They say on a large, international flight – maybe only one passenger in first class is paying full fare. The rest are on award tickets, big corporate discounts, or upgraded from regular seats because of their frequent flyer status.
I had first-class flights as an executive perk for many years at MegaCorp, but rarely had myself actually ticketed that way when I traveled. I was platinum level and getting upgrades already, so why put such a dent in the department travel budget? MegaCorp even had a program where I could get money back from them by using my personal miles to book business travel.
Flash forward and now that I am an ordinary leisure traveler, I decided to try my hand at travel hacking as a way to build up enough points to start getting free flights and upgrades again. We fly about 3-4x a year for personal travel and I fly another 4-6x for board work. That’s enough only to get me to Silver status on Delta – which isn’t really worth any meaningful benefits these days.
Beyond just looking for bargains and being flexible on dates, I started reading about the best ways to play the credit card offers and have seen some terrific results without too much effort. I learned that most of the points that people collected from airline card travel hacking comes simply from the sign-up bonuses.
You can rack up 60K-80K miles by just signing up and only have to commit to spending a few thousand dollars a month on the card for the first few months. That’s not usually a problem for me as I tend to put everything on a card already for convenience sake (unless they charge you a fee). Then, you can pretty easily quit the card and sign up for another one. (I have no idea what this means for my credit score – but we don’t really need credit anyway).
I first signed up for the AmEx Delta Gold Card and got a 65K sign up. I racked up about 20K more miles on it through my spending and bonuses and then quit. Next, about 4 months later, I got a Chase Sapphire Card with an 80K bonus. I also earned about 30K miles on that one through our spending (over about 5 months) and then I stopped using that one.
By that time AmEx had sent me a new application for another Delta Gold Card with another 75K sign up. I went to their website to accept the offer, but it wouldn’t let me in. I figured that since I had one of their cards early in the year, I was ruled ineligible for another big bonus – but to my surprise, a quick phone call to them got me a new account. We’ve since put 25K on that card.
That’s three cards in a year and it has added up to almost 300K miles earned. That’s enough to easily claim two Delta seats to a far-flung location like Sydney, Australia – where my wife has always wanted to go. Those tickets cost about $1700 today.
The time I have invested in this travel hacking initiative has been very minimal. I could probably had rotated through another card or two if I was really trying to maximize the time I spent on each card before signing up for the next one. When I was working, I didn’t think I had time to manage this. I got my flight miles, but I couldn’t book my trips on my personal card. Everything went on the MegaCorp corporate card instead. What used to be a good year for miles earned – 75K for Platinum Status – I can now get with a single credit card sign up.
On our trip to Miami / Caribbean Cruise last week, I got free flights for me, my wife & son by cashing some of our Chase Sapphire points on their website. They don’t transfer your points directly to the airline – you have to book it through them, which was easy. I also used some more of their miles to pay for two nights hotel in Miami.
Even though I haven’t officially cancelled the Chase Sapphire account, they have already sent me another offer with a 80K Mile sign-up bonus for a business account (I have a separate LLC for the small amount of consulting I do). Perhaps one part of Chase doesn’t realize what the other part is doing, or they’ve noticed (through the credit bureaus) that I’m giving my love to AmEx again? Either way, I’m ready to start on year two of this travel hacking project.
If I get my wife involved, by the end of the year, we’ll have enough points to buy those two tickets to Australia in business class – with the fancy capsule seats that you can sleep easily in on the long overnight flight! Or, perhaps they’ll be onto us soon and cut off the stream of giant sign-up bonuses? We’ll see.
Whats in your wallet? What travel hacking tactics are working well for you?
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