Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Expenses Revisited

In order to maximize available credit cards with sign-up bonuses, I'll have to be more creative about using my credit card for ALL purchases. So, I'm shifting more of my payments to credit cards - such as my annual car insurance. Tonight, I shifted my monthly cable/internet bill to a credit card.

I'm still waiting on the Blue Bird AmEx so I can load with vanilla reloads and pay my rent (hope this works!)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Elite Status

I know I need to focus on this area, so I'm going to tackle my top loyalty programs to determine what I need to do to get elite status. Reminds me of one of my favorite movies "Up in the Air"....

From the ever-helpful Chris:
"Get elite status wherever you live—and then get it elsewhere.
Travel companies offer “elite status” to their preferred and most frequent customers. Why should you care about such a thing? Because at hotels you’ll get free upgrades, free breakfast, free internet, late check-out, and other perks. On airlines you’ll get priority boarding, priority seating, upgrades (sometimes), and better help if something goes wrong.

You can often get elite status through a “challenge” where you agree to complete a certain amount of travel in a certain period of time. In other cases you can simply call up and request a status match.
One way of getting elite status without traveling much at all is by registering for free when it’s available as a limited-time offer. This happens several times a year with many different hotels and airlines.
You may wonder why you’d get an elite status from a company you don’t expect to patronize. Status matching is the answer: you can use it to gain elite status from a company you do expect to patronize. "

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Need miles? Mint 'em!

Quick tip From Chris: "By the way, if you’re worried about not being able to spend enough to qualify for multiple mileage bonuses, there’s a trick for this too: buy $1 coins from the U.S. Mint. They come in boxes of $250 each, and you can exchange them at your bank for the same value. With free shipping, it won’t cost you anything at all, and you’ll also earn additional miles for the “purchase” of the coins."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wwoof - Organic farm volunteer program

I kept seeing references to this, but dismissed the links initially. Now I'm intrigued. This might be an enlightening and rewarding way to travel and meet new people. The physical labor would be good for my mind and body, while also connecting me with nature and grounding me in the natural food cycle. The more I read about it, the  more I'm interested!

The details:

"Visitors, or ‘WWOOFers’, spend about half a day on a host farm, learn about the organic movement and sustainable agriculture, and receive room and board - with no money exchanged between hosts and WWOOFers. WWOOF is an educational and cultural exchange program. WWOOFing is a way to learn practical farming skills, be part of the organic agriculture movement, and experience the heart of American agrarian culture." 


Main site is here, http://www.wwoof.org/, with additional sites for farms around the world!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Planning for Bumps!

Think, rethink. Evaluate, reevaluate.

I've known that when a flight is oversold, the airlines will often offer a free ticket to anyone who is willing to be bumped to the next available flight. I've sat in airports and wished I could take their offer, but I was always following a structured itinerary and wasn't willing to change plans.

So.... why not plan for a bump? The original idea came from a friend of mine - a suggestion to take advantage of more of those offers. Immersed in this month of travel hacking, it dawned on me that I should plan for a bump. In other words, schedule my flights to allow for potential bumps and even choose flights that are nearly full or that overbook often. Brilliant! Why not spend a few extra hours in an airport, reading a wonderful book, in order to gain a new travel voucher?

Whenever possible, I should also arrive to the gate earlier and volunteer to be bumped should the flight be oversold or overweight.

Easy travel hacking strategy - the only cost is a few extra hours at an airport with a great book!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mystery Shopper for Travellers

Mystery shopping locally has alway seemed like a burden. Too much research, hassle, and documentation for such small rewards. However, there might be opportunities for travel mystery shoppers. Brought ot my attention by The Professional Hobo's blog, here is the link: http://www.evaluateitbysqm.com/EvaluateIt/

I read through the site and it appears there is an estimated 50% discount on travel and dining. I completed the brief survey to apply. I'm not convinced it will be worth my time, but I'm willing to test it out this month.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Driving across the country, for free!

This won't get me to Paris, and it requires an investment of time. Nevertheless, it's still an weapon to keep in my travel hacking arsenol.


"In North America, there are a lot of companies that will pay you to drive someone's car from point A to point B. Maybe they are moving, or the car was bought online – who knows, but you are essentially a car courier. They give you the car, a date to get it to the destination, and gas money. It's great for long-distance travel. In Canada, hittheroad.ca is the major national company. It's hard to find a national company in the US, but this website provides a good directory of cars on the move: Autodriveaway."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Couchsurfing! It's real!

So no travel hacking month would be complete without a day on couchsurfing. Is it real? Are there really people in the world who would open their homes up to strangers, for free? And, would it be safe for woman travelling on her own? Seems the answer is a resounding yes!

Couchsurfing is a community of over 5 million members in 97,000 cities — and every country — around the world. Our website connects travelers and locals who meet offline to share cultures, hospitality and adventures – whether on the road or in their hometowns.

Our Mission is simple: Create inspiring experiences.

We envision a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter. Building meaningful connections across cultures enables us to respond to differences with curiosity, appreciation and respect. The appreciation of diversity spreads tolerance and creates a global community.

At the Couchsurfing headquarters in San Francisco, we’re working tirelessly to create the greatest possible online platform for our community to achieve its goals.

I'm not signing up quite yet, but this is a top site to save and one that I can't wait to experiment with.

Monday, January 14, 2013


I kept seeing travel hacking sites mentioning Servas. Tonight's research was all about Servas. It's fascinating and it's noble, but I'm not sure it is for me. I love the ambassadors of peace concept. It's hard to believe this exists given society's fear of strangers and lack of cultural exchanges. But Servas exists and it's beautiful. I don't think it would afford me the kind of freedom I want when I travel, but it's nice to know about programs like this. It has value and is worth sharing and definitely worth the research tonight. Rather than repost the content, you can discover the details yourself here: http://servas.org//content/blogcategory/40/75/

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Keeping up with the details

Today was a documentation and implementation day, rather than a research day.

  • Bought 5 cheap items at Z Pizza to get my American Airlines Dining Loyalty program started. Once I hit 12 purchases, I'll start accruing points faster. The cashier was a little confused but still was happy to run each item through as a separate transaction.
  • Activated my Blue Sapphire card, set up my online account, established autopay, and registered the card to the AA Dining Loyalty program.
  • Activated by Hilton card with the same details as above.
  • Made an online purchase using Sapphire, and used the store portal to get 3 times the points.
  • Booked a hotel using Sapphire card, and used the store portal to get 3 times the points at Hotels.com.
Busy day and more to come this week!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Another cheap airfare finder

Move over cheaptickets.com....

I started the month speculating that there had to be better sites out there to push me past the old, familiar (but reliable) cheaptickets and priceline. Here is a new one.... http://www.whichbudget.com/

This came recommended from this site which has a few gems contained, but more on that tomorrow!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Priceline... just got better!

Quick tip today...

I'm a big fan of Priceline. I've been using this site since 2000. My first flight was a roundtrip to Italy for less than $500 and I've been using Priceline for some flights and all of my hotels since then.

I just came across this website, which helps the bidding process. I can't wait to try it out on my next booking.

Signing off for now... happy hacking!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Earning miles by paying rent? Awesome video will show us how!

As a newbie to travel hacking, I thought there must be an easy way to earn miles for paying rent or student loans. But neither of these bills accept credit card payments, and as I found out yesterday, there are no substantial rewards for debit cards. What's a girl to do?

I kept reading about the American Express Bluebird card and some wacky way of using Vanilla Reloads from CVS. If this sounds weird to you, then you are just like me! If this sounds normal, then you must already be a professional travel hacker.

It's confusing, so I was thrilled to find this easy, simple and awesome video that explains it all in less than two minutes.

There is some concern that the Vanilla Reloads will be pulled from the shelves (apparently Office Depot pulled out), but for now, they seem to work.

I registered and the card is on the way! If this works, then I can churn credit cards faster by reaching the minimum amounts sooner to earn the bonus miles.  https://bluebird.com/

Additional tip for Vanilla Reloads:

"@Mike B- If you bought a MyVanilla Personal Reloadable Prepaid Card you WON’T be able to transfer the funds from that card to your Bluebird card. That card is actually a card that you load money ON, much like the Bluebird card. 

Instead, you need to buy ones that are called “Vanilla Prepaid Reload” cards. They are the ones that look EXACTLY like the ones I show in the video. Make sure those are the ones you are buying. The titles they give each card are very confusing, but if you buy the ones that look exactly like the packaging I show in the video, you can load those on the Bluebird card."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Debit Cards - It's a bust.

Ok, so sometimes your research won't turn into some brand new, shiny strategy. Today's research negated my plan to pay my 2012 taxes using a debit card to earn miles. Instead, after a lot of research, I found that debit cards with rewards are essentially obsolete. The few cards (I found three) that offer miles, rewards, or cash back have such high annual fees that they make the rewards inconsequential. I could provide you with all the links, but trust me, as of today you won't find a debit card worth the trouble.

So, my tax plan won't work unless I want to try the bluebird / vanilla reload plan but I'm not yet sold on that concept yet either.

It's a bust. Not as much fun, but even ruling out a concept is progress on the journey to master the art of travel hacking!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Turning an IRS payment into miles

After 7 days of travel hacking research, I think I have the basics down. The major mile earning strategies are fairly straightforward. Churning cards (with careful timing) and rewards programs are the high earning methods. Now, I see the rest of the month as exploring other ways to maximize points. At month's end, my hope is that I have a firm strategy in place, but one that takes very little time to manage and keep up. Efficient, easy, economical, and enjoyable (more travel!)

Tonight's general concept is a focus on finding all the ways to turn every expense into a mile-earning opportunity. The specific strategy is IRS payments.

I just came across this website and it has a zillion helpful tips:

"The IRS lists payment processors through with you may make payments to it via credit or debit card, including 1040, 1040ES and many other types. The credit card fee ranges between 1.88% and 2.35% (expensive miles). But the debit card fee is a flat fee ranging between $2.99 and $3.95, making this a very good deal for some payments via a debit card that earns miles. You may also make some state and local tax payments at Official Payments Corporation.(In the Taxes section.)
  TurboTax, and possibly other tax preperation software, can be purchased via many miles and cash back shopping portals. For example, Big Crumbs offers 10.5% cash back for TurboTax as of January 4, 2013. (In the Taxes section.)
1,000 Southwest Airlines points for filing your federal return with TurboTax. (In the Taxes section.)"

That means I'll have to make sure I have a debit card that has rewards as well. My current debit card used to have minor rewards, but the bank has since discontinued the program. Stay tuned for a debit card reward comparison tomorrow...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Another layer - Dining Programs!

I'm adding on another layer of bonus points and rewards. I linked my existing cards to American Airlines dining loyalty program.

The general idea is to link existing credit cards to a dining program. So, when I charge a restaurant expense to my credit card, I'll receive my normal miles that the credit card issues and I'll also receive points through this dining rewards program too. Extra points!

After linking the card, I can also get a bonus by:

1Join the AAdvantage Dining program for free.
2Spend $40 or more on a single dine at a participating restaurant, bar or club within 30 days
3Complete your review within 30 days of dining. (The review link will be emailed to you and takes only a minute to complete.)
4Earn 1,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles!*

I can also start accruing more points by attaining VIP status:

"The general earning is 3 miles per dollar spent, but once you hit 10 dines you get VIP status where you earn 5 miles per dollar. To quickly get VIP status, simply go to a participating bar/ restaurant/ fast food place and order 10 cheap items and ask them to swipe them separately. They may look at you weirdly, but that often happens to me when I’m doing things related to obsessive mileage collecting."

AA buried this information on their website, but I finally verified it here (I even had to switch to Google Chrome to see the chart since Internet Explorer wouldn't show it): I need to make sure to have a valid email and have 12 transactions (so I'll try the Travel Guys crazy tip of buying 12 things at once to start the accrual quicker).

I also set a reminder to register my new credit cards (from the last two days) to this program as well once the cards are delivered.

And away I go with a new layer to the travel hacking game!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Marriott and Hilton - Let's go for the hotel next!

After researching several hotel rewards programs, I opted for Marriott first since they had the highest 50,000 bonus with a low requirement of only spending $1,000 in the first three months to qualify.

I also went for the Visa Hilton card to get 40,000 points with a minimum spend of $1,000 within the first 4 months. 

I'll work on meeting the spend requirements (paying off each card on time each month of course!) for these two cards, plus the Chase Sapphire for airfare from yesterday. Then once I have the bonus points, redeem for my Portland trip, then reassess which cards will be next!

I'm tracking all this through Award Wallet, and also a quick spreadsheet too just to be sure I'm not forgetting any details.

It's just the start, but already a bit addictive!

Portland Marriott

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Chase Sapphire for 40,000 miles!

I have bravely stepped out of information overload paralysis and into the bold, new world of travel hacking! I just applied (and was accepted) for a Chase Sapphire card. By spending $3,000 in three months (I just have to shift all my monthly purchases to this card instead of my Citi rewards program, which I pay off every month), I'll earn 40,000 miles which should give me two domestic round trip flights or one international flight. It seems too easy, doesn't it?

I am over the moon excited about this!

One step closer to a free trip to Portland!

Friday, January 4, 2013


Information overload today! I spent almost two hours online today researching strategies but it didn't feel productive. Partly, a lot of the basic information is repeated frequently. Partly, there are so many options for obtaining points that I'm feeling a bit paralyzed.

I took a simple step tonight and registered at flyertalk.com.  Many of the sites refer to this one as a good source so I thought I would stick to an original source, rather than reposts and aggregators.

I'm also committing to making a choice this weekend about which credit card to open first to maximize rewards, ideally to start a cycle of funding my trips through rewards. 

More to come tomorrow...

Information Overload

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Discovering Award Wallet

I just found a really good summary that references some of the points made in my Day One post. It's easier to follow and I'm going to implement it step by step. Here it is: http://thepointsguy.com/beginners-guide/

Tips for not letting your miles expire:

Tonight's goal:
  1. Register for award wallet. Check! 
 Okay, so with a few easy steps, I signed up for Award Wallet (which is free and recommended by all the travel websites) and I already benefited!  After registering, I immediately learned I had a $200 JetBlue credit - I didn't even know they had given me $200 for a delay on my last trip. Hooray!

Award Wallet

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Earning Miles!

I regularly use Priceline and cheaptickets, but I've become too comfortable with these sites. Great deals, but are there better?

This came recommended: www.airfarewatchdog.com
From: http://lifehacker.com/5841147/the-ultimate-travel-hacking-guide

I signed up and I'm going to test it out for a trip to Portland in July for the World Domination Summit! I can't wait for this event and I'm thankful I was able to get a ticket.

Additional recommendations:

New tip that I haven't done before: "Check the airport's carriers. One thing I do quite a bit is to go to the airport's website and see what airlines fly into it. Sometimes you find small carriers that are not listed on aggregators or other search engines. This is sort of my last double check to make sure I checked all possible airlines. After all, I don't want to find out later that there was an airline that offered a cheap flight but wasn't listed on an aggregator. (Not all airlines appear are on flight search engines.)"

More tips on getting miles through credit cards (abbreviated below):
  • Sign up for a branded airline credit card: Whether you love Delta, fly United and the Star Alliance, live and breathe Jetblue, or are hooked on Oneworld, all U.S. carriers have a branded travel credit card that gives you 25,000-30,000 points when you sign up and make one purchase. That's a free economy ticket right there.
  • Watch out for special promotions: I sign up for all the airline mailing lists. I always watch out for special 2-for-1 mile deals. Or when they have special card offers to earn extra miles. Last year, British Airways offered a card that gave you 100,000 miles just for signing up. That was a first class ticket home. American Airlines just gave me 1,000 miles for watching a demo on their new shopping toolbar.
  • Sign up for a non-airline credit card: Sign up for a non-airline credit card like a Starwood American Express card and you can get 10,000 sign-up points. When you convert 20,000 points into miles, you get a 5,000-mile bonus. I highly recommend signing up for this card too but signing up for any "points" card like the AMEX travel card or a Capital One card will do. Afterwards, you can transfer your sign-up bonus points to the airline you use and redeem them for flights.
  • Take the AA challenge: If you are taking a long trip, go with American Airlines. By paying $300, you can take the 10,000 point challenge. If you accumulate 10,000 points in 3 months, you get 1 year platinum status, which gives you get automatic upgrades into business class as well as lounge access. They do not advertise this on their website, however. You must call customer service and ask to take the challenge.
  • Do a mileage run: If you are only a few thousand miles away from some form of elite status, you can do what the travel ninjas call a "mileage run." This means you find cheap fares or special bonus mileage offers and take that flight. It can be a weekend getaway, a week away, or an afternoon jaunt. 

Mileage credit card calculator here: http://www.frugaltravelguy.com/start-here
Rewards seem good, but I wonder when I should apply for these - the timing needs to coincide with any major travel plans.

Just found a great tip for maximizing rewards. http://rewardsdb.com/  I already do most of my online shopping through a credit cart portal to get rewards, but this website allows me to compare rewards and choose the best portal. Nice! I'm going to explore this further.

Today's Takeaways:
  1. I need to decide which credit cards will maximize travel benefits for me. I'm already completely out of credit card debt, but I can use credit cards for my monthly expenses, pay it off each month, and reap the rewards! I'm earning about $50 to $100 each month already, but I need to maximize that for travel.
  2. Need to use http://rewardsdb.com/
  3. Experimenting with airfarewatchdog.com
  4. Need to determine my travel plans so I know when to maximize these benefits. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Day One Travel Hacking!

Today I begin my 4th year of having a daily focus. The personal fulfillment has been immeasurable. Not only do these projects bring me joy beyond what I had imagined, but they have led to a life of progress, change, gratitude, life experiences, and new friends...

Year 1: Writing an original poem every day for a year.

Year 2: Every month I tackled a new way to live a greener lifestyle.

Year 3: A year of progress, change and gratitude.

This year begins anew with a month of learning how to travel hack. This is something I have heard a lot about, but have yet to learn any of the details and strategies. Traveling is my most treasured experience so my hope is that this will open up new opportunities in travel for me...

Day One: Travel Hacking Strategies!

From: The Art of Non Conformity 

They are real! Round the World tickets are real...

Star Alliance Round the World fare applies for round the world travel from and to countries which are served by the following Star Alliance member carriers: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, AviancaTaca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, EGYPTAIR, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAM Airlines, TAP Portugal, THAI, Turkish Airlines, United and US Airways.

Lots of restrictions, but manageable. Main points: 16 coupons, must  be planned in advance, valid for one year, must go in one direction around the globe. Price is cheaper is your start/stop in a off the beaten country (i.e. more expensive to start/stop in U.S.). Must start and stop in same country.

One World Seems to have a little more flexibility on changing flights throughout trip (but may be charges). Based on a continent system. Same 16 segments like Star Alliance. Sample 6 continent itinerary: Madrid – New York – Chicago – Mexico City – São Paulo – Santiago – Auckland – Sydney – Cairns – Tokyo – Hong Kong – Johannesburg – Cape Town – London – Zurich – Madrid.

More great details here: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2010/10/08/round-the-world-plane-ticket/

RTW tickets... just the beginning.