5 Best Travel Hacking Tips with Erica Virvo

If you want to travel more but are living on a budget, Erica Virvo, Director of Global Operations at Nomadic Matt, is here to help. In a recent interview for our #ATWBeautyTalks, Erica shared her passion for travel and beauty, and how she manages to see the world without breaking the bank. Below, Erica’s shared her top five tips on how to use credit cards to globe trot. Follow her travel hacking tips and you could be on a flight to your dream destination before you know it!

What IS “Travel Hacking”?

Nomadic Matt explains travel hacking as “the art of collecting frequent flier, hotel, and credit card points and airline miles and redeeming them for free travel.” But it’s not about spending lots of money — the idea is to “hack the system” and use rewards programs against themselves to get lots of points and miles without spending a lot of money or traveling a lot. You leverage these systems to your benefit.

Anyone can travel hack. Even though I’ll be using the American market as an example (it’s the one I’m most familiar with and have access to), you can adapt these strategies to apply to you. Just substitute your local cards and programs for mine!

5 Best Travel Hacking Tips:

  1. Get cards with huge sign-up bonuses

Let’s say you need 60,000 points to get from NYC to Europe round-trip.

  • If you to have a credit card that gets you 1 point per $1 spent, you’d have to spend $60,000 to get that one free flight.
  • If you have a card that gets you 2 points per $1 spent, you’d have to spend $30,000 to get that one free flight.
  • Having a card that gets you 3 points per $1 spent, you’d have to spend $20,000 to get that one free flight.

That’s a lot of cash! I don’t spend much money in my daily life, so it would take me FOREVER to get that free flight.

That’s where sign-up bonuses are key. Credit card companies offer sign-up bonuses the encourage you to spend on their credit card right away. Keep in mind that credit cards have all different offers, and some require you to make a single purchase or meet a minimum-spending requirement within a certain time frame (like $3,000 within the first 3 months). Compare card offers to see what will get you the biggest bonus with the smallest spend.

Typical card bonuses range from 25,000 to 50,000 points, though sometimes they can be as high as 100,000. That’s why cards are so great—you get an instant balance of thousands of points for very little work.

  1. Pay for everything on the card

Make sure that every dollar you spend earns you points. In particular, I love using social situations to help me earn points. I’m always the one who pays the bill at dinner (especially group dinners) and I just get everyone to hand me cash, or immediately Venmo me the money then and there.

Once, I took a trip to Dubai with twelve ladies and I booked everyone’s flights on one of my cards and had them send me checks. The points I got were amazing! I’ve used my card to pay for everything from my brother’s new computer to bachelorette winery tours. It’s a win-win – I get paid back, and I get the points. If your lifestyle doesn’t meet your spending minimum, use high-cost social situations to help bridge the gap. You’ll rake in those miles faster and be on a plane before you know it!

Be sure you’re not spending extra money to earn points, though. It defeats the purpose of budget travel hacking, because if you have extra money to spend to earn points, you could simply be saving that for a flight.

  1. Pay your balance in full each month

This might be the most important rule of travel hacking with credit cards. To keep earning (and using) points and maintain your credit score, you have to pay your balance in full each month. I recommend setting up automatic payments so your balance is paid so there’s no risk in missing a payment and having to pay that credit card fee.

Again, if travel hacking is going to tempt you to spend MORE money than you have, it’s not for you. Do not get a credit card if you have existing credit card debt that you’re paying off. There is no point in losing money to interest fees, as that’s money that you could be putting towards travel.

  1. Don’t cancel credit cards, downgrade them

Unless you’re looking to take out a mortgage, student loan, or car loan within the next year, there’s really no such thing as too many credit cards. I’ve met people with dozens of credit cards open at once.

Lots of credit cards offer to waive the first annual fee for you. So before that second yearly fee comes up, call up and ask them to waive the fee again. If it’s a “yes”, great – keep the card. If it’s a “no”, request to downgrade your card! Cancelling cards negatively affects your credit score, so don’t cancel them – ask to downgrade them to the free version of that card. This does not affect your credit score. It doesn’t change anything on your score. Downgrade, downgrade, downgrade!

  1. Start travel hacking ASAP

It takes one to four months for the sign up bonus to hit your account (depending on the offer and how fast you meet your minimum spending requirement). Then, once you get those points in your account, you’ll need to book that flight. You can book flights up to 11 months in advance. So if you know where you want to go, book is as soon as possible. Points flights are not the same as paid flights, there are only a small number of points flights available on each flight, so be sure to think ahead and act fast.

Here are a few great reads from Nomadic Mat on Travel Hacking:


Special thanks to Erica Virvo for her amazing tips! We have more great information coming up next week in her full interview. For more information on Erica, you can find her on Instagram as @erica.virvo.

Written by Erica Virvo with Intro and Edits by Mallory Huron

Media by: Erica Virvo and Stephanie Flor

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