How to travel more without spending more
With inflation rates rising and disposable income falling, travelers are looking for every conceivable way to stretch their dollars and travel on a budget. Sometimes credit card rewards and airline miles can turn a standard trip into a dream adventure.
Acclaimed financial optimizer and All the Hacks podcast host, Chris Hutchins, sat down with TravelPulse to talk about using credit card points for travel, the best airline mile programs, techniques for finding cheap flights market and more.
Here is the full Q&A session with Hutchins:
TravelPulse (TP): As the “man with 10 million airline miles”, how do you accumulate credit card points and use them to travel for free?
Chris Hutchins (CH): It really comes down to two main things. First, I watch how I spend my money and make sure I always have a card that offers bonus points on the areas where I spend the most. Since I know I spend a lot on travel, dining and groceries, I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x on travel and an Amex Gold to earn 4x on dining and groceries. The other great way to earn points is to take advantage of big sign-up bonuses to unlock new cards whenever they occur. I don’t go so far as to open dozens of cards a year, but when I see an amazing bonus worth over $1,000 in points, I usually take advantage of it. I recently posted episode 65 of my podcast and shared a card that increased their sign-up bonus to something worth almost $1,500 in points! Beyond that, there are a ton of little hacks that I like to use to earn more points. For example, I don’t have a card that gives bonus points on home improvement stores, but I was able to buy a Home Depot gift card at the grocery store using a card that gives 4x points on groceries .
As for how to use them for free travel, if the points are with a specific airline or hotel group, I just book directly through their websites. But if I earn points in a flexible program like Chase’s Ultimate Rewards or Amex’s Membership Rewards, I like to use those points to transfer to their airline partners and book through those partners’ mileage programs. In Episode 49, I explained exactly how I went about booking a $20,000+ trip to Bora Bora for just $1,500+ points.
TP: With record inflation and inflated travel prices, what are the tips for traveling first class without opening your wallet?
CH: The secret to know when it comes to traveling first class is that although it usually costs up to 5-10 times the cost of an economy ticket to travel first class, it usually only takes 2 times more miles to book a first class flight. ticket. So when I’m on a big trip and want to relax on the amazing sleeper beds that most airlines offer in business/first class, I always use my miles to reserve those seats for free.
Although you didn’t specifically mention hotels, I will share an upgrade tip that has worked for hundreds of my listeners (and which I explain in detail in Episode 1). You want to book directly with the hotel you’re staying at and email them after you book to let them know you’ve booked a room with them, when you’re coming, that you’re excited to stay with them and all what you might be celebrating. I like to follow up again ~2-3 days before arrival just to confirm you are still coming. I’ve seen listeners get everything from free upgrades to bottles of wine – and one listener and her husband even showed up to see their initials embroidered on their pillows. Definitely try this and please share your success stories with me.
TP: Airline prices have gone up 40% in the last few months. What are the best miles and credit card programs to save money and stretch your dollar?
CH: With all the fluctuations in airline prices, I try to accumulate as many points/miles as possible in flexible points programs that allow you to transfer points to different airlines and hotel groups. This way you get the most flexibility and you’re not stuck with an airline that might have crazy prices right now. These include:
—Pursue ultimate rewards
—American Express Membership Rewards
—Citi Thank You Points
—Marriott Bonvoy (you can actually transfer Bonvoy points to many airlines)
I try to keep this spreadsheet up to date with all transfer partners from every major card issuer.
TP: As the host of the All the Hacks podcast, how do you get the best deals with a smart flight search?
CH: My favorite tool for saving on airfare is Google Flights. You can search without a destination in mind to find the cheapest places to fly (and even do those searches with filters turned on, like “nonstop” or “under $700”). You can also search multiple airports at once to see if you could save a lot by driving a little more. Finally, you can browse the calendar view by clicking on the date field to quickly see how much it would cost to fly on any date. The only thing to remember is that Southwest doesn’t show up on Google Flights (or most other flight search sites), so you’ll want to check their site separately if they fly wherever you’re going.
Another cool tip to share is one that Scott Keyes from Scott’s Cheap Flights shared in episode 5. He calls it the Greek Island trick and it works by pairing a lot on a long haul international flight to the continent/region you want to visit with a cheap regional flight (or even a train or bus ride) to get to your final destination. For example, if you are trying to fly to a Greek island from San Francisco, although there are many airlines that serve each destination individually, only a few airlines fly in between. So if you search the whole route you will only have a few options but if you search from San Francisco to Athens there will be so many more airlines that will show up and you can buy a flight or ferry not expensive to get to from Athens. to the island.
TP: What are some of your secrets to getting the most out of airline miles?
CH: The biggest secret to leveraging your points and miles is having some flexibility. Although most people assume this means flexibility on dates, it can also mean being flexible about where you go, last minute you book, or how many stops you are willing to make for get there. Once my wife and I had a very specific window to take a trip, but we knew we only had a day or two of flexibility around dates. We also knew we wanted to go somewhere in Europe. However, we were prepared to wait until the last minute to book (when many miles rewards really open) and we were open to so many different places. In the end, we ended up booking a trip to Budapest, Prague and Vienna a week before departure and not only got an incredible deal, but also one of the most memorable trips we’ve ever taken.
If you want more secrets, hacks, and tactics to get the most out of your trip, points, and miles, check out these specific episodes of All the Hacks that are sure to help you get online and save some cash. money on your next trip.
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