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Pros and Cons of Hacking Credit Card Points to Travel (and how to do it)

Are you looking for cheap ways to travel? Or are you looking for ways to reduce your traveling budget by hundreds of dollars without compromising the destination, mode of transport, or hotel quality you stay in? If yes, you might want to consider hacking credit card points to travel, also called travel hacking.  

Many cards offer intro bonuses, rewards, and other perks that provide access to cheap ways to travel. For example, some cards allow you to redeem your points to purchase cheap or nearly-free flights. Others give you access to free transfers from the airport to hotels. In addition, others offer access to 5-star hotels at significantly discounted rates.

So how does travel hacking work? For starters, it has nothing to do with using computers to commit a crime. Over the years, people have associated the word ‘hacking’ with computer crime most of us balk at the idea of anything good coming out of it. However, travel hacking is a process that allows you to maximize the value you get from credit card points or rewards.

However, before you hack credit card points to travel, consider the pros and cons to make an informed decision.  

How to hack credit card points to travel

There are several ways to hack credit points to travel and using the right strategy can save you hundreds of dollars. However, it would be best to do it within the rules and regulations of the credit card company, airline, and hotel. Common strategies include:

  • Using multiple credit cards to maximize points, rewards, and perks: Many travel cards offer reward points when you spend on specific categories. Thus you can get different cards to maximize rewards on various spending. 

For example, if one card gives you points you can redeem for free miles, consider getting another that provides access to good hotels at discounted rates. This way, you can save on transport and accommodation when you travel.

  • Signing up for a new card to earn a big introductory bonus: Many travel cards offer huge introductory bonuses worth hundreds of dollars or tens of thousands of points. However, before signing up for a new card, assess your overall financial position and determine whether it makes sense to get a new card. Cards that offer significant intro bonuses tend to have equally substantial annual fees. So as much as they will help you save on travel expenses,  the costs can eat into whatever savings you make and more. 
  • Earning points wherever you can: You need points to travel hack, so accumulating them as quickly as possible is essential. Charge everything to your credit cards and see if there are additional ways to earn points, such as shopping through online portals or entering contests.

**Note: It’s easy to accumulate debt with this strategy if you are not careful. Thus, ensure you clear all your balances at the end of each month to avoid accruing interest and accumulating debt. It will be detrimental to your overall financial health in the long run.

  • Maximizing loyalty programs: The value of your points will vary depending on the redemption you’re making. The higher return you get, the better. Look closely at available loyalty programs you can sign up for that will give your points more value. 

Pros of travel hacking

  • Travel for less: The significant advantage of travel hacking is that it provides a cheap way to travel. It allows you to travel to your dream destinations while saving on travel expenses, including transportation and accommodation.
  • Allows you to travel more on a budget: Since points offset your most significant expenses, you can travel more often without increasing your budget.
  • Helps you maximize the benefits of your credit card: Many credit cards come with free perks such as lounge access, free checked bags, travel insurance, and more. If you don’t travel, you will never get to use them!
  • Requires minimal work: since you are hardly going out of your way to travel hack.

Cons of travel hacking

Managing debt- Free downloadable guide. A hand is pictured in money, visualing drowning in debt.
  • You could lose your account: There have been reports of banks shutting down user accounts for credit card hacks like manufactured spending or self-referrals. Other banks like Chase prohibit repeatedly opening or maintaining a credit card account for generating rewards or manufacturing spending to accumulate points. If you break the rules, your account may be frozen.
  • Disorganization can lead to penalties and unused benefits: You must be very organized to hack your credit points effectively. If you have many credit cards, it will be harder to keep track of payments. Missing payments may attract penalties and also significantly damage your credit score.

To avoid this, keep the number of open accounts manageable. Also, consider setting up automatic payments for each card.

  • High-interest rates and fees: High-reward cards tend to have higher annual interest rates and annual costs than non-reward cards.
  • Increased debt: Some people can easily get carried away in a frenzy to accumulate points and spend more money than usual. No deal is worth the trouble if it causes you to accrue large amounts of debt.

Who should try travel hacking?

Travel hacking may not be an ideal strategy for everyone. For example, if you have a history of not handling credit responsibly or struggling with credit card debt, you should not try it. However, you can try it if:

  • You have a history of using credit responsibly
  • You have an excellent credit score above 740 since the best credit cards for travel hacking require a higher credit score.
  • If you can meet the minimum spending  requirements with your everyday spending
  • You are not buying a home in the next 6 to 12 months or planning to refinance your student loans
  • You are ready to work. There is some work involved in tracking and finding awards to redeem. If you have zero patience, then this is not for you.

Does travel affect your credit score?

A graph showing the different factors that effect your credit score: Length of history 15.0%, Amounts owed 30.0%, New credit 10.0%, Credit max 10.0%, and Payment history 35.0%

Credit cards can affect your credit score in many ways, and travel hacking is no different. For example, when you apply for a credit card, the issuer runs a hard credit check. This check usually temporarily drops your FICO Score by five points or less. 

Opening multiple credit cards in a short span may indicate a sign of increased risk. Thus, it may have a compounding effect on your score. So if you feel compelled to open multiple credit cards to get the introductory bonuses, approach that with caution, as it may damage your credit score. 

However, your utilization rate may decrease when you open a new card. Utilization rate is the amount of credit you use versus your total limit available. This rate significantly impacts your score, which is why many people that travel hack will see an increase in their score. But only if they pay off their balances in time and never miss any payments.

Conclusion

Travel hacking is ideal for people who enjoy traveling and want to travel on a budget. However, to take advantage of this, you need to be well organized, have a good credit score and pay off your balance in full monthly to avoid paying interest. The miles and reward points only benefit you if you avoid carrying a balance and paying interest.

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