I’ve been traveling the globe (what a pretty planet we live on! we’re so lucky…), visiting 60+ countries (diving in almost 20 of them), and loving every inspiring, exciting, calming, challenging, loving, exhausting or plain old fun minute of it for a long time now. Some places- like France, Indonesia, and Thailand, I like so much that I’ve spent months or even years there on many, multiple visits.
When I first started traveling, I had wrongly believed that it was important to see every place once before seeing any place twice. I soon came to realize though, that the count was not important; the joy of the experience is what matters.
I feel the same way about diving; the depth is irrelevant. The awe and the peace, like the excitement and the gratitude, come from the beauty of the surroundings and the acknowledgment that it’s a gift to visit an environment that really is not ours.
Most of my flights to Southeast Asia (I save my miles for the most expensive, long distance tickets) and to some other countries, too, have been for free. I like to fly without paying anything but the taxes or fees on my airline tickets. Staying in hotels without paying is fun, too. My credo? The closer to free the better. And I haven’t had to sacrifice the quality of any vacation or trip experience just because I got a great deal. Luxury travel for budget prices is the way to go.
Also, I do like to mix it up a bit. Especially when I’m on a longer vacation, and I like to move around, I stay at a variety of lodgings, at times in very fancy chain or nice boutique hotels, and at others, in smaller, more intimate properties- like bed and breakfast inns or home-stays.
The truth is, chain hotels, when you have stayed in them for too long, no matter how nice they are, do get boring. Plus, I’m not sure who decided some years ago that it would be better to remove all traces of local color and flavor from room décor, and only leave them in the lobby, if even that, but I think it was a mistake. And yet, everyone follows suit. These days, often you look around your hotel room and have no idea where you are, because most rooms look the same now; you could be anywhere in the world. I would much prefer that room design at least acknowledges, if not celebrates the ambient culture.
On the other hand, there have been times during some of my longer trips, when I couldn’t wait for the next leg of my itinerary to begin, because I was looking forward to re-fueling with a little bit of pampering at my free four or five star hotel. Balance is what I aim for.
It’s also very special to be able to visit friends if they invite you to stay with them, especially when they live in nice places. And remember to pay it forward. Let people you know share your place, too.
Traveling for free is my favorite hobby and although I have enough successful experience in garnering low cost trips for myself, friends and family, to call it a part-time job, it’s not my full time profession. I also teach (I LOVE to help people learn…), so basically I’m an average, everyday, ordinary kind of person without any special talents that allow me to satisfy my wanderlust without breaking the bank. If I can do it, you can, too.
That’s why I started the blog, to share my knowledge, tips and tricks with you, by putting my expertise out here, so that you, too, can enjoy cheap trips, learning how to find free flights, because they do feel good. It’s more than okay to find joy in exploring our beautiful world without overpaying for it.
Free trips are easier to come by then most people think. You don’t need any special mathematical skills, but it helps if you have good credit, a responsible philosophy towards your spending, and a commitment to paying off your bills in a timely fashion.
The best way to earn the most travel benefits (miles and points, points and miles!) is by regularly applying for new credit cards, getting approved, meeting the spending requirements within the required time period, and then receiving the promotional miles or points. This is a much quicker and more effective way to attaining enough of them to enjoy free air tickets and free hotel nights than simply using only one card for all of your purchases.
Later, after you have experienced the nuances of a variety of cards, and weighed their pluses and minuses (if any), against your lifestyle, travel, needs and preferences, choose the card(s) to which you should and will remain loyal. Perhaps one for your go-to airline, and another for your favorite hotel chain? Steadfast, long term card membership provides its own set of unique benefits and perks, especially if you travel often and/or desire higher levels of class and service on your flights and in your lodging.
What I usually do to maximize my benefits is wait until I know that I have a big purchase coming up soon, for example: real estate taxes, car insurance, home insurance, or any other exceptional expense that is larger than the amount of money I usually spend. Perhaps I need to replace an appliance, computer or telephone, maybe have car repair done, or get some new outfits, etc. The extra cost is an opportunity, not just a burden, and timing is of the essence.
About two or three weeks in advance of having to pay that bill, I look for the best deal in current credit card travel offers (don’t worry, I will keep you posted), either for airlines, hotels, or lately, even travel purchase rewards or reimbursements- some of the newer credit cards are offering $400 or more in reimbursements towards any airline, hotel, train, or rental car purchases, made on that card (this is excellent if you’re looking for more flexibility in your travel plans), or even up to $1,500 in travel rewards. Then I apply for the card online.
Most of the time I am approved immediately, and my card usually arrives within three or four business days. Sometimes I’m not approved immediately and I need to wait. Usually within a week, I’m notified that I have been approved, and I receive the card in the mail at the same time.
Rarely, but it has happened once or twice over the past year, and probably because I applied for too many new cards during too short a period of time (for example, Chase has a limit of 5 cards within a 24 month period- and I found out about that one the hard way), I have been denied. In that case, I simply try again, a few days later, with another card, or I wait a few months to try that one again, and in the meantime, use whichever card that I already have that will allow me to top off any miles or points to achieve a new level on an old account. For example, let’s say I have 58,000 points but I need 60,000 in order to get a bigger benefit…
When the new card comes, I use it for every purchase, large and small, because it is absolutely necessary to make the minimum amount of spending required by the bank before the due date, which is often the first 90 days after opening the account, in order to get the benefit of the bonus. For some cards, the deadline is 120 days.
To help me meet my minimum spend, because for the most part I live pretty modestly and don’t usually spend huge amounts of money on everyday shopping needs, I like paying my gas and electric bills with the new credit card, particularly during the seasons of more extreme weather, when the bills are consequently higher for heat or air conditioning. Although many utility companies don’t accept credit card payment directly, some of them use Western Union, and you pay an extra fee of only $2.25 per transaction for this service. Given that you can pay up to a maximum of $600, including pre-payment, the scant $2.25 fee is well worth it. Naturally, when it helps me receive a new credit card bonus, I pay my utility bills months in advance.
Not only utilities help us earn free trips, but many cities, like mine, allow you to pay water bills by credit card, too. Some limit you to payment of a few hundred dollars at a time, but look at the bright side- that might be the difference between making your minimum spending requirement, or not.
If I think I might come up a little short on the required spending, then I follow one of several tactics in order to meet the goal: I purchase gift cards for my friends and family to favorite stores for holidays and birthdays, I buy grocery store cards for myself, or I get restaurant gift certificates to my favorite places, sometimes in advance. Sometimes I pay bills for relatives too, and they reimburse me, and that nice big charge is on my credit card, counting towards the minimum spend.
Another fantastic option, which keeps getting better, because the company keeps adding on things that you can pay by the check that they issue for you, which you paid for using your credit cards, is Plastiq. For a modest fee (usually around 2-2.5%) you can pay your rent or mortgage, which will help the minimum spend get up there rather quickly. Remember though, I don’t advocate paying these or similar fees unless you are doing it for a bonus on a new credit card, or, the need to top off an old one to achieve a certain level of miles or points. Otherwise, the fees are not worth it.
And of course, we all know how ridiculously expensive it is to acquire a college education nowadays. Shame on the USA! Really. But at least many colleges and universities will allow you to pay their high tuition costs by using a credit card, for both undergraduate and graduate courses, and then you can get some free travel just for having paid your bills. (Still, I do believe the price is a disgrace, but am guardedly optimistic now that some politicians are trying to make education more affordable, if not free, for more people.)
Also, if you need a substantial chunk of miles or points after a new credit card account has been established, know that many of them offer further incentives, often 5,000 bonus points or more, just for adding an additional user to your account. In this case, you and your significant other can become each other’s additional user, and rack in double the incentive points.
An additional great way to earn more points and miles, is to open up cards in your parents’ names. Of course I mean “for them”, sort of. 🙂 After I exhausted probably close to 30 new cards’ bonuses in my own name and number crunching over the years, I realized I needed a new source, and thus turned towards my father.
Keep in mind that many elderly people have excellent credit, easily get approved for new credit cards accompanied by big bonus promotions, and don’t travel as much as they did when they were younger. Given that my father could use his points to book flights and hotels for his kids,because basically, anyone can “gift” a flight or hotel stay to someone else, I helped him, over the last few years, open close to 15 cards in his name and numbers. Then, so that he wouldn’t have to deal with the associated administrative tasks of managing his many new credit cards, he simply made me his “Account Manager” for each one. This usually involved a simple few minutes-long phone call to a toll-free number (where someone working in the Philippines would answer), and easy-peasy, I could deal with the rest of anything and everything to do with his credit card accounts, including using them to pay his big bills and mine. (And yes, of course I reimbursed him- don’t you know me by now?). My dad got such a kick out of this! Every time I told him how the system works (he was 86 at the time of his most recent new cards, and as such, I often had to repeat things), and how many hundreds of thousands of miles and points these new credit card bonuses garnered for us, he was thrilled. When I would further explain to him the dollar amount of savings of the value of these travel opportunities, well, he simply couldn’t believe it, and he would laugh, and shake his head and say, “Only you, Cheryl”…
But, no, Dad, it’s not only me, lots of people know how to do this travel hacking stuff, and I only wish more would find out; it’s an opportunity waiting to be taken advantage of. Seize the day indeed… And, RIP my dear Dad, 9-13-19, only you would leave us on a full harvest moon, Friday the 13th. I miss you so much already…and thank you forever.
Cheryl T., aka “Travel Cutie”
Hey, by the way, if you’ve something you want to say, any page, anywhere here, is someplace good to share. I’d love to answer your questions, and read about your free trips, too, and I’m sure other readers would like to hear from you.