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The Starter Series
This is the very first post in our starter series. This series of seven posts is meant to provide you with the basic knowledge and resources you need to understand what effective travel hacking means and requires. While we link to a ton of content in these posts (both ours and other sources), we recommend you still plan to move sequentially through the posts.
To limit misinformation, we're turning off comments on these posts. If you have questions or think a correction is in order, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this post, we provide a very brief introduction to "travel hacking" before explaining why Disney travelers should care about travel hacking, why Disney travelers actually have a leg up on other travel hackers, and why you shouldn't believe some common misconceptions about travel hacking.
What is travel hacking?
As we use the term, "travel hacking" comprises the set of techniques that allow you to travel (by plane, train, automobile, or any other method), stay at hotels, and have tourist experiences at discounted rates, including for free.
In general, travel hacking can be broken into two sets of strategies. First, there are "points and miles" strategies that require you to earn and use points and miles for free (or discounted) flights, hotels, and experiences. This first group is what most people think of when they think of travel hacking, and it includes things like:
- Flying to Asia in Business Class Using Points
- Booking Aulani Using Points
- Booking Your Disney World Stay Using Starpoints
Second, there is everything else you can do to save on travel. We think this second group is incredibly important as well. And, more importantly, these techniques are available to people who may be nervous about using points and miles. In it, we include things like:
- Flying Low-Cost Airlines
- Packing to Avoid Baggage Fees
- Using Discount Disney Gift Cards to Save at Disney
- Tricks to get Cheap Airline Tickets
We cover both types of travel hacking on this site.
Why should Disney travelers care about travel hacking?
“When you are earning flights or miles, the first thing you should do is have a specific travel goal in mind,” -Brian Karimzad, Director of Milecards.com
Disney travelers actually have a leg up on many new travel hackers because they already have a destination in mind. Whether it is getting a family of four to Disney World, or flying first class to Aulani for four nights, Disney travelers know what they want and can tailor their travel hacking to that goal. Effective travel hacking requires planning and effort. Planning is made much easier when you have a specific goal to plan for. And effort is so much more rewarding when you know what you're working toward.
What's more, Disney vacations always cost a premium over similar experiences (as if there are similar experiences). Travel hacking allows you to do Disney for less and gives you more flexibility with how you want to spend your money. For example, using basic travel hacking, you can choose between either just getting a free night at Disney or upgrading your room to club level, getting a free night, and spending the same as your original budget.
Some Quick Thoughts About Ways to Save
In our next post, we talk about some legitimate concerns you might have regarding points and miles, but throughout this series, keep one thing in mind: just because you can't use points and miles today doesn't mean you should abandon travel hacking.
For the most part, our starter series is only concerned with the points and miles aspect of travel hacking. While we think all readers should continue through this series, if you're looking only for discounts/deals content, we suggest starting with either our Walt Disney World Budget Planning Guide or our 53 Ways to Save On Your Next Disney Vacation.
Moreover, knowledge is power. In this case, knowledge is money and knowledge is travel. So take some time to learn. Even if you're certain you won't be using points and miles today, having a working understanding of the concepts can prepare you greatly for a future where you might be ready to take the leap.
Misconceptions About Travel Hacking
Here are many misconceptions that get in people's way and keep them from realizing the amazing (you might even say it's "Magical") world of travel hacking. We want to cover some of these in detail here.
Misconception: Travel Hacking Is "Scammy"
We didn't popularize the term "travel hacking," and we don't love it. "Mouse Hacking" is itself a silly-sounding name, we admit. But just because the term "hacking" is involved doesn't mean there's anything wrong here.
Let's get this out of the way – some people definitely push ethical or even legal boundaries in travel hacking. We don't advocate any of that. We never advocate anything illegal, and we always disclose any ethical concerns we have about tips and tricks. We don't use any tips or tricks we have ethical concerns about, but we let you know about them every so often.
The entire purpose of Mouse Hacking is to enable ordinary people to use points, miles, discounts and deals to get to Disney destinations through straightforward ethical strategies relying on careful financial planning. You're not going to have to put on a disguise and try and buy a money order at Walmart using your credit card.
Our advocated process for earning lots of points relies on using your ordinary spending to earn signup bonuses at a reasonable frequency. No, you're probably not going to get a million points this year using our strategies, but you also don't need a million points to take a great trip!
Misconception: I need To Fly A Ton For This All To Work
A while ago, when we had just started travel hacking, a friend of mine asked if I had any tips for getting to Hawaii, and I sent him a very doable travel hack for flying roundtrip to Hawaii in first class on points. His response was "I don't fly enough for that stuff." I let it go, but I shouldn't have.
So many people make this mistake, don't be one of them. You don't need to travel a lot to travel hack. In fact, travel hacking can be made easier by traveling less frequently. Let's go over a quick example.
Bad Ways To Earn Enough Points for a Roundtrip Domestic Flights
A roundtrip domestic ticket in the U.S. costs 25,000 miles in most situations. Here are some ways you could earn 25,000 United MileagePlus miles to get such a ticket:
- Spend $12,500 on travel or dining on a Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Spend $8,333 on those categories on a Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Spend $5,000 on United flights
- Fly roundtrip from US to Asia twice on a United partner airline
Wow. None of these are particularly appealing just for one roundtrip domestic ticket in economy. If you have a family of four, you'd need to multiply those numbers by four. But none of these is the best way to earn miles!!
Better Way: Spend $4000 to Earn Two Roundtrip Domestic Flights
The best way to earn United MileagePlus miles is through signup bonuses (covered in more depth in a later starter post). With a signup bonus, you get a new card and spend a certain amount within a certain time (usually 3 months or 90 days of opening your card) and you get a bonus amount of points. Here are our referral links (Updated Jan 22. 2018) for some relevant signup bonuses:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve - 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points for spending $4000 in 3 Months
- United MileagePlus Explorer - 40,000 United Miles for spending $2000 in 3 months
- Chase Sapphire Preferred - 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points for spending $4000 in 3 Months
Both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These can be transferred to partner airlines, like United. In our example, the bonuses for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve are enough for two roundtrip domestic tickets. Best of all, the Chase Sapphire Preferred's annual fee is waived the first year, so you really just get these points for free for spending the required amount!
Earning signup bonuses actually gets harder the more you travel hack. Depending on the exact card, you usually can't get a signup bonus if you have the card or have gotten a bonus for it within the last two years. And sometimes you can only get the bonus once in your life!
Other Misconceptions About Travel Hacking
Here are just a few other misconceptions about travel hacking (links are to our posts about them):
- Travel hacking will ruin my credit score
- You wind up losing money through annual fees
- Credit card companies are stupid if they let this happen
Let's close by talking about this last misconception, because it's important for you to understand it before moving on to the rest of our starter series.
Misconception: Credit Card Companies Would Have to Be Stupid If This Works
Credit card companies are not stupid. Credit card companies enable travel hacking for a few very simple reasons. First of all, there are blogs and sites like this. Every person who successfully uses points and miles to their advantage is free marketing for the credit card companies. On balance, credit card companies probably lose money on us as customers in our current financial situation, but they get free marketing. We have no relationship with these companies except that we are their customers, enjoy their products, and receive referral bonuses for cards where disclosed in this blog.
Second, credit card companies know that not everyone who tries to travel hack will succeed. If you fail to earn a signup bonus, the credit card company risks very little in you as a customer. If you hold a card and pay an annual fee without getting sufficient value, the credit card company makes money on you. If you ever carry a balance on a card and pay interest, the credit card company makes money on you. Even if you earn a signup bonus, but you don't pay off the balance you ran up earning it, the credit card company probably makes money on you. If you redeem your points for cash back, statement credits, gift cards, domestic flights, or travel booked through the credit card company, the credit card company is...probably breaking about even.
Finally, no one knows what the future holds. Credit card companies might not make any money off of us as customers now, but what about when we have a child? Or when one of us has an emergency and needs to put a crazy amount on a card? Or if we lose our jobs? They might not make much off of us now, but if financial strain hits, they're going to be really happy we carry their cards and not someone else's.
This is all to say that if you understand what a credit card company is expecting to get out of this, you're less likely to make mistakes.
Hopefully this post has you interested in travel hacking and in saving on your Disney vacation. Next up, we have "Credit Cards, Credit Scores, and Credit Concerns" where we cover how travel hacking can impact your credit and how to decide whether to start using points and miles. Got questions? Let us know by email at email@example.com.