You can easily spend a couple thousand dollars just on flights when you are traveling with kids. How does someone who is trying to live financially independent (or frugally) slash these prices so their family can enjoy a much-needed vacation? I’ll show you how you can book family vacations for free or cheap.
I’d like to introduce you to the term “Travel Hacking.” By learning the art of Travel Hacking, you can learn how to slash the cost of your travel from thousands of dollars down to free. It’s completely real and people do it every day.
A Quick Overview of “Travel Hacking”
Travel Hacking uses the existing rules set by airlines, hotels, and credit cards and takes advantage of them to earn free travel. Travel hacking is not new but has received a ton of attention in the past decade thanks to the wonderful World Wide Web.
Taking advantage of these rules are completely legal and is not as challenging as you might think. There are slow ways and fast ways to earn free or cheap travel – and both ways are good!
The Slow Way – Joining Reward and Frequent Flyer Programs
Most hotels and airlines have frequent flyer programs. They created these programs because they want repeat customers.
I’m ashamed to say that I was late in the game at signing up for the hotel programs. I used to think that there was no need to sign up for these because I could get cheaper hotels using third party websites. So we would bounce around to different hotels all the time.
Little did I know that if you actually pick up the phone and call the hotel directly, MOST of them will match or beat a lower room offer you find online (plus give you any other discounts you might qualify for.) Becoming that repeat reward customer might just save you money as well as earn you free travel.
Can I also mention that when my family would stay at some of these super cheap hotels that we would sometimes find uh… “special surprises” in our rooms. Disgusting surprises… Enough said. Find the hotel or hotels you love and stick with them.
Possible extra credit:
Before you stay at a hotel you aren’t a member of yet , check online to see if they offer any bonuses for signing up for their program BEFORE you book a stay. A lot of times they will give you extra bonus points after your first stay!
The Fast Way – Becoming a Credit Card Boss
To rack up travel rewards quickly, you will need to get some credit cards that offer bonus miles or points when you sign up for them. When credit card companies offer rewards, everyone is a winner. You get free travel and they get a new customer. This is called “Travel Hacking.”
These credit cards usually require you to meet a “minimum spend” for the bonus points and some require an annual fee. To master this method you need to be able to keep track of the rules, minimum spend, due dates, etc. A popular website to use is Award Wallet but you can also use a simple spreadsheet.
Which Credit Card Should I Get?
This entirely depends on you! A lot of Travel Hackers pick the place they want to go and then they apply for the cards that are going to get them there.
HOWEVER, keep in mind that some credit cards have unique rules. I’m looking at you, CHASE!
Right now, Chase Bank has rules a lot different from other creditors. They have what is called the 5/24 and 2/30 rule. Meaning that they will not approve you if you have more than 5 new cards in 24 months or 2 applications within 30 days. The only exception to these rules are the business cards because they don’t go on your credit report.
For this reason, most people start with Chase cards. If you don’t, you may not ever qualify for them once you really get into travel hacking.
Meeting the Minimum Spend
Like I said before, some credit cards require a “minimum spend” to receive the bonus points. Sometimes it is a couple of hundred dollars and sometimes it is a couple thousand.
For example, at the time of writing this, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card will give you 60,000 bonus points when you spend 4k in the first three months. (Approx. $750 towards travel.) That’s a lot of money right? How can anyone afford that?
Well, it’s not hard. Don’t think of it as “spending.” Think of it as “charging.” There are a lot of “charging” opportunities you might not be remembering that can help you meet that minimum spend requirement.
A lot of travel hackers just charge all their bills to their newly opened credit card until they’ve reached the minimum. You can even pay you bills a couple of months in advance. You can read, “11 Practical Ways to Reach a Credit Card Minimum Spend” for more easy ways to meet your minimum spend without spending extra money you normally wouldn’t.
Is Travel Hacking Right for My Family and Me?
There are just some people that should not become travel hackers with credit cards. Ask yourself questions like, “Am I fiscally responsible? Can I pay off my credit cards in full every month? “Can I meet the minimum spend?”
If you can answer “Yes” to all those questions, then travel hacking might be your thing! The key here is that you never want to carry a balance on these cards AND you never want to add more debt to your life.
How I am Currently Using Rewards to Book Our Family Vacation:
Right now, I am saving up rewards for our anniversary trip next year. Normally, I would decide where to go first. However, we may be moving next year so I didn’t want to plan to fly out of an airport that we might not live near anymore.
I decided to just start working on points and then pick a place that worked best with our points when the time comes. I estimated that I will need to take out about 4 cards to pay for my family of 4 to travel almost anywhere we could dream.
Cards I’m Currently Using:
- I started with the Chase Ink Business Preferred card. At first, I didn’t get approved because my business was really new, but I called into the reconsideration line and I was then approved. I got 80k miles when I hit the minimum spend. At the time of writing this, the Chase Ink Business Preferred offers 100,000 points once the minimum spend is met at $15,000 in the first 3 months. That $1250.00 towards travel rewards.
- Then, I sent my referral link to my husband to sign up. I got bonus points for him signing up and he then got the 80k bonus for him after we reached his minimum spend requirement.
- The next card I applied for was the Chase Sapphire Preferred. We hit this minimum spend quickly because we had home foundation issues that cost us some major cash money. I got 60k bonus points and immediately sent my husband the referral link for that card.
- My husband then took out the same Chase Sapphire Preferred card and we hit that minimum spend. We now have enough miles to fly our family anywhere we want to for the cost of the credit card annual fees and whatever flight taxes we will have to pay.
For this trip, we have really been considering visiting Rome. Last time I priced it out with points, it would only cost us about $35 in total for taxes for all four of us. If you want to add in the credit card annual fees, we could say about $435 for all four of us. To compare, tickets to Rome from our airport right now are over $900 dollars PER PERSON. That’s a savings of about $3,165.
How to Qualify for a Business Card
Most people can qualify for a business card. Business cards do not show up on your credit report so they are a great option for Travel Hackers. If you ever sell anything online, babysit, teach classes, etc., then you own a business in the eyes of creditors.
If you don’t get immediately approved for the card you applied for (or any card) call their reconsideration line immediately. Ask them what you need to do to get approved and they will tell you.
If you do business as yourself (online selling, side hustles) then your tax ID number will be your social security number. Consult a tax professional for information on how to set up a sole proprietorship and any taxes you may need to plan for.
Worth Mentioning About Annual Fees
Some annual fee credit cards waive the fee for the first year. You may also be able to get a credit card annual fee waived if you are active-duty military. Lastly, when it comes time to renew the card, some creditors may waive the fee if you keep the card another year.
Travel Hacking is without a doubt the least expensive way that normal families can travel. Learning how to book family vacations for free or cheap requires a little work but if you do the math you will see that the rewards are worth it. If you could travel anywhere in the world for free, where would you travel?