We have all heard about the families who travel around the world and claim that their entire 2 week trip to Asia has cost them less than your weekly grocery shopping run. And you, like me, probably wonder how that is even possible. Where do they find these great deals? How can they can afford to fly business class with their 3 kids? And, of course, how can I become an expert family travel hacker too?
For this article, we tapped into the collective wisdom of the Bebe Voyage community.
What is travel hacking?
Travel hacking is the art of collecting frequent flyer miles and points to travel for free allowing you and your family to see the world.
If you are a family and think travel hacking isn’t for you – think again. You CAN become an expert family travel hacker!
Let’s get you started on your route to become a family travel hacking expert…
A for Airline Programs
Joining an airlines loyalty program is a great and simple way to earn miles. Simply obtain a Frequent Flyer number by joining an airline reward program. There are three major gobal airline alliances you should know about: One World, Star Alliance and Skyteam. If you, for example, earn miles while flying with British Airways, which is part of One World, you can redeem miles on your next trip to Australia with their airline partner Qantas. And hotel chains often have great perks when joining their reward programs, like access to their executive lounge, which gives you free food/snacks/drinks.
B for Best Websites and Travel Hacking Communities
There are a lot of travel hacking websites, with the most mentioned sites by our members being:
Award Travel 101 (a Facebook Group with +35k members)
Travel (hacking) with kids (a Facebook Group)
C for Credit Cards
The credit card that is most often raved about in the Bebe Voyage Community (no affiliation or endorsement!) is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It has a 450 USD fee (and is only available for US citizens), but the annual fee of $450 can be reduced by availing of $300 travel credit annually. It has no foreign transaction fees, Priority Pass lounge access and many other perks.
On a general note, there are in essence 3 types of credit cards that you need to differentiate between. Watch out for these differences when you decide on which card to sign up for:
1. Fixed value travel reimbursement: Miles/points that are redeemable for nearly any type of travel expense. Examples: 1 cent per point, so earning 50,000 points = USD 500 in free travel for various types of expenses.
2. Transferable point cards: Points earned on such as card, are transferable to many diverse programs
3. Airline and hotel joint credit cards: These type of cards earn you points for particular airline or hotel program, so they are not flexible as they can only be redeemed with that airline or hotel.
D for Dining Miles
This is a simple one, accessible to everyone. You register for a dining program, and connect your cards to your relevant membership account to ensure you receive points whenever you eat at restaurants participating in the dining program. Normally the program works on a ‘the more often you dine at one of the participating restaurants, the more points you will get credited to your account’ principle. Many American airlines have such dining programs, such as American Airlines and Delta.
E for Entertaining Little Ones while Travelling
We’ve scoured advice from Club Bébé Voyage members to create the ultimate list of travel toys for entertaining toddlers and babies on an airplane! The list is completely technology free! From dollar store finds to the perfect new toy, we’ve done the research and are passing it on to you. This is a one stop shop for picking out everything you need to keep your little ones entertained.
F for Family Travel Bloggers
There are hundreds of family travel bloggers, but two that really focus on travel hacking are Double Duty Daddy (Juan, a father of twin girls, who lives in Miami) and Points with a Crew (Dan, a father of 6!).
G for Global
Is travel hacking really a global thing? OK, this one is a bit of a hard truth, but travel hacking is mainly done in the US, Canada and in the UK. It is hard to find similar programs–especially the credit card deals–available to residents of other countries. Why? None of our experts knew why.
H for Hotwire, Priceline & Co.
Everyone is looking for the best deal through online booking portals, with the most popular sites for global travelers being hotwire.com, priceline.com, booking.com and hotels.com. (Tip: Every 10th night booked is free with hotels.com!) If you want to find out which online family travel resources the Bebe Voyage team recommends, head on over to our blog.
I for Inventory
When we say inventory, we are referring to the need to keep tabs on your accounts and make sure that you are receiving all of the points/miles to which you’re entitled. Taking inventory regulary is like checking your account balance to make sure you can pay your bills. To do so, there are various apps, but the one most talked about in travel forums is Award Wallet. Award Wallet helps people manage their reward balances and travel itineraries. Their program supports 681 loyalty programs – air, hotel, car rental, credit card and others. There is also a similar app called Points.com. Otherwise, if, like many travel hackers, you don’t trust a third party with your valuable miles, a good old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet can easily be used to keep tabs of it all.
J for Jetlag
There is nothing worse than a long travel day only to arrive at your hotel exhausted yet your little one is wide awake. This fear alone keeps many families from attempting time-zone hopping trips. We’ve collected expert and community-sourced advice all in one place to keep you (and your kids) happy and well-rested while traveling.
K for Know
Travel hacking is also about tips and tricks for travelling with kids. The Bebe Voyage team has teamed up with lastminute.com to compile a list of 21 travel hacks for families. Some examples are:
– Know there is a million ways to use those free toiletries. Have you ever put some scented soap in a sock to keep dirty laundry from making your luggage smell funky?
-Know how to charge your phone without your adapter. Plug it into the back of the TV using the USB plug.
-Know how to creatively use zip lock bags if there is no TV on a short-haul flight. Hang your phone in a zip lock bag from the tray table hook so the kids can watch their favourite shows.
L for Leveraging deals
One of the main concepts of travel hacking is to never let a mile earning opportunity go to waste. Some airlines have partnerships with diverse companies, such as car rental companies. An airline may allow you to earn thousands of extra miles by renting from their preferred car rental company. If you are already planning to rent a car at your holiday destination, then this is the type of deal you should make use of to become a successful travel hacker.
M for Mantra
What is your familys travel mantra? For most travel hacking families, it is to ‘earn them and burn them’. (I.e. Don’t hoard your points, but actually use them to travel and explore the world).
N for Never forget your loyalty cards at home (unless you forget your phone too)
Stocard is great app that stores all your loyalty card numbers for you in one place. It is available for iOS and Android. All you have to do to add a card to Stocard is: select the card you want to add and scan the barcode with your iPhone’s camera. That’s it! The app will then create a digital copy of your rewards card within the app.
O for Other peoples faults can benefit you
Error fares are exactly what the names implies. Often they occur because someone has miscalculated taxes, currency conversion mistakes, fuel surcharges or other fees are not added to the final price. Airlines and booking agents tend to realize their mistakes quickly (and often cancel the flights and return your money); you need to be just as quick with booking your ticket and hope to get a good deal. The best known sites that will alert you to error fares are airfarewatchdog.com and secretflying.com. Sign up to their daily alerts to not miss out!
P for Patience
Families who travel using their saved up miles and points (or looking for great deals) need patience in searching for the right deal and patience when it comes to saving the points and miles needed to travel.
Q for Questions
Travel hacking experts cannot know it all, be aware of every deal and keep up with all the credit card benefits and cards T&C’s. They all join communities (see B), share their knowledge, and ask questions to keep up-to-date. Don’t be shy, as this is a very supportive travel community.
R for Rocketmiles
Rocketmiles helps you to find hotels around the world and earn miles, for a list of all award programs connected to Rocketmiles please visit their website. Rocketmiles is owned by a big industry name Priceline. In a nutshell, the way it works is that online travel agencies, like Rocketmiles, get commissions on hotel bookings. Rocketmiles is essentially taking some of their commission by using it as an incentive for booking with them, by awarding you miles. Another big thing about earning miles by booking via Rocketmiles is that you are allowed to earn miles for other peoples hotel stays. How, you ask? You simply enter the person staying as the primary guest in the system (per Rocketmiles FAQ). There are other similar sites, but Rocketmiles is one of the best known ones.
S for Skills – Travel hacking requires math skills
Travel Hacking requires math skills. Think of credit card point and miles from the various frequent flyer or dining programs as a currency that may or may not be inter-transferable. Miles and Points hold different values. Some points hold 1:1 value i.e. you spent one dollar and you earn one mile, while others depend on various factors. Confusing? Yes, it is once you are new to the world of travel hacking. This is why you need math skills for travel hacking, you need to work out the actual value of your points/miles in terms of the offer you find. Mile conversion tables for air travel with points can look like this (hypothetical example):
|REDEMPTION||CASH VALUE||MILES NEEDED||ACTUAL USD VALUE PER MILE|
|Cash reward||USD 500||50,000||1 cent|
|Domestic flight economy class||USD 300||40,000||0,75 cents|
|Domestic business class||USD 1,000||80,000||1,5 cents|
|Europe to North America flight economy class||USD 1,500||95,000||1,6 cents|
|Europe to North America flight business class||USD 3,000||200,000||1,5 cents|
T for Try other ways to earn miles
There are plenty of other ways to earn miles than flying and eating out ( see D), such as filling out surveys on a site like Emiles or eRewards and some rewards progams let you earn miles for ordering flowers, shopping via their online shopping portals & co. I read somewhere the quote “Rewards fever is real! Start with one or two programs. Have some success. Then add more, don’t overextend yourself and make it a full-time job.”
U for Unlocking fares and deals through signing up for newsletters
Yes, newsletters can feel like spam, but companies often use newsletters to announce secret fares and deals that are not published elsewhere. Do sign up and read (or at least glance over) the newsletters instead of letting them sit in your junkmail folder unread.
Sign up for the Bebe Voyage Newsletter here.
V for Very important to remember
The credit card sign-up bonuses remain the easiest way to get a bunch of credit card miles and points, but signing up for many credit cards also opens you up to liabilities. Don’t let your hunt for extra points lead you down a slippery slope, it can get tedious to keep track of all your points. Spent responsibly and don’t mess up your credit score. Some people open several credit cards a year, this travel hacking method only works if you are hitting the minimum spending targets credit cards require (I.e. you will get 10.000 points if you spent at least USD 5000 within the first 3 months).
W for Wanting to end a reward program membership
It is possible to trade and exchange points/miles through Points.com. The exchange rate applied to these transactions is often unfavourable to you, hence this isn’t a good option for transferring large balances, but it can be an easy way to liquidate unused miles and points i.e. points from reward programs that no longer have any value to you or are about to expire.
X for Expire
You need to understand he T&C for all the reward progams you have signed up for to make sure that your points and miles won’t expire. See also I and W.
Y for Youth Hostels
Have not stayed in a Youth Hostel for ages? Many Youth Hostels nowadays have family rooms with a private bathroom, which are perfect for families. When travelling on a budget or with a large family Youth Hostels are a great choice. Through the Hosteling International (HI) booking portal you can book more than 4000 properties in 80+ countries. HI offers an annual HI membership, which comes with some great global and local perks. From discounted entry to some of the world’s top museums, to special offers on guided tours, discounts on travel insurance and rental cars. Becoming a members for a year costs you about 20 EUR/24 USD,so even if you never plan to stay in a hostel while you travel, getting the membership qualifies you to make use of their global discounts – spending 20 EUR to saving hundreds of Euros on the road is a very good deal!
Z for Zen
Don’t let travel hacking and the hunt for points and miles get to you and rule your life. You should enjoy the process, almost as much as the journey. Stay Zen!
What was your biggest travel hack success story?