Travel Hacking: When Budgeting isn’t Enough

by | Last updated Jul 12, 2023 | Live Work Play Travel, money matters

I love to travel, but sometimes I just cannot afford it. Well, afford everything I want to do. No matter how much scrimping and saving I do – and I believe I am the queen of budgeting, I cannot stretch my money to cover everything I want to do, like upgrade my long flight. Sacrificing quality for my vacations isn’t an option. So instead of saving up for years to have a great holiday, I use my budgeting techniques plus travel hacking techniques I stumbled upon some years ago. Let me explain in this beginner’s guide to travel hacking.


What is Travel Hacking?


Travel hacking is the art of using points and miles earned strategically using credit cards points or miles programs. By making purchases, not necessarily on flights and accommodation, on your credit card you can build up points or miles which you can use to get cheap or free flights and accommodation. Sounds good to me!


The Benefits of Travel Hacking


The biggest pro of travel hacking is you can score cheap or free flights and accommodation. Or perhaps you can use your points to be upgraded from an economy seat to a business seat on a flight. And believe me, once you have flown business class or even first class, you will not want to fly economy again. Experiencing access to private lounges pre-flight, wider seats that lay down on the flight plus generous legroom and tasty meals is totally worth every effort of travel hacking.


What is the downside of Travel Hacking?


The downside to travel hacking is you need to spend thousands of dollars on your credit card to earn points. 


How to Start Travel Hacking


Find the Right Credit Card and Loyalty Program


The key to successful travel hacking is to find the right credit card or cards and loyalty programs for your needs. What are your travel needs you ask? Think about what cheap or free travel things you want. Is it cheap or free flights and accommodation or is it to be upgraded? And is it domestic travel you want or international travel? Do you want to use your points to help you work abroad on a working holiday? Are you relocating to another country to be a digital nomad? Is there a particular airline or airlines and hotel chain you want to travel hack? If there is, then find out which credit card/s they are aligned with.


Airline Alliances


Some Airline Alliances include Star Alliance, SkyTeam and Oneworld.


Star Alliance 

Star Alliance includes 26 airlines. Each airline remains individual but you can use your points on any one of these airlines. They include Aegean, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Egyptair, Ethiopian, Eva Air, Lot Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss, Air Portugal, Thai, Turkish Airlines and United. 


SkyTeam Alliance

SkyTeam includes Aerolineas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, China Airways, China Eastern, Czech Airlines, Delta Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Ita Airways, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Airways, Middles East Airlines, Saudi, Tarom, Vietnam Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and XiamenAir.


Oneworld Alliance

Members of Oneworld Alliance include: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, SriLankan Airlines, Fiji Airways (Oneworld Connect member), and Oman Air (set to join the alliance in 2024).

As you can see, there are many airlines who have an alliance. Meaning you could use your points to gain cheap or free flights or upgrades with them. Now you know the airlines, you need to find a credit card that aligns with the airline/s you would prefer to travel hack. And you don’t need just one card, you could have a few credit cards aligned with different airlines and accommodation.


Which Credit Cards are Aligned with Airlines


For example, QANTAS is aligned with the four big banks in Australia so you could apply for a credit card with one of these banks and use it to gain cheap or free flights on QANTAS or other airlines in the alliance it belongs to. Which is the Oneworld Alliance.

In Britain you may consider an HSBC credit card that has points with British Airways. British Airways is in the Oneworld Alliance. 

In America you may consider an American Express Card that has points with Delta that is in Skyteam Alliance. Or perhaps the Chase Sapphire Card that you can gain points for use on United Airlines.


Growing Your Points


Once you have your credit card, it’s time to build up those points. This means spend, spend, spend. I do suggest you start planning your airline or hotel purchases so you have a goal to reach. If you need 10,000 points to get a free flight, work out how much you need to spend to get those points. I use my credit cards for everyday purchases such as groceries, and this helps to build up my points.


Get Ready for Your Holiday


Now you have been planning and researching your holiday for a while and know the cost involved. So to reduce the cost, it’s time to use your points to reduce your holiday cost. Will you trade your points in for a cheap or free airfare or an upgraded seat? Maybe a better hotel room with a fabulous view! Once done, you will know how much spending money you have to take and how to take it.


Are You Ready to Start Travel Hacking?


Holidaying using points and miles is a great option to help you explore the world on the cheap. Travel hacking is a game changer when it comes to my travels. I’ve used my saving budget tips along with points a number of times to upgrade my long-haul flights. And I have not any regrets! Are you ready to start travel hacking?


Travel Hacking Pin. Person at airport watching planes.

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Sharyn McCullum Sailing Through The Panama Canal With Storm Chasing Boat.

Sharyn McCullum – Travel Writer / Blogger, Remote On-line Worker, sometime Digital Nomad and Travel, Live and Work Abroad Expert. Is a chocoholic, coffee connoisseur and lover of ’80s music. Been travelling all her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. Lived in London 4 years on a working holiday. Has holidayed in Hawaii over 15 times and currently calls Melbourne, Australia home. Is inspiring others to get the live work play travel lifestyle with this blog. Read more about Sharyn here.


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