Points Panda has partnered with a variety of financial companies including CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Points Panda and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. For more information please read our full Advertiser Disclosure.
If you’re totally new to points and travel hacking, this crash course is definitely for you. It’s a foolproof guide with lots of valuable information so newbies can learn how to maximize their travel credit cards to get the best award flights and stays.
We used to sell this course for $47 but we’ve made it totally FREE for everyone who’s aspiring to become travel hackers. We created a 2-hour training video above for those of you who prefer watching videos. Join our 2-hour travel hacking video totally FREE.
However, if you’re more of a reader, then just keep scrolling below.
About Your Travel Hacking Mentor
Who am I? Why should you listen to me? You’re probably asking a lot of questions by now if this guy’s legit or not.
Here’s a little bit about me:
- My name’s Freddy Lansky and I’m 33 years old from Atlanta but based in Mexico City
- My last business was iChess and it lasted from 2011 – 2019.
- I had to learn about points and credit cards because of my business.
- I was able to scale my business to 7 figures before successfully exiting.
- Traveled to over 60+ countries.
It was because of my previous business that I was able to master the skill of earning points and redeeming them with the best value possible. I was able to book hundreds of cheap flights (mostly first-class) through awards redemptions.
Travel has saved me thousands of dollars in travel expenses. In fact, I was able to stay for almost a year in 5-6 countries because of it.
After selling my business, I continued crafting my skills in the points game and it’s always been a hobby of mine for a very long time. Now, I run Points Panda and offer a full-service Travel Concierge for people who need credit card and award booking assistance. It’s unlimited consultation for one full year! But I also run a travel blog and youtube channel where I do credit card reviews and provide free courses.
Why Should You Care About Travel Hacking?
If you’re someone who frequently flies long-haul flights, we all know that flying economy is a total pain. The main goal of this course is to teach you how to get super discounted first-class/business class flights with your points or even get FREE award flights to anywhere you want.
Here are some reasons why travel hacking is something that you should try:
- Anyone can play this game if you have good credit and as long as you are putting at least $1,000 – $2,000 per month in credit card spend.
- Most Americans, especially entrepreneurs, are in a prime position to take advantage of the game due to massive credit card spend.
- You’re just flushing money down the toilet if you’re not optimizing your credit card strategy.
- You don’t even realize it but you can use your points to fly business class for free by using transfers to airline programs.
The points you earn have a lot of value if you have a strategy in place. For example, most people think that having 100,000 points is only worth $1,000 but that’s not entirely true. Your points are worth more if you’re able to transfer to different loyalty programs.
Personally, I’ve almost never paid the cash rate for long-distance first and business class flights. In fact, here’s an experience (photo above) I’ve had with Korean Air where I’ve flown first-class on a Bangkok to New York roundtrip flight.
The cash rate for that flight was $12,000, but guess how much I paid for it? Only $52 and 80,000 Chase points!
Who Can Take Advantage Of This?
- People with a credit score over 600
- People who spend at least $1,000 – $2,000 a month on their credit card
- Those who earn lots of miles from flying, spending a lot on shipping, PPC, travel, and etc.
Earning Points In Travel Hacking
Earning points is the easiest part of travel hacking. It’s pretty straightforward compared to the redemption part. However, there are a few things that you need to remember before you start earning them.
Always remember that not all credit card points are created equally and here’s why:
- Some points don’t transfer to airlines so we can’t get the outsized value.
- Credit card points transfer to different airline programs so they have different values and are sometimes worth more than airline points.
- How valuable the points are to you depends on what specific redemption you have in mind.
For example, Chase, Amex, and Citi points are worth more or less the same while Capital One points are worth lesser.
Meanwhile, Marriot, Hilton, and other hotel loyalty programs have a lesser value and are only 1/3 of what Amex points are worth.
When you’re opening up a credit card, always remember what their points are worth. For example, getting 150,000 Hilton points will only get you three nights at a five-star hotel while getting 150,000 Amex points could be worth $10,000 in business class tickets if redeemed correctly.
You’d notice that other travel hackers value certain points higher compared to the credit card’s travel redemption portal. Well, it’s because of the transfer programs and their redemption strategy.
Different Ways To Earn Credit Card Points
You don’t have to be a rich person who puts a lot of crazy spend on credit cards. Even if you’re just a regular Joe or Jane, you can still earn points on various types of rewards credit cards through:
- Credit card sign-up bonuses
- Credit card non-bonus spend (typically 1x-2x per dollar).
- Credit card spend on bonus categories such as travel, dining, PPC, shipping, bills, groceries, and gas (2x-10x per dollar).
- Special promotions such as opening a bank account, mortgages, and line of credit.
- Loyalty program redemption portal (2x-10x per dollar)
You don’t worry if you’re not earning as many points compared to others. If you’re not a businessman, entrepreneur, or a frequent flyer, you can still earn points on bonus categories that include everyday expenses.
Take note that there are different credit cards for different people. It’s important to get the right card that suits your needs so you can optimize your points earning.
For example, if you own a small business, you’re better off with the Amex Blue Business Plus than the Amex Blue Cash Preferred. The Blue Business Plus earns a flat rate of 2x points per dollar on all purchases which is a pretty decent rate for a business card.
Meanwhile, the Blue Cash Preferred does earn a 6% cashback rate but it’s only for groceries and streaming services.
You really need to weigh it out where you spend the most money so you can also earn the most points possible.
Are Airline And Credit Card Points The Same?
Airline points aren’t worth as much as credit card points. The best analogy for this is to think of credit card points as cash and airline points as gift certificates.
Let’s say you have a $100 bill and a $100 gift certificate, and you want to purchase something. If you use your $100 bill, you can buy anything that you want from any store you prefer, but if you use your $100 gift certificate, you can only purchase from the issuing store.
This is the reason why credit card points are so valuable because you have the flexibility to redeem various awards. You can transfer them from different loyalty programs so your points may increase in value.
However, this doesn’t mean that airline points aren’t useful because they play a big role in the overall travel hacking strategy. Airline credit cards have some really good deals too and they can help lower the amount of credit card points you need to use when you’re about to redeem rewards.
If you want a bit of an idea on where to transfer your points, you can check wheretocredit.com.
Now, how do you earn these points? Here are some ways on how:
- Airline credit card sign-up bonuses
- Bonuses of credit card sign-ups sometimes include lounge and free perks for certain airlines
- Flying in cash
- Staying at partner hotels (ex. Earn Delta SkyMiles for staying at Hilton)
- Renting a car
- AirBnB promotions (Delta/Avios)
- Dining promotions (mainly in the U.S.)
Redeeming Your Points
Redeeming your points is the tricky part of travel hacking because there’s a lot of strategizing involved to get the most value out of your points.
Transfer partners and airline alliances are some of the concepts that you need to fully understand so your points don’t just go down the drain.
How much are your points valued?
You need to take note that not all redemptions are good and credit card companies will not make an effort to help you with your redemption strategy.
In fact, they would even confuse you to redeem the terrible rewards. For example, go to any rewards portal and you’d see that they usually encourage you to redeem a gift card or company merchandise – which are terrible redemptions by the way.
Here’s an overview to see how much your points are valued for various rewards.
- Transferring to airlines for long distance business class flights ( 2 – 10 cents per point).
- Transferring to airlines for short haul business flights or long haul economy flights (1.5 – 3 cents per point).
- Book flights/hotel stays using the portal (1 – 1.5 cent per point). You can also get airline miles and status miles.
- Transfer to a hotel program (0.8 – 3 cents per point).
- Statement credits (1.0 cent per point)
- Gift cards (0.8 – 1.1 cent per point)
- Amazon (0.8c per point)
- Shopping portal (0.8 – 1 cent per point)
- Anything that isn’t booking a flight, hotel, or car rental (occasional exceptions).
Knowing The Basics Of Airline Alliances
An airline alliance is an agreement among different airline companies to share resources so they can compete better with other companies.
In fact, these are the three major alliances in the industry, and most of the world’s leading airline companies belong to either of these alliances.
However, there are also times when an airline company partners with another company even if they’re not alliance partners. For example, Qantas partners with Emirates even though Emirates isn’t a part of OneWorld while Delta partners with Virgin Atlantic even though Virgin Atlantic isn’t a part of Sky Team.
Alliances basically work like “legal cartels” who coordinate routes and airfares to keep their prices high. They also sell space on each other’s flights through codeshares.
A code-sharing agreement happens when two or more airline companies sell or promote the same flight but under different flight numbers. This means that you can purchase a seat on an Avianca flight even though it has a United Airlines flight number on it.
Another benefit of codeshares is they make trips seamless for the traveler. Alliances will sell long-haul trips where all that you need to do is to pay for the cost of the trip. You don’t have to worry about checking your bags or booking multiple flights.
Flights On Partner Award Spaces Are Cheaper
Airline companies are obliged to offer a certain amount of partner space on their award booking page for their co-alliance airline partners. For example, Delta’s website will have lots of flights from other co-alliance airline companies such as Aeroflot, AeroMexico, or Korean Air on its award booking page.
Wha will happen now is that Delta will offer these partner flights at a cheaper price. Why is it cheaper? Well, it’s because Delta or any airline for that matter will always prioritize its own flights.
Companies don’t want you to use your points on their own flights because it’s not cost-efficient for them. They give you that incentive so you will use your points on other airlines instead.
How To Find Award Flights?
There’s no easy way to do it except by getting a feel for it or memorizing it. You also need to sign up for various airline points programs.
This is the reason why there are lots of businesses out there doing award booking services which usually cost between $120-$150 per booking. In fact, we do offer our own Points Panda Concierge but you get unlimited consulting and booking.
However, you can use these search engines for finding available award flights:
- For OneWorld alliance flights, use the Qantas search engine.
- Use Delta or AirFrance for Skyteam flights.
- For Star Alliance, use Aviance or United.
- Use Expertflyer.com which is a useful tool despite having a small portion of award flights.
- Call! You really need to call airline companies sometimes.
However, you can also check Expedia, Kayak, and the airline’s booking portal to see if paying cash is better than using points.
Not All Seats Are Created Equally
When searching for awards, you always need to check the type of plane you’re going to fly on. You’re not going to get charged for it so it’s best to pick the plane you want.
Narrow body planes such as the Boeing 737, and Airbus A320 have recliner seats. Meanwhile, larger medium and wide body planes such as the Boeing 777/787 and Airbus A330/A350 have layflat seats.
Check the flight schedule of your airline because there are certain planes that fly on a routine schedule. You can also just do a quick google search or use seatguru.com.
Thoughts From Points Panda
Travel hacking is a vast field but for starters, your main focus should be on getting yourself acquainted with airline alliances and transfer partners. Memorizing these things will help you find the best deals for your points.
There are other sub-topics connected to travel hacking such as hotel transfer programs, credit card perks, hotel packages, and cruise packages.
We won’t be discussing these topics in this article but we do write about these things on our blog or even make videos about them on our Youtube Channel.