Would saving $868 be considered a travel hack?

I bought four Aer Lingus open jaw tickets from New York City to Lisbon and from Amsterdam to New York for just $543 each, three months before the travel date. Delta, my preferred airline, had the lowest price at $760. Because of the over $200 difference, I chose Aer Lingus over Delta. If I were to book with Delta, the only plusses would have been the Delta miles, TSA-pre-check at JFK Airport in New York and a direct flight from Amsterdam to New York.

Last month, I flew to Prague and returned from Zurich using my Delta miles accumulated from daily credit card spending and bonus miles I received when signing up for the Delta credit card.

With the miles I had accumulated, I had the option to either receive a free economy ticket (although I’d have to pay $68 in transaction fees) or to buy an economy class ticket then use my miles to get an upgrade. I opted for the free economy ticket, which cost $798 at the time of booking. Imagine paying just $68 for an airline ticket to Europe.

What is a travel hack?

This is how Chris Guillebeau, an expert in travel hacking, described it:

There are other strategies and tactics, but the cornerstone of travel hacking is to maintain multiple accounts of Frequent Flyer miles and points. As your balances build up over time, you’ll be able to redeem the miles and points for valuable rewards all over the world.

If you’re wondering how Chris Guillebeau, Trippy members, and other travel experts can travel around the world with free tickets or hotels, get upgrades, purchase cheaper tickets, and eat in amazing places at a fraction of the cost check out these 20 practical travel hacks you can use immediately:

1. Learn about frequent flyer miles from Chris Guillebeau

Trippy member Michele C. from Oregon used what she learned from Chris Guillebeau to get free tickets to France, Jamaica, Japan, and Vietnam. This is what she wrote:

I learned all about “travel hacking” with frequent flyer miles through this Frequent Flyer Master Guide. So my #1 tip would be to start there. It’s like Travel Hacking 101 and would answer all of the questions you’re asking. The author is in his 30’s and has already been to every country in the world. I got his guide a little over a year ago, and my husband and I have already booked 3 pairs of international tickets completely on miles – we went to France last summer, Jamaica in December, and will be traveling to Japan and Vietnam this Spring.

2. Using frequent flyer programs

There are many ways to accumulate frequent flyer miles. While writing this article, I checked and found I have 120,000 airline miles, enough miles to exchange for a free round trip ticket to London and a round trip ticket to Athens.

Trippy member Jake Vanags from Los Angeles is seriously taking full advantage of the frequent flyer programs for his tickets. He wrote:

I haven’t paid full airfare for a flight in over 3 years, while saving over $40,000+ for myself and $30,000+ for others by hustling the miles and points game. I’ve also been able to fly business and first class for just the price of taxes and fees.

This last year alone I flew to 31 destinations around the world. The retail cost would have been $22,000+, but I only paid $497 out-of-pocket.

It’s way too much to explain here, but you can sign up for free training (or the full training package) over at our website. So that I’m not biased, you can also check out blogs like Million Mile Secrets or MileValue who will give you the same information, but broken up and scattered into tons of different blog posts. Either way, if you want to travel hack, any of these places are a good place to start!

3. Subscribe and follow the frequent flyer experts

Teresa Vitkova from Prague suggested:

Subscribe to, and follow on social media, The Flight Deal (and any number of blogs like The Points Guy and Million Mile Secrets).

4. Join the Points Guy on Facebook

Breanna Wilson pointed readers to:

Another thing that I do is I follow The Points Guy on Facebook. They give some pretty great updates on fare deals – that’s how I learned about $99 flights to Rejkavik a few weeks ago and the $32 NYC to LAX flights last week! If you’re like me and you check Facebook enough you’ll get the alerts before they run out.
Hope that helps! Happy travels!

5. Sign up for multiple credit cards for miles and hotel stays

Experts like The Points Guy and Chris Guillebeau are the go to guys for expert advice on what credit cards to sign up for now. I would go to their sites to see the latest offerings.

Jacey and Scott Mahaffy shared:

We also sign up for credit cards when it makes sense. For example, we are heading to Alaska next summer. If you sign up for a card, you get enough points for a one-way flight + a $100 companion fare. So we each signed up (then are flying for free to Sitka), and we have a cheap fare home for one of us. Most airlines and hotels have multiple credit cards, so you can compare what is the best value for what your travel plans are.

The cards also provide some perks…the Fairmont card got us 2 free nights for signing up, please an upgraded room and access to their executive lounge. We had breakfast for free every morning and cocktails in the evening. We cancel the cards after we don’t need them anymore.

Rio de Janeiro

6. Find the cheapest air tickets in the least amount of time using ITA Matrix

Ever felt overwhelmed after going through pages of airfares and airline combination codes?

Many Trippy users including myself use the ITA Matrix. Trippy member Jake Vanags said:

Use the ITA Matrix to find the cheapest fare at any point in time with highly customizable search filters.

7. Buy one-way tickets leaving the US, then buy return tickets at your destination

Here’s how Rakesh Agrawal from Houston scores big:

One that I used a lot: If you fly to the same place a lot (in my case, it was from the United States to India) and round trip tickets from one city vs. the other city are less expensive, this is a good one.

I would start by buying a one-way ticket from Houston to New Delhi and then I would buy round trips from New Delhi to Houston… I might have 4-5 months between the New Delhi to Houston’s leg and the “return” segment (Houston to New Delhi). The “return” segment of that ticket would be the beginning of my next trip. Eventually, when I didn’t have the next trip on the horizon, I would just buy a one-way ticket from New Delhi to Houston.

8. Use Adioso

Jacey and Scott Mahaffy suggested adioso.com for finding flexible search dates and places. They wrote:

It allows you very flexible search dates and places (i.e., Europe or France) and will tell you cheapest dates and cities to fly into. It’s a great place to start!

9. Use your frequent flyer points wisely

Trippy members Jacey and Scott Mahaffy offer great tips on this:

I travel a lot for work. I’m very specific about using my points for the things that are the most expensive, that save us the most. I never use miles unless I can book for the least amount of points possible-this usually means that we book 11 months in advance, the day the airline issues the tickets for the first time. We also book outbound first and then return…this way you don’t have to wait the week or two in order to book your return (i.e., if you are travelling for 2 weeks, the outbound tickets will have been available for 2 weeks before you book your return). There is no penalty for booking one way reservations.

Most hotels use less points the more nights you stay, so we try to not use points unless staying for multiple nights to being the points per night down.

I wouldn’t trade my airline points for a ticket that costs only $329 but requires 45,000 points. Nor would I use points for a $599 ticket that requires 60,000 points with transaction fees of $120.

10. Sign up for Travelzoo and EasyJet’s emails

I’ve been getting Travelzoo’s emails since I signed up back in 1998 at the prompting of my brother-in-law. He said, “sign up and get three Travelzoo shares for free”, and so I did. I’ve been receiving their email for over 19 years now and had gotten quite a few good deals.

Trippy member Breanna Wilson also uses Travelzoo. She said:

Also, sign up for Travelzoo.com’s email list. That’s what I do, and they send some pretty great deals over every week – if only I could act on them all!

EasyJet, a European low-cost airline sends out their special deals once a week via emails. These are tours originating from the UK. Look at the screenshot:

Screenshot from EasyJet

11. Set up fare alerts

Trippy member Jake Vanags recommended setting up fare alerts with Airfarewatchdog.com. I had great results with Airfarewatchdog.com for flights to Bridgetown (Barbados), and Bangkok, Thailand.

12. Be flexible with your travel dates

Breanna Wilson wrote:

If you’re able to be flexible with your travel dates, try these places:

The Hipmunk app (and website) has great last-minute deals. Just open the app and scroll down to see their best flight deals. Right now on my app I see everything from $81 round-trip flights to Vegas from LAX (an always expensive hub) to $839 round-trip flights to Beijing from LAX.

13. Learn from the locals

While in New Zealand, my Kiwi friends introduced me to Grabaseat, New Zealand’s low fare finder website. Our one-way ticket from Auckland to San Francisco was only NZ$690 per seat. You must be flexible with your travel dates when using Grabaseat.

Here is a screenshot of the offers from Grabaseat at the time of writing this article:

Screenshot from Grabaseat

A round trip ticket from Auckland to Rarotonga, Cook Islands was NZ$370 for departure on June 3, 2017, and returning on June 16. One way from Auckland to Los Angeles was NZ$427.

14. Delete cookies after every search

Trippy member Teresa Vitkova from Prague wrote:

Don’t forget to delete cookies after every search. Travel sites often track your visits and will raise the price simply because you’ve visited before…

I tested deleting cookies for two different flights, however, the websites still showed the same price after three weeks of testing. Maybe the cookie deleting method works for you; let us know if you do see a price difference.

Skyscanner, a global travel search site, published an article refuting the idea that browser cookies can increase flight prices. Under a heading titled “Will clearing my cookies help me find a cheaper flight?” the company wrote:

No. Skyscanner is unbiased and, as mentioned above, the flight prices we display are based on what travel providers (online travel agencies and airlines) tell us they are.

15. Check one bag or bring just a carry-on to avoid baggage fees

Lauri Petersen from Florida said:

We usually check one bag and bring the right size carry one, but they always look for volunteers to check carry-on luggage due to full flights and we almost always “volunteer” ours and we don’t have to worry about it, and it’s a checked bag for free ·

16. Use credit cards that offer first checked bags free

Trippy member Todd Lyon agrees:

Consider opening a credit card with the airline if you haven’t already to get at least the first bag checked free. Check out what the current point offers though to maximize the benefit.

My Delta credit card offers the first checked bag for free.

17. Airline consolidators

Before the days of Travelocity, Expedia and the thousands of travel sites available today, there were the airline consolidators. What exactly are the airline consolidators? Here’s a summarized definition from an article by Airfarewatchdog.com, titled “All About Consolidator Airfares”:

  • A consolidator will have a contract to sell private fares at a lower price than the published fare.
  • They sell these tickets through travel agent including online agency such as Travelocity and Expedia, or brick and mortar agencies or those who advertised through newspapers.
  • The agent get these tickets at wholesale price and adds their markup

You may find some of these agents selling tickets at a very low markup, passing the discount to consumers like you and me. Occasionally I buy one-way air tickets to Asia for my mother from an agent that sells consolidator’s tickets. They are usually around $50 to $80 cheaper than the online travel sites.

18. Last minute deals

Jake said:

I have not found much clarity here, but booking 8 weeks out seems to be a good time. Waiting for last second deals is a possibility if you’re flexible. Flying on Tue, Wed and Sat tend to be cheaper.

19. Follow local recommendations for better and more affordable places to eat

According to Jaleh Najafali:

I like listening to podcasts and reading blogs before I go to a new location when trying to find must-see things, restaurants, etc. because they tend to be more honest/reliable than anything that pops up on Yelp or TripAdvisor. If I’m staying in a small hostel, I tend to ask the person running it because they often give affordable, accurate suggestions, whereas a big hostel or hotel tends to give more generic, forgettable answers.

20. Best fares on Tuesdays?

Most travelers seem to agree that Tuesday is the best day to book a flight. Trippy members Monica Ventura and Elliott Lowen think Tuesday is the best day to buy tickets. Monica wrote:

It depends on the type of trip. But for booking flights, Tuesday’s usually have the best fares.

Elliott wrote:

The most common day for airlines to launch fare sales is Tuesday, and the most popular time is between noon and 3 pm.

“What are your favorite tips and tricks for getting the biggest bang for your airfare buck?” That was a question Emily Brennan asked Trippy users. Do you have a similar question? Become a Trippy member and ask the travel community.

Photos and article by Claudia Looi

Mentioned in this post
  1. New York City
    City in New York

    New York New York
  2. Lisbon
    City in Portugal

    Lisbon Portugal
  3. Amsterdam
    City in Netherlands

    Amsterdam Netherlands
  4. Prague
    City in Czech Republic

    Prague Czech Republic
  5. Zurich
    City in Switzerland

    Zurich Switzerland
  6. France

  7. Japan

  8. Vietnam

  9. Bridgetown (Barbados)
    City in Barbados

    Bridgetown (Barbados) Barbados
  10. Bangkok
    City in Thailand

    Bangkok Thailand
  11. New Zealand

    New Zealand
  12. Auckland
    City in New Zealand

    Auckland New Zealand
  13. Rarotonga
    City in Cook Islands

    Rarotonga Cook Islands
  14. Los Angeles
    City in California

    Los Angeles California