Travel hacking

Travel Hacking: How to Earn Free Travel

Picture this: A warm summer day on the shore of a Caribbean Island. The sun is shining. The waves are crashing. There is a refreshing breeze hitting your face. How much would you expect to pay to be there? $1,000? $500? $250? What if I told you it could be completely free.

Traveling around the world free of charge is now possible thanks to ‘travel hacking.’ There are plenty of experts online (and regular people too) who have found ways to game the travel industry.

The good news is that by simply using your credit card, you too can join the fray, become a travel hacker and start traveling for free. Here’s an introductory guide on how to transform your credit card into a travel hacking tool that will let you go from city to city and country to country for no charge.

Financial Discipline is a MUST

Let’s be clear, travel hacking with your credit card isn’t for everyone (at least immediately). In order to qualify for the credit card perks that allow you to fly around the globe for free, you must have financial discipline.

The first and most valuable advice for anyone who wants to enter the world of travel hacking is to simply improve his or her credit score. Without a good credit score you may not qualify for many of the best travel rewards credit cards.

Check out our blog post on improving your credit score to get started on improving your credit score:

Additionally, if you see yourself unable to manage when your bills are due or how much you’re spending, your credit card debt can quickly skyrocket with hefty fees and interest payments. This is true for any card, but especially true for travel rewards credit cards. Check out our website and find out how Debitize can help you gain the necessary financial discipline to become a travel hacker.

“For those who use their credit cards every month and pay them off on time and in full, travel hacking is a great strategy.” – Brad Barrett

Look out For Sign-Up Bonuses

According to a NerdWallet study, 83% of Americans sign up for their credit card at the wrong time. Credit card issuing companies constantly find new ways to lure customers to use their credit card. Stay vigilant and wait for just the right moment to sign up for your travel rewards credit card.

It’s a common misconception that getting multiple credit cards simply for the signup bonuses is “gaming the system.” In fact, banks are happy to pay for acquiring customers. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. – Chris Guillebeau

By not seeking out the best time to sign up for travel rewards and sign up bonuses, Americans lose out on an average of 15,338 miles. That’s a free one way ticket to anywhere in the US!

Follow these websites to stay on top of sign-up deals: Flyertalk, Boarding Area, The Points Guy, Million Mile Secrets, Doctor of Credit

Know Your Credit Card Perks

The credit card you already own most likely already offers great travel perks without you even knowing it. The easiest advice to follow for travel hacking with your credit card is simply know what your credit card offers you and how you can maximize those travel rewards. From covering your airline fees to upgrading your hotel room, your credit card will most likely carry an abundance of added perks. Learn to maximize them.

Points Guy actually has a tool that matches you with the ideal credit card to maximize your travel rewards. Go check it out for free!

Credit-Card Churning

The best travel hackers engage in credit card churning. This means they open and close credit cards often to maximize sign-up bonuses and rewards while minimizing costly credit card fees.  Intuitively, your first thought is to have as many travel rewards credit cards as possible to maximize the coveted perks. It is hard to shy away from free flights, lavish upgrades and comfortable hotel rooms. However, there is no overarching answer to the question of whether extensive credit card churning is good or bad. It all depends on you and your financial and travel habits.

For one, it can affect your credit score. You can find yourself in a position where your credit score is lowered due to new credit inquiries if you do it too frequently, or worse, missed payments if you have too many cards to keep track of. Nonetheless, if you are someone with financial discipline and an established credit history, the benefits of new travel rewards and sign up bonuses outweighs the negative impact on your credit score from getting a new credit card.

In addition, signing up for too many credit cards can actually lead you to overpay in fees. Ideally, with travel rewards cards you will be saving money instead of handing it over to the bank. Make sure the money you spend on credit card fees is less than the amount of rewards you are getting from using the card(s).

While travel hacking experts engage in extreme ‘credit card churning’ to maximize their rewards, it doesn’t mean it always works for you. Make sure to keep an eye out for how much you are spending, your credit score and the amount of money you will pay in fees before getting several travel rewards credit cards at once. Just having a couple credit cards could be enough to fit your lifestyle.

Mr. Money Mustache summarizes this concept well:

Don’t let yourself get caught up in thinking about the number of dollars “saved” on travel.  Instead, ask a friend to give you a nice slap in the face when your eyes start glazing over, so that you can come back to reality and consider the true value and the true cost of your rewards travel, rather than what’s marketed to you.

Stay Informed

The best way to keep up with travel hacking trends and tips is by following the advice of experts online. The travel hacking community continues to grow and find new ways to travel for free. The best websites to follow are: Mile Value, Well Traveled MileExtra Pack of Peanuts, Frugal Travel Guy, Johnny Jet, Million Mile Secrets, The Points Guy, Nomadic Matt.


The term ‘travel hacking’ has become widely used. People everywhere are reaping the benefits of travel rewards and travel loyalty programs. Don’t feel like you don’t have the commitment to become a travel hacker. If your credit score is high enough and you possess financial discipline, you will realize that earning free trips with your credit card is easier than you thought. 

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