If you’ve been around for a while, you know that my wife and I travel all over the world for free (or almost free) because we’re travel hackers. If you’ve never heard of it, travel hacking is taking advantage of massive credit card signup bonuses to quickly accumulate miles and points to redeem for free travel. Next month, my wife and I will be visiting Australia on our (much delayed) honeymoon, traveling in Business Class. Total cost for the trip? $214 in taxes and booking fees. Until now, travel hacking has required a lot of in-depth knowledge about airline reward charts, which points systems transfer to which airlines, and staying on top of the best credit card offers. Since one of the main goals of this blog is to get you traveling the world on a budget, I’ve written a new tool that will show you how to travel the world for free without learning about any of that. I call it Braindead Easy Travel Hacking.
A Tool That Brings it All Together
Before we tackle the “how,” let’s cover the main steps of traveling for free on airline points:
- Pick a Destination.
- Figure out which airline award charts can get you there.
- Accumulate those points, or points which can transfer to the airline by signing up for the credit cards with the best signup bonuses.
- Transfer the points to the airline (if applicable).
- Book your flight!
Though it seems simple, in practice it can be a little tricky. What if you don’t know which airlines fly between your origin country to your destination? What if you don’t know which credit card points transfer to that airline? It can get confusing when one airline has France in “Europe 3” and the next one calls it “Western Europe.” Where do you go to find the most current credit card offers to make sure you’re getting the best signup bonus?
- Knowledge of 18 different airline award charts
- Which points transfer to which airlines and at what ratios
- 61,000 airline routes
- Up-to-date credit card offers with the highest signup bonuses.
It’s as simple as this. Go on over to the award search and enter the departure and arrival airports for the trip you want to take. Click “Search.” That’s really all there is to it!
When the search is complete, you’ll be presented with ways to redeem points on up to 18 different airline reward programs (with more on the way) with classes of service from Economy to First Class. It gets better. Each redemption also has one or more credit card options that will get you the points you need as quickly as possible. The search always shows the credit card offer that gets you the largest signup bonus and with a minimal additional spending.
How about a real-world example? I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and my wife and I would like to take a trip to Barcelona in the Fall. I’ll head over to the Award Search at The Earth Awaits and put SFO in as my departure airport, and BCN in as my destination. I could limit results to just one of the airline programs if I wanted to, but this time we’ll search them all.
Now I’ll click search, and in a few seconds I’ll have a ton of results showing me how to travel between the US and Spain!
A quick warning: Most airline award charts are region-based, meaning they package a bunch of countries in a single group, like “Europe” or “Southern Africa.” If your origin or destination is a small airport, you might (or might not) need to take a flight within the country to reach a specific city.
You can scroll through all of the results to find the cheapest redemption offer, the airline you like, or just to compare. In this case, Air France/KLM Flying Blue is the best deal between the US and Europe at just 25,000 points per direction in Economy.
Like I said before, the first credit card option shown is always the one with the largest signup bonus (and where there’s a tie, the one with the smallest spending required beyond the signup bonus). If you want to see the rest of the options, you can click “More Ways to Earn Points” to see the other cards that either directly earn points on that award chart, or which can be transferred to the airline. You can also expand the Business/First Class sections if you really want to go all out on a trip.
I have to admit: There’s one important thing here that’s not quite as braindead easy as it could be. For some credit cards, I’m not permitted to mention the name of the card, the name of the bank, or the name of their points system. This is due to the stringent compliance rules put in place by credit card companies in the aftermath of the great financial crisis. I am working very, very hard to put in place a system that allows you to easily find the card I’m referring to when you click “More Information,” but for now, if a card isn’t mentioned by name, make note of the signup bonus, annual fee, and any terms by clicking the little “i” icon next to the annual fee. Those details will help you to easily find the card on the subsequent page. Some cards are mentioned by name, and in that case, when you click through you’ll see them at the top of the page.
The Credit Card links in the search results are affiliate links. The Earth Awaits is supported by the income I hope to make from these links. If you are starting your travel hacking journey and use the links on The Earth Awaits to do it, you will be helping me to devote more and more time to improving these tools, and bringing you new ones. Even if these specific cards aren’t suited to your needs, you can click on any of the links, find a card that meets your needs, and still support The Earth Awaits. Thank you!
You’ll also see that I’ve included a handy guide to how many points you’ll need to transfer to redeem for your flight. You’ll see exactly how many points you’ll earn for signing up for the credit card, how much spending you’ll have to do beyond that required to earn the bonus, and how many points you have to transfer. Since some points transfer to airlines at crazy ratios like 65:1, this can be really helpful!
With the Award Search at The Earth Awaits, travel hacking really is as simple as picking out your destination, applying for the best credit card option, transferring points, and booking your flight! There are a ton of improvements I’m planning to make in the coming months, including showing you creative routing options to help you get more out of your points, filtering and sorting options, and so much more.
What are you waiting for? Head over and start your travel hacking journey today!