My Foray Into Travel Hacking: Using Credit Cards with Airline Miles for Free Flights, Part 2

A Case Study – Subject: Andy Kremer

Jet-setting around the world for pennies, getting free upgrades to first-class on long-haul flights, and staying at world-class hotels for nothing. These are the mission statements of the travel hackers. Since I’ve started travel hacking around 5 months ago, I’ve learned that these lofty goals don’t come easy – travel hacking takes work.

The Difficulty of Juggling Multiple Credit Cards to Get Signup Bonuses

I think I’ve hit a stumbling block with my foray into travel hacking. You see, in order to maximize your rewards, you need to apply to multiple credit cards at a time, put X amount of dollars on them within X months, and you’ll get a reward. Sounds great, right?

Well as you may or may not know, my day job keeps me awfully busy. I’m often on the run around the department, keeping track of multiple databases, spreadsheets, and project plans, and that’s just the ancillary responsibilities. What many people do for their day job is my behind the scenes work, i.e. it can really run me ragged sometimes.

Unfortunately for me – no matter how strong my desire is to travel the world, it can be hard to force myself to make spreadsheets and project plans for a hobby (travel hacking) outside of work when I’ve already spent so much time doing so at my day job.

Flying over Namibia

So instead of keeping track of everything like a good and responsible travel hacker, I winged it a bit.

Not hugely, but enough so that it was hard to keep track of how much I spent on each card. This made it impossible to know if I’d already hit a spending bonus and should move on to my next card or not. Also, it made it hard to make sure I had paid all of the balances on the different cards on time – and of course getting a late payment fee negates some of the bonus of travel hacking in the first place.

Reigning In the Craziness…

I’ve now taken to only putting money on one credit card at a time. This helps me from a recordkeeping / personal-sanity vantage point, but isn’t great for maximizing rewards. If you apply for multiple cards at a time, their check of your credit report won’t be noticed by the other card issuers. This really helps when it comes to keeping the hits on your credit report small. What this means for me is that my travel hacking tendencies have lowered my credit score more than it has for many other people.

The Current Standings After Six Months of Travel Hacking

Since I’ve started, I’ve opened up eight new credit cards, closed one, and joined six reward programs – a mix of both airline FF programs, hotel-point programs, and now Amtrak as well.

www.awardwallet.com has really been a blessing to me during all the craziness. I just ran out of my trial account, and decided to donate some money to them because of all the help it provided.

Unfortunately Delta has now blocked them from accessing their FF mileage program on your behalf (which is ridiculous), and American Airlines had done the same a while back. Now I have to check both of those programs PLUS my AwardWallet account to get the total. A little less convenient then before, but still very helpfull. Here’s a look at my current standings:

Date Credit Score # of CC opened Total # of CC # of CC closed Reward Miles/Points
04/01/12 754 0 2 1 71,057
05/01/12 755 2 3 0 79,023
06/05/12 742 3 5 0 143,836
07/02/12 735 2 7 0 Unknown
08/09/12 715 1 8 0 378,083
09/15/12 714 0 8 0 Unknown

 

Yeah, I know – I slacked off too much (read: shit got crazy with work and life) so I forgot to check my balances twice. However, I did record it in August, and you can see the huge improvement.

I’ve increased my miles / points by a little over 300,000 in just six months time. To me, this is a MASSIVE increase, even though I know some of the real experts out there have earned over 1,000,000 miles / points in a year, almost entirely from credit card bonuses and carefully spending their money online, with dining programs, and heightened reward categories.

What Caused the Drop in my Credit Score

As with my previous update, the biggest thing causing problems with my credit score was the short credit history I have. A significant new problem this time around was getting charged a late fee on one of my balances. This was due to having more credit cards opened up with balances (small balances, but balances nonetheless) than I could keep track of.

As you can see from the number of credit cards I’ve opened recently, I’ve pulled back greatly on how many I’m opening to try to get my ducks back in a row. However, it hasn’t been without its benefits:

We now have a combined total of over 173,000 AA miles – more than enough for a round-the-world ticket for one of us up to the maximum of 50,000 miles of travel. Believe-you-me, we’re going to put that to good use :)  We’re starting to put together a Round-the-World (RTW) trip for the fall of 2013, and those miles are going to come in very handy.

 

Stay tuned…

I’m going to keep updating everyone on my travel hacking progress. Every quarter I’ll put out a post just to keep you informed (obviously this one was a little late in coming, but hey, life happens ;) and let you know whether it’s working for me or not.

Have you ever tried travel hacking? Do you think it’s worth the hassle? Leave a comment and let us know.

Comments

  1. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up!
    I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back later. Many thanks

  2. Andy,
    Do any of the credit cards that you signed up for charge annual fees after the first year?
    If so, what are you going to do? If you cancel them, your score gets a hit. If you keep it, you’ll pay 50-100 bucks in fees every year which is counter productive.
    Are credit card companies always willing to waive the fee if you pretend to cancel your card?

    Thanks for your great blog!!
    Dan

    • Hey Dan, great question! And the answer, unfortunately, isn’t too straight forward. It kind of depends if it’s worth it to you to keep the card. Some of them give annual bonuses that make it a pure dollars-and-sense decision – for example, if you have a hotel card that charges $79/year, but gives a free night stay up to a certain level of room annually. As long as that room is worth more than $79 (and they always are) then it makes sense to keep it. If you don’t get something like that, and they won’t waive the fee, then it depends. For example, is it an American Airlines credit card? Do you fly them enough, with enough loyalty, to make it worthwhile (ie to hit elite levels that get you more points/dollar)? If not, ditch it.

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