How to travel more without spending more – TravelPulse | Gmx Pharm

With inflation rates rising and disposable income falling, travelers are looking for all kinds of ways to break the bank and travel on a budget. Sometimes credit card rewards and airline miles can turn a standard trip into a dream adventure.

Acclaimed financial optimizer and All the Hacks podcast host Chris Hutchins sat down with TravelPulse to talk about using credit card points for travel, the best airline miles programs, cheap flight search techniques and more.


Here’s the full Q&A with Hutchins:

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TravelPulse (TP): As a “man of 10 million airline miles”, how do you earn credit card points and use them to travel for free?

Chris Hutchins (CH): It really comes down to two main things. First, I look at how I spend my money and make sure I always have a card that offers bonus points for the areas where I spend the most. Knowing I spend a lot on travel, food and groceries, I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x on travel and an Amex Gold to earn 4x on food and groceries. The other big way to earn points is by taking advantage of big sign-up bonuses to open new maps whenever they happen. I don’t overdo it opening dozens of cards every year, but when I see an amazing bonus worth over $1,000 in points, I usually take advantage of it. I recently released episode 65 of my podcast and shared a card that increased their sign-up bonus to something worth almost $1500 in points! In addition, there are a lot of little hacks that I like to use to get more points. For example, I don’t have a card that offers bonus points for hardware stores, but I was able to buy a Home Depot gift card at the grocery store using a card that earns 4x points on groceries.

If the points are with a specific airline or hotel group, I simply book directly through their websites. But when I earn points in a flexible program like Chase’s Ultimate Rewards or Amex’s Membership Rewards, I’m happy to use those points to transfer to their airline partners and book through those partners’ miles programs. In Episode 49, I went over exactly how I booked a trip to Bora Bora worth over $20,000 for just $1,500+ points.

TP: What are some tips for flying first class without breaking the bank in the face of record-breaking inflation and fare gouging?

CH: The secret to know about flying first class is that while it typically costs 5 to 10 times the price of an economy ticket to fly first class, it typically only doubles the miles needed to book a first class train ticket. So when I’m on a big trip and want to relax on the amazing lie-flat beds that most airlines offer in business/first class, I always use my miles to book those seats for free.

Although you didn’t specifically mention hotels, I’ll share an upgrade trick that has worked for hundreds of my listeners (and which I explain in detail in Episode 1). You want to book direct with the hotel you are staying at and email them after booking to let them know you have booked a room with them when you are coming that you look forward to staying at them to stay, and all you could do would be celebrate. I’ll be happy to get back to you about 2-3 days before arrival to confirm you’re coming. I’ve seen listeners get everything from free upgrades to bottles of wine — and one listener and her husband even came to see their initials embroidered on their pillows. Be sure to try this and please share your success stories with me.

TP: Air fares have increased by up to 40 percent in recent months. What are the best mileage programs and credit cards to save money and extend your dollar?

CH: With all the airline fare volatility, I try to earn as many of my points/miles as possible in flexible points programs that allow you to transfer points across different airlines and hotel groups. This way you get the most flexibility and you are not tied to an airline that might have crazy prices at the moment. This includes:

– Pursue ultimate rewards

—American Express membership rewards

– Citi thank you points

– CapitalOne Miles

– Bilt rewards

—Marriott Bonvoy (You can actually transfer Bonvoy points to many airlines)

I try to keep this table up to date with all transfer partners from all major card issuers.

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TP: As the host of the All the Hacks podcast, how do you use smart flight searches to get the best deals?

CH: My favorite tool for saving on airfare is Google Flights. You can search without a destination in mind to find the cheapest airports (and even do this search with filters like non-stop or under $700 enabled). You can also search for multiple airports at once to see if you can save big by driving a little more. Finally, you can browse the calendar view by clicking on the date field to quickly see how much it would cost to fly on any date. The only thing to keep in mind is that Southwest doesn’t show up on Google Flights (or most other flight search sites), so be sure to check their page separately if they fly to your destination.

Another great trick worth sharing is one that Scott Keyes from Scott’s Cheap Flights shared in Episode 5. He calls it the Greek island trick and it works by pairing very much on a long haul international flight to the continent/region you want to visit with a cheap local flight (or even a train or bus ride) to get you to your final destination. For example, if you are trying to fly to a Greek island from San Francisco, few airlines will fly between the two, although there are many airlines that fly to each destination individually. So if you search for the whole route you will get few options but if you search from San Francisco to Athens you will see so many more airlines and you can buy a cheap flight or ferry to get from Athens to Island.

TP: What are some of your secrets to making the most of airline miles?

CH: The biggest secret to getting more value from your points and miles is flexibility. While most people assume this means flexibility on dates, it can also mean being flexible about where you’re going, how you book at the last minute, or how many stops you’re willing to make to get there. Once my wife and I had a very specific window of opportunity to take a trip, but we knew we only had a day or two to change dates. We also knew we wanted to go somewhere in Europe. However, we were willing to wait until the last minute to book (when there really are a lot of award miles available) and we were open to so many different places. We ended up booking a trip to Budapest, Prague and Vienna a week before departure and not only got a great deal but had one of the most memorable trips we have ever taken.

If you want more secrets, hacks, and tactics to get the most out of your trip, points, and miles, check out these special episodes of All the Hacks that will definitely help you connect and on your next trip To save money.

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