEX isn’t acceptable.
Earn Top Cashback
Top Cashback in the UK is a godsend. It allows for cashback to be converted into AVIOS with British Airways or Tesco Clubcard points (more on that next!). Substantial Cashback balances can soon be accumulated if you make a point of conducting all your online shopping by clicking through to the relevant store from Top Cashback. Not all stores are covered but there are hundreds which are. For instance, I book my trains, hotels, some flights, Christmas presents and more through the store.
Cashback earned can be cashed out for real money if you are in need of some holiday spending, or alternatively, you can convert them into miles with British Airways. You can also convert into Tesco Clubcard vouchers and then convert them to AVIOS (British Airways currency) earning 12,000 points instead of 5,000 if you send them directly to British Airways.
Top Cashback USA also allows you to earn Cashback on many hotel and airline bookings however this is cashback in the true sense of the word. It may help you out with spending money for your next trip, or even allow you to purchase a few extra air miles but there is currently no facility to convert them directly into airline or hotel reward points. On this one, us Brits really have the better deal! Although American based, Top Cashback USA is also open to residents of Canada or Mexico, though not all retailers will ship outside of the US. In addition, there are limited payout methods for residents outside North America.
Interestingly, Top Cashback is also available in India, Japan and China on dedicated sites for those countries.
Use your Tesco Clubcard Or Other Customer Rewards
For anyone unfamiliar with Tesco, it is one of the leading supermarkets in the UK and offers a loyalty card, known as Tesco Clubcard (similar to your CVV Reward card) whereby you earn points for shopping in store, at petrol stations and online. These can then be converted into either Virgin Flying Miles or British Airways AVIOS.
In Canada and the US, equivalent cards, such as Air Miles or Aeroplan miles, are also available to be collected at grocery stores, gas stations and various other retailers and can be used to purchase flights or hotel stays, or converted into equivalent points on an airline or hotel chains points program.
If you pay with your credit card you will also earn those reward points on top – double whammy indeed!
Almost every airline and hotel brand seems to offer either a shopping portal or partner earning opportunities. Similar to Top Cashback, if you head to the hotel or airline website first, find the store you are interested in, click through and buy, you will earn additional points payable within six to eight weeks.
This is definitely one of my top ways to earn. Between Top Cashback, British Airways Gate 365 and the AVIOS store, I have thousands of stores covered and after credit cards, this is my most lucrative earning strategy.
Related Post: Learn some great road trip travel hacks!
Sign Up For Updates From Travel Hacking Blogs
When I started travel hacking, I found the information on other blogs invaluable so I promise this isn’t just a pitch to encourage you to part with your email address. Signing up for updates keeps you advised of new offers and opportunities to earn more rewards.
My top picks are Head For Points in the UK, and any of the Boarding Area sites in the US. The Points Guy also has a section dedicated to Canadian credit cards among other general tips and guides for anyone looking to delve into travel hacking.
When it comes to redemptions I highly recommend checking out FlyerMiler which allows you to search for the best value reward flights for your chosen destination. You can filter your results by class of travel, redemption cost, airline and other options making it a quick way to establish the best value redemption options. You may even wish to use this system to research which airline alliance may be best for you as it would be shame to commit to one airline to discover they charge double for their redemptions of a similar airline you could jump into bed with.
There can be a huge difference between redemption prices of different airlines and some airlines regularly offer redemption sales. I’ve seen flights to Beijing from London with Lufthansa in business for as little as 70,000 whilst British airways would charge you around double this in points.
Start With These Top Travel Hacks
So there you have it, some great ways to help you on your travel hacking journey. It does take time and research is needed to workout the best programs and strategies for you, but in the end the travel rewards will be worth it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anne, of TravelTheGlobe4Less, works in financial services by day and moonlights as a travel blogger over on www.traveltheglobe4less.com by night. She has travelled to more than seventy countries on six continents and uses travel hacking to indulge in business class flights and luxury hotels. You can also find her on Twitter or Facebook.
Keep these travel hacks for later or share with others on Pinterest – just hover over the image below and click “Pin it”!