10 Embarrassing Mistakes You Want to Avoid as a Travel Hacker

Travel hacking is fun; however, if you’re not careful you can encounter glitches that can turn your happy ending into a small nightmare. To ensure your travel hacking experiences remain memorable for the right reasons, I’ve compiled a list of 10 goofs you should avoid when dealing with flights, miles, and points. Let’s start, shall we?

#1: Signing up for the wrong credit card 

Apart from the bonus points, most people sign up for a credit card because it complements their spending habits. So it can be pretty disappointing to learn that the card you’ve applied for doesn’t offer the rewards you were expecting. This usually happens when the cards have similar titles. Take the example of the American Express AeroplanPlus Platinum Card vs American Express Platinum Card. The AeroplanPlus Card has an annual fee of $499, 41,000 welcome Bonus Aeroplan miles, while the latter costs $699 per year, and a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points. Clearly, selecting the wrong card here can have serious ramifications on your budget, so it’s always good to take your time verifying the card you’re applying for to avoid any nasty surprises.

#2: Getting a bad seat 

Whenever you book your ticket make a point of booking your seat as well – that’s a basic travelling hack. Otherwise, you can find yourself consigned to a back row seat with no incline, or an exit row seat with hardly any leg room. The only fly in the ointment here is you have to pay extra – so my walk around this problem is to check-in online as soon as you can (24 hours before flight) and pick your seat. Bingo! Using sites like Google Flights helps you know if the seat you’ve selected is any good before you book a flight, while SeatGuru goes a step further to show you the aircraft type and arrangement, as well as any in-flight amenities.

#3: Travelling with a damaged or expiring passport 

“Border authorities may allow or refuse entry or exit for any reason, including the condition of a passport. An airline may also prevent a passenger from boarding a plane based on the condition of a passport.” This is the advice given by the Canadian immigration department on their website; sadly, not everyone follows it. Grant Smith, a Canadian citizen from Kelowna, B.C. is such an example; he was stopped from travelling because of a slightly torn passport. To make matters worse, he was informed by the passport office that he’d have to reapply for a new passport because his current one couldn’t be renewed. It took the intervention of his local MP to resolve the problem. Not checking your passport’s expiry date is another common mistake many folks make. To avoid inconveniences and potential embarrassment that come with this faux pas it’s always good to ensure your current passport is valid before booking a flight. Note that some countries require your passport to be valid for at least six months before arriving there.

#4: Missing a flight due to time changes

It’s not uncommon to find you’ve lost track of time on arrival in a foreign country. That’s why I always make a point of checking the airport clock and listening to their announcements regarding time zones, to keep me updated, rather than relying on my smartphone to check the time. I also review my ticket to make sure I’ve got my departure time spot on. The last thing anyone needs is unexpected charges for rescheduling a flight when the whole idea is to travel for free or next to nothing!

#5: Assuming your flight will have Wi-Fi

Although most flights come with internet access (for a fee) it’s always good to be sure before booking to avoid disappointments – like not being able to access your email during the flight. Sites like SeatGuruHipmunk, and even Google Flights can help you find out if your flight has this facility. Carriers like Virgin America have Wi-Fi on all their flights, at a cost of anywhere between $4.95 to $49.00 depending on whether you use your mobile phone or computer. Air Canada, on the other hand, offers Wi-Fi on select flights within North America at around the same price as Virgin. Although every travel hacker’s goal is to avoid any unnecessary expenses, I’d say it’s well worth your while to go out of pocket if it means getting some last minute work done during your flight.

#6: Letting your miles and points expire

There’s no bigger shame than letting your miles and points expire. When it happens to a travel hacker, it becomes something of a small catastrophe – just think of all the effort spent accumulating points gone to waste! So what should you do if you find yourself in a situation where your points/miles are about to expire? Renewing them can cost an arm and a leg – I know some other airlines charge as much as 3 cents per mile – more than the cost of buying miles outright. Your best option may be to donate some miles or ask someone to donate their miles to you, as a way of keeping your frequent flyer account active. 

#7: Having excess baggage

This is a pretty common mistake – finding out you’ve surpassed your hand or checked luggage limit at the airport. The fact that some airlines charge as much as $50 for every extra kilo in excess baggage, should spur you to take action before you find yourself on the receiving end of such punitive charges. I usually check online the luggage limit prescribed by my airline and weigh my luggage at home while packing. Needless to say, this has helped me save on airfare, and I’d encourage any budding travel hacker to use this trick.

#8: Misunderstanding a flight/gate change announcement

A good number of airlines operate multiple flights within the same route, sometimes with the same departure time. Iberia airlines, for example, flies 11 flights between Madrid and Barcelona (one of the busiest routes in Europe) on the same day. In such a situation, you can easily get flights mixed up, especially during peak travel times. Throw in a change in the departure time or gate, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for chaos at the airport terminal. The best thing to do is know your flight number and confirm it to avoid misunderstandings which can cost you big.

#9: Not booking enough time between connections

Usually, this is not a big problem in situations where you’re connecting flights within the same carrier, say, from one American Airlines flight to another; the airline will usually intervene to help you connect. It’s when the connecting ticket is for a different carrier, that you can run into trouble. Should you find you don’t have enough time to catch the connecting flight, the best course of action is to either tell the flight attendants so they can help you exit the plane first or notify your connecting airline early so they can start the re-booking process.

#10: Arrival destination mix-ups 

Airport mix-ups usually happen when you book a ticket to a destination you’re not too familiar with. A city like Birmingham in Alabama can be confused with Birmingham England, or Panama City, Florida vs Panama City in Panama. If it can happen to an Olympic delegation (the group of corporate sponsors was flown to the North Korean capital Pyongyang instead of the South Korean city of PyeongChang), it can happen to you. The remedy is to take a moment to confirm you have the correct arrival destination on your ticket when booking. It also pays to understand the different airport codes.