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I am all about optimizing life through “life hacks”, and one of my favorite ways to do that is by traveling the world for free by travel hacking. When Mike and I first got married, our financial planner asked us to prioritize our goals in life and traveling the world made the top of the list. But how were we to do that when I was sinking in my student debt of $575k after going to dental school? Determined to live out our dream while tackling my debt, I fell upon the topic of travel hacking. Since our marriage, we have been to Alaska, Canada, Mexico (4 times!), Oregon (twice!), Washington (twice!), Colorado, Arizona, Germany, Australia, New Zealand (twice!), as well as the Bay Area (5+ times). Out of all of those flights, we only paid for the Germany one due to a sweet deal that landed us in their country for under $500 each (roundtrip), which ended up being cheaper than if we bought the flights in points. In total, we have taken more than a dozen roundtrip national flights and 8 roundtrip international flights since tying the knot. Just this month, we booked a two-week trip to Iceland for Mike’s birthday and paid for the roundtrip United Airlines flights fully in rewards points through Chase Ultimate Rewards. The savings from travel hacking are huge and before we get into why this is crucial to our financial independence plan, let me first give a brief overview on what travel hacking is.
What is travel hacking?
Travel hacking is a way of taking advantage of credit card sign up bonuses and earning tens of thousands of rewards which can then be traded in for flights, hotels, and car rentals. In order to hit reward bonuses, we open one credit card at a time and use it for all of our daily spending, which will always cause us to hit the minimum required spending in order to redeem the bonus. Once we hit the sign-up bonus, we move on to our next credit card.
The key to success lies in opening multiple credit cards and receiving large sign up bonuses. Once you receive the sign up bonus, continuing to use the credit card will earn you very little in rewards points – an inefficient way to earn a free flight. To optimize the strategy, you must move on to the next card.
It takes a lot of organization to keep track of credit cards opened, as well as discipline to not spend haphazardly with your newfound line of credit, but it is very much worth it. I would say that travel hacking is one of the core fundamental principles of the F.I.R.E. community and it has been absolutely instrumental in both fulfilling our dream to travel the world and getting us closer to being debt free.
Why Travel Hacking Brings You Closer to Financial Independence.
Travel hacking is essentially using your every day spending such as grocery buying, paying bills, and other living expenses (that you would end up doing anyway with or without a credit card) to earn you reward points in an efficient manner. It is a great method because it does not require you to spend more money than you normally would.
At the same time, it removes the need for you to budget as much money as a regular person would for travel. For us, personally, travel hacking has saved us over $10,000 in flight tickets. That’s $10,000 that I was able to redirect towards paying down my student debt. It’s $10,000 I didn’t have to earn to maintain my lifestyle, which gave me more freedom to eventually quit the job that didn’t suit me. Imagine what would happen if you placed an extra $10,000 into your Marcus Savings Account. How much closer would that bring you to other goals, such as buying a home?
However, the real kicker in all this is that travel rewards are PRE-TAX dollars. You are never taxed on the travel rewards that you earn, or the flights that you redeem. If you do not travel hack, you are using POST-TAX dollars to pay for your travel adventures. Do you realize how much money you are actually losing? Take my flight example. Let’s say we saved $10,000 even on flights. Let’s assume for simplicity sake that we are in the 25% tax bracket. We would need to earn $13,333 first, then get taxed 25% of that, in order to buy $10,000 worth in flights. Meaning, travel hacking has actually saved us an additional $3k on top of the $10k that technically we never had to earn through our jobs anyway. This is why I really recommend travel hacking to everyone. Even if you don’t have a dream of trotting the globe, you will eventually need to take a flight either for a honeymoon, someone else’s wedding, or taking your kids to visit their dream college across the country. So why not start earning free money today?
How to travel hack?
Travel hacking is simple, easy, and for me, very fun! I first heard about travel hacking on Choose FI even before I became a guest speaker on their podcast. They now have a free course which you can sign up for here. They taught me everything I know and I would recommend reading the course fully before starting your travel hacking journey.
Personally, my top 3 favorite travel rewards cards are:
- Chase Business Ink Preferred Credit Card
- Southwest Business Credit Card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
These are my referral links and I posted them here to try to connect as many people as possible to the best credit cards for travel hacking. If you know someone who loves to travel, especially young college students and new grads who may feel (like we did) that it would be impossible to travel, do share this post with them. You could change their life!
Here are a few posts on where we’ve been thus far:
- Travel: The Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand
- Travel: The Hobbiton Tour, New Zealand
- Travel: The Routeburn Track, New Zealand with Ultimate Hikes
- Travel: Where To Eat in Mexico City
- Travel: Brekkies in Melbourne
- Travel: Coffee Shops in Mexico City
- Travel: Hiking through Banff National Park
- Travel: City Guide to Seattle, Washington
- Travel: City Guide to Portland, Oregon, Part Deux
- Travel: City Guide to Portland, Oregon
- Travel: Casa Jacaranda, A Must-Do Culinary Experience in Mexico City
- Travel: A Weekend in Boulder, Colorado
Here are related posts on how we travel:
- Travel Packing Tips from a Minimalist
- Finance: How to Budget for Travel
- Frugality: Travel Hacking, An Introduction
Side Note: An alternative way to travel for free is to use the platform Trusted House Sitters. You can pet sit and house sit around the world through this website. I actually once read the story of someone who used Trusted House Sitters as their living situation. They lived wherever a pet needed them. It’s a great way to have a place to stay while traveling in another city. I know that the logistics of constantly moving isn’t for everyone, but I still highly recommend this to all pet lovers who wish to travel on a budget.