Since starting this blog in 2017, I have been researching travel hacking and it’s turned into a passion. I have to give many thanks and appreciation for the work that these blogs have done to help get me started.
Special thanks to Travel Miles 101 who created this amazing course that helps people start travel hacking step-by-step.
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Again, thank you guys for all that you do and I know a lot of people value the information you guys provide! Cheers!
Now that I’ve done probably over 100 hours of research, I wanted to summarize everything in one page so you don’t have to spend 100+ hours doing the basic research.
Step 1: Determine Your Major Airport/Airlines
What is the code that you fly out of? For example, I live near 2 airports: San Francisco and Oakland. Their codes are SFO and OAK, respectively. Use Wikipedia to determine which airlines fly into your airport hub.
For SFO, Wikipedia shows all the following airlines and its destinations (be aware, not all services have started yet–Wikipedia will show dates of when particular routes start).
This is as of 1/31/18.
As you can see, SFO has a lot of different airlines it serves; however, most airports will not serve as many. Check your local hub to confirm.
Step 2: Sign up with the frequent flies in the alliance you’ll most likely use
Once you figure out the airlines you’ll be using, it’s time to determine the alliance. There are 3 major alliances (PDF): Star Alliance, One World, and Sky Team. As a bonus, JetBlue Airways and Alaskan Airlines aren’t part of the major alliances; however, they do partner with a lot of airlines.
Furthermore, not all airlines are part of a rewards program. For example, Wow Airlines does not offer a rewards program nor partners with any other airline.
Key things to note in the PDF
- The colors represent the alliances that you can earn for. For example, you fly Singapore Airlines (Star Alliance in yellow) and earn the points for JetBlue Airlines.
- The transfers allow you to transfer from credit card companies.
- Amex represents the American Express Membership Rewards
- UR represents the Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Citi represents the Citi Thank You Points
- Star represents the Starwoods Preferred Guest Rewards (offered through Amex)
Million Mile Secrets does a great job of linking you those frequent flyer sites. Key thing to note is that you only need to sign up for 1 frequent flyer (at most 2) per alliance. I’ve had an United Mileage Plus accounts since I was 3 years old. I can use that number to fly on Singapore or Turkish. As long as the airline is under the Star Alliance, I can fly with all those airlines.
Here are my sign ups:
- Star Alliance: United
- Sky Team: N/A – I don’t use any of the Sky Team’s airlines enough. If I do use them like Delta, then I’ll send those points over to Alaskan Airlines instead. Unfortunately, the partnership ended as of April 2017.
- One World: I’ve been using Alaskan Airlines, because it partners with a lot of One World such as British Airways and American Airlines. Until I use up all my Alaskan points and find that I won’t need it as much anymore, I won’t be signing up. When I do, I plan to sign up for American Airlines.
- JetBlue Airways
- Southwest Airlines
- Alaskan Airlines
With so many numbers, logins, and stuff to remember, many sites recommended Award Wallet to store all your data. For the most part, it pulls all the data from each of the frequent flyer sites and allows you see all your rewards in one place.
Step 3: The Credit Card Hacking
**DISCLAIMER** Most of these credit cards are awarded to people with a credit score of at least 700 or higher. Furthermore, you should always be paying your credit card in full every month. No balance should be carried and certainly, no interest should be added to your balance. **DISCLAIMER**
Now is the time to start signing up for credit cards that provide a large bonus. This is where I really rely on the blogs up top to guide me on which credit cards to sign up for. In a post, I talked about how my favorite card has been the Chase Reserve. It still is despite our sign-ups, and it serves as my go-to card when I don’t need to meet a minimum spend or the other cards aren’t providing better rewards.
The best site that I’ve found to provide the most comprehensive list of credit cards and analysis has been Frequent Miler.
My Sign Ups:
Here I’ll link to posts whenever I or my husband sign up for a credit card.
Step 4: Meet the Minimum Spend and Rack Up Point to Travel
There are many resources out there to help you meet the minimum spend from putting all your expenses on the card to using platforms that allow you to pay your rent/mortgage via credit card. I recommend just Googling for ideas.
There are many guides that talk about step #2 and #3 being interchangeable. Travel Miles 101 recommends coming up with a strategy first and seeing where you want to go before attacking #3 (sign up for the credit card) and then #2 (sign up for for frequent flyer miles).
The way I have set this up is that you don’t know where you want to go, but know that sometime down the line, you will go somewhere using miles. This is the time to start, not when you know that in X date you want to go somewhere, so now it’s time to come up with a strategy to get there.
I setup myself up to allow myself to rack up as many points as possible and then decide at anytime when I need to use my points, which brings me to step 5.
Step 5: Determine Where to Go and Plan Your Points Accordingly
Finally, you decided where to go and it’s time to create a strategy on how to get there. For example, I have all these points racked up and I want to go to Italy on business class, round-trip in November 2018. Since I’ve done a lot of research on step 1 and 2 (airlines and frequent flyer sign-ups), then I know which airlines I’ll go with and have racked up the points for from my credit cards.
Checking United and Alaskan (For JetBlue, you need to call), I find that United is 140K points/person round-trip and Alaskan Airlines is 115K points/person round-trip. I have a lot more Chase Ultimate Rewards, then I’d probably go with United.
The Choice is Yours
At the end of the day, each person’s situation is a little different. In the last few years, my husband and I have been traveling on budget airlines to go to Europe and paying a little more on Singapore Airlines to Asia. So, we’re just here to collect points towards the airlines we want to fly with and take advantage of business class. Others have determine where they want to go, figured out which credit cards to sign up for, and apply all their points towards that one trip.
There is no right or wrong way to do this. The thing to keep in mind is that constant research is the most important. Airline and hotel partnerships keep changing so sticking to 1 plan won’t always work out. In fact, I just received an email today (1/31/18) from Chase saying that they have extended their partnership with Aer Lingus and Iberia, which means more choices to transfer your UR to.
And to put this into perspective, people have made this into a full-time job just searching the latest news. The hotel and airline industries are constantly changing, and it’s only going to get more complicated as the competition increases. There are more travelers than ever before, so get ready to spend a decent amount of time on travel hacking.
So, good luck and happy hacking!