A Guide to Travel Freedom Pt. 2
How to maximize your travels with rewards points and other tricks
It’s been a few years since I wrote my first travel guide and I’ve travelled a lot since then and have learned a lot of tricks to make travel cheaper so you can travel longer.
One secret is rewards points. Rewards points can fly you across the world for nearly free. They can upgrade you to priority booking. They can enable you to book last minute or cancel last minute with no fees.
The first step is getting a few credit cards with rewards points. The best two right now are Chase British Airways and Chase Sapphire. You might need to watch and wait because the key is the promotional offer. You want something like “100,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months.” If there isn’t some kind of promotion going on then wait because you can only get promo bonus points when you apply and that’s a key part of this plan. Once you have your card with a promotional offer, the next step is to put all of your monthly expenses and especially rent on the credit card. PayPal is especially useful for this. You might get lucky and have a modern landlord who accepts PayPal but more than likely you’ll have to do something like pay a roommate via PayPal to pay your landlord every month. Then you can just send your roommate $5000 for rent for the next six months or whatever all at once from your new credit card. Then you will have fulfilled the terms of the promotion and you can get your points ASAP. I did that last year. I then flew from Chicago to Scotland for free.
You must adjust the way you manage your money so you can put 100% of your purchases on the card. Groceries, restaurants, shopping, bills, tuition, whatever you can. This is going to cause your points to rack up quickly. Offer to buy your friends’ high priced purchases on your card if they give you cash. Always be the one to put dinner on your card when everyone splits cash. It all adds up! Your initial 100,000 free points will do a lot but you can never have too many. Ideally you can do this 6 months to a year before you leave for your trip so you have a lot of points to play with. Also, buying plane tickets on your card usually gives you double points because they want you to travel!
I’ve been paying school tuition on my card and now I’m flying to Thailand for a few hundred dollars plus points and then to Jaipur for $2 plus points. Use the card for everything and they will rack up quickly. Then just GO.
If you’re using the British Airways card there is a special trick. You need to be efficient with how you use your points. If you want to get to Europe and use the minimum amount of points then you need to fly from Boston to Dublin. If you fly further than 3000 miles you jump into the next miles bracket and they charge you exponentially more. You also don’t actually want to fly on British Airways for that flight. BA has high taxes and you have to pay those in cash. The alternative is Aer Lingus. You can use your BA Avios points on Aer Lingus though they don’t want to you know that. If you look for flights from your BA Executive Club account page it won’t show Aer Lingus as an option. You have to actually call them on the phone and ask to book a flight on Aer Lingus. They’ll find the flight you want on the day you want and it will cost half as much as it did on BA. Maybe $250 total. That’s what the BA card does best and I hardly use it for any other flight because it’s a waste of the points.
Dublin to London is basically free with a small amount of points. Once you’re in Dublin then you can use a budget airline like RyanAir or EasyJet to get around (no checking luggage though). Or just keep using points to get around. From London you can go all over the place, Istanbul, Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Rome, for not too much with Avios or a discount airline. The other great thing about Avios flights is that you can cancel them last minute with no fees. Though I’m not sure if this still works with Aer Lingus. Also, when you use your BA card abroad there is no transaction fee which is great because fees are not helping you travel longer.
The Sapphire card works slightly differently. This one let’s you get flights on several different airlines but you’re subject to the rules of all those different airlines. Chase is essentially acting like a travel agent for you and giving you tickets discounted with rewards points. I like the Sapphire system better because you can book very long flights to Europe for cheap. If you have a lot of luggage or are in a hurry, you probably don’t want to go to Dublin and then London or wherever. The downside is once you book a ticket there are no refunds and moving the date cost around $150. The good news is there are hardly any fees or taxes so you can actually get a ticket for $0, hence my free flight from Chicago to Scotland.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination you need to keep on being frugal and save money on your accommodations. This is where Couchsurfing comes in. One of the problems with solo travel is not knowing anyone and not having anyone to talk to. Couchsurfing solves this while making housing free. Once you have an account on the Couchsurfing site, you can search for hosts in the city you want to visit and hopefully someone has some common interests to start a conversation with. Or maybe you have nothing at all in common with your host and that can be a good starting point, too. Either way, a local knows the neighborhoods, knows the best bars, the best sites to see and knows all the nice people. It’s a great way to get to know the city. I’ve couchsurfed hundreds of times and also been a host. The community on that site consists of some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I recommend trying to stay with couples, especially if you’re nervous about the idea. Couples keep each other in check and are usually a blast to hang out with.
Another method for obtaining free housing is WWOOFing. WWOOFing is a work exchange program where you work on a farm or some kind of nature or agricultural based place and they give you food and housing in exchange for labor. This is great because you learn skills and have purpose beyond simple tourism. I WWOOFed on a horse ranch for two weeks last summer in Scotland and it was a blast and I know all about horses now. The only downside to WWOOFing is that you have to pay for the service and it’s country by country so you can only see hosts in the country you pay for. It’s about $50 per country but if you make a whole summer or year of this, it’s quite cheap. There are also some very very interesting opportunities on there.
My final piece of advice for now is to go places where things are cheap. This is obvious but should not be overlooked. The UK is expensive, not only because of the exchange rate but because the cost of trains is ridiculous. Europe can be cheap if you use budget airlines and eat the cheap foods. Asia is cheap both because of the exchange rate and the cost of living. Thailand is pretty cheap if you can get a cheap flight. India seems to be the cheapest with its delicious food for $1 a meal, cheap trains, and lots to see.
Good luck and if you find any more tips on free flights or housing, send em my way.