Notes From a Novice Travel Hacker

disappointing lego dave ramseyNow that the Great American Road Trip is behind us, my first legitimate attempt at travel hacking is in the books. Since the travel in question was a road trip, I focused my travel hacking efforts on hotel rooms.

All told we needed to account for 14 nights of hotel stays. For the nights that weren’t covered under my formal travel hacking attempts, I used the travel hacking Jr. tip, which I outlined in the Great American Road Trip – The Preparation post.

Unfortunately I didn’t keep track of the savings I received using the travel hacking Jr. However, I’d estimate between $100-$200 savings using this trick. We’ll split the difference and call it $150. Not too shabby for a few quick google searches.

The remainder of the travel hacking resulted in $800 worth of savings and 5 free nights of hotel stays. Below I outline exactly how I achieved this:

Find out how I saved $800 and got 5 free hotel nights! #TravelHacking Click To Tweet

Travel Hacking with Hotels.com

The first free night came courtesy of Hotels.com. They have a “punch card” promotion on their site that allows you to get a free hotel night if you book 10 hotels free through them.

At first I was suspicious and assumed they likely charged a higher fee for the room through their site. However, after some comparative research I discovered this wasn’t the case. The price on hotels.com was comparable to other websites.

In some instances they were a few dollars more expensive than the hotel’s website, but in other cases they were actually a few dollars cheaper. (The one exception was booking our Vegas hotels. I was able to use the travel hacking Jr. trick to save an extra $20-$30 per night by booking through the hotels website.)

Before our trip began I had already earned 3 nights through this promotion from a previous hotel stays. Booking 7 more throughout this trip got us to the 10 we needed and that meant a free night.

The nights don’t get credited to your Hotels.com account until after you complete you stay, so we ended up using our free night on the last night of the trip. This may not have been the most economical choice, but it’s how it worked out.

Total savings $150 (1 free night).

Travel Credit Card

Opening up the credit card turned out to be the big money saver. I found the best card for me using the Mad Fientist’s handy Travel Cards system. I ended up selecting the IHG Rewards Club credit card. It came with a generous amount of bonus points and a free night at one of their hotels every year. (Okay, if you count the $50 annual fee, it is technically not a free night. But $50 for the hotel room of my choice seems like a small price to pay.)

Looking for a #TravelHacking credit card? Use the @madfientist credit card system like I did!… Click To Tweet

I won’t get too much into the minutia of how the points worked, but my sign up bonus and spend requirement landed me about 66k points. I was then able to turn these points into 4 free nights at a Holiday Inn hotel.

It was a lot easier than I expected it to be. It just took me one phone call to connect my new credit card to my rewards points’ number and that was it. My points showed up in my account within a couple of weeks and booking the hotels using the points couldn’t have been easier.

I would outline exactly how I did it, but it was so intuitive and easy it isn’t necessary. The only hiccup I came across was a couple of the hotels I wanted to book were sold out of “rewards points rooms”. I think this could have been averted had a planned ahead more than 2 months. Ultimately it wasn’t a big deal as I was able to use the points for a hotel in a different city.

Total savings $650 (4 free nights).

Credit Score

As an added bonus, I noticed that once my new credit card was added to my credit report and my credit score shot up. Despite having an excellent credit rating in just about every category, my credit score has always been artificially low.

This is because up until recently I hadn’t owned a credit card for over a decade. This gave me a ‘below average’ rating in the ‘available credit’ category of my credit report. However, when I opened my travel hacking credit card, this all changed and my credit score shot up 75 points.

I’ve never been overly concerned with my credit score and will likely never make a decision simply to increase it. However, getting this 75 point bump was a nice added bonus to my travel hacking experiment.

Final Thoughts

I think it is fair to say my first foray into travel hacking was a success. Although I have to admit I probably wasn’t as efficient as I could have been. In my zeal to get a free night, I didn’t do the due diligence to find the best possible nights to utilize.

For example: I took a free night in Salt Lake City, and paid for a night in New Orleans. Since New Orleans is the more expensive city, this oversight ended up costing about $100.

Had I been more efficient I would saved over $1000 and squeezed out 6 free nights and maybe even a discounted 7th night. However, I’m still thrilled with my savings and intend to seek similar travel hacking success for future trips.

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate  links. I will earn a little money if you sign up through the link. This will not cost you any additional money. 

12 Comments

  1. $800 in savings is great MSF! While maybe you could have saved more, you might not have saved much at all a year ago right? And now you know more for your next adventure. I’m still baby stepping it myself, so much to learn! Thanks for sharing your notes.

    Do you have an airline card yet or still waiting to decide on that?

    1. Thanks Amy! Absolutely, I gained $800 and a wealth of information and confidence for future travel hacking.

      No Airline credit card yet. I’ll likely cancel my current card to give me a chance to earn the sign up bonus again in 2 years. So once I cancel it, an Airline card will be next on my list. Any recommendations?

  2. Good job MSF! Always shocked by the incredible opportunities American credit cards provide, unfortunately in our parts of the world they are not too open-handed.

    1. Thanks Peter! Yes, we are very fortunate at the multitude of opportunities, including credit card reward points that America has to offer. I’ll likely never get rich off of rewards miles, but it’s nice to take advantage of the savings they offer!

  3. Nice! It all adds up, and now you’ve got a knack for it for next time : ) I sort-of did the same with Hostelworld.com – look up the available hostels and then google to find if the lowest price is direct or through the website. And jeepers! No credit card for over a decade! That’s impressive!

  4. Congrats on taking the first steps down the rabbit hole of travel hacking. I feel like Team Waffles is pretty good at it already, but there is always more to learn in order to spend less. I feel like it has now become a fun game to try and hack our way to savings when we travel. BTW, Mr.Wow has been diligently working towards 1 million travel rewards points #FIgoals. Keep up the good work MSF!

Leave a Reply