Seriously. Join the rewards program.
I get asked all. the. time. how I am able to travel so much. I think that’s adorable because (1) I don’t think I travel *that* much, and (2) what I do is what anyone can do. It’s called travel hacking, which is essentially using teh rules of entities (like airlines and hotels) to rack up as many points as one can by being a frequent and/or valued customers. This is done by joining their rewards program.
If you want to travel a ton for a great value, the best bet is to work the reward system, and commit. This commitment doesn’t have to be forever, but remember that points seem to compound, so the more you earn the more you really earn. Being that I travel a ton for work, I have had the opportunity to hack the system a bit, and I can say with certainty that these programs do indeed pay. Even as I write this, I received an email from IHG rewards that had a new offer where I would get up to 50,000 bonus points if I stayed 20 nights between April 1 and May 17. Depending on your choice, that 50,000 points is like one or two nights. For free. I won’t be staying 20 nights, but the way this offer is structured, I should still be able to earn 10,000 t0 20,000 points, which is still a nice chunk.
I like IHG hotels, for example. They have so many properties across all levels–from budget friendly Holiday Inn Express to the lovely and luxurious Kimpton Hotels. I fully committed to IHG for business and pleasure travel, and the points added up FAST. Even if it means a few nights in not the finest hotels (I’ve stayed in a few IHG properties that were so not the lap of luxury…more like the crotch), it is worth it when I get that luxury downtown hotel room for free.
The same is true for travel. Again, it might take some planning, but it is worth it. As you know, I’m a train traveler. No, it’s not glamorous, but it is the easiest way for me to see my favorite cities on the same trip without driving. With a little strategy, Chicago, DC, Savannah, and NYC are all along the way. The trip I am leaving on today was completely free because of points. I have a roomette the entire length of the trip, and it was all comped via points. This was part previous travel, part use of the Amtrak MasterCard. I’ve had similar luck with my Delta SkyMiles AmEx for when I fly. I know, I know…prevalent opinions about debt make it foolish to have cards open just for the points, but if you are one (like me) who will use it, get the points, and pay it off, it’s worth it.
This works for meals, too. If you want to travel cheaply, earn rewards before you go. I have a ragging McDonald’s breakfast addiction, so that’s my go-to when I am on the road for photography. Even if I feel like something different, I stick to my usual egg and cheese biscuit and large iced coffee because I know the points add up. This means that come travel time, I have banked enough points where my morning meal is covered. No, I don’t eat MacDon’s every morning, but when I do, it’s one less travel expense. Same with Starbucks; a little reward goes a long way in stretching your vacation funds. Rewards from these national brands, when sprinkled amongst visits to local restaurants make for not only a balanced meal, but a balanced travel budget.
I am planning a trip to Europe next, and as it stands, I shouldn’t have to pay one cent for a hotel room. No hostels for this wanderer, because I will have played the point game with enough strategy. If you want to explore without the expense, I suggest you give it a whirl, too.
Kayla Lee is a Minnesota-based wedding and elopement photographer. She provides services to elegant, authentic, sentimental couples who not only choose their own adventures, but also live them to the fullest! See more about the KLP Wedding Experience!