The game we play

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The term “travel hacking” means different things to different people.  To me, travel hacking is simply a collection of techniques and opportunities that can make travel both more affordable and more pleasant.

Many travel hacking techniques have nothing to do with points & miles.  For example, one can use status matches or challenges to fast track to elite status.  That can make travel more affordable by leading to free checked bags on airlines and/or free breakfast and internet at hotels.  And, it can make travel more pleasant by giving you access to priority security lanes, better seats, hotel room upgrades, etc.

Another example is the use of “hidden city ticketing” to save big money on airfare.  For details, see this View from the Wing post: How to Use Hidden City and Throwaway Ticketing to Save Money on Airfare.

Yet another example is to take full advantage of credit card perks.  For example, the Chase Priority Club card offers a free night each year at any IHG property worldwide.  The credit card costs only $49 per year, but the free night can be used at $700+ per night properties (such as the Intercontinental London Park Lane, for example).

Points & Miles Arbitrage

Despite the examples given above, most travel hacking techniques are centered around points & miles.  The game we play is at its core very simple:

  1. Acquire points & miles very cheaply
  2. Use points & miles for maximum value

Some would call this pursuit “Arbitrage”.

Getting cheap points

Here are some examples of how we acquire points cheaply:

Maximizing value

Here are some examples of how we use points for maximum value:

  • Use airline miles for otherwise very expensive flights (international, last minute, etc.)
  • Use hotel points in the most expensive cities and at the nicest hotels.  The best deals include using Hyatt points (only 22,000 points per night for their top properties world-wide); or use Club Carlson points for two-night stays if you have the Club Carlson credit card (see “Club Carlson rocks our world… Again“).
  • Find sweet spot awards where a particular type of award is much cheaper than any alternative (my favorite of these are the short, non-stop flights on British Airways partners that cost as little as 4500 points each way)
  • Take full advantage of flexible award ticketing rules to include multiple stops or free one-ways without increasing the cost of your award.

Putting it together

Through techniques that I often write about, points can often be acquired for less than a penny each (and often, for free).  And, by using those points wisely, one can get anywhere from 1.5 cents to 10 cents (or more) value from each point.  Let’s conservatively assume that you average a cost of half a penny per point acquired, and receive on average 2 cents per point value.  This would mean that you essentially quadrupled your investment.  Not bad!

Outside the travel-hacking box

While I occasionally cover other aspects of travel hacking, most of my posts tend to be about how to get points & miles in large quantities cheaply or for free.  Rounding out the picture, the blog Travel is Free primarily covers how to maximize value from your miles.  Many other blogs tend to have a more rounded approach and cover all aspects of travel hacking.

While travel-hacking techniques provide many great arbitrage opportunities, there are plenty of opportunities that have nothing to do with travel.  Personal Finance Digest and Saverocity are two examples of blogs that cover not just travel-hacking but much broader topics regarding acquiring wealth and spending wisely.

If you think about it, the travel hacking game of getting cheap points and maximizing their value can be generalized to almost anything.  Points & miles are a form of “intermediate currency” which, when used wisely, can lead to much more value than the cost of acquisition.  The same could be said of some gift certificates, coupons, store loyalty rewards, and more.  So, the game is the same, but generalized:

  • Acquire currency (points, coupons, gift certificates, and even cash) cheaply
  • Spend currency wisely for maximum value.

My recent search for good uses of Discover rewards is an example of this wider thinking.  Discover offers nice options for acquiring cash back rewards easily (5X rotating categories, ShopDiscover portal, frequent special deals) and so it would be great to round that out with a way to get more than 1 cent per penny value from your Discover rewards (stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where I’ll show exactly how!).  Another example is my coverage of Plink that offers gift cards as rewards rather than airline or hotel points (of course, the great thing there is that you can earn both: airline miles from your credit card, and gift card rewards from Plink).  Also, blogger Deals we Like maintains a “Free Money” tab on her site showing ways to get free money (usually from American Express).

Frequent Miler direction

Today’s post is little more than me rambling about the game we play.  I’m not declaring a new direction for my blog, but I’m not ruling out a wider focus either.  I tend to write about whatever interests me most at any given time.  Since I love travel, a focus on airline miles and hotel points will likely continue indefinitely.  When I run across interesting arbitrage opportunities outside of travel, though, I’m sure I’ll cover those as well!

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