How to Be a Travel Hacker: Review of Travel Miles 101

Travel hacking, using credit card bonuses to pay for travel costs, can save you substantial money without requiring any sacrifice. In fact, becoming a travel hacker can allow you to save money while improving your quality of life.

Travel hacking, however, is a skill with a steep learning curve. There are many different airlines and hotel chains. Each has its own unique rewards system and redemption policies. Then there are travel rewards cards from various credit card companies. Some cards partner with specific airlines or hotels. Other cards offer rewards in the card company’s own unique point or mile system.

Confused yet? With all the options and rules of redemption, it can be difficult to become an effective travel hacker or even know where to get started.

Screen shot 2016-04-26 at 8.09.25 PMTravel Miles 101 is a free online course that aims to eliminate much of the learning curve associated with travel hacking. It claims to offer value to brand new and experienced travel hackers alike. This two week course is divided into 15 lessons sent once daily via e-mail. It also offers ongoing support with a private forum and Facebook group available to anyone who completes the course.

I’ve taken the course and this review is based on my experience with the program.

Two Different Strategies

Alexi Zemsky and Brad Barrett developed the Travel Miles 101 course as a hybrid of their two very different approaches to travel hacking.

Zemsky is a practicing cardiologist, husband, and father. His wife is from Japan, and he values being able to take their family there, as well as taking other trips. His unique needs require accumulating substantial travel rewards to cover the costs of long-distance travel. He, therefore, takes extreme measures such as applying for up to eight credit cards at a time and using “manufactured spending” to accrue massive amounts of rewards. This approach is great for those who have the need or desire for more rewards or who need to accumulate large rewards quickly.

Barrett is a CPA, husband, and father. He explains that he values simplicity in life. As such, his approach to travel hacking focuses on allocating all normal spending to credit cards. This approach requires efficiency to be effective without a large volume of rewards accumulated.

Zemsky and Barrett point out that everyone needs to develop a system to fit their own unique needs, and that most people will favor one approach or the other. However, there is much to be learned from both options.

Do No Harm

Zemsky and Barrett make it very clear in the first lesson that travel hacking is primarily about using numerous credit cards to earn the large sign-up bonuses. While they aim to make travel hacking a skill anyone can learn, they do a great job of making clear that it’s not something that everyone should try.

Many people are simply not good with managing credit cards. They acknowledge that when playing with fire, you can get burned. Aside from that, the best credit cards for travel hacking are the premium cards requiring a credit score of at least 700. Therefore if you aren’t good with credit, you’ll have little access to the tools that offer success.

Tool Tip: Don’t know your credit score? Get free access to your score at Credit Sesame.

Mastering The Basics

DSCN2757As someone new to travel hacking, I found tremendous value in their detailed explanations of the main principles that allow you to become successful with travel hacking.  One great example was in the fourth lesson. There the course explains the three different types of credit cards and how each fits into a coherent travel hacking strategy.

Some cards offer a fixed value, such as 100 points being worth one dollar. These cards have limited upside but great flexibility. Other cards are co-branded with specific hotel chains or airlines. They offer much higher potential value but very limited flexibility. The third type is transferable points cards. They allow you to accumulate points that can then be transferred to numerous airline or hotel partners or can simply be used for cash rewards. They can provide great flexibility and value.

Simply knowing the different types of cards and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each allowed me to begin to develop a sensible strategy based on our travel plans.

DSCN0287Travel Miles 101 also does a great job of covering other basics such as how to organize your accounts and how to avoid missing out on bonuses by not meeting the spending minimums. They also point out which hotel chains and airlines are more friendly to the use of reward points and miles than others, allowing you to direct your efforts in the most efficient manner. This allows you to pick the low-hanging fruit before worrying about advanced strategies.

The course provides idea lists of which cards to focus on when starting out, depending on your needs. For example, a person with a family of four who wants to take one domestic trip per year will have far different needs than a retired couple that desires frequent world travel. They give different card recommendations such as “Universal,” “Domestic,” and “Flexible” plans to help you get started choosing the right cards for your needs.

The course also does a great job of simplifying the complexities of the travel rewards world into easy bite-size lessons. They explain the airline alliances and how they tie together. For example, the One World Alliance includes American Airlines and British Airways. Therefore you can accumulate British Airways miles for use on domestic flights on American Airlines.

The authors also explain which partners are available with the different transferable points cards. For example, Chase Ulitimate Rewards can be used for Southwest Airlines, British Airways, or United Airlines miles as well as Hyatt or Marriot hotels, among other partners. This information greatly helps build a bank of rewards with flexibility, which is key to success with travel hacking.

Show and Tell

Screen shot 2016-04-26 at 8.29.55 PMThe other big strength of the Travel Miles 101 course is that it doesn’t just tell you what cards, airlines, and hotel chains are most effective for travel hacking. They actually walk you through how to do it with detailed video tutorials for many of the top cards, airlines. and hotel chains.

The videos can be tedious at times when watching them in succession as they’re presented in the course. However, I am certain that they’ll be a great resource to refer back to when the time comes to actually cash in rewards and book travel.

Beyond Basics

Screen shot 2016-04-26 at 8.35.10 PMAt several points, the course goes above and beyond “101” level suggested in its title. This was a strong point in some respects. One example was the occasional description of “Sweet Spots.”

The course shows how to get extra value by knowing little quirks in different rewards systems that would take hours of tedious study to figure out on your own. At other points, the course goes a bit deep into the weeds and feels a bit more like a Ph.D. level course than beginner level. The best example of this was the multiple lessons on manufactured spending that included complicated schematics that I found difficult to understand and described techniques that at times seemed to push legal and ethical boundaries.

Final Thoughts

I recently wrote about my initial experiment into the world of travel hacking. That experience taught me that travel hacking can offer a tremendous reward for little effort. However, as with most skills, it requires some upfront effort to develop the knowledge to do it effectively.

Travel Hacking 101 is an amazing resource that can get you up to speed very quickly. In fact, I felt comfortable applying for my first card to start accumulating my rewards before I even completed the entire course. I’m confident that having taken the course will not only save me substantial travel costs but will also save countless mistakes and considerable effort and time that it would have taken to learn to become an effective travel hacker on my own.

The considerable upside of gaining this knowledge comes with minimal risk because the course is offered at no cost. The course developers are reimbursed only if you elect to sign up for cards using their affiliate links. This keeps them vested in providing ongoing value to users of the course to keep them coming back to their site.

I found the Travel Hacking 101 course to be a very efficient way to learn how to become better at using credit card reward programs to travel for free or at steep discounts. I would highly recommend Travel Hacking 101 to anyone looking to save more money or improve their lifestyle through travel hacking.

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Topics: Credit Cards

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