Updated March 2022
So here’s the deal: I love traveling, and it has become a big part of my life – but I definitely do not have an unlimited budget! My income is very average for an American, so I definitely need to pay attention to how much I am spending. And something that has really helped me maximize my available budget to make traveling more feasible is using flight hacks to score cheap – or free! – flights.
Note: At time of publishing, all information is current and accurate to the best of my knowledge. Double check current offers before applying. The information in this guide is not personalized financial advice, but is given for informational purposes only. I always recommend to use credit cards responsibly.
What is Travel Hacking?
Travel hacking is the term for using credit card reward programs to earn large amounts of points, mainly through sign-on bonuses, then strategically using them to cover travel expenses to get free (or reduced-cost) travel.
I first heard the term “travel hacking” or “flight hacks” about five years ago, and it was a huge perspective shift! I used to think that vacations were expensive and would cost me thousands and thousands of dollars per trip – but it doesn’t have to be that way. I realized that I could travel far more than I thought I could.
Rather than a rare occurrence, I could make exploring the world a regular thing and really expand my horizons. So, I tried my hand at finding flight hacks and got hooked.
There’s nothing like the rush of finding a good deal, right?
Since then, I’ve opened and closed a bunch of cards and learned and developed some strategies to find the cheapest flights.
An Overview of My Process
I have two parts of my flight hacks strategy: the first is finding cheap flights, the second is using points to cover those flights.
There are a lot of people who talk about and recommend one of these two strategies, but I find that it works best when I can use the two together, because the synergy can have amazing results!
Part 1 of this article will cover my tricks for finding cheap flights. Part 2 is how I use credit card points to cover the cost of flights. Part 3 discusses how I use these strategies together!
This post contains affiliate links or refer a friend links. When you buy through these links, I may earn a bonus at no additional cost to you.
Part 1: Flight Hacks for Finding Cheap Flights
There are a few flight hacks that I use to find cheap(er) flights. The first several center around utilizing several features available in Google Flights that can lead to hundreds of dollars in savings.
Date Grid and Price Graph
First, I usually go to Google Flights and put in my destination and desired travel dates and see what comes up.
Then, I’ll go into the date grid and price graph (you can see the links for them in the middle-right of the screen). I’ll compare the itinerary I started with to what it would be if I shifted the start days forward or back, or if I shift the length of the trip by a day or two. Sometimes even a day or two can have a big cost savings!
I’ll also look at dates in different months – for example, looking at flights in March and May instead of just April.
If I have pretty specific travel dates in mind, I will set up a Google alert for my desired itinerary. There is a little button that will say “Track Prices”, and when you turn it on, you will get emails when the price changes. One alert = one itinerary. If you want to track multiple date ranges, you’ll have to set up a unique alert for each one.
Because of this limitation, I don’t rely solely on Google alerts. Instead, after setting up a couple, I still like to come back regularly and use the Date Grid or Price Graph to look at other options myself.
Another nice feature in google flights is it will tell you how the price you are looking at compares to a “regular” price for that route, and whether the price you have is low, normal, or high. I like this because it gives me a lot of context to the price I have, and what the chances are that I can find a better deal (e.g, “I’d love to find a price in the $300’s for XYZ route, but I can see that $450 is already considered a low price for this itinerary.”
If I was squarely in the middle of average (e.g. If average costs are $500-1000 and my cost is $800) I’d know I could almost certainly do better.
Another thing I look at is all of the airports around me. While there is an airport super close and convenient to my house, there are also 3 other airports within 2 hours from where I live. I can sometimes find MUCH cheaper flights from one of these airports, even when you account for the cost of driving and/or parking.
If the difference between the airport close to my house and the airport 2 hours away isn’t that big (e.g. $50) – it’s not worth it. But, if the difference is hundreds of dollars, then yes, it can absolutely be worth it.
For example, when I went to Costa Rica, the cost of a ticket from my home airport was $640. The cost from the next closest airport was $370. Even with the parking cost ($50), I still saved over $200. Sometimes the price difference can be even more dramatic!
How to Easily Search Multiple Airports
In Google Flights, in the departure airport form, click the plus sign to add more airports in and Google will search all airports listed to find the best prices. You can do this with your destination airport as well!
Open Destination – One of My Favorite Flight Hacks!
My favorite of my flight hacks for cheap flights is leaving the destination open on a Google Flights search. Sometimes the best deals come when you are flexible about where you want to go!
In Google Flights, put in your departure city and dates of travel, but leave the destination blank and press search. To take advantage of this, make sure you’re on your computer!
Google Flights will take you to a map of the world and show you prices from your airport to any and all airports worldwide. You can move the map around to see new areas, and zoom in on any location to show more options (e.g. Paris and Berlin show up on this, but if you zoom in, it’ll show you the price for other destinations in France and Germany).
Doing this will show you the best prices for a specific travel date. Make sure you try several different travel dates, leaving the destination open, to find the best price!
How We’ve Personally Benefited from Open Destinations
We benefited from this strategy two times just in 2021! We spent Christmas with my parents and afterwards, a few days before we were supposed to leave, my mom said, “Hey, your kids are still mostly virtual due to covid, you guys could stay longer, leave the kids, and go somewhere.”
That quickly turned into looking at what locations in the country had cheap flights right after New Year’s (and was a place we could visit during the height of covid).
A few spots stood out as having very cheap tickets, and one of these was Las Vegas. So, we flew into Vegas for $100 per person, and drove up to Zion National Park for the week. We also capitalized on a $100 voucher Matthew received for hitting his Delta SkyMiles credit card account anniversary, and so we got two tickets for $100 total. SCORE.
We also did this for our trip at the end of May 2021 to Iceland. I knew I wanted to go somewhere, ANYWHERE outside the country after we got vaccinated and when countries were opening up. So, I just started playing around on Google Flights, looking for destinations with cheap tickets. Iceland was one of the cheapest locations with under $500 tickets, so we grabbed those and off we went.
Iceland wasn’t even really on my radar before that trip, but it ended up being one of my top favorite places ever!
Quick tip: With any and all of these strategies, I sometimes have to “massage” the system a little bit. I usually don’t find exactly what I need the first time I start looking. I try a lot of different destinations, dates, departure airports, etc until I find an itinerary that I’m satisfied with. It can take a little bit, but I usually can find something that works.
The more flexible you are and the earlier you start looking, the better luck you’ll have finding a great deal!
Airlines Not on Google
It should be noted that some airlines do not show up on Google Flight searched, or other flight aggregate websites.
Most notably for Americans, Southwest airlines does not show up on Google Flights searches – you have to search their website directly. Sun Country Airlines is also not on Google and my mom has found some great deals from MSP to LAS by searching on Sun Country directly.
Also, some international flight carriers are not on Google, such as Thai Airways or China Airlines. Again, you’ll need to search those directly. If you are traveling to an international destination, it’s always worth googling “airlines that fly to XYZ location” and looking up their itineraries directly!
Another flight hacks strategy I use is to follow different deals sites. I follow Scott’s Cheap Flights and Plane Surfers on Instagram and/or Facebook, and am signed up for emails from Scott’s Cheap Flights as well.
These sites are wizards at finding ridiculously cheap flights for both domestic and international destinations from airports all over the US. They will send emails or post on their social media accounts some of the good deals they find. For Scott’s Cheap Flights, you can get a lot of the deals for free, but if you want all the deals departing from your selected airports, you have to become a paid member ($50/yr)
I’ve been following Scott’s Cheap Flights on Instagram and been signed up for their emails for a long time, but I also just signed up for the premium membership. I’m planning to do a lot of trips in the next year – including one spot in particular I really want to go that doesn’t often have sales. It will only take one deal to more than pay for the price of membership.
Some of the awesome flight deals I’ve seen from them lately were Japan in the $300’s, multiple Europe destinations in the $400’s, Nairobi in the $600’s, and Tahiti in the 600’s, as well as dozens of deals in the US in the $100’s.
Utilizing the 24 Hour Cancellation Window
When you see a great deal from these sites or in your Google Flights sleuthing, it’s a good idea to jump on it, and fast! Depending on the flight, the good prices can be gone within a day or two.
If there’s a deal that I really want and I think I can make work, but I’m not 100% sure I can commit to, I’ll book it right then, and then decide within the next 24 hours if I want to keep it. Airlines in the United States are legally obligated to give a full cash refund for flights booked within 24 hours and leaving in more than 7 days.
I took advantage of this when I went to Paris with my mom and some friends back in 2018 – I was ready to jump on the $500 flights right then and there and not look back, but I knew my mom needed more than 10 minutes to process it.
We talked about it for a while, and then I went ahead and booked the flight for both of us. That way we could still continue to discuss over the next 24 hours without worrying that the flight price would jump.
If you get to the end of the 24 hours and still haven’t decided, double check the current prices for that itinerary. If it’s still low, you can always cancel and rebook the flight and gain another 24 hours to decide.
On the flip side, occasionally the price will actually drop in that 24 hours! You can then cancel and rebook the flight at a lower price.
Booking Multiple Itineraries
Alternatively, if there’s an amazing deal that you know you want to grab, but aren’t 100% sure on the exact dates, you can book a destination for several different dates, use the 24 hours to figure out when to go, and cancel the itineraries that don’t work.
Just be sure to not let the 24 hour window go by without being sure of your plans! Set an alarm (or two!) to remind you to not let the cancellation window pass without making a decision.
Part 2: Flight Hacks Using Credit Card Points
I think credit cards are a useful flight hacks tool, but they can also be a pitfall. I have two rules I follow to make sure I don’t get into trouble:
- I never carry a balance on my card and pay it off 100% at the end of each month.
- I never spend extra just to get these credit card bonuses – I always just capitalize on spending I would have done anyway.
If credit cards are too much of a temptation to overspend, don’t feel the need to get any of these cards! They are a tool and not every tool works for every person.
General Flight Hacks Strategies
Okay, here is where the travel hacking/churning strategies come in (*rubs hands together gleefully*).
I regularly open new travel credit cards with the express purpose of getting the welcome sign-on bonus. Travel credit cards will offer a certain amount of points (usually between 40,000 and 70,000) after you spend a certain amount (usually $3000 or $4000) in the first three months after opening the credit card.
If $3-4k sounds like more than you normally spend in 3 months, consider timing getting a credit card with a big purchase you already need to make – such as a new computer, new phone, house projects, or before doing Christmas spending. If you are a little bit under the threshold for the sign-on bonus, you could also consider buying grocery store or big box store gift cards to use in the next couple months.
If that’s still too high, there are some travel credit cards that have a lower spend requirement (such as the Capital One Venture One), so go after those first!
Now That You Have The Sign-On Bonus
Once you earn that big sign-on bonus, you can still earn points on purchases, but nowhere near as quickly. Generally, you can earn between 1-3 points per dollar spent, though it varies wildly between cards and spending categories.
So, having one credit card that you use for years and years, and putting all of your spending on it will definitely earn you points, but nowhere near as fast as if you open several cards in one year and earn the big sign-on bonus for each of them.
To illustrate this, consider these numbers. For just about every program I’ve seen, 1 point has an equivalent cash value of 1 cent. Since you generally get 1 point for 1 dollar spent, this often equates to a 1% “cash back”. Getting 3x pts in a category? You’re getting “3%” cash back.
Say the bonus on a card is 60,000 points after spending $3000. That means you essentially got a $600 value on $3000 or a 20% “cash back” effect. (Slightly more even, since you also accrue points from spending that initial $3000). This really highlights the value of those bonuses – he value is unmatched!
Whenever I open a new credit card, I use that card exclusively for several months as I’m earning the sign-on bonus. Once I’ve gotten the sign-on bonus, if I feel like I have enough points to cover upcoming costs, I just go into my normal credit card routine and use a variety of cards. However, if I know I have more travel, or I want to cover more costs on an upcoming trip, I will open up a new card and put all my spending on that new one until I get its sign-on bonus.
I then use the accumulated points to book free or reduced flights (and sometimes hotels; even car rentals once or twice).
Closing the Card
After a year, sometimes two, I usually cancel the credit card. Partly this is because, as I said, the most bang for your buck with credit card churning is really in the welcome bonus, NOT in the day-to-day points from purchases. Trying to rack up enough points through everyday use to cover travel can take a long time.
The other major reason is there’s often an annual fee, and I’d rather not pay the annual fee for the second year. Instead, save the fee and shift your spending towards a fresh card with a shiny, new, welcome bonus.
Cards I Recommend for Flight Hacking
I have used a bunch of different credit cards, and I’m going to keep trying new ones out! Here are the ones I’ve used, the specific ways they can be utilized, and what I like about them.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
I love the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for several reasons, including the sign-on bonus gives you a lot of bang for your bucket and it’s really easy to redeem points for travel. The current sign-on bonus is 60,000 points, which is the standard bonus. However, I’ve seen the bonus offer go up to 80,000 and one time even 100,000 points!
With Chase, you can transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio to airline or hotel partners, including AerLingus, British Airways, Emirates, Flying Blue, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic, IHG, Marriott Bonvoy, and World of Hyatt.
However, my preferred way to use them is in the Chase Travel Center!
Why I Love the Chase Travel Center
In the Chase Travel Center, you can search flights or hotels and book them directly through Chase. There are several benefits to this – the first is that points redeemed through the Chase Travel Center are worth 25% more – so 60,000 points will actually get you $750 worth of flights/hotels/etc!
Second, I really like that if you don’t have enough points to cover the cost of your purchase, you can pay the balance in cash. This is exactly what we did for our Iceland trip. The cost of 2 flights was $985, but I only had enough points left to cover $815 of that cost. No worries – I just paid the remaining $170 in cash.
One other nice perk is spouses can transfer miles between their accounts for free. So, both partners could open their own credit card and each get the 60,000 point sign-on bonus, and then transfer miles into one account – which would bring the total value to $1500. This is a great flight hack because if you are traveling with a partner, it’s nice to book the two tickets on the same reservation.
When you book in the Chase Travel Center, you can use your Chase points to book travel AND earn miles from the airline for that flight. With Chase, you get flight hacks within flight hacks – it’s really just overall a great program.
Other perks of the Chase Sapphire Preferred:
- 5x points on travel booked through Chase
- 2X points on other travel purchases
- 5X points on Lyft purchases
- 1 point earned for all other dollars spent
- Free delivery fees on DoorDash
- $50 statement credit for hotel stays annually
- $60 back on a Peloton membership
- No foreign transaction fees
- Rental car insurance
- Trip cancellation insurance
- No blackout dates on travel
The annual fee is $95 and it is not waived the first year. However, I have heard that you may be able to get this annual fee waived if you apply in person at a Chase bank.
Capital One Venture
The Capital One Venture card currently offers a 60,000 point sign-on bonus when you spend $3000 in the first three months — worth $600 in rewards. The Venture card works differently than a lot of travel credit card bonuses in that you can apply your points to credit travel purchases made in the last 90 days. It’s essentially a type of cash back. This is great for flight hacks because it gives you ultimate flexibility in finding the best deals and the best itineraries.
For example, you can book any brand hotel in any city in any country on any date using any website, and use your Venture card to pay for it. After the purchase, you go into your account and use their “travel eraser” feature to apply points to that purchase, and that purchase then is “erased.”
This feature is particularly nice if you like staying in Airbnbs or VRBOs, because other points programs don’t cover home rentals.
Other perks include
- 2x points on all purchases
- 5X points on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
- $100 credit to apply to TSA Precheck or Global Entry
- No foreign transaction fees
- Transfer points to partner and hotel airlines, including: Air Canada, JetBlue, Emirates, Singapore and Wyndham. These points generally transfer at a rate of less than 1:1, so I think it’s only worth transferring if there’s a really great deal on the particular airline/hotel.
- Rental car insurance
Annual fee: $95
Capital One Venture One
This Capital One Venture One card is the little sister to the more powerful Capital One Venture card, but it can still be useful for flight hacks. You can earn 20,000 bonus miles after spending just $500 in the first three months. Those 20,000 points are worth $200 in Travel Eraser credit or in Capital One Travel center, or to be transferred to airline/hotel partners, exactly the same as the Venture card.
- 1.25X points for each dollar spent
- 5X points for hotel and rental cars purchases made through Capital One Travel
- No foreign transaction fees
- No annual fee
- Rental car insurance
The Citi Premier is another great card for flight hacks, and currently they are offering 60,000 Thank You points after spending $4000 in the first three months, which is their standard offer. The 60,000 points can be redeemed for $600 in travel costs.
Like Chase, Citi has a travel center where you can book travel using points. Unlike Chase, points are redeemed at 1:1 ratio, rather than Chase’s 1:1.25 ratio. However, the travel center is still a valuable tool because of the option to use a combination of points + cash if you don’t have quite enough points to cover your travel – a really useful perk!
- Earn 3X points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, flights, and hotels
- Earn 1X points on all other purchases
- $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more each year
- No foreign transaction fees
- Points transfer to partner airlines, including TrueBlue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
The Citi Premier card seems less popular with people for flight hacks than Chase and Capital One. I think it’s underrated because it is a valuable card and offers some really good benefits!
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express
I have a love/hate relationship with the Delta Skymiles Gold card. I love it because it was the first travel credit card I ever got, and I really like flying Delta. I also want to curse them because rules currently state that you can only get one sign-on bonus per card PER LIFETIME. Sigh. It didn’t use to be like this – I got the sign-on bonus several times before they changed the rules. Such a bummer.
Moving on! Since you can only get the bonus once, I wouldn’t sign up unless the current sign-on bonus offer is at least 60-70,000 miles. At the time of writing, the offer is at 70,000 miles, which is a good sdign on bonus for Delta!
While oftentimes it is a better deal to book a flight using Chase/Citi/Venture cards, there are sometimes good deals with Delta Skymiles. When I’m looking at flights, I always check the Delta Skymiles cost and compare it to the cost to pay in cash (or credit card points). I really only want to use Skymiles when the points deal is good (e.g. I don’t ever want to pay 90,000 SkyMiles for a flight to Paris. You can get way better flight deals elsewhere).
Additionally, I just really enjoy flying on Delta, so I do think it’s worth nabbing this one when the sign-on bonus is between 60k-70k miles. I wouldn’t sign up at 40k miles, I would wait for a bigger offer to come around.
- No foreign transaction fees
- Free checked bag when flying on Delta
- $100 flight credit after spending $10,000 in a calendar year
- Rental car insurance
- $0 annual fee for the first year, then $99 annually
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless
This of course is a hotel hack instead of flight hacks. It’s the only hotel branded credit card I’ve used thus far, but it’s gotten us several hotel stays and saved us many hundreds of dollars.
There are several Marriott Bonvoy cards, two from American Express, and two from Chase. The card we have is actually not still in circulation, but the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card by Chase is very similar. This card currently offers 100,000 points after you spend $3000 in the first three months. There is a $95 annual fee on this card.
- 3X points on up to $6,000 in combined purchases at gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores
- 17X points on all Marriott purchases
- 2X points on all other purchases
- Free night award on your account anniversary
- No foreign transaction fees
- Baggage and trip delay reimbursement, and other trip protection perks
Whether you can apply for this (or other) Marriott-branded cards can be a little complex if you’ve ever had a Marriott-branded card before. This chart makes it easy to see if you are eligible for the card and sign-on bonus.
Additionally, when applying for the credit card, Chase will give you a pop-up telling you if you qualify for the sign-on bonus before a hard credit inquiry is done.
Common Travel Credit Card Perks:
Using credit cards for flights hacks also give some extra perks. Many of them I’ve mentioned above, but these few bear repeating:
- Some credit cards will cover the cost of Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
- Usually, travel credit cards will offer rental car insurance. They usually only cover debt/theft and collision (not third party liability), a few countries and luxury cars are not covered, and you have to use that credit card to pay for the rental and then decline the insurance offered by the rental company.
- Using this saved us hundreds of dollars in Costa Rica, where renters are required by law to purchase liability, debt/theft, and collision insurance. Our credit card covered two of those three and saved us a ton of money.
- No foreign transaction fees (a hot tip: when traveling internationally, always have them ring you up in the local currency – you get the best exchange rate that way)
Churning Credit Cards
I try to have a solid credit card churning strategy, which means I open and close credit card accounts regularly to maximize the sign-on bonus. Once I’ve opened a card, earned the sign-on bonus, and used all my accrued points on a trip, I usually cancel the card at the year mark to avoid paying another annual fee.
A few years later, I will sign up for that same card again and get the sign-on bonus again. Each card has restrictions to how many times you can do this.
One quick note about this: If you like a credit card and want to keep it OR if you didn’t actually get to use your points before the annual fee renews (if you cancel your card, your points go away, so use them all up before cancelling), you can always try calling the card’s customer service line and asking them to waive the renewal fee. I’ve had about 70% success doing this. Usually I say something along the lines of “I really like this card, but the annual fee is a little high for me to keep paying,” and often they will waive the fee for you.
For the six cards I’ve discussed, here are the rules for how often you can get a sign-on bonus for the same card. Remember, though, that this counts just for you personally – your partner or spouse can get their own card and sign-on bonus completely separate from you.
Chase Sapphire Preferred:
You cannot get the sign-on bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred if you currently have a Sapphire card (the Preferred or the Reserve) or if you have had a Chase Sapphire sign-on bonus from either card within the previous 48 months.
Chase has a 5/24 rule – which means that you can only be approved for a Chase card if you have opened less than 5 cards (from any brand) in the last 24 months. So, if you are going to start doing some serious travel hacking, definitely open the Chase cards first.
Capital One Venture and Venture One:
On the website, it says, “Existing or previous Accountholders may not be eligible for this one-time bonus.”
Now, the wording here is vague, and I wouldn’t close an account and then turn around and open a new one immediately. However, I recently opened a Capital One Venture card for the second time. I closed my first card 2-3 years ago. Before I applied for the card, I called and asked a customer service agent if I could get the sign-on bonus a second time, and he replied, “oh, yes” in a very casual way, as in “oh of course you can.” And sure enough, I’ve received the sign-on bonus this time around.
My takeaway from this is that while you can’t guarantee you’ll get the sign-on bonus a second time, if you wait a couple years in between closing a card and applying for it again, you will likely be okay to get it.
American Express Gold Delta Skymiles:
One sign-on bonus per card per lifetime! I would only get get this card when the sign-on bonus is big – at least 60-70,000 miles. However, there are three different Delta cards you can get the bonus for: Gold, Platinum, and Reserve.
Sign-on bonuses are not available if you have received a bonus for the Preferred, the Premier, or the Prestige card in the previous 24 months. They are also not available if you have closed any of these cards in the previous 24 months.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless:
Depends on the card – consult the graph on this page. Alternatively, you can try applying for the card – Chase or Amex will let you know if you qualify for the Marriott sign-on bonus before initiating a hard inquiry.
How Many Cards to Open?
I manage the amount of credit cards I am opening and closing based on what my projected travel plans will be. If I know there’s no way I’m going to travel that year, I won’t open any new ones (e.g. I definitely did not open any new cards after March in 2020, or years when we have had a brand new baby and knew we didn’t want to travel in the near future).
But, when we have trip(s) planned, I will open 2-4 cards in a single year, opening cards every 3-4 months – essentially as soon as I can get the sign-on bonus. Note though, when I say I open two cards, sometimes that means 1 Chase Sapphire for me, and one Chase Sapphire for Matthew, not two cards for both of us.
Remember, if you are in a couple, you can both open a separate account and get the bonus, and if you’re married, you can sometimes transfer miles between accounts for free.
Does Using Flight Hacks Kill My Credit Score?
One worry I often hear is that if you are opening and closing cards frequently, will that kill your credit score? Opening or closing a card can have a hit on your account. HOWEVER, in the past several years of churning cards, both Matthew and my credit score has only gone up, and currently both our scores are at 800.
When I open/close an account, I usually do see a temporary dip in my score, usually less than 10 points. Within a month or two, my score has bounced back.
Debt-to-credit ratio is a big part of your credit score. Because of that, I wouldn’t close a whole bunch of cards at the same time, because then your credit limit drops dramatically and your debt-to-credit ratio will take a big hit.
Length of credit is important, too. We have a couple credit cards that we got when we started college, with no annual fee, that I don’t plan to ever close because that helps establish our credit history with how long we’ve had accounts open.
And of course, I always pay off my credit card completely every month.
So essentially, if you have some credit history established, pay your credit card on time, keep a good debt-to-credit ratio, and don’t close a bunch of accounts right at the same time, your credit score should be fine, and will likely improve!
A Few More Things to Note:
How much you plan to travel in the next year will dictate how many credit cards you open and close. Currently I am planning trips every couple of months, so I have a lot of opportunities to use points and thus either Matthew or I will open a new card every 3-4 months or so. Essentially, we are opening a card, putting all our spending on that card to get the sign-on bonus, and then when we’ve reached the sign-on requirement, we will soon move onto the next card for the next bonus.
Using this method requires you to plan ahead. It takes 7-10 business days to receive a credit card after applying for it, and then another 3-ish months to accumulate enough spending to get your sign-on bonuses. Only at that point can you purchase flights, hotels, etc (the exception to this would be the Venture card, where you can apply your points retroactively).
I like to have a couple points options ready to go at least 4 months before a trip – this way, I have more time to wait for a cheap flight deal to come up, and when it does, I have points ready to go so I can purchase immediately. Which brings me to my last point…
Part 3: Merging Cheap Flights and Credit Card Points
Merging cheap flights and credit card points is where the best flight hacks happens!
While using points is always going to save you money, your points go so much farther when you combine a search for cheap flights with usage of credit card points. When I am using points and redeeming them in a card’s travel center (such as Chase or Citi), I’ll still search with Google flights or get tips from deals websites to find the exact itinerary that I want. Then, I can go in and find that specific flight on the card’s travel center and book with points!
This is also why it pays to plan ahead and have the points early so you have time to apply the strategies for lowering flight costs.
This combination is hands-down my favorite travel hacking strategy – the combination of cheap flights and credit card points. I don’t always get to maximize both strategies on every single trip, but I almost always use one and I try to use both as often as possible.
And combining these really makes a difference. An average cost international flight will completely use up a single cards’ points, plus some. But, if you apply the flight hacking strategies, too, it’s likely you can get two flights and some hotels covered by that same amount of points.
Final Thoughts on Flight Hacking
If you’ve never dipped your toes in the waters of cheap flights and credit card churning, this may be overwhelming. You can do this! There are lots of great point offers, flight hacks to be had, and places to see! And with a little planning ahead there is a great chance you can get free or stupid-cheap flights and hotels for that trip you’ve been dreaming of.
If you’re not sure where to start, familiarize yourself with the Google Flights Explore page, sign-up for the free version of Scott’s Cheap Flights, and get one credit card – I would do either the Chase Sapphire, or whichever one currently has the biggest sign-on bonus.