There are a number of ways to get discounts and free travel nowadays. If you are willing to consider a few options, you could be well on your way to a fantastic trip somewhere around the world sooner than you thought!
No matter who you fly with, make sure to sign up for their mileage rewards program. Membership is usually free to join and you can collect miles or points whenever you travel or spend with any of their travel partners (including rental car companies, retail stores, restaurants, etc.). These points can ultimately be used toward booking a free ticket on the airline.
There is a trend of airline mergers in recent years, including Southwest and AirTran airlines which are currently in the finalizing process. The surviving airline usually honors the addition of your miles from the other carrier. Delta merged all of my miles from Northwest to my Skymiles account during their acquisition. After United acquired Continental, I was able to use the combination of miles in my United mileage account towards a trip to Hawaii for free (excluding taxes).
Reward credit cards
Chase Sapphire, Citicard Thank You Rewards and Capital One are just a few of the popular reward credit cards out there. The major airlines each have their own reward cards as well. Some people regulate their spending by using cash only. Although it can be easier for spending to get out of hand with a credit card, it is also possible to budget with a credit card if used effectively. I tend to have a monthly spending budget and monitor my balance frequently online.
With Chase or Citicards, I get points for every dollar I spend and earn double (or 3x, 5x) depending on when and where I shop. Most of these cards offer hefty bonus points, some with upwards of $500 value, for the initial sign up along with a spending minimum within an allotted time frame. Chase Sapphire also provides a 20% discount if you redeem points for travel on their site. I have had the Chase card for less than two years and I have used it for numerous traveling discounts, including over half off airfare for a trip to Belize and $1000 off a trip to SE Asia. Some of these cards have an annual fee, usually waived the first year, or none at all. Depending on your annual spending, you will most likely more than make up for the fee with all of your travel rewards.
Similar to airlines, many hotels also offer reward cards and free membership to their loyalty programs. If you tend to travel often and stay at a lot of hotels, this may be a good option for you. Whether you have a card or not, make sure to sign up for any loyalty program for the hotel you stay in. It’s free and you might as well accumulate points during your stay. Most hotels are a part of a larger network where points can be used at a number of hotels within their chain, ex. Starwood points under the SPG network offer discounts at the Sheraton, Westin, W hotels, amongst others. You can also collect free nights on third-party websites like Orbitz and Hotels.com after booking a certain amount of hotel stays.
Don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard! If you encounter issues during your stay, most hotels will offer various forms of discounts for any inconveniences and bad experiences. You may be able to get more towards future visits if you talk to a manager or write in to the general manager. I have had issues in the past and didn’t say anything and therefore coming away with nothing. The last time I had an issue I decided to approach the manager(with a little nudging from my sis) and proceeded to write a detailed letter to upper management. The result? Two free all-inclusive nights for my next visit. This works for both hotels and airlines. The last time I had issues with my luggage not arriving with me, I turned that into a voucher.
As we all know, airlines are far from perfect. They are known to over book flights and cancel set itineraries last-minute. Generally, airlines are obligated to offer compensation under these circumstances. If you’re flexible, you should be willing to volunteer your seat to take a later flight. Usually you are booked on the next flight out on the same day and given a voucher towards your next flight. I have collected numerous vouchers for subsidized or free flights worth $300 and up.
How I saved big in 2014:
Over 50% off airfare to Belize (credit card points)
Free flight to Hawaii (airlines miles)
$300 credit towards airfare in contiguous US (airline voucher/flexible schedule)
Free night at a Bahamas resort (Hotels.com)
Washington DC to Bangkok, airfare for under $450 (credit card points)
2 free all-inclusive nights at Caribbean resort (hotel complaint)
Plus other discounts for car rentals and hotels.
I’m not the savvyist of travel hackers, so if I can do it, you certainly can too!