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How do you achieve elite status with priority boarding, free checked baggage, lounge access, first-class seating, free international flights and hardcore bragging rights? One way is to master the art of Travel Hacking. This is a clever way of beating the system to accumulate miles and rewards to get free flights or hotels. Many people have turned it into a hobby, capitalizing on special promotions to score free trips. It’s a real art form, and, in an attempt to get myself up to speed in terms of which cards are best and what deals to take advantage of, I did a little research. Here are a few tips to rack up more miles without spending extra money:

  • Sign up for a branded airline credit card that offers a kick-ass signing bonus. If it’s JetBlue, Virgin or Delta, most U.S. carriers have cards that give you thousands of points when you sign up (often between 10-70K). Take advantage of these bonus offers to immediately earn free flights.  But travelers should pay close attention to the fine print when comparing card offers to be sure the benefits outweigh the costs. To make the annual fees worthwhile, look for a card with add-ons such as insurance covering car rentals, lost luggage and/or trip cancellation.
  • Use the card for everything – accumulate points while you buy everyday items. This might be groceries, gasoline, cable TV bills, phone bills, and, if possible, even rent. Some expenses like travel or gas might even earn you 2X or even 5X the mileage points so spend accordingly. Obviously, this strategy is only effective if the credit card balances are paid in full every month. Don’t go into debt and financial ruin just to earn a free flight.
  • Be exclusive with one frequent flyer program – build a ton of points for elite status in one program instead of spreading your points equally over several loyalty programs for no status. Consolidation is key. Choose one frequent flyer program, and concentrate your mileage earning in that program (and transfer your miles from different partners to one airline’s program).
  • What frequent flyer program to join? Choose one that will be the airline with the most flights to/ from your home airport and to the cities you visit most often.
  • Use your points. A lot of us sit on our points and do not cash them in. These points have monetary value, so if you’ve been waiting for a while to cash them in, best to use them every time you fly, rent a car or get a hotel room. Use them or loose them. Yes. If you’re not actively earning or cashing in points you may loose them.
  • Know your frequent flyer program partners and earn points by shopping at their affiliated hotels, restaurants and online partners. Shop through shopping portals affiliated with your specific air- line. United MileagePlus Shopping, for example offers X2 or X3 points when you buy from their online retailers like Macy’s, Nordstrom and Office Depot.
  • Join loyalty program airline mailing lists and receive newsletters with the inside scoop on special promotions. Take advantage of these mileage promos, where you can earn double, even triple points.
  • Connect with a community of frequent flyers on OR These forums discuss the latest frequent flyer and hotel programs, as well as methods to maximize miles (things like new routes that earn you triple miles, contests and new card signups).
  • Read the experts: Brian Kelly’s blog ThePointsGuy. com is an informative source for all things miles and credit cards. Start with his Beginner’s Guide before moving on to his Hot Deals section. Another good site is Scott Mackenzie’s It offers detailed rewards charts, comparison tables and overall tips to picking the best loyalty program.
  • Earn miles when you book a hotel room through Simply book your hotel on the site and earn up to 5,000 airline miles for every night you stay.
  • Join the Travel Hacking Cartel at TravelHacking. org. For a monthly fee of $15–$39 a month, you can learn about glitch fares, round-the-world tickets, padding out your mileage account and earning elite status. They guarantee that you’ll earn enough miles for at least four plane tickets each year.
  • Never let your frequent flyer miles expire! Use to consolidate your frequent flyer and loyalty programs into an easy-to-use tracking system. This tool lists your point balances with their corresponding expiration dates, so you never lose out. This app will help you monitor the expi- ration dates of your miles and check your monthly statements carefully to make sure your miles are being accounted for and there are no discrepancies. Don’t let your miles expire. It’s like throwing money away.

For more tips like these please check out my book Travel Junkie: A Badass Guide to Travel is an insider’s look at how to travel smart and beat the system. In this book, I aim to inspire and empower future travel junkies to travel further, play harder, say “yes” to new experiences and channel their inner badass. I share tried-and-true travel tips and advice for the next generation of adventurers. With chapters on scoring cheap flights, maximizing air miles, using the best travel apps, surviving solo travel and staying safe on the road. Here’s the Amazon link: