Caroline Macomber shares her top tricks for ensuring that her passion for travel doesn’t break the bank: My husband and I love to travel, and our favourite kind of travel is free! This is where most folks either roll their eyes or ask for clarification. It seems that every time we get into conversation with other travellers we get the predictable but completely justifiable question: “How do you do it?” For many people “free travel” sounds too good to be true, or perhaps it brings to mind couch surfing in basements or hitch-hiking at the side of the road. We certainly have good memories of this kind of free travel, but since learning a few tricks, we have adopted a new kind of free travel that allows for a completely different kind of experience. Free travel has become a very real and often luxurious lifestyle that includes free stays at the J.W. Marriott in Bangkok or the Hyatt in Bali. This is where people start asking some questions: “How can I do that?!” While it’s never guaranteed, here are five tricks to get you started on the path towards free travel.
Watch out for credit card sign up bonuses: Believe it or not the banks want you to use their credit card and will give out as much as 100,000 airmiles to start using one. Typically, bonuses start at 25,000 miles but you can make it a hobby to hunt for the “big fish” credit card offers. In 2011 we scored well over 1,000,000 miles from credit card bonuses alone. To put that in perspective, we booked two flights for our friends to go to Easter Island and Peru with us for 60,000 miles each.
Volunteer to be ‘bumped’ from a flight: Airlines commonly oversell their flights, counting on people not turning up. When everyone checks in and there are too many passengers, they compensate volunteers to take a later flight. For example, United Airlines gives a $400 voucher for all ‘bumps’. If you pay attention you’ll hear the announcement before boarding. Or sometimes they take volunteers at check-in. Ask to be put on the list and the flight attendant may call you up if a passenger-bump is needed. If this does happen you’ll be put on the next flight. Whenever possible we strategically pick our flights to fly on those likely to be oversold, in hope that we’ll get all the perks of being ‘bumped’ from a flight.
Join a rewards programme: If you’re a frequent traveller, staying at hotels and flying anyway, why not join the rewards programme? The question is which is the best programme? Some hotels have promotions as lucrative as 50,000 points for one night’s stay, enough to redeem five nights. That’s five free nights for the price of one stay. During one such promotion, we created a second account and went right back to the check-in counter to book a second room for ourselves, scoring enough points for as many as ten free nights.
Know your programme’s policies: For example, IHG has a “best-rate-guarantee” that states that if you book on their site and find a cheaper room on another site, you get one night of your stay free. This works with one night stays, too, scoring you a free stay. If you enjoy surfing the web, you could get a free night at an InterContinental hotel.
Bag those giveaways! Not the ones that say “enroll in our sweepstakes.” Hotels and Airlines actually run giveaways on new openings. They aren’t going to sell out the first week open anyway, so they have a giveaway as a promotion. Last year AirAsia gave away free flights, Megabus gave away free tickets, and local hotels gave away free rooms.
With these five tricks, you may find it easier and easier to believe in free travel. And this is just the beginning. It takes some research, but the research pays off. For us it made the difference between dreaming about travel and hopping on a plane to Hong Kong. Now you can see where it takes you. For a more in-depth immersion into the art of free travel, visit http://www.travelisfree.com/. Caroline Macomber