Problem: I’m skint, but I want to see the world.
Solution: travel hacking.
The life of a luxury traveller doesn’t take a billionaire’s bank account. Travel hackers have figured out how to game the system – without breaking the rules – so they can see the world and still make rent.
If you’ve been following along, you’ve read A Beginner’s Guide To Travel Hacking: Level One and you’re now an expert in booking cheap flights. The next step is to become a ninja in one of the oldest travel hacking tactics around: accruing miles via loyalty programs.
Experienced travel hackers collect miles like Scouts collect merit badges (minus the creepy Scout leaders) and use their haul to score free flights and upgrades. Want to join their hallowed ranks? Get started with the beginner’s guide to travel hacking, level two.
Miles For Dummies
Frequent flyers know that joining airline loyalty programs is one of the best ways to lower travel costs and score pampering perks. It makes sense: in exchange for your consistent patronage, a business rewards you with better prices, special offers, and other things that make you feel like a valued customer.
For the average traveller, choosing the best rewards program depends on many factors – from network coverage to the ease of redeeming a free flight – and many of the miles earned go unredeemed before they expire. Even if they are used, they often go to domestic economy tickets that aren’t that expensive to begin with.
But we’re not talking about average travellers. We’re talking about travel hackers. As a budding member of that sacred club, you’ll want to expand your reach, understand alliances, and start seeking status.
Travel Hacking: Level Two
With the level one skills firmly under your (designer) belt, you’re ready to explore the flashier side of travel hacking.
The newbies cut their teeth on secret strategies for booking cheaper flights. Intermediate travel hackers crave something more – more complexity, more options, and more savings. The cornerstone of travel hacking at this level is to maintain multiple accounts of frequent flyer miles. Start ASAP – the sooner you begin collecting miles, the sooner you can redeem them for a dream trip. Here’s how:
Join All Rewards Programs Possible
Airline loyalty programs are free to join, so you have nothing to lose by signing up for every one. Each time you fly with a new airline, be sure to join that program immediately to earn credit. There’s no reason to take a flight if you’re not earning miles.
Eventually you’ll end up with a large number of reward accounts. To keep track of them, use a service like AwardWallet or TripIt that helps to manage all your accounts in one place. Not only do these services give you a snapshot of what you’ve earned, they can also alert you when miles are about to expire.
Be A Repeat Customer
They’re called loyalty programs for a reason. Loyal customers are rewarded, not occasional flyers who don’t know their Ryanair from their Virgin. The more faithful you can be, the faster your miles will accumulate. Although it won’t always be possible due to cost or availability, try your best to be an airline regular. This is the tortoise approach to travel hacking, not the hare’s.
(Note: if you can’t commit at all, you may do better with a generic travel rewards credit card. More on that in Level Three.)
Check Frequently For Promotions
Not all airline perks are obvious. Before booking a ticket, check the airline’s website to see if they’re running a promotion that can earn you bonus miles. Promotions may also be sent out to mailing list members, so be sure to subscribe for every airline (and arrange to have them automatically sent to a specified folder or label so they don’t clutter your inbox).
You may also be able to earn miles for completing tasks. Some airlines, for example, offer points for completing surveys or purchasing something through their links.
Take Advantage Of Partner Airlines
This is where a lot of wannabe travel hackers miss out. Understanding airline alliances is a key part of maximising your miles and points. Your miles are more flexible than you think.
Most airlines are part of a larger network of airlines called – you guessed it – an “alliance.” And what does that mean for you? It means that if you earn miles with one airline’s loyalty program, you can use them to book a flight with any other airline in that alliance. How’s that for a sweet deal?
The tricky part is knowing which airlines are in what alliance. Star Alliance, for instance, has 28 member airlines at the time of writing, including Air Canada, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, and United. SkyTeam and Oneworld are the two other major airline alliances. Most airlines also have partners that aren’t in an alliance – or are even members of another alliance.
Confusing? Yes. But the information is only a Google search away and the benefits are worth it. Earning on partner airlines prevents you from being stuck with miles on a carrier you rarely fly, and gives you more options when you’re flying on a carrier with a subpar rewards program.
Strive For Status
Earn enough miles with a loyalty program and you’ll be rewarded even further. Elite status is the revered distinction sought after by all travel hackers. Passengers who achieve it are given preferential treatment and a variety of perks as a result of their status, which is often allocated in a tiered system (think Silver, Gold, and Platinum).
Amongst other things, elite status may earn you free checked bags, priority boarding and check-in, complimentary lounge access, preferred seating, and first-class upgrades – all of which you’ll be thankful for on your next long-haul.