Travel Hacking Simplified: Can You Really Fly For Free?

Adult lady with backpack looking at map of Bangkok
Travel Hacking Expert

There’s a giant world out there just full of things to explore — countries you’ve never been to, oceans you’ve never swam in, foods you’ve never eaten. You read about these places, you see them on TV, and you enviously scroll through endless Instagram feeds of strangers traveling to these distant lands.

You want to travel, you want to explore, you want to see anything and everything, but there’s just one problem. Traveling is expensive.

Or is it?

Have you ever really sat down and wondered what’s holding you back from accomplishing your travel dreams? Have you thought to yourself, “How do these people do it? How do they travel endlessly and explore the world and not end up totally broke?”

Enter travel hacking.

Never heard of it? That’s not surprising. Not everyone is on a first-name basis with travel-hacking, and that’s understandable. It’s more than just a strategy, it’s a travel art-form, and we want to introduce you to it.

So, if you’re ready to learn the ins and outs of travel hacking, get a clearer picture of how you can apply it to your life, and figure out the best ways to go about it, then strap on your adventure goggles and keep reading.

We’re about to teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know — and things you didn’t know you wanted to know — about travel hacking.

Talk to Me about Travel Hacking

2 people looking at map of where to travel
Be a travel hacking super star!

Maybe you’ve heard of travel hacking before, maybe it’s an entirely foreign concept to you. Either way, you won’t be disappointed learning all about travel hacking.

Let’s start with the very basics. When you think travel hacking, what comes to mind? Do you think of shortcuts, tips, and tricks to making traveling easier? If so, you’re right on target!

Travel hacking is the art of collecting frequent flyer points, miles, and other rewards to get free stuff, like flights, hotels, tours, experiences, food, and more! In short, it’s a number of different tips, tricks, and strategies that can help make traveling not only easier, but also significantly cheaper.

Travel hacking is more than that, though. Sure, it’s a strategy to get you free things, cheaper rooms, and better flights, but it’s also a way of life that allows you to live by your own rules. It’s your ticket to Tahiti, your passport to Paris, and your charter to Colombia. Travel hacking allows you to live the life you’ve always dreamed of right now. What is more valuable than that?

Let’s break this down a little bit further. Travel hacking encourages the use of your travel points. What exactly are those? Travel points, also known as airline miles or frequent flyer miles, are a part of loyalty programs that are offered by both airlines and credit card companies.

You typically will acquire a set amount of miles based off how much you spend on your select credit cards and how frequently or far you fly. These travel points essentially turn into credited miles for future flights, hotel rooms, and other travel expenses like food, experiences, and tours.

Sounds simple, right? It can be! But it can also be fairly complicated.

For starters, “miles” don’t actually equate to real miles, so make sure you understand how your rewards program works. Additionally, travel hacking takes a little planning and strategizing on your part.

We know when we say hacking you probably think we mean you have to spend hours hunched over your computer trying to crack the code or insert the skeleton key to get the best deal, but this isn’t the case. All you need is a little strategy, some time, and patience to get the deals you want.

This typically requires things like signing up for all the rewards and frequent flyer programs that you can, being a repeat customer, paying your credit card bill in full every month (too much debt means no rewards!), meeting minimum spending requirements, and other similar things.

That’s a lot to process, so we’ll break it down even further.

How Can I Travel Hack the Right Way?

Male travel hacker looking down street
You know you want to travel!

Travel hacking the right way is easy — if you know what you’re doing. Let’s go over a few of the most common issues prospective travel hackers have to get a better idea of how to get it done the right way.

First, you’re probably wondering what kind of credit card and credit score you might need to accomplish successful travel hacking. You’ll need a relatively stable credit score to open up a few different credit cards with loyalty programs.

These credit cards, such as the Travel Rewards American Express card, can offer relatively hefty sign-on bonuses, as well as rewards for different purchases made on the card. You’ll typically be opening credit card accounts with airlines and companies with annual fees, so make sure you’re evaluating whether or not you’re able to pay the annual fees so you don’t have to close the card too quickly.

You’re probably wondering why credit card companies and airlines are offering credit cards with travel points and rewards, right? It might sound like free cashback and free rewards, but truthfully, you’ll be paying the credit card companies a bit more than you would without loyalty programs.

They offer you solid incentives for opening up their cards, and in return you’ll also be dedicating more of your money to that company. Why wouldn’t a credit card company want you to send more cash their way?

What are some of the best credit card programs for travel hacking?

According to, Citi Double Cash, American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and the Capital One Venture Card all offer great rewards for reasonable fees.

Travel Hacking Mistakes

Travel hacking is a great, strategic way to get to places you want to be, travel the world, and cross destinations off your bucket list, but it can be a tricky business. Make sure that when you’re beginning your travel hacking process, you’re keeping an eye out for these common mistakes.

Not Keeping an Eye Out for Annual Fees

Make sure that your travel hacking accounts aren’t going to leave you in the lurch. Some people don’t see past the benefits and incentives of opening loyalty and reward accounts and miss the hefty, annual fees that come along with it.

Ensure your credit score is up to the task of taking a few hits, too. You don’t want to charge in with low credit and accidentally make it worse.

Spending Minimums Are Real

A lot of people don’t understand that most programs that provide you with points require you to spend a minimum each month. If you don’t, you won’t get any points or worse, you’ll be faced with penalties. Watch out for this when you’re signing up and make sure you’re keeping track of your minimum requirements.

Don’t Spend More than You Would with Cash

It’s easy to get caught up with spending on a credit card. This means you can end up spending more than you would with cash or a debit card. Don’t do this! Make sure you’re not spending more than you’re able to or more than you would if you were paying with cash. Credit cards are great if you’re careful and thoughtful, so keep your spending habits in check.

Forgetting To Pay Your Balances Every Month

No matter how ideal these programs are, you have to remember — they’re still credit cards. You have to pay them off to avoid fees and penalties. So, keep a close eye on your credit cards, payment schedules, and more to keep your credit score healthy and your wallet heavy.

Travel Hacking: The Ideal Way to See the World

airplane flying into sunset
Fly away and be free, travel hacker!

As we said, travel hacking can be a wonderful way to see the world, enjoy the sights, and get the experiences you’ve always wanted. With the right strategy, sufficient research, and plenty of time, you’ll be travel hacking your way across the globe in no time.

Just make sure that you’re always aware of the fees associated with opening up loyalty and reward accounts or programs. Additionally, set up schedules and reminders for each of your accounts to ensure you’re both spending the minimum monthly requirements and also paying off the balances every month in full.

Now go forth and see the world!


Published by

Jen M.

Jen has been with DCCU since she graduated from UW Madison - a long time ago. As the Content Strategist she helps share all the amazing things DCCU does in our community and spreads the credit union philosophy of People Helping People. When she's not working for the best credit union in south central Wisconsin, she's busy with 4 kids and a feisty little dog at home. She formed her family through adoption and has a deep passion to support foster and adoptive parents and kids. Her favorite place to relax is poolside or in front of the fireplace.