Travel hacking is a term originally coined by Chris Guillebeau, author of the book the $100 Startup. Chris and his friend Stephanie Zito used to run a membership website called the Travel Hacking Cartel where members would get notified of the latest travel hacking strategies. As of December 2019, the Travel Hacking Cartel has shut down but their message have a lasting effect. And that is, you can travel to many places in the world for a fraction of the cost if you just utilize “travel hacking” strategies.
All is not sunshine and rainbows; however, as travel hacking comes with its drawbacks which we will cover in this article.
VIDEO – 7 Hard Truths of Travel Hacking
1 – You get burned sometimes
Back in the Summer of 2020, AMEX had a round of credit card shut downs. I was one of those individuals that had all their AMEX credit cards shut down. To make matters worst, I still had a balance on some of those cards since their payment was not yet due. As a result, my credit score took a massive dip. To this day, I don’t know why I got shut down. But I have gotten some of the AMEX cards before and was probably labelled as a credit card churner.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been burned my AMEX. In the past, I was not awarded a welcome bonus points from the AMEX Gold and AMEX Marriott Bonvoy and still had to eat the $150 annual fee.
2 – Lifestyle creep is real
Before I learned about travel hacking, my method of saving money on travel is to fly on budget airlines and to stay in motels. I had no problem with this travel method and neither did my girlfriend.
Back in late 2014, a friend of mine taught me how travel hacking works. Since then, my world has been changed. In my first travel hacking experience, I got a chance to fly round trip to Florida for around $140. I also got a chance to go on a 5-day Caribbean Cruise for just $270 taxes included. And, it was my first time staying in a Marriott property for free courtesy of using my Marriott category 5 e-certificate.
Since that moment, I now have gotten a chance to fly on business class and have countless room upgrades thanks to having Marriott platinum status. The drawback? I’ve also been willing to pay $100-$200 per night on hotels to qualify for Marriott elite status. As you can see, when your lifestyle improves, so does your willingness to pay hard earned money to maintain that lifestyle.
3 – It takes time and effort
The concept of travel hacking is relatively simple. You apply for credit cards that offer big sign-up bonuses. Then, you funnel your annual expenses in the right credit card to hit the minimum spend requirements. With all your points earned, you redeem them to fly to your dream travel destinations.
And while the concept is simple, in practice, it does take time and effort. If you’re only dealing with one credit card per year, then it’s not a problem at all. But, when you start applying for 8+ credit card per year, the effort required to hit the minimum spend requirement on each of those credit cards starts to add up. And if you factor in manufactured spending which adds another layer to travel hacking, then it’s like having a part-time job trying to manage all these variables.
4 – You’re still spending money
When you utilize travel hacking strategies, you are still spending money. Yes, you did save money on flights and some money on hotels. But, you still have to pay for some of your accommodations. As well, you need to pay for doing touristy related things. And, don’t forget the other big expenses which are food and ground transportations (such as taxis).
If you never travelled to begin with then you also wouldn’t have spent all those money on travel related expenses.
In the 2020 pandemic, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much money I saved up by not travelling during the entire year.
5 – Requires good organization and memory
When applying for several credit cards, you need to be very organized and have a good memory. You may forget that your annual fee is due. And if that happens, you’ll get charged for another year which doesn’t typically provide you with any extra benefits.
Some people forget to pay their credit card bill. Sadly, this is more people than you think. This is why many credit card companies are okay with people travel hacking in the first place. They know that those people gaming the system will tell their friends about it. And many of their friends are going to be terrible at managing their credit cards and end up paying tons of money on interest and annual fees.
One of my sisters happen to be the kind of person that habitually carries a balance on her credit card and ends up paying massive amount of interest on a monthly basis.
6 – Some people think it’s unethical
I’ve had co-workers asking me how I’m able to go on such amazing adventures all over the world. When I tell them about credit card churning, they start giving me a funny look. Some of them starts finger wagging telling me I am messing up my credit score and won’t be able to get a mortgage in the future.
Sadly, travel hacking is something that a lot of people will never understand. They think the banks have their best interest and that constantly applying for credit cards will negatively affect their credit score.
To make matters worst, I’ve had a co-worker try lecturing me that the only way to travel is to save up money for flights and pay for it at face value. You can’t make this shit up.
7 – It never ends
To be perfectly honest, I hate travel hacking. Yes, I am good at it but at the end of the day, it’s a means to an end. My passion is travel and my mission is to visit all 193 UN recognized countries in the world. Flying to many countries is expensive. And, unless I utilize these creative means of saving money on travel, my mission to visit all the countries is likely not going to happen.
At the same time, travel hacking is also very time consuming and tedious. I hate it. From calling banks to driving all over the place, it can get old after awhile.
Collecting points and miles is a great way to save money on travel. In fact, if you love travelling, this is the single best way to turn your dreams into reality. Seriously, I feel like I am teleporting sometimes being able to fly to so many countries easily.
Just keep in mind that there are drawbacks should you decide to get involved in travel hacking. But in my opinion, the benefits greatly outweighs the annoyances.