HOW TO TRAVEL FOR FREE: Travel Hacking for Beginners

You log into Facebook and slowly start scrolling through your news feed out of boredom. You stop at a beautiful photo of crystal clear waters and a white sandy beach that catches your eye. You look at the caption and let out a grunt of jealousy as you see it’s Melissa and James on vacation……AGAIN. Weren’t they just in Jamaica? How the heck do they afford all these trips? Melissa’s a teacher and James is a mechanic?

Well I’m not too sure what Melissa and James are up to, but I can let you in on a little secret called Travel Hacking. No you don’t need to win the loto or sell an organ, there are many ways you can travel for free or at the very least extremely cheap. Plus you’re going to want to keep your liver for those one too many pina coladas you’ll be sipping on the beach.


First things first. If you start looking into travel hacking or cheap travel, you’re going to start seeing things like ‘Travel the World for $50/day’ . Well unfortunately, traveling the world for that little is for backpackers who don’t mind sleeping on peoples couches or hostels and eating primarily from the food vendors or markets. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that (I do it myself) but I’m talking about flying to Thailand and staying in a 5 star hotel. If that’s a little more your style, keep reading.


So to acquire ‘free travel’ it’s going to require some effort. As the saying goes, nothing in life is free. Well there are many ways to travel for free such as House Sitting, Work on visas etc. the list goes on and a good reference is here:

But I want to zero in on the primary way I personally enjoy the best perks and luxury travel:

Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses

Now I know what you’re thinking, you don’t want to ruin your credit or charge a ton of frivolous money on credit. Well there are many ways around both.

As long as you haven’t recently opened or applied for a bunch of credit cards and have decent credit, you will most likely be approved for very rewarding cards. Most companies abide by the 5/24 rule, you can only open 5 credit cards per 24 months. For tips on how to better your chances for approval:

So many of these high yield cards are going to have a spend requirement within the first few months typically around $1-$5k. Yikes! Why would you spend that kind of money for measly bonus miles? The answer is, you most likely are already in some way going to be spending it, it’s a matter of simply moving where you charge your expenses to.

Trust me, if you add up how much you spend in a month- not just bills I mean everything, your secret stops to Macy’s on the way home, or the Friday night bar tab- it’s very easy to spend $5k in a few months.


The main way you can ruin your credit is if you open a credit card, spend a bunch of money you don’t have and increase your debt. I highly recommend avoiding this. Plus it defeats the purpose of free travel since you will have lots to pay in interest rates.

Good things is, there are many ways around doing so, it just takes some thinking outside the box. If need some help on how you can meet the expected spend I suggest starting here with , Jason has been traveling for over 15 years and knows the ins and outs:

Now you’ve met your required spend minimum, and of course paid of your credit card before those crazy interest fees occur, not what’s in it for you after all that hassle? FREE TRAVEL that’s what! Let’s go over some of my favorite and top 3 credit card rewards I personally have experience with.

My favorite for 2016 thus far is the

Ritz-Carlton rewards card

They have increased their annual fee just as most cards to  $450, however the benefits more than pay for itself.


Current Top Benefits:

-3 free nights of your choice of a Ritz-Carlton hotel of Tier 1 -4 after spending $5,000 in the first three months

-TSA pre-check enrollment reimbursement  ($85 value)

– $300 travel reimbursement on charges such as baggage fees, seat upgrades and on-flight spending.

-Select Priority Lounge Pass.(Access to over 900 Airport Lounges)

– $100 flight discount for two or more travelers booked through their website flight search engine.

You can apply here:

Customer Service has been excellent every time I’ve called. The Travel Reimbursement takes a simple phone call to have the charges refunded. Just make sure your baggage fees or seat upgrades are a separate charge, it makes the process much easier and the airlines let you make these changes after logging in to your confirmed flight.

I’ve also used the TSA Pre-check reimbursement, which is automatically refunded (no call necessary). If you’re ever been in a security line at a busy airport when you have just minutes to your flight, having TSA Pre-check would be a life saver. (It’s happened to me way too many times) Not to mention, keeping those pretty feet covered  and not having to emptying out your entire travel life into buckets is very convenient. Plus it’s good for 5 years!

Also, to get the most out of this card, make sure to sign up for your account towards the last quarter of the year, and use your $300 Travel Reimbursement for travel that year and then again January of the following year.


For example: I signed up for my credit card August 2016. You don’t have to complete the spend requirements to use the travel reimbursement so while I was working on that, I used the $300 to upgrade seats on a long haul flight I am taking in December 2016 as well as the baggage fees.

I am also traveling in February 2017, so I will use the following calendar year’s reimbursement for those seat upgrades.

The $450 annual fee is on the anniversary date, so that means if I cancel my card before August 2017 or ask for the fee to be waved. The card has already paid for itself:

$450 Annual Fee

-(2) $300 Travel Reimbursements

=Savings of $150 plus the many other benefits of the card. 


My second favorite is the

AAdvantage Citi Executive Card.


Now I have been a frequent flyer of American Airlines for many years. United Airlines put a bad taste in my mouth after having issues on 4 flights and I never seem to find great fares for Delta so I’ve stuck with American since. Granted, you can find people with bad experiences for every airline so it’s best to stick with your own preference.


Current Top Benefits:

50,000 miles after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months

Admirals Club Membership (checkout locations and what it entails here: $550 value

Your first checked bag is free and up to 8 travelers with you. (Up to $400 value for round-trip flights)

Dedicated check-in areas, expedited airport screening lanes (where available) and early boarding privileges.

Learn how to expedite security

25% off in-flight purchases such as food and beverages

 up to $100 reimbursement for Global Entry or TSA Pre-check
Now Global Entry is different from TSA Pre-check. It is primarily to expedite your customs process, versus TSA Pre-check is for airport security.
The 50,000 miles is automatically applied to your account after you meet the minimum, and customer service is again very willing to assist you.
Just from the above two cards, you have earned a round trip flight and 3 nights in a luxury hotel, a quick all expense paid vacation for you and a loved one!
Take that Melissa and James!



  1. This was really interesting. We love our credit cards for the cash back that we get but these travel cards are pretty great too. I might have to consider opening another account! Thanks for the tips!
    – – Rachel@Tidy&Teal


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