“Frequent flyer points?” A lot of people ask me the question with a tinge of doubt in their voices whenever I broach the subject. It’s not that they don’t believe in them, it’s just that they don’t see any real value in actively seeking out reward programs. “You can’t get the seat you want when you want it using reward points, so why bother?” is the common refrain I get at times. Well, I’m here to set the record straight by debunking 10 common travel hacking myths that stop many people from getting that holiday they so richly deserve
Myth #1: Earning Miles & Points takes too much time – what’s the point?
I’ll be the first one to admit it; travel hacking is a skill that takes time to perfect. But if you have the end game in mind – flying first class to your island resort in Bora Bora – this will keep you motivated enough to keep going. The secret is to think of miles and points as an investment, and your payoff as that magnificent holiday with a loved one. It also helps when you learn to make the miles and points system a part of your everyday life. Just don’t get too obsessive about it, and try to have fun while doing it!
Myth #2: I don’t fly enough to benefit from frequent-flyer programs.
It pays to sign up for frequent-flyer programs – believe me. Plus you have nothing to lose since it’s free. Here’s something you may not know: over 50% of frequent flyer miles are created using credit cards and shopping partners- and those who’ve caught on are making the most this Godsend. The key, though, is getting the right credit card to start earning those miles. Credit card fees vary, with some being free in the introductory year, while others incur an annual fee of anything between $120 and $699, so you should choose your card wisely. Lastly, it pays to use airline partners such as rental car companies, mobile phone service providers, and real estate agents to earn those precious points, and before you know it that holiday to the Maldives won’t be such a pipe dream after all.
Myth #3: Using Credit Cards to earn reward points is too risky.
It’s all about being financially responsible and settling your credit card debts on time and in full at the end of each month. Apart from this, it’s also worthwhile to take time and think about where you do most of your spending. A little online research should tell you which credit cards offer reward points for buying stuff at your favorite supermarket. Matching your banker accordingly is the final step that will see you reaping dividends from a shrewd credit card strategy. Just remember that credit card purchases should never become an end in themselves, otherwise you’ll find yourself spending out of pocket.
Myth #4: Too Many Credit Cards Hurts Your Credit Score.
At first glance, operating more than one credit cards may seem like risky behavior, but that’s because many people don’t understand what a credit report is and what it means to have a good credit score. A credit report is a “snapshot” of your credit history, and one of the main tools lenders use to measure your credit-worthiness. Your credit history is recorded in files maintained by at least one of Canada’s major credit-reporting agencies: Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada from whom you can obtain free credit score reports (ratehub.ca and creditkarma.ca respectively). Your credit score can range from 300 to 900 – you can see what each score means here. A high score shows that you’re less likely to default on payments. Short version of the story? Applying for multiple credit cards doesn’t hurt your credit score, provided you pay off your balance on time. I should know; I have an excellent credit score of 789 with TransUnion and 821 with Equifax. Being a hard-core travel hacker I’ve learnt to leverage credit cards and have never once defaulted in 15 years.
Myth #5: I am already too late to the game – points continue to lose value each day.
At first glance, it may appear as though airlines are looking for new ways to cut costs and the good old days when reward points were worth something are over. While this may be the case, the last thing airlines would want to do is lose loyal customers who purposely chose their services because of their mileage programs. If you doubt this, consider the fact that frequent flyer miles are estimated to bring in $12 billion a year in sales for U.S. airlines as a group. Reward points, therefore, remain very much a part of the airlines’ revenue generators, so you’re better off making reward points work for you.
Myth #6: Relying on frequent flyer miles is tacky.
That’s one way of looking at it – that doesn’t get you very far, especially when you think of all the holiday opportunities you could be missing out on because of a rigid mindset. You’re going to have to spend money at some point – there’s food to buy, shopping, gas and all kinds of things you need on a daily basis – why not get rewarded for it? There’s nothing cheap about that. If the opportunity to earn reward points is there, I say go get it! You’ll thank yourself later.
Myth #7: Signing up for credit cards just to get bonus points is bad for your credit.
I’ll be the first one to admit that credit card bonuses seem like a ploy to get you hooked into taking up credit you may not really need. But I hope I’ve already allayed your fears on credit card debt management. As a travel hacker, you will find that credit cards and bonuses are invaluable in your overall strategy of travelling around the world practically free. Take for example, the American Express Gold Rewards Card, often voted the #1 best & most flexible travel card; it comes with a sign-up bonus of 30,000 Membership Rewards Points, enough points to redeem in exchange for one round-trip flight to almost anywhere in North America – not too shabby, if you ask me. Some credit cards come with additional benefits that are so rewarding, that you will find it worthwhile to continue using the card after the first year. The American express gold rewards card, is another example that offers medical and travel insurance which is priceless while you’re on the move.
Myth #8: There’s no point in redeeming miles if it isn’t for business or first-class seats.
This may have been true at one time, but it certainly isn’t anymore. Economy class seats have become so expensive that you can now actually get good value for money redeeming frequent flyer points travelling economy, especially during peak season when airline tickets cost an arm and a leg. This works well especially when you book last minute, which coincidentally is the same time when airlines make frequent flyer seats available.
Myth #9: Travel hacking is some form of cheating.
Travel hacking may be viewed by some as a way of beating the system and, therefore, as a form of cheating. But like I explained in myth #1, it takes a lot of time, dogged determination and a level of nuance to know when and where to strike if you want to benefit from the rewards points gold rush. So, yes, it’s true that travel hackers take advantage of the perks miles and points present, but there’s nothing shameful or illegal about it. In fact, I’d say it’s a skill set you acquire by going through a pretty steep learning curve, and one that you should wear like a badge of honor, whenever you get the opportunity.
Myth #10: One frequent-flyer program is the same as another.
Not true. If it was, certain airlines wouldn’t penalize you with more costly flights simply because you’ve used their frequent flyer points on their airline partners. Any travel hacker who understands the game knows it pays to leverage flexible points programs. Companies like American Express, RBC Rewards and airlines like Virgin Australia (through their Velocity program), for example, allow you to transfer your points to a host of other programs like frequent flyer or hotel loyalty programs. That’s the way to go if you’re looking to transfer the points earned from your credit card to any one of the many reward programs that are available around the world.
Myth #11: I have to be rich and spend a lot to earn enough points.
Not true. Most of the best travel credit cards have a minimum spending requirement within a certain time frame before you’ll receive your welcome/sign-up bonus. For instance, if you sign-up for the American Express Gold Rewards Card, you’ll get 30,000 Membership Rewards points only if you charge $1,500 in purchases in the first three months of signing up. Charging $1500 in three months may sound like a lot but it breaks it down to about $500/month. So, it should be fairly easy to achieve if you charge all your expenses – groceries, gasoline, bills, shopping, dining, and so on – to the card.
Myth #12: You must book well in advance to get award seats.
No doubt booking early has its advantages as far as accessing frequent-flyer seats goes, but there are other better ways to do it. Booking late may not sound like much of a strategy for getting a frequent flyer seat, but surprise, surprise – it actually works. You see, airlines are forced to release seats for frequent flyer redemption rather than lose revenue on unoccupied seats. So when you book late, say within a week or fortnight of departure, your chances are as good as any of getting that coveted spot to your dream destination. The main idea is to go against the flow and use miles to travel via less popular routes, preferably during the low season.
Myth #13: Frequent flyer points expire before you can use them.
Not anymore. At least not for most loyalty programs. Many reward programs are changing with a view of keeping clients happier and more loyal, which means no more blackout dates or expired flyer points. Instead, airlines have come up with tiers to enable users redeem more miles for use in peak flights as opposed to blacking them out. So what you need to do as a savvy travel hacker is always be updated on the status of your programs and ensure your balances remain active by flying, lodging or shopping regularly. It also pays to keep track of your accounts which happens when you’ve been inactive for a while – usually a period of 2 years.
Start your travel hacking journey today
If you’re passionate about travel and leisure, travel hacking may just be the thing for you. It doesn’t take much to get started, just a go-getter mentality and a nose for a good deal.