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Travel hacking is very enticing, but there are a number of travel hacking mistakes you have to avoid to be successful in the points space.
It is difficult to be a successful travel hacker if you make these common mistakes. They absolutely kill any chance you have of maximizing your travel rewards and travelling for free.
But worry not!
I’ve got your covered. I’m spilling the top beginner travel hacking mistakes I see people make all the time.
As long as you steer clear of these mistakes, you are far more likely to be a successful travel hacker.
Travel hacking isn’t as easy as people on the internet (me included) make it out to be.
You need to know what you’re doing, and it takes patience and practice before you really get the hang of the game.
Avoiding these beginner travel hacking mistakes is the first step in your education.
There is much more to learn beyond these travel hacking mistakes, and you need to continue to educate yourself and continue to learn about travel hacking.
It is true when people say you’re never truly done learning!
Digital nomad jobs for beginners
1. Not Having a Plan
This is without a doubt the biggest travel hacking mistake beginners make.
Nearly every beginner makes this mistake, and it is understandable. You get caught up in the hype of the idea of travel hacking and jump in without sitting down to come up with a plan.
I know it is tempting, but please resist the urge and don’t do this!
Having a plan around what you want to do with your travel rewards is essential.
You can’t just jump into the deep end with no plan on how to get out!
Before you apply for your first travel credit card, write down your answers to the following questions:
- Where do I want to travel with my points?
- When do I want to travel?
- Am I travelling alone or with friends/family?
- What class of service do I want to travel in?
- How many points do I need?
- How much money can I budget to meet minimum spends?
Every single question on this list is important. Don’t skip any of them!
Once you have an idea of what you want to redeem your travel points for, you can start researching credit cards and decide what is the best combination of cards for your dream trip.
If you don’t have a plan, you have no idea what you want to do with your points, and you’re just collecting points aimlessly. This makes it much more likely that you won’t have the right points when you go to book your trip, and you will have to pay out-of-pocket.
It is okay if you don’t have a firm travel plan yet.
Just knowing the destination, the class of service, and how many people are travelling is enough to get started.
2. Forgetting About Bonus Categories
Bonus categories are one of the quickest ways to earn a lot of points. Nearly every travel credit card has categories where you earn extra points when you buy products that fall into that category.
For example, the American Express Cobalt card gives you 5x the points on grocery, restaurant, and food delivery services.
Not taking advantage of these bonus categories is one of the most detrimental beginner travel hacking mistakes you can make!
It is easy to get bonus points when you only have one credit card. You use it for everything, so you get bonus points where you are eligible without even thinking about it.
The issue comes in when you hold multiple different credit cards.
As most travel hackers do!
You need to remember which credit cards have bonus points in what categories and use each credit card where it is most beneficial.
You wouldn’t want to use your Amex Aeroplan card on non-Air Canada travel purchases because it only gives you one point.
For example, you would instead want to use your Amex Gold card for travel purchases. It gives you 2 points per $1 spent, and you can convert your MR points to Aeroplan points.
It all boils down to understanding the strengths of all your credit cards and using them in a way that maximizes the number of points you earn.
When you’re new to travel hacking, it may be easier to write out a cheat sheet.
Write out what bonus categories each credit card has and keep it in your wallet. When you go to make a purchase, refer to your cheat sheet and use the credit card that gets you the most points!
3. Not Using Airport Lounges
Most premium travel credit cards come with some sort of airport lounge access.
Whether it is a base pass where you have to pay to get into lounges but have the right to visit them, giving you 6 to 8 free lounge visits, or giving you unlimited lounge access all over the world, there is a high probability your card lets you into airport lounges.
The cost of accessing airport lounges is built into your annual fee, so you may as well take advantage of them!
There is hardly a better feeling than lounging in an airport lounge drinking free drinks and snacking on free food while waiting for your flight!
A lot of people don’t take advantage of their lounge access, and that is one of the biggest travel hacking mistakes.
It is the travel hacking mistake on this list that I’m most guilty of.
It feels weird to visit a lounge for the first time. You feel awkward and out of place (or at least that is how I felt).
They kind of feel like that place rich people hang out, and I felt I had no business being there. I didn’t take advantage of my lounge rights for a long time because of this.
Don’t be like me!
Take advantage of your lounge access every time you can!
You have every right to be there, and it makes waiting in the airport so much better!
Most people in airport lounges are just like you. People who are taking advantage of their credit card perks, so there is nothing to fear!
Tips for flying alone for the first time
4. Not Understanding the 5/24 Rule
The 5/24 rule is one of the most important rules in the travel hacking space.
You don’t want to ignore this rule because it can bite you in the butt down the road!
This plays into the first tip of making sure you have a plan.
You need to plan ahead of time what credit cards you want, so the 5/24 rule doesn’t destroy your travel hacking dreams.
The 5/24 rule says that you will not be approved for a credit card if you have applied for 5 credit cards in the past 24 months.
This rule is most famously used by Chase and MBNA.
You should apply for any Chase and MBNA cards you want early in your travel hacking career.
This gives you the best chance to be approved for Chase and MBNA cards before you really get into travel hacking.
You want to avoid a situation where you really need a Chase or MBNA card but can’t get one because you’ve applied for too many cards in the past 24 months.
5. Letting Points Expire
Of all the travel hacking mistakes on this list, this is the one that you need to avoid the most!
You can survive the other travel hacking mistakes, but once your points expire, they are gone forever.
All your hard work is out the window. 🙁
It is essential that you understand the rules for each travel program you collect points with.
You need to know when points expire and how to prevent points from expiring.
Sometimes it is as easy as having a certain credit card. Sometimes you have to earn or redeem points during a certain period of time.
Whatever it is, you need to know, and you need to do whatever you have to prevent your points from expiring.
This is another situation where it is probably best to keep a list of when points expire and how to prevent points from expiring to refer to.
For the points programs you use the most, you won’t have an issue with your points expiring.
Your day-to-day spending and flying will keep your points active.
It becomes more difficult with the points programs you don’t use as frequently.
You have to be very cautious and diligent when it comes to points program that you rarely use.
Keep an eye on them and make sure you don’t let a single point expire.
That would be tragic!
Are you making any of these beginner travel hacking mistakes?
I would be shocked if you’re not guilty of one or two of these travel hacking mistakes. We’ve all made mistakes on our travel hacking journey.
That’s how you grow and learn!
Now that you’re aware of these beginner travel hacking mistakes, you can avoid them!
And probably make new and more advance travel hacking mistakes. There is no end. Haha.
But if you avoid these rookie mistakes, you’ll be on your way to being a successful travel hacker in no time!