Growing up, my dad was a big points collector and as a result my family was able to book many flights and hotel stays free of charge. We used to always joke that a hotel was twice as nice if you didn't have to pay the bill. From a young age, I discovered that with the right credit card you could be rewarded for your spending.
Those lessons have remained with me to this day and have inspired my passion for credit card rewards and even drove me to build a business around them at RateHub.
The best and simplest way to hack your travel points is to choose the credit card that will give you the most back in return.
In my 20s I've been able to take advantage of points I've earned on my credit card: I've taken at least five free flights and I was able to cover a week-long honeymoon with my husband staying at several great hotels in Hawaii using Aeroplan and Starwood preferred guest points.
More recently I've become interested in the extra perks offered by credit cards: insurance products. In the last three years I've made three insurance claims on my cards: I covered my hotel and dinner when the flight back from my honeymoon was cancelled, I covered a hotel in Philadelphia when my flight back from a conference was cancelled; and on a recent vacation to Miami, I declined collision and damage insurance on a rental car, saving me close to $15 per day.
Here are five tips you can use to transform yourself into a master travel point hacker:
1. Choose a high-earner
The best and simplest way to hack your travel points is to choose the credit card that will give you the most back in return. You should never change your spending habits to earn the most points, but rather make sure you're collecting the most valuable rewards where you're already spending money.
The best credit cards on the market will earn you a two per cent return on your spending in travel points or cash back. It's important not to dismiss cash back cards as an option when looking for a solid travel credit card because you can you the cash on travel expenses. The card I use that hits this benchmark is the BMO World Elite Mastercard.
2. Always think in net return
Many people are deterred from applying for a credit card when they notice it has an annual fee. However, you might find given your personal spending habits that your annual net return (spending rewards minus the annual fee) is actually much higher than a no-annual fee card. In many cases, premium travel cards have much higher earning multipliers than no-fee cards, and that will more than make up for your annual fee.
In addition to not shying away from an annual fee, it's important to note that many premium travel credit cards can offer very enticing sign up bonuses. These promotions are a great way to let you hit the ground running and start collecting points right away.
3. Travel on your own terms
The best cards give you the most flexibility to travel on your own terms: with any airline or any hotel. The Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite Mastercard allows you to purchase travel on your credit card and simple erase the charges with your accumulated rewards. This is much more flexible than a points program that can only be used for specific flights or airlines.
4. Don't forget the perks
Remember to be aware of all the perks that come with your credit card and make use of them when you can. For instance, the BMO World Air Miles World Elite MasterCard comes with a free annual Priority Pass membership, which grants you exclusive access to VIP Airport Lounges around the world. Plenty of travel credit cards also get you discounts of up to 25 per cent when you rent a car from a particular agency.
What I've learned from my life as a travel hacker is that the small things add up.
5. Stay covered
Many people get a travel credit card with the express aim of collecting and redeeming travel points. But there's a lot to be said about the travel and medical benefits that come with these cards. Like I mentioned, you could save up to $15 a day renting a car if your card covers collision and damage insurance on car rentals.
If you flight is delayed or cancelled past a certain length of time you may be able to claim hotel and meal expenses. If the airline loses your baggage, you'll be reimbursed for the cash value of your lost personal property. Make sure to take note of the extent of your coverage and what exclusions and limitations apply so that you aren't surprised while on your trip.
We often hear of people traveling the world for free on points. Those are amazing and inspiring stories, but are they accessible for everyone? What I've learned from my life as a travel hacker is that the small things add up. If you choose the right card for you, know your perks and benefits and maximize your point collection, you'll be able to amplify your travel plans in incredible ways. While you may not be able to travel the world on points tomorrow, start with the goal of a free flight in the next year.
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You booked a dream vacation and ended up spending way more than you expected. What happened? Yes, it's your vacation and you should make the most of it, but it's also important to make sure you can pay the bills when you get home. Here are 10 money saving tips to follow when planning your next vacation.
When it comes to booking, timing is everything. Prices on both flights and accommodations can vary wildly depending on when you book. Follow these three guidelines to maximize your chances of getting the cheapest options: Book in Advance: Whether it's a flight or accommodation, you're more likely to get a better price booking ahead of time—but, that isn't to say that you can't find last minute deals. The exact amount of time to book in advance will vary by destionation—check out TripAdvisor's "Best Time to Book" for upcoming summer travel—but many hotels will offer up to 20 percent off for booking in advance, and according to CheapAir.com, 54 days in advance is the magic number for booking the cheapest flights. Of course, timing is everything and there is no "golden rule", but earlier does tend to prove to be cheaper. Book a Stopover: If you're going on an international trip, consider taking a stopover to make the most of your journey by getting to experience a second destination for a much lower cost. Here are the top airlines that offer free stopovers. Book Travel for Midweek: If you can avoid travel on a weekend, you're going to have instant savings in most destinations. Fares are usually lowest on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so it might be worth evaluating if the money you'll save makes up for using a few extra vacation days. RELATED: 14 Myths About Booking Cheap Flights (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
From couch surfing to house sitting, there are dozens of ways to cut travel costs or trade a service for accommodations. Hostels are a more traditional low-cost option, and new higher-end brands like Safestay and Generator Hostels offer hotel-like amenities. Couch surfing, staying in a university dorm, and KOA camping are other budget-friendly ways to save on accommodations while traveling, if you're willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort and added amenities. WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is one way to travel and stay for free in exchange for your work on a farm. Another alternative is to pet or house sit in exchange for accommodations through a site like TrustedHousesitters, or to house swap (HomeExchange) or night swap (NightSwapping). (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Savvy travelers know that you can't just take any regular ATM or credit card abroad. Foreign transaction fees and ATM fees can add up quickly, so it's important to choose your cards wisely. Many credit cards now offer cards without foreign transaction fees, which will save you the two to three percent that other cards tack onto every purchase, so make sure the card you are primarily using abroad doesn't have these fees. ATM fees can also take a heavy hit on your wallet, so check with your bank to see what its ATM access fee is in foreign countries. Choosing a bank that is part of the Global ATM Alliance is also a good option for frequent travelers, as it will not charge an international ATM access fee—but beware: Depending on the card, you might still end up with international transaction or foreign currency fees. Another alternative is to take out larger quantities of cash a few times during your trip to avoid racking up fees with multiple smaller withdrawls—just make sure you are carrying your money carefully. RELATED: The Worst Credit Card Gotchas to Avoid When You Travel (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Walking is often the best way to see a city, plus it's free and a great way to work off those extra scoops of gelato. By walking and booking accommodation close to the sites you want to see, you'll cut costs on transportation and be less likely to spend extra cash on taxis or ride shares. Many cities also offer free walking tours, and many of the best sites in cities are parks or architectural buildings you can see for free. (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
From AAA cards to student and senior discounts, there are plenty of discounts out there just waiting to be used. For American frequent travelers, AAA cards are a must, as they offer discounts at most major hotel chains, on Amtrak tickets, at stores and attractions, and they provide roadside assistance. Sites like Groupon and Living Social are packed with deals on travel, restaurants, activities, and travel gear—just make sure you read the fine print in the offerings. Many U.S. tourism boards are also great resources for discounts, offering coupon books, maps, recommendations, hotel discounts, and trip planning services. And, if you qualify as a student or senior, you tend to get even more discounts for transportation, museums, and attractions. RELATED: Tried and True Student Discounts in Europe (Photo: Thinkstock/Photodisc)
Spend a little extra time preparing and packing to save money when you're on your next trip. Make sure to use a bag that fits the carry-on restrictions to avoid checked bag fees (and to save you time at the airport). And be sure to abide by weight limits if you're traveling on an airline that's a stickler for this rule (most budget airlines are). When packing, make sure to have a checklist with all necessities—especially medicine, first aid kit essentials, and proper toiletries—as certain things tend to be a lot more expensive abroad (or at the airport). Speaking of …
Everyone knows this by now; there's an airport markup on many items. While you can't do much if you forget an essential at home, don't replace forgotten items at airport shops unless you want to spend more than you need to. To avoid high airport prices, pack an empty water bottle and refill it after security, bring your own snacks, shop for books and magazines before you travel, and make sure you have all of necessary toiletries, medicines, and essentials in your personal item before you leave for the airport. Finally, take note of currency exchange rates. The U.S. dollar is particularly strong right now, so you won't really be saving any money shopping duty free in most countries. RELATED: 9 Things You Should Never Buy at the Airport (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Spend a few extra hours researching and budgeting to save big on travel and follow these tips: Research public transportation options ahead of time and decide if you're going to rely on walking, the subway, or taxis. Figure out your airport transportation ahead of time so you don't just hop into a cab. Budget in advance, so you're more likely to stick to a set dinner price or limit daily expenses. Find free attractions ahead of time and decide what other sights you are willing to spend on. By making a "must-do" list, you can prioritize what you would like to see in a destination, and then if you have extra time or money, do things lower on the list. It's also important to consider that some countries are expensive to get to, but very inexpensive in terms of hotels and food. The opposite is sometimes true, too: Often, destinations that have cheaper flight options also have high hotel and food prices. To budget on-the-ground expenses, check out Expatistan's Cost of Living Index for a general idea of prices in destinations around the world. (Photo: Thinkstock/Ingram Publishing)
You won't be charged that much data to post this one Instagram … right? Data roaming charges add up quickly, and it's unrealistic for many people to rely solely on Wi-Fi. There are a plenty of ways to make a phone work abroad, but as a general rule, know that unlocking your phone and getting a foreign SIM card is usually the best and cheapest way to go. Most carriers will unlock your phone if you go into a branch store, and basic data and text plans in most countries abroad will cost you under $30 (SIM card included). This option essentially allows you to use your phone as you normally would at home, just under a different number. RELATED: How To Prepare and Use Your Cell Phone Abroad
Food is an amazing part of a destination's culture to discover, but you can save a lot by reducing how much you rely on eating out, especially for breakfast and lunch. Pack 5 to 10 of your favorite granola bars in your carry-on to have on the plane, for a snack, or for an on-the-go breakfast. If you're staying in alternative accommodations, it's a lot easier to cook your own breakfast and keep snacks in a kitchen. If you're traveling for a longer period of time, check out the local grocery store—it will save you money compared to dining out, and it's a great way to have an authentic cultural experience. (Photo: Thinkstock/Photodisc) Read the original story: 10 Ways to Win at Budget Travel by Ashley Rossi, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.
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