Free Travel: A Goal for 2013

I generally enjoy travel, but it can be rather expensive. After taking a Skillshare class on “travel hacks”, I’ve been able to accrue many reward points and learned how to use them more effectively. As such, I think it would be fun to see if I can do all my travel this year free of charge. I’ll use a few techniques:

  1. Eliminate lodging costs whenever possible. I’ve had fairly good luck with this last year, by staying with friends when visiting places where I know someone (a great way to catch up as well), or piggy-backing on others’ vacations where accommodations are already paid for. I’m very fortunate in this regard as my parents travel frequently and typically rent a suite to have a kitchen, and these almost always have a second bedroom or at least a pull-out couch. If you aren’t in this situation, something like couchsurfing.org or caretaker.org can provide free accommodation.
  2. Maximize credit card / reward points. There have been multiple credit card offers recently that, as a sign-up bonus, each give around $500 towards airfare, on any airline and flight you choose with no blackout dates. They don’t typically have any annual fees the first year and don’t require paying a cent of interest. They get you with the annual renewal fees, so just set a calendar reminder to cancel. While it may sound too good to be true, I’ve done a bunch of these over the past few years, and the game really works, without even hurting your credit. After signing up for two of these recently, I’ve now got about $1,000 banked, which will cover 2-4 round-trip flights. Airline credit cards can also be a great deal; I just booked a free round-trip flight to Key West using 25K Delta miles received as a sign-up bonus on their Skymiles card. As an extra bonus, you also get free checked bags, priority boarding, upgrades, and more. Finally, many of these points can be redeemed for cheaper modes of transit like Amtrak. For the 40,000 points from a Chase Sapphire, you could make 5 round-trips within the Northeast region, instead of 1-2 round-trip flights. Or you could cash it all in for a coast-to-coast sleeping train and see many parts of the country, as they allow you to get off, stay for a few hours (or days), and get back on the next train.
  3. Tack on vacation to business travel. If you ever go to conferences, meetings, or otherwise, that are paid by your company or client, book your flight to return a week or two later than usual. If it is the same price, I’ve never had anyone mind; often it can actually be cheaper as you can come back on a non-peak day of your choosing. Use credit card points or any technique in #1 to avoid lodging costs.

If you have any cheap travel techniques, please do share them!

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