Last year, I discovered travel hacking.
After a brief moment of ‘why haven’t I heard about this before?’ I was immediately disappointed to learn that for all those years I spent travelling the world, I could have travelled a lot more and for a lot less.
But alas, it’s never too late to start! After delving further into the mysterious world of travel hacking, I felt compelled to put together this brief guide to show you how you can also spend less, while still getting the most out of your travel experience. If you happen to already be a frequent flyer, but still have no idea what i’m talking about, you’ll be surprised to learn that you might be practicing some common travel hacks already.
But for everyone else, let’s start from the beginning…
What is travel hacking?
According to travel hacking veteran, Chris Guillebeau, travel hacking is all about ‘experiencing the world on a limited budget’. In other words, you can use specific tricks and strategies to make sure you get the best deals on flights, accommodation, car rentals and anything else that you might pay during your average trip abroad.
Who is travel hacking for?
Everyone! Some people even do it for a living. Take 27 year old, Ben Schlappig for example, who claims to fly an average of 400,000 miles, or 16 times around the world, every year. Most of those flights, he says, are in either first or business class. If your jaw just dropped, I know, It’s quite incredible. But if spending a lifetime in airports is not your cup of tea, there are plenty of other hacks the average traveller can take advantage of.
Having said that, travel hacking seems to work best for:
- Those that travel frequently, and most of the time internationally.
- Non-fussy travellers, meaning, you’re not fussed about your ultimate destination, you’re just in it for the experience.
- Residents of the US, UK and Australia. But out of these, US airlines and credit card reward programs seem to offer the best deals on flights and accommodation.
- Anyone that is comfortable purchasing (pretty much everything) on a credit card, and doesn’t mind having several of them at any one time.
The thing with credit cards is that often offer excellent deals within their loyalty programs through rewards points, particularly when you first sign up. One of the best ways to travel on the cheap, or never travel economy again, is to cash in those rewards when the time is right.
It sounds easy, but in reality not all credit cards offer a rewards system worth signing up for. You’ll need to do some solid research and calculations to make sure it’s worth your while. Once thats established, it’s recommended to sign up for several credit card and rewards programs (Ben Schlappig applies for about a dozen every year), then make sure you don’t forget to cancel them before the annual fees kick in.
I personally don’t own a credit card, and I get a headache just thinking about having to track several of them at any one time. But that’s me, so in case you’re interested in going down that road, you can read more about what’s involved here and, for the Aussies, here.
What about good-old Frequent Flyer miles?
Frequent Flyer miles and loyalty programs have been around forever, and they still work…although somewhat more inefficiently. In my experience, you have to take a great deal of flights, ideally internationally, before you can rack up any worthwhile number of miles.
Most airlines have their own rewards programs, which is great if you’re consistently flying the same airline. Star Alliance member airlines also allow you to collect points on some member flights, which helps too. But for the most part, frequent flyer programs are complicated! To read about them in more detail and learn how you can maximise your miles, I recommend reading more here and here. In general, miles are more useful for upgrades than buying actual flights.
Now let’s get onto the good stuff!
How to get the cheapest airline tickets
The best way to get the cheapest flights is to be flexible with your destination and travel dates. But never fear, you can still find good deals if you have your heart set on that destination.
My go-to for all flight searches is Skyscanner, especially for international fares, but some alternatives also worth checking out include:
Cheapest airfares for last minute booking and flexible destinations
- Go Today for cheap travel deals and packages.
- Fareness is a search engine that finds the cheapest fares according to months and available deals.
Cheapest airfares when you don’t have to get to your destination too quickly
- Air Wander adds an extended stopover or multi-day stopovers, between your origin and destination to find you dirt cheap fares. Stopovers can be anywhere from a few hours to over 24 hours.
Cheapest airfares for open schedule, dates and locations
- Secret Flying gives you all available fares and deals based on country, including ‘glitch fares’ (read on to find out more).
- Follow Secret Flying on twitter or FB to get regular (daily) updates on the best deals. The deals are generally limited and therefore sell out fast.
For open travel, when you need proof of an onward flight
- Fly Onward allows you to rent an onward or return ticket.
Beware of Cookies!
When searching for flights over several days, make sure you clear all cookies before returning to the same search engine or booking site. I recently discovered that booking sites can track your activity and later jack up the prices to encourage you to book! I’m not sure how true this is, but I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Consider Hidden City Ticketing
Hidden city ticketing is booking a flight with a stopover at your desired destination. You get off at the stopover point rather than taking the onward or final leg (i.e. you ‘miss’ the final leg of your flight).
- Positives: You can often find cheaper fares than flying direct to your actual destination.
- Negatives: Carry-on bags only! (alternatively you can request a ‘short check’ but only with a good reason! Airlines don’t appreciate people doing this). Hacks such as hidden city ticketing a getting more and more difficult to pull off as airlines get wiser about these and other common travel hacks.
Read more about Hidden city ticketing here.
Look out for glitch fares
If you have the time and energy, you can keep an eye out for ‘glitch fares’ which are super low fares that have been accidentally priced incorrectly by the airline. The best way to catch a glitch is to monitor Flyer Talk, but I’ve also seen them displayed in real time on Secret Flying.
How to get the cheapest car rentals
Over the years we’ve managed to score some dirt cheap car rental deals, simply by using Skycanner. But for an alternative experience, check out Price Line – an auction site for car rentals.
The basic process goes like this:
- Check published fares on Skyscanner or similar, to get a price point reference
- Check previous winning bids
- Place your bid, starting low (approximately 50 – 80% of the reference price)
The turnaround for the bidding process is 24 hours, so not the best option for last minute adventures! See here for more on Price Line bidding strategies.
How to get the cheapest accommodation (or good deals on expensive hotels)
When we travel, we usually opt for an air b’n’b. But there is something luxurious about staying at a hotel, not to mention it’s so much easier if you don’t plan to hang out for too long. Hotels.com is our go to for hotel bookings but you don’t always get the best deals. On the flip side, you do get to collect points for every night you book. Ten nights, gets you one free night to book at any hotel of your choice.
For cheap, but fancy hotels
- Try Hotwire. This site gives you a general description of the hotel and facilities you can expect on your stay, but withholds the actual name of the hotel until after you’ve completed the booking. This allows them to offer massive discounts on four or five star hotels.
For flexible housing options, short term stays and remote working
- Nestpick offers medium to long term stays in super nice, furnished surrounds. It covers most major cities, but only in the US, UK and Europe.
- Outsite boasts a number of luxurious share-houses in some very enticing locations around the US and South America. They guarantee a co-workspace and a private room in each house, along with shared common spaces. Their ‘Flex membership‘ allows you to move freely between all of the 12 villas and gives you access to discount rates and special offers.
- Roam is similar to Outsite in that they offer co-living and work spaces in luxurious surrounds. They have four locations including London, Bali, Miami and Tokyo.
More Travel Hacking info…
- Point Hacks, Travel hacks and information for Australia and NZ
- Travel Hacking Cartel, Offers a monthly subscription in exchange for alerts on the cheapest travel deals (best for US residents)
- One Mile at a Time, general travel hacking info and news (best for US and Canadian residents)
- Boarding Area, excellent resource for UK based travellers.
Thanks for reading guys! Have you used any of these ‘hacks’ before? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!