Travel hacking is nothing new, but the way it’s being done today is vastly different than it was a few years ago. Sure, we’re still using rewards cards to get the free travel, but the difference now is manufactured spending. I recently teamed up with Bryce over at 10xTravel.com to learn a bit more about travel hacking and to start building my rewards points.
It’s hard to believe this is even a possibility, but it works very well and there is a massive community around travel hacking. Whenever I tell someone I travel hack, they automatically assume I “hack” airline websites for free travel…. Seriously? If that was the case, why on earth would I admit that? Aside from base assumptions people have about travel hacking, it’s a mindset that opens doors and allows you to see the world for what it really is. This whole thing is a game. Once you understand the rules and the variables, you can beat it with enough effort.
Bryce talks a lot about the myths of travel hacking and credit cards, but let’s get one thing straight here and now; Your credit score will NOT go down as a result of having many credit cards! As long as you a responsible and think of these cards as a utility, you will be fine. If however, you are not financially responsible, you may want to avoid travel hacking all together.
Signing Up For Your Card
I chose to sign up for Barclay’s World Elite card. Within 10 minutes I was approved (thank you good credit!) and was well on my way to reaching free travel. Barclay’s card offers 40,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 within your first 90 days. The reason why I suggest you sign up for this card is because its rewards are not airline specific. As long as your points are from a travel related merchant, you’re good. You can use these points for an Airbnb stay, cruises, hotels and of course flights. A lot of versatility with this card and an easy entry point as your first travel hacking card.
It’s ultimately up to you which card you go with so do some research!
Head over to Bryce’s Suggestions and search for the card you want to use.
Pretty simple right?
Setting Up Your Manufactured Spending System
For some of you, including myself, spending $1,000 a month simply isn’t an option. I’m currently a full time student so my budget is fairly tight at the moment. So if actually spending that kind of money isn’t an option, how do we get the bonus points? We use something called Manufactured Spending or MS. Basically, MS is “spending” money on your travel hacking card and then putting that money back on that card to pay it off.
There are some fees involved so it’s important for you to know there is no such thing as 100% MS as of now. Maybe the future will be brighter. Even still, I ended up paying $45 to gain almost $500 in free travel. Worth it? Hell yea!
Here is how it works in a nutshell:
You buy a gift card at either Walmart (I used Walmart) or CVS and load $500 on to it. I did two at a time or $1,000 per transaction. Even though I loaded my gift card from my new credit card, it still looks like a grocery transaction so it counts towards reaching your minimum spend for the bonus. Now I have $1,000 I need to put back onto my credit card to pay it off. This is where the magic comes in! I signed up with Serve.com which is like a small online bank account supported by American Express. They will send you a debit card that you can reload at places like Walmart.
Typically in the same trip to Walmart, I’ll purchase $1,000 worth of gift cards or $500 GC x2 and then take it over to their money center to load them to my Serve account. Now I have the money liquidated and transferable. Through my online account, I simply bill pay that money back to my Barclays account and pay off the difference from the GC fee (typically $4.94 per card).
It seems complicated so let me sum it up for you: Buy $500 gift cards at Walmart, load them to your Serve account, again at Walmart. Bill pay that money from your Serve to your Barclays account to pay off the card. Continue until you reach minimum spend.
*There are maximums with Serve loads and how much you can buy in gift cards per day/month. Do yourself a massive favor and read Bryce’s post on how to effectively do this!
Scaling Up For Maximum Benefit
This is travel hacking at its fundamental level. Hell, this is the exact method used on a major scale to gain a million miles and travel the world for free. So where do you go from here? At this point you’ve already gained a minimum of $400 worth of free travel. All you need to do now is pick another great card and repeat the process until you reach your desired amount of points.
This whole system can be completed within a few weeks. Literally every single month you could repeat this system and gain massive points over the course of a year.
It’s important for me to mention that MS spending changes quickly at times. NEVER carry gift cards longer than a day or two. I liquidate them to Serve immediately after I purchase them because you never know when something can change. The one thing I can guarantee is that things will change given enough time and you don’t want to be left with $1,000 worth of gift cards you can’t send back to your credit card. Luckily Bryce is up to date and out with a new method within a week. Either way, do what I suggest and liquidate quickly!