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Travel Hacking for Dummies

Travel Hacking For Dummies Fly to FI

If you’ve been poking around the internet lately you might have heard about this phenomenon called ‘travel hacking’. In simple terms, travel hacking is the art of utilizing credit card sign-up bonuses to earn points and miles in order to travel anywhere for FREE.

I won’t waste any more of your time, so let’s get your travel hacking journey started! This post will be your step-by-step guide to signing up for your first card, earning your points, and spending them. The best part? You don’t have to think at all. No complicated point transfers, no impending application deadlines, nothing difficult at all! Just follow along to enter into the amazing world of travel hacking.

Note: Please do not attempt the following strategies if you are not responsible with credit cards. Travel hacking is only a viable tactic if you can pay your card off IN FULL and ON TIME every month.

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Your First Travel Hacking Credit Card

It’s overwhelming, right?

“Which card should I get? What has the best signup bonus? Am I doing this right?”

Trust me, I was there once. So, in order to eliminate your decision fatigue all together, we’re going to sign up for the Capital One Venture Card. This card always has a great signup bonus and the points are easy to redeem. Let’s get started.

What to Know:

  • Earn 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • $0 annual fee for the first year; $95 after that (see below to find out how to avoid this)
  • Earn 2X miles on everyday purchases and 10X on select hotels

Click on this link or on the picture below to access the Capital One Venture Card application.

Capital One Venture Application

After clicking ‘Apply Now’, make sure to fill out all of the necessary information and agree to the terms and conditions. Once you submit your application, you will receive one of three responses.

  1. Instant approval – Woohoo! This means that you have been approved and will receive your credit card within 7-10 business days.
  2. Waitlisted – Not the worst thing that could happen, but Capital One is taking some extra time to review your application. Whether it’s an approval or denial, you will hear back within two weeks after your application date.
  3. Denied – Don’t worry! There’s still some hope. You can call the Capital One reconsideration line at +1 (800) 933-5182 and make one last stand. It might be a good idea to ask about the Capital One VentureOne card, which is slightly easier to get than the Capital One Venture, although the signup bonus is much lower.

Accumulating Miles

As of November 2018, the Capital One Venture Card offers 50,000 bonus points/miles if you spend $3,000 within the first three months after you’ve opened your account. The card also currently offers 2X miles on every purchase and 10X on selected hotels.

Please note that these offers start from your approval date, NOT from the day you receive your card in the mail. Make sure to write down your approval date so that you can meet the minimum spending requirement within the three-month window.

The most important thing to remember is that you have to hit the minimum spend.

Want to know why? Here’s an example:

  1. John spends $2,999 on regular purchases over the three month period since the approval date. Total miles: 5,998 (2,999 x 2).
  2. Jane spends $3,000 on regular purchases over the three month period since the approval date. Total miles: $56,000 (3,000 x 2 + 50,000 bonus miles!)

Since John missed the minimum spend by $1, he did not receive the 50,000-mile bonus. He could have bought a pack of gum to earn $500 worth of free travel credit!

Once you receive your Capital One Venture Card, you should use it for every single purchase until you hit your minimum spend.

If you’re nervous that you won’t be able to hit the $3,000 minimum spend within 3 months, there’s no need to worry. Here are three easy ways to fill in the spending gaps to make sure that you receive your signup bonus.

  1. Buy gift cards – Pretty cool right?! You can buy Visa Prepaid gift cards if you need to hit your minimum spend. If you were really lazy, you could just buy $3,000 worth of these gift cards and use them to pay for your regular expenses until they run out. Any other gift card works as well (WalMart, Target, Home Depot, AirBnb, etc.).
  2. Pay/Prepay your bills, utilities, and insurance – If you don’t currently pay your bills, utilities, and insurance with a credit card, check with your provider to see if you can switch. If you need to expedite your spending, you can prepay any of these expenses several months in advance.
  3. Utilize friends/family – Ask your close friends or family if they have any big purchases coming up. Make sure to have them send you the money first (whether it be cash, PayPal, Venmo, or CashApp) and then pay for their large expense on your credit card. I can’t tell you who to trust — so use your judgment!

There are a few other more advanced strategies for hitting your minimum spend, but those are outside the scope of this post.

Spending Your Miles

This is the part you’ve all been waiting for. After you’ve signed up for your card, hit your minimum spend, and earned your signup bonus, you’re ready for travel hacking!

Basically, the Capital One Venture card can be used for anything coded as travel. This could include airfare and hotels, but unlike other credit cards, the Capital One Venture can also be used for things like Airbnb, Uber, and rental cars.

Your ‘miles’ are worth $0.01 each. So, if you have 56,000 miles on your Capital One Venture card (this is how much you’d have if you spent $3,000 in 3 months), then you’d have $560 in travel credit to spend as you wish!

In order to use your travel credit, you must first make the travel purchase on your Capital One Venture Card.

After your purchase has processed, login to your Capital One account at www.capitalone.com and you will arrive at this screen (or something similar). Click ‘View Account’.

Next, you want to click ‘Rewards Miles’ in the bottom right of the screen under ‘View Details’.

After clicking ‘Rewards Miles’, you will arrive at the ‘My Rewards Page’. Click ‘Redeem Travel Purchases’ in the Travel row.

Next, you will come to the Travel Purchase page. Capital One will automatically include any purchase that’s coded as travel. Select the purchase that you want to use your miles for and click ‘Redeem’ on the right-hand side of the screen.

That’s it! You’re done! As long as you have the miles to cover the expense (100 miles = $1.00), Capital One will reimburse the credit back onto your card. If you don’t have the full amount to cover your travel purchase, your points will erase a portion of it. Just by following along in this article you earned yourself $560 in free travel!

Please note: If you cancel your card while there are still points on it… you will lose them all! No need to worry, most of the time there are other ways to avoid paying the annual fee (without canceling your card).

Downgrading Your Card / Waiving the Fee

Do you want to pay an annual credit card fee? I sure don’t. With the Capital One Venture card, the annual fee is waived for the first year, but costs $95 for every year after that. Fortunately, avoiding the annual fee is as easy as one phone call.

If you have a sharp eye, you’ll notice that in the screenshots above, it’s actually the Capital One VentureOne card (not Capital One Venture). This is because I downgraded to avoid the annual fee.

How to downgrade/waive the fee:

  1. Call Capital One customer service at 1 (877) 383-4802.
  2. Say that you (a) don’t use your card enough to justify paying an annual fee or (b) can’t afford the annual fee.

Capital One will typically do one of two things. (1) One possibility is that they offer to downgrade you to the Capital One VentureOne (this is ideal because there is never an annual fee). (2) The other possibility is that they waive your annual fee for that year (which is still good, but you’ll have to renegotiate the next year).

In the worst possible case, Capital One will not allow you to do either of these things. If you get an unhelpful customer service rep, try calling back again the next day. If you have no luck after several calls, you will have to decide whether to keep the card and pay the $95 annual fee, or cancel it and harm your length of credit history.

In order to keep track of your credit card applications, you can download my free Google Spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will automatically color a cell in red when its one month away from the annual fee charge. You can use my template as a guide to fill in your own information. Download the template here and click ‘Make a Copy’.

Credit Card Tracking Spreadsheet

If you don’t want to use my free spreadsheet, be sure to put a reminder in your phone/calendar 11 months from your approval date to call Capital One for a downgrade/fee waive.

And that’s it! You can keep it simple, or go crazy and become a travel hacking expert. The choice is yours. I’m glad I could at least help you step foot into the world of travel hacking. Good luck!

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Note: I am not a financial advisor or fiduciary. All the information presented in this article reflects my opinion. I am not liable for any financial losses incurred related to this content. My content is always written with the readers’ best interests in mind. I believe that my content is helpful and well-researched, but it is not professional financial advice. For more information, read our Privacy Policy.

6 thoughts on “Travel Hacking for Dummies

  1. Great post Cody, this will be a very helpful step-by-step rundown for people just starting out. The first card I always recommend to people is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, because I love how flexible the Chase points are, however this Capital One card is even more straightforward in the reward redemption.

    1. Thanks Matt! I love the Chase Sapphire Preferred as well. This post was actually inspired by a reader who asked how to travel hack without doing all of the “fancy points transfers”. This is what I came up with!

      You’re right, the Venture is super easy to use and even easier when you have a step-by-step guide showing you how to redeem the points 🙂

    1. Thank you, Tim! Glad you enjoyed the post. You’re totally right. A huge caveat is that you must pay your card off in full and on time each month. The reason why I write is to help people with their finances and find creative ways to make and save money. Not to drown people in interest payments!

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