Travel hacking :  The art of collecting miles and points through various methods in order to travel for free or very cheaply.

Currently I have over 1,500,000 miles and points.  “How do you do that” is something I get asked a lot. The main methods I use are described below.

Credit cards. Signing up for new points/miles earning credit cards is the method used to obtain the largest portion of miles/points.  A good bonus is 50000+ miles/points after completing a minimum spend.

Example:  The American Airlines cards are currently running a 50K bonus if you spend $3000 in 3 months.  So….spend $3000 on that card in 3 months and they give you 50000 miles.  You will also earn miles and points on everything you spend equal to at least 1 miles per dollar (1:1).  So technically you would earn more than 50K because you just also spent $3000 (to earn at least another 3000 points).

Using your credit card at the correct place. Some cards earn 3x points on travel, some earn 2x points on gas or groceries, some have rotating bonus categories. Make sure you use the card that is going to earn you the most miles/points.

Example: the Chase Ink earns 5x on cell phone, cable, internet and phone. I auto pay all those bills on this card.  My spend for these categories is approximately $500 per month.

$500  x 5 points = 2500 points per month, x 12 months = 30000 points.

After a year of spending on something I would’ve bought and paid for anyways,  I’ve earned more than enough for a round trip plane ticket!!

Shopping portals. There are a lot of shopping portals out there. Delta has one and so does American Airlines and United… And Marriott, Hilton, Choice Privileges etc. What are they?  In general, most major airlines, hotels, and credit card programs have an online shopping mall that you earn bonus miles or points for clicking through them for your purchases.  They are starting web pages that link you to different stores like Best Buy, Staples, Sears, Home Depot etc. The portals assign different points values for different stores. The values change all the time.

Example: go to the United portal and see that Staples is offering 3x points. You click that link which takes you to the Staples Website and buy what you need as usual. You spend $50.

$50 x 3 points = 150 points.

If you shopped there normally without the portal, you earn nothing.  If you need to buy printer ink or a new printer or whatever, why not do it online and earn bonus points!  NOW remember that nifty Chase Ink card?  Well it also pays 5x at office supply stores.  If I use that card to pay for my $50 purchase I will earn an additional 5x.

$50 x 5 – 250 points.

You’ve now earned 8 points per dollar total or 400 points. All the little points add up.  And who doesn’t love to shop online anyways!

Fly and stay. Sign up for frequent flyer and hotel member programs and earn points when to fly or stay. If you are paying for flights or hotel stays anyway, why not sign up for free for the member programs and earn points!

If you have a co-branded credit card, like a United credit card or a Marriott card you get extra points for paying with that card.

Example:  the Chase IHG card (Holiday Inn card) will give you an extra 5x points per dollar spent on their hotels when you pay with that card.

The Citi AA card will give you 2x miles per dollar when you purchase an American Airlines flight and pay with that card.

Promotions.  These are fun.  Every so often hotels and arilines will come out with promotions that you have to sign up for to earn extra points.  Sometimes, it a deal like “Stay 3 x at our hotel and we’ll give you 8000 points”.  The airline credit cards will sometimes target you for promotions where if you spend X amount of dollars each month for 3 months you’ll get 15000 extra points.  Then there’s the IHG promos where you get a task list and each task is worth certain points for completing.  The Amex cards also offer you cash back offers (you must add them to your card from their webpage).  Right now you can receive a $15 statement credit for spending $50 at some of the online flower shops.  Hulu also has a $10 statement credit for spending $10 with them and paying with your Amex card, making the purchase bascially free.

These are the main ways I use to earn more miles and points.  There are other ways that other people use as well.  There also some wonderful “how to” posts done by other bloggers that will give you step by step instructions on how to get started on this hobby if you are interested.  Million Mile Secrets has one here which I think is brilliantly done!