There was once a time when I wasn’t even a little bit travel-savvy. This year, when I decided I wanted to travel full time, I started researching how to travel cheaply.
It turns out, there are things I’ve been doing daily for the last 5 years that could have been earning me thousands and thousands of airlines miles and hotel points. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this, and missed out on those opportunities.
So, here are five things that I would recommend to anyone who’d like to travel the world. Even if you don’t have a round-the-world trip planned, taking these steps is enough to get you a free vacation next year, or the year after. Worth it!
1. Find & apply for a credit card(s) that gives you massive travel rewards.
Le sigh. I wasted five years with a credit card that earned me such a low mileage rate, it took me five years to earn a free flight. The card also had a super low sign-up bonus, lack of bonus categories, and high foreign transaction fees. I wish I had known better when I chose my first card!
I’ve since switched to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card…and I’m having a love affair with it. I’ve earned 75,000 miles just since January, thanks to this beautiful card.
I recommend seeking a card with the following characteristics:
- High sign-up bonus. Many cards give a certain number of miles (30K-50K usually) for charging a specified dollar amount after signing up. I used my card to charge my every-day expenses for three months to earn a 40K bonus.
- Yearly fee. I used to avoid cards that required a yearly fee like the plague. Turns out they usually offer better mileage & cash back earning rates, higher sign-up bonuses, plus other benefits like trip protection, rental car insurance coverage, purchase protection, etc. My CSP card is free the first year, but $97 yearly after that. It has already paid for itself for the first 5 years, due to the $500 in free flights I’ve wrangled with my miles.
- Bonus points in spending categories you use often. I get 2x the miles on dining and travel charges (flights, hotels, bridge tolls, taxis, Uber, etc.) These are two of the categories I use most – yay!
- Cards with multiple reward redemption options. With my CSP card, I can redeem miles for flights with multiple airlines/alliances, hotel rooms with multiple hotel alliances, or cash back. I’m a big fan of cards that let you spread the love like this.
- No foreign transactions fees. They add up quickly when you’re on a trip abroad!
There are multiple cards on the market that offer some or all of these benefits, so take some time and do some research to find one that works for you and your spending habits.
If you’re interested in signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can learn more about it here [affiliate link]. They’re currently offering 50,000 bonus points to new cardholders if you spend $4,000 in your first three months of having the card.
2. Sign up for a mileage loyalty program.
I could have earned thousands of airline miles had I signed up for a mileage loyalty program when I traveled to London and Melbourne last year. Unfortunately, I thought loyalty programs were for people who travel constantly, like business travelers. I wasn’t planning to travel full time (yet), so I thought I wouldn’t travel enough to get any value out of it. Not so!
Mileage loyalty programs are free to join, and are full of benefits. Even if you only fly once or twice a year right now, that’s still points in your account to save for a future trip.
Take a look at your current travel habits and think about your future travel plans. Which airlines make the most sense to sign up for? Choose an airline(s) that you will have the opportunity to earn miles on as often as possible, as well as one that serves your dream travel destinations. Keep in mind that most airlines are members of airline alliances, which allow you to earn points from flying sister airlines, giving you even more options.
Every mileage loyalty program has a long list of ways to earn and redeem your miles. You may find that you can earn airline miles when you stay at certain hotel chains, or rent cars from allied rental companies.
3. Sign up for programs to earn miles on your online shopping and restaurant visits.
Be sure to read that long list of all of the ways a mileage loyalty program lets you earn miles. Many let you earn miles on things that have nothing to do with travel!
For example, I’m a United MileagePlus member. By linking my credit card to MileagePlus Dining, every time I swipe my card at a participating restaurant, I get miles for my meal (5 pts for every dollar spent). While this doesn’t seem like a lot, if you find a favorite restaurant that participates in the program, you can rack up points quickly.
I’m also a member of MileagePlus Shopping. When I shop online, I go through the MileagePlus Shopping portal and receive a given number of miles per dollar for my purchase.
4. Sign up for a survey service and begin completing surveys.
Many mileage loyalty programs allow you to earn miles by responding to online surveys. One of the most popular services for this is e-Rewards. Through e-Rewards, you can earn miles and transfer them to a ton of different airlines, including Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Virgin, United, Southwest, and more. You can also transfer them to a ton of hotel loyalty programs to earn free nights.
Be sure to sign up for this through your chosen mileage loyalty program online portal. Some loyalty programs offer bonus points for signing up through their link, so you’ll miss out on these if you sign up independently.
5. Apply for and/or renew your passport.
Even if you don’t have a trip planned in the foreseeable future, it’s always a great idea to have a valid passport. I decided with two weeks to spare last year that I could afford to go to Europe, and booked my trip. Without a valid passport, it wouldn’t have been possible. While you can rush order a passport, it usually takes three weeks at a minimum, and you’ll pay extra fees.
Also, it’s a good idea to renew your passport if it will expire less than one year from today. You can’t obtain a visa to visit another country if your passport expires within the visa limit.
Are you doing anything to prep for future travels? Let me know in the comments below!
*A note about affiliate links: This post contains affiliate links. Affiliate commissions help me keep the blog running and keep traveling, to share awesome content from all over. I will never share an affiliate link to a brand, product or service that I do not stand behind.