Travel Hacking 101

I’m often asked how I afford to take multiple vacations every year. You can tell by the tone of each person’s voice that they have already made up their opinion that I must be spending too much money and should be saving it instead. Here’s the thing though, with the exception of my trip to Europe this June, I haven’t spent more than $1,000.00 on a single trip in the past two years. Hell, I’ve even had a few trips where I spent less money than if I had stayed home to do the same things in New York. I’m going to be posting some articles here about how I am able to manage trips for so little money. This first article is going to be all about…

Credit Cards, Credit Cards, Credits Cards

I cannot speak highly enough of the benefits of travel credit cards. AS LONG AS I PAY MY BALANCE EVERY MONTH these cards are the number one reason I’m able to travel so cheaply.

Personally, I have 2 cards that help me to avoid thousands of dollars a year in travel expenses. They are the American Express Gold card and the Delta Platinum card. Between these two cards I haven’t had to pay for more than tax when traveling on an airline in the past two years. Long story short, credit card points are a magical thing.

Gold Card:

Lets start with the Gold Card. When I signed up and was approved for the card, I received 35,000 amex points (after spending $2000 in 90 days). On top of that, the gold card earns 4 points for every dollar spent at grocery stores and restaurants. It earns 3 points for every dollar spent on airlines purchases and one point for every dollar on all other purchases. The 4x points on grocery stores and restaurants is huge though. The grocery category includes all convenience chains like Duane Read as well as liquor stores and online grocery stores. The restaurant category includes take-out websites like Grubhub, Seamless, and Postmates. It also includes bars! All in all, food and bars make up roughly 50 percent of my budget (excluding rent) and I’m earning 4 points per dollar on all of that every month.

The Gold Card also has a $100 flight credit to use on things like checked bags or drinks on the plane every year, but here is the hack that I like though to use the credit for. It also counts towards gift cards which you can use to put towards flight tickets.

The final perk that I really like about this card is the $120 statement credit for Grubhub/Seamless orders every year. This credit is broken out over the course of the year so each month you get a $10 statement credit on food orders (great for a little budget splurge on nights when I really don’t feel like cooking).

In my opinion these credits are what make this card worth it to me. The card does come with a $250 annual fee, but after the credits that nets out to $30 a year. Now after earning 3000 points (essentially 1 months worth of expenses) this card does nothing but save you money.

The other thing I should probably mention is that Amex points alone are very valuable, but where I often find the best value is to transfer the points to a partner. Delta specifically transfers 1 to 1 with Amex points and they often have point sales where you can get flights for roughly half the points you would normally need to spend.

A good example is my recent flight to London. The flight would have cost $750 if I had to pay out of pocket. Delta points typically are valued at 1 cent per point. But I found a flight to London that was only 42,000 Amex points. That means my points were worth roughly 1.8 times as much as they normally would be and the only cost I had to pay to fly transatlantic ended up being tax.

Delta Platinum Card

Where I think this card makes a ton of sense for people is when they travel with a partner often or if they often check baggage. Personally, I am a big skier and golfer, so I am always checking bags on my flights. With this card though you get your first bag checked free ($50 savings roundtrip). On top of that I get to enjoy priority boarding and 25% off any inflight purchase.

The other reason this card makes sense is if you travel with others often because it comes with an annual companion ticket. What that means is when I buy a ticket for myself I can get a ticket for my girlfriend on the same flight for FREE. So I get to split the cost of my ticket with her and we each only end up paying half.

There are other perks for this card like reduced fees for Delta Lounges but the companion ticket and free checked bag are where I find the true value in this card. Last year alone this card saved me $450 in checked bag fees!

Bonus: Marriott Bonvoy Card

My girlfriend recently got the Marriott Bonvoy Card and this has only further added to the savings we enjoy while traveling together. The card comes with a 75,000 point sign up bones (after spending $2000 in 90 days) and includes a few great ways to earn points that can be used for free nights at any of the Marriott chain hotels as well as an annual free night stay as well.

My favorite perk for this card though isn’t the points for additional savings. It also comes with a free Priority Pass. Priority Pass allows my girlfriend and one companion to have free access to a large list of airport lounges throughout the world. Not only do you get to escape the hustle and bustle of the airport and go relax, but you also get to save money with access to free food and a free bar.

Other perks include an automatic upgrade to Marriott Elite status and a $100 credit at any luxury brand hotels (restaurants included). 

All in all, Credit Cards can be the biggest enemy to our finances but if we pay off our balance every month they can be a great tool for saving us money and helping you to afford perks and destinations that you wouldn’t normally be able to afford. Travelling to new places and having new adventures is one of my favorite things to do, but I’m not going to do it if it means I won’t be able to save any money. Credit cards have become a big tool for helping me to achieve that. They are not right for everyone though because they force you to use discipline. I never spend more money on them than I can afford to pay off in one month and I only use them for purchases that I have already budgeted for. If you don’t tend to be disciplined and stick to a budget then these may not be for you. If that’s the case then keep an eye out for some of my other upcoming posts for more tips and travel hack ideas.

3 thoughts on “Travel Hacking 101”

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