A middle aged man with white hair wearing grey jacket is looking at the camera; Travel Hacking 101 - The Basics | David Goudreau | Ep 101

Travel Hacking 101 – The Basics | David Goudreau | Ep 101

Introducing David

I am thrilled to have David Goudreau joining me on the World Vegan Travel Podcast today because we are talking about one of the most requested topics – travel hacking. Many of you will know that David Goudreau is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s partner and Seb and I have traveled with them both to 17 countries David always accompanies Colleen on her Joyful Vegan trips and uses his points to get to and from our trips!

David has been travel hacking for about 6 years now and honestly when David joins us on our trips, both he and Seb get so many questions about travel hacking and some ideas on how to get started so David has kindly agreed to put all that information in one place for all of you to check out.

In this episode we discuss:

  • How David got into travel hacking
  • How to get started travel hacking beginners without getting overwhelmed
  • How to make the most of your efforts
  • Commonly asked questions
  • The commandments of travel hacking
  • Referral links and how they work

Learn more about what we talk about

Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode


Brighde: Hi David. Thank you so much for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast.

David: Hi Brighde. Thank you for having me.

Brighde: I am really excited to have you here because this is generally the topic that people ask us a lot about when we are running our Joyful Vegan trips together, that is the topic of travel hacking and we are gonna be talking about that today. David, you’ve been doing this for a few years, and you’ve certainly learned a thing or two.

But before we get into all of that, would you mind telling us a little bit about, who you are, what you do, and how you are involved in this vegan travel venture that we participate in together?

David: For sure. My name is David Goudreau. My day job is, I run software teams at a FinTech public company in the Bay Area. That’s what pays the bill. And the reason why you and I are talking and the reason I got exposed to this is that I am very fortunate to be married to Colleen Patrick Goudreau, I’m her number one fan.

I know there are a lot of fans out there, but I’m at the top of that list. Through her work with you Brighde and of course Sebastian and all that. You’ve been doing these trips, running them together. When you guys started partnering and started working on these trips, I started to learn a bit more about, hey, there’s this whole world of like points and credit cards and airline miles and stuff like that because we have to fly to these trips and fly home, hey, it might be good for me to start understanding a little bit more what the possibilities are there. So that’s really what kind of set me off on the journey.

Brighde: Yes, and I’m really pleased that we are talking about it because it’s still a bit of a mystery to me because Seb is the person that looks after this in our household, and I certainly reap the benefits of travel hacking in our personal and our professional travel but it’s still a little bit complicated. I don’t really understand how to do it and I’m really hoping that you might demystify that cuz I know a lot of people are put off digging into this because it just feels really complicated and really scary, having lots of credit cards. So hopefully we’ll be able to encourage people to give it a try and dip their toe into this way to travel.

Okay. When you decided to get into travel hacking, did you also feel a little bit overwhelmed and how did you move through that feeling of oh, it’s really complicated?

David: Yes, absolutely. My experience was exactly that and as far as I can tell, everyone who gets involved in this has that same exact feeling when they start. It’s overwhelming. There are too many crazy details all over the place. I don’t even know how to start, everyone really starts there. If you don’t, you’re a very exceptional case because this is not something that comes organically or easily. The way that this has worked for me is just doing a little bit of it regularly over the course of time, and that’s really how you build experience and expertise. There are still things that I don’t know. I’ve been doing this now, I don’t know, for seven or eight years or so.

There are still things I am not that savvy with, but hopefully just like you said, Brighde, I’m hoping that we can demystify some of this to encourage people to do it because it’s super valuable and super fun, if you do it well.

Brighde: Okay. So if somebody was going to start thinking about trying to, earn air miles in a way that they can redeem for travel experiences, what are the kind of things that they should be, thinking about? What’s the process there?

David: Sure. Before I start, I have to tip my hat to Seb. You’re a very significant other who really was the person who got me to open my eyes about what the possibilities were here. It was really something I knew nothing about. I wasn’t that interested. It seemed intimidating. Oh, I don’t wanna get a bunch of credit cards. I don’t wanna have to worry about a bunch of stuff. Now, I do it all the time and I actually, quite enjoy it. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give him a shout at least for getting me on it.

Brighde: Oh, well, that’s very kind. Yeah. He is quite good at it, as well. So yeah. It’s amazing I know you two are always swapping tips and new announcements about programs changing and how to take advantage of this. Yeah. You both are really good at it. Well done.

David: We’ve come a long way. To get back to your question about, how does this process work and how do you approach it? At a high level, there are a few things to keep in mind as you start thinking about doing this. Usually, step number one is; no one can do this for you, you need to figure out what your goals are. What are the things in terms of travel that you think will be important to you or valuable to you? For example, like maybe you’ve got a large family and you want to take a big vacation to someplace on the beach somewhere. You’ve got multiple people you need to travel with. Maybe you’re interested in smaller groups, but international travel. Maybe you’re interested in hotel stays. Maybe you love staying in hotels, and that’s a place where actually you’d like to gain some advantages using travel hacking. Maybe you just like doing domestic travel. Maybe you wanna fly to Hawaii, which counts as domestic. Thinking about where you wanna spend your time and effort, it’ll help narrow down the possibilities around. What are the areas that’ll be most valuable in order for me to pursue what I want to do?

For Colleen and me, it’s really international travel. I’ve got points we fly domestically. I don’t really use them for that. We fly internationally two or three times a year. We like to do that in business class where at all possible. That’s really the sweet spot for us, but it’s different for everybody.

Brighde: Okay. So once people have figured out what it is that they’re trying to do, what’s your next step in the process?

David: So once you have an idea as to what you wanna do, the next step is really, to get one credit card that helps align somewhat with that goal and just start with one. You don’t need to start with a bunch. I know there are a million credit cards out there. There is no perfect card. There are a couple of things to keep in mind with that first card. So I’m a fan of cards that have point currencies that can transfer to multiple airlines or hotel lines. For example, Citi has cards that do that. American Express has cards that do that, Chase has cards, and Capital One has cards. There are also Marriott points. For example, if you stay at hotels a lot, you can transfer those. But the point is to get one card. My favorite starter card, in general, is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. It’s a $95 annual fee, it’s got pretty good earnings on light dining and travel, two x three x points, and that sort of thing. It’s a good basic starter card. It’s really the first one I recommend to everyone. With that card, you’ll be able to start earning points. It’s pretty straightforward from there on. Later on, you can expand but that’s a really good starter card. Yes, many of them have annual fees, not all of them, but if you’ve historically been averse to annual fees, that’s okay. Part of doing this travel hacking is really understanding, if you pay a little bit of money to get a lot of value back, that can often be a good trade too. So it’s something else to keep in mind but that’s the next step. Get one card, and start getting points.

Brighde: Okay. And sometimes there’ll be certain benefits that you get with the actual annual fee as well. If I understand well I sometimes hear from Seb things like, oh, we’ve gotta use this hotel stay before the 30th of April because it came included as part of the perks of this particular card. So does the city card that you’ll refer to, have any perks like a priority pass or anything like that? Lounge access.

David: The main draw for that card is you’ll get a Chase account that will generate points when you put spend on that card. That particular card doesn’t have things like extra hotel stays or priority passes, but absolutely there are cards that do that. So for myself, for example, I do have an American Express Platinum card. That card gives you an annual priority pass membership, an annual clear membership as well, and lounge access to the AMEX airport lounges around the world. You might get a Marriott card that will give you hotel stays, for example.

 So, absolutely. There’s quite a spectrum of different kinds of credit cards with different kinds of benefits. The one that I recommend is really just, taking your first step, but absolutely there are a lot of cards where you get benefits annually, like a free hotel stay and that sort of thing. Part of the art of getting good at travel hacking is as you expand your portfolio of credit cards, it’s also learning how to track some of those things as well. It’s also tracking your spending. So one of the things that often comes with these credit cards is, I’m a big fan of really maximizing the welcome bonus or the signup bonus, you will hear about credit cards. So I don’t know what it is for the Chase Sapphire Preferred. That’s just one example they’ll have something like, you’ll earn 50,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months or something. Some, something along those lines. Always get the welcome bonus. For example, if you get 50,000 or sometimes it’s up to 75,000 points for the Chase Sapphire, preferred, that can basically cover way business class trip to Europe, right? So that’s worth, you might pay 3000, 4,000, $5,000 for a flight like that.

Hey, if it’s only 75,000 points actually, and you can get that by just spending a few thousand dollars on a card in a couple of months. That’s where the travel hacking really starts to become valuable. Putting spend on your card, you’re generating those points, and then you can use those points for really valuable redemptions, and that really is the sweet spot for travel hacking in general. International business class seats are really where the value of those points can be, the best-taken advantage of. You can use those points to like buy things off Amazon or pay yourself back with cash. You can do those things of course, but if you really wanna maximize the value, no better redemption for those points than business-class flights around the world.

Brighde: Hmm. How do you track everything? Like how do you track the cards that you have and make sure that you’ve reached the welcome bonus and make sure you pay them on time? How do you track all of that?

David: Good question. The way that I do it is, I have a spreadsheet, just a Google spreadsheet that has a row for each credit card and it has a bunch of columns in it of like, is it my name or Colleen’s card? What’s the signup bonus? What was the date that I got the signup bonus So that I can also keep track of when I signed up for the card to track annual fees? You can get pretty elaborate with the spreadsheets. In general, the one that I’ve got, there’s actually a website called Johnny Africa. They have like, a template you could use. Five years ago when I started doing this, I just copied it and it’s basically worked pretty well. But yes, you do need to track these things. The things to track are like when the annual fee is gonna come around, there are more advanced things to keep in mind here around like, canceling cards, getting another card, and being eligible for a signup bonus again. So some credit cards, after four years, you’re eligible for another signup bonus. You could cancel after three years and reapply the fourth year and that $75,000 sign-up bonus you got three years ago, well now you’re eligible for it again. That’s why you wanna keep track of some of these things. And then absolutely, you can keep track of your points as well. On the points front, like how many points I have for Chase and Amex and that sort of thing. Every month I pay off my credit card bills. My own habit is, I just go in and look at what the points are. Then there are a couple of airlines where I have points like Alaska. I fly Alaska enough that I don’t have to have a separate process for keeping track, but a lot of people do want that.

There’s a website, I believe called Award Wallet that can help you keep track of those things. You can enter your credentials in there, for your Alaska login and your Amex login and that sort of thing. There are websites that can help you do that too. But at least for myself, generally, I just started doing this with a spreadsheet and it’s worked well for me.

Brighde: Hmm. I’m imagining if I was doing it, I would probably put recurring appointments in my calendar, like every month to make sure that I’ve paid off the credit card and for the annual fees that are coming up, that would probably be how I would do it. Okay, so I feel like we jumped into sort of the more complex things there. So maybe we should come back to more beginner stuff, what does it mean to max your category spending?

David: Yeah, good question. When you apply for credit cards, you’re generally looking for credit cards that generate a points currency that can be transferred to hotels or airlines. Some credit cards don’t have any of that, but that’s really where the sweet spot is. Those are the kind of cards you want. You wanna be generating points in order to redeem them for hotels or airlines and that sort of thing. Usually, when you get one of those credit cards, they have what are called category spend bonuses. For example, one of my favorite cards I use all the time is my AMEX gold card. When you use that at a restaurant, to pay, you get four extra points. So normally you get one point per dollar spent on a card. That’s the default across the industry. So if I go to a restaurant and I spend $50 and put it on this card, I get 200 points, not just 50 points. So doing things like that, using your cards that you’ve got over time a little bit smarter is helpful.

So like for me, I’ve got maybe three cards that I use regularly. Like my wife and I, we dine out quite a bit. We cook a lot at home, so we spend a lot of money on food in a sense. So that’s the AMEX gold. Like when I’m out dining or buying groceries, that’s what I use for that. It’s four x points for either of those groceries are dining. When I’m traveling and I’m buying airline tickets. I use a different credit card. So the American Express Platinum that I mentioned earlier, that’s five x points on airline tickets. And also there’s insurance that’s beneficial as well if you put it on a card like that. That’s the second card I use pretty regularly. And then the third card I use is a card that doesn’t have bonuses for a particular spending category. For example, I use the City double cash card. It’s a zero annual fee card, easy to apply for. If you have another Citi card that generates points, you can have that card basically use the same points account, and that’s two x points on everything you buy regardless of the category. So whether you’re buying stuff from Amazon or you’re buying gas or you go to a restaurant, it’s all two x.

Those non-category spend cards are really beneficial. It’s just an easy way to double your points right off the bat. So the city double cash card, I’m a big fan of there, also the American Express Blue Business plus card. It’s a business card, which by the way, you can apply for, even if you don’t have a business, you don’t have to have an LLC or an LP or anything like that in order to qualify for getting those business cards. That American Express card is also two x points for non-category spending. Those are my two kinds of go-to cards for, it’s not food, it’s not airplane tickets, then I’ll just throw it on one of those. I’ve only really got three cards. I keep it in mind, and it’s pretty simple. You can go very in-depth, right? You can slice and dice it in all sorts of ways, but that’s really what you wanna start doing, is just maximizing the category spend. Cuz you could be getting, 100 200, or 300% more points over time if you use the right credit card for the right purchase.

Brighde: It’s really funny because I’m always getting told off by Seb, for using the wrong credit card for certain things. I dunno whether Colleen also makes those mistakes too. Cuz I know that you manage that, the travel hacking and the credit card, so does Seb, and I wanna support him, but then I go ahead and use the wrong credit cards. I literally write what I’m supposed to use for that particular credit card. Like this one is for, travel, this one is for online shopping or whatever it is. So that I don’t mess up and not take advantage of these category spends. Okay, so you’ve got a few points in your account and you are thinking about redeeming them, what are the kinds of things that you do that help you to decide, how and when you will redeem those points? What’s your thinking process there?

David: Sure. Yeah, good question. Once you’ve got some points, the whole reason we’re doing this is to spend them. One thing to highlight here is, the value of these points over time will always go down. So it’s what’s called a devaluation. So a devaluation, for example, is something like, if you use 75,000 points, you can get business class to Europe, let’s say for airline X, it’s very common for those airlines to depreciate the value of those points over time. So maybe next year it’ll be 90,000 points instead of 75,000 points. But the point is when you can take advantage of your points, the goal of this is not to hoard points. The goal of this is to use the points.

So use the points. It is the reason why you’re doing this, right? You don’t win by getting a million points. You win by getting that great flight that takes you on vacation and that gives you a lot of value back. Back to your question, Brighde, about how do I approach it? So the way that I handle it is, we talk about the trips that are coming up and when I know that we’re gonna have a destination, so for example, we’re gonna be traveling to Italy. We live in San Francisco. We’d probably wanna fly into Milan or Rome or something like that. The first thing I’ll do is, I’ll look at Google Flights to see what airlines have routes that are like one-stop or less basically as a starter, you’ll see airlines like, In that example, British Airways or Air France and that sort of thing. Once I see those, I look at what point system I’ve got, whether it’s Citi or Chase, or American Express. And then I see, hey, which one of those currencies can transfer to one of those airlines? Usually what I’m looking for in terms of price and cost and that sort of thing, like you can get a good value on business class flights for a one-way ticket from the US to Europe, in general between, I’m just gonna generalize this, 50,000 to 100,000 points. That’s pretty good.

When you think of a point, oftentimes it’s really just 1 cent is the value. There are additional calculations you can do and that sort of thing, but that’s the simple way to think about it. So if you spend a hundred thousand points, it’s like spending a thousand dollars. So if you could spend a thousand dollars on a business-class flight to Europe, would you do it? That’s a good way to think about, Hey, Is this a redemption that’s worth it for me? One of my favorite redemptions, it’s not to Europe, but one of my favorites is Qatar Airways. So if you have American Airlines points, you can do business class to anywhere on earth with Qatar for 75,000 points one way.

Brighde: Wow.

David: So for example, we can go from SF to Doha to Cape Town for 75,000 points in business class. That’s 25 hours in business class for about the equivalent of $750. There are better redemptions out there. There are a ton of blog posts and a ton of people who are writing about, Hey, here are the best redemptions for this point system, for this price, for this thing. Eventually, you’ll probably get a little bit more exposure to that, and it’s very easy to do too. Like, if you get points, you can just go to Google and just type in, best redemptions for Chase points, when going to Europe and you’ll see a lot of people writing about, oh, this airline’s really good if you transfer it there.

In general, this information is accessible and relatively easy to find. You won’t know it to start, but that’s okay. The internet is your friend. A lot of people out there are doing this travel hacking thing and there are a lot of resources you can rely on as you’re trying to figure out, hey, which airline do I go to? What city to do the thing?

Brighde: Okay. I just wanna go back to this idea of hoarding points because it reminds me of my brother. I haven’t spoken to him about this for a couple of years now, so maybe he’s doing something different, but he is like a half-hearted points collector, I would say, and he has a ton of points because he is able to buy the Google ads that he has to buy for his business. He’s able to do that with credit cards. A couple of years ago, he was literally spending $60,000 a month on Google Ads for the stuff that he does. imagine how many points he was able to accumulate over just a one-year period but he never travels. I don’t know what he’s waiting for. This conversation is gonna make me go and contact him and say, why don’t you come and visit us in Canada? That would be awesome. You’ve got all of these points. But I’m imagining over the past five years or so since he’s been doing it, those points have been devalued like a bazillion times. He’s missed out on quite a few opportunities.

David: Yep. Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny you mentioned your brother because one of the things we haven’t touched on there’s an art to doing this really well. One of the things that you just highlighted with that story is to use your credit card for everything you possibly can, to generate points. So when I started doing this, we had one credit card, Colleen and I. I remember talking to Seb and Seb was like, yeah, you get all these points and everything. I was like, ah, that sounds like a headache. I’m gonna pay cash for a lot of stuff anyway, et cetera, et cetera.

One of the things to learn as you go through this is. Put everything that you possibly can on a credit card because it’s all just like free money if you’re generating points. Also absolutely, if your job lets you do that and you get reimbursed for doing something, that is a great way to maximize spend and take advantage of generating as many points as you can.

Brighde: It’s interesting because I remember as a younger person, and even today, like credit cards are dangerous and there can feel some sort of resistance to this idea of getting one credit card, let alone multiple. So what are some of the things that you need to get used to when contrary to what we’ve been told and taught and how to behave?

David: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of fear around you’re gonna ruin your credit and you’re not gonna be able to get a mortgage later or whatever. You can pretty easily get credit cards. You will learn more about the credit card world and how it works, but in general, getting another credit card it might have a small short-term impact on your credit score, for example, but it is not long-term. In fact, over the long term, the more that you can show that you have credit available to you and don’t use it irresponsibly and you pay off the bills every single month, the better your credit rating is gonna get. So it’s actually helpful, to have multiple credit cards with multiple lines, assuming that you can manage them effectively. There are a few kinds of golden rules of travel hacking when it comes to managing credit cards. One is you pay the bill off a hundred percent every month. The moment you start incurring fees, the value you get from the points you’re generating goes down. So only do this if you’re gonna be able to pay it off completely every month.

Always get the welcome bonus that is offered. Period. Full stop. Put all the spend there, do the work, crunch the numbers, whatever it takes. Absolutely, you’ve gotta do that. Also, things like, don’t just close credit cards. The longer you have credit open, the better your credit score is in general over time. So when you wanna close a credit card, you can sometimes just downgrade it to keep your credit line open, but maybe go down from an annual fee credit card that you’re not using much to a no annual fee card. It keeps the credit line open, but now you don’t have that hundred dollars annual fee or whatever it is over time.

So there’s a number of things to keep in mind there, but this is something that is good actually for you long term. My credit score has gone up, in fact, since I started doing this because I’ve managed it responsibly. I probably have 10, or 12 credit cards open right now. Again, I only use three or four of ’em regularly, but it was to get the sign-on bonuses and get particular point currencies that I wanted to get for particular redemptions based on particular places we were flying around the world but those were a few of the things to keep in mind when you start doing this.

Brighde: How much time would you say you have to spend to keep track of everything? I’m not talking about the time that you invest in redeeming the points, but how much time a month are you actually tracking all of these different cards? I know we are talking about beginner stuff here but I am just thinking about people who might be aspiring to have lots of cards and having to deal with that. How many sorts of time do you spend checking on these things?

David: It’s maybe like half an hour every couple of weeks.

Brighde: Okay.

David: Every two weeks, my paycheck comes in, my wife’s paycheck comes in, then I basically go and I’ll do the budget and pay credit cards, see what the timing is to get paid and that sort of thing. In the course of doing that, I log into a few of our accounts and look at things. It’s pretty minimal once you get into a rhythm. It’s not heavy.

Brighde: That’s great. And you mentioned those 10 commandments that are often talked about. You mentioned you never pay interest or always pay them the bills off before the end of the month so that you’re not spending a lot of money on interest on these cards. Are there any other must-dos in this area?

David: Yeah, there are a few other things that make a lot of sense, but are good to be reminded of. So I talked about, don’t cancel an existing card without opening a new one. That’s generally, you can downgrade and that sort of thing. Don’t cancel a card, you’re gonna lose points or miles. Sometimes happens if you’re not paying enough attention, don’t let your rewards expire as well. So you might have points at JetBlue or United or something like that. Some airlines have a time limit on those, some don’t. Don’t miss out on a welcome bonus. That’s for sure. Definitely take advantage of category spend bonuses, like I mentioned and I touched on this even earlier, don’t ignore cards with annual fees. Many of these cards that are really valuable for travel hacking can have fees. So I mentioned the kind of great starter card, $95 a year, the Chase Sapphire preferred. The American Express Platinum Card, that annual fee is now $695 a year. It’s a lot, and there are tons of benefits that come with the card. For example, you get Uber credits all year, so you get $120 in Uber credits. You get like a $200 hotel, stay credit, you get another $200 airline credit, if you can take advantage of it, you get access to the American Express lounges and airports and that sort of thing.

You get insurance coverage when you put things on that. Those are really helpful to know and you won’t know all these things to start. That’s fine. Another one of my favorite commandments is, making sure that you’re pursuing retention bonuses. So this is maybe a little bit of the advanced class, but still super valuable. So some credit card companies, American Express is the one I know does this the most, when you have a credit card, you’re a very valuable part of their business. Sometimes what happens is, this is especially in, annual fee cards, so for example, I just did this recently with one of our Amex platinum where the annual fee came up $695 a year, and you can reach out to American Express, and say, Hey, you know what? I’m not sure I’m getting the value out of this card for this annual fee. You can do this online over chat, or you can call them and say, don’t necessarily say you wanna cancel it right off the bat, but say, Hey, I’m really struggling to get the value to really justify this card. Every year, you can talk to ’em about getting a retention bonus, and oftentimes these retention bonuses are like, Hey, we wanna keep you as a customer. How about we’ll give you 30,000 extra points if you put $3,000 worth of spend on the card? That 30,000 points is like, an additional $300 worth of credit, basically, assuming you’re gonna spend the money anyway on your day-to-day life. You can periodically get retention offers that make the cards even more valuable than the initial sign-on bonus that you may have gotten at the beginning.

So that’s another great way to continue to get value out of these cards. Maybe one or two others are like, Don’t pay foreign transaction fees. So some credit cards, if you go to another country and you’re buying whatever, it doesn’t matter, sometimes credit cards will charge you an extra two or 3%. It’s a foreign transaction fee. There are a number of cards that don’t have foreign transaction fees. When you are traveling, you should know which ones don’t and don’t use those when you’re traveling. I’ve made that mistake a few times, when, I used that card. I forgot and so this is part of what I have in my spreadsheet now, I’ve got a little bit more rigor around how to manage that.

So those are a few of the things to keep in mind. It might sound like a lot but the important thing is you don’t need to know all this on day one, no one is gonna know all this stuff on day one. Dip your toe in the water, take a small step, get a credit card, and start learning a little bit. Over time, and like I said, I’ve been doing this now for seven or eight years, there’s a ton of value we get out of this, for a relatively small amount of time to actually keep track of these things.

Brighde: This idea that American Express visa, they wanna keep you on as a customer, because every time you use that card, they get money. If you are buying something for a hundred dollars, the retailer is only receiving $97 of that, 3% of that goes to Visa, and I think it’s even four or 5% within American Express. That’s why they’re offering you these incredible incentives because they really want you to use those credit cards because every time you use those credit cards, they are making money, I don’t know how I feel about that, but that’s essentially the reality of the situation and if you are putting a lot of money on that card, that they wanna keep you as a customer. Even if you are paying it off every single month, they don’t care cuz they’re still getting that three to 5% on every single transaction.

David: That’s right.  

Brighde: Okay. Well, we’ve had a few questions about this topic from actually our travelers. Some of the things that we may have gone over already but which cards do you recommend and why? I think we’ve talked a little bit about that. Is there anything you want to add?

David: The one thing I would add just to underline it, is to go with cards that have point currencies that you can transfer to multiple airlines and hotels. A lot of people in the Bay Area have a United Credit card.

Please do not use the United Credit card to start. Yeah, there’s a sign-on bonus, that sort of thing. But if you had Chase points, you can transfer to United, Plus nine other airlines. So why would you not wanna use a Chase card where you have a lot more flexibility than locking all of your points into a single airline? And if United devalues your United Points, there’s no other thing you can do with those points, whereas, if you have chase points and United devalues their points, well, you can still transfer them to another airline if you want. Again, it’s not hard and fast and there are reasons to get a specific airline, but in general, especially as you’re starting, get ones that have a currency that you can transfer to multiple airlines.

Brighde: So maybe you can’t speak too much to this, but I’m just wondering what it’s like if you are not from the United States. We are in Canada and we have Canada cards, and Seb is, I think a little bit jealous of you because you get access to all of the stuff that you’ve just talked about, but I think it’s a little bit more limited in other countries. Is that a fair comment?

David: Yes, that is my understanding. Canada is a good example. For folks who are in the United States and can get US cards, there is a bounty of travel hacking possibilities for you. At least as far as I’ve ever seen, generally less so in other places. So if you live in Europe, you probably won’t have the versatility and flexibility to get all of these kinds of cards, I suspect. I believe it’s the same thing in Canada. So unfortunately not everyone around the globe has access to all of these things, if you’re fortunate too, certainly take advantage of them if you can.

Brighde: Yeah. We live in Canada. We still collect points and we still take advantage and we’ve had some amazing things. So even though our opportunities in Canada might not be as huge as you guys south of the border, it’s still worthwhile doing for sure.

Are you able to pay for like your big expenses with a credit card? Like I’m thinking about mortgage payments and rent cuz these take up a huge amount of our monthly expenses. Is that a thing that you can do?

David: Good question. So those are obvious things to look at if you can, but generally, for very significant payments like that, there is usually a 2 to 3% credit card fee in my experience. Occasionally there are some services that make it easy for you to do some of those, to take advantage of paying your mortgage or your rent with a credit card but just be aware that there are reasons to occasionally do that. For example, if you’re going after a signup bonus and it’s the only way you can get it, it might be worth the trade-off to have that 2 or 3% incurred. But in general, that’s not the case. You wanna be using credit cards on things that don’t incur an additional fee because it’s taking a bite outta the value.

Brighde: Yeah, absolutely. I know we can’t use our credit cards to pay our monthly rent, unfortunately.

David: Absolutely but, there might be utilities you can use it on. For example, we pay our electrical bill, it’s on a credit card every month. There are things like that, it turns out that maybe there’s not a charge there and maybe you can take advantage of things.

Brighde: Hmm. Vet bills. I’ve had a few of those recently. We’ve been able to pay for them by credit card, 

David: Yep. 

Brighde: Of course, we get most of the money back from pet insurance as well. Another thing that I’ve just wanted to touch on is often overlooked. You did touch on it and maybe you know the answer to this question actually. The travel insurance that you get on your credit card is actually, in my opinion, pretty good. Here in Canada, we have Amex Platinum, which is a quite high-value card, and with that, we get 15 days of medical insurance. If we’ve purchased with that particular credit card, we’ll get a small amount of trip cancellation insurance and trip interruption insurance. When I say the small amount, it’s not that small, it’s a couple of thousand dollars, but if you’re doing a very big trip, it wouldn’t cover the whole trip. But I’m curious if you know the answer to this.

I’ve been wondering, in Canada, if we can top up those insurances as well. When I’m going on a longer trip, let’s say for a month, I can just top up that 15-day medical insurance, and that includes the United States as well, where typically it’s very expensive to get travel insurance as a standalone thing. I could even top up the trip cancellation and trip interruption as well. That’s essentially the travel insurance that I use for our two-month trip to Africa, I just topped it up and it becomes a higher daily rate to top up the longer that you are away. So if you’re doing like the first five days, above and beyond that 15 days, then it will be something like $4 a day. If you are doing an extra 30 days, then it will be more like $6 a day, something like that. Do you happen to know if that is an option to top up cuz that’s worth quite a lot actually if you are a frequent traveler?

David: Is that top-up through the credit card company itself and not a separate company?

Brighde: Correct. So what I do is, I always call them, I never do it online because I’m always worried that I haven’t read the fine print properly. When Seb and I are looking to travel, I call up the credit cards, and then they need to refer me to someone, who’s authorized to do this in British Columbia, where I am because of laws. And then I say I’m going to Africa for two months. I have this card. They check that I have the card and make sure that they’re not advising me incorrectly. They say when you’re leaving when you’re coming back, and then they’ll say, okay, so you’re gonna need an extra, 18 days of top-up medical insurance. We go through it that way. So I know this is aside from travel hacking, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the value that you get is these 15 days of travel medical insurance when you’re traveling, which is worth a lot of money potentially if you get sick and certainly worth the money of getting separate travel insurance. Do you happen to know whether you’re able to top up those insurances? Because I haven’t been able to find that information myself.

David: No, I am not aware of being able to do that with any of the credit cards in the US. There are some credit cards in the US that do have some amount of medical coverage not in the way that you’re talking about, like extending it, but like for example, the Amex Platinum, I think if you use it to pay for a trip, you get like a million dollars worth of insurance for like evacuation. Like if you break your leg and you need to get choppered out of a place, somewhere on earth, they will cover that. But it’s not day by day. Usually, we will go by either my health insurance from work will cover it, or we would go to an insurance company and buy supplemental insurance basically to cover medical issues like that or potential medical things like that. So not in the US does it come through the credit cards in that way?

Brighde: That’s really interesting. Okay, great. How far in advance do you generally book your airline travel? This was a question from Cynthia. One of our lovely Rwanda travelers.

David: Yes and hello, Cynthia, if you’re listening. Thank you for jogging our memory and prodding us on some of these really good questions. Generally, when I’m looking forward to availability, I start looking about a year out. Now not everyone knows a year out what your trip’s gonna be and that sort of thing. When you get into details, every airline releases award availability on a different schedule, like 330 days or 335 days ahead of the day that you would fly, which is generally where it is. So that’s why I say a year, 365 days ahead to start thinking about it. But every airline has it a little bit differently. Generally, that’s how it works. The more you wait as time passes, the more that award availability usually disappears. Usually, the way it works is the moment it opens, there’s availability.

Of course, people like you are buying those trips and booking those award flights, cuz there’s only limited availability. They don’t have an entire flight, that’s all award seats. Usually, it’s like on a flight, there are maybe four award seats that they make available, or eight award seats if it’s a lot.

Then as you get closer to the date of flying, there are sometimes opportunities that show up, maybe a month or less before. Now that’s taking a bit of a chance. I don’t really like doing that, but there are times when you might need to look at something like that because sometimes airlines will make award availability happen, right before a flight. And so there are opportunities to do that if you’ve got the stomach for it. I tend to just like to know that I’m gonna get there and get back fine but sometimes you need to be flexible too.

Brighde: Yeah. Great ideas there. When you are looking to redeem points, where is it that you go to do that, first up?

David: When I’m looking to redeem points, the way that I approach it is generally, where are we going? I’ll just take a random example. I’ll pick Rome and we’re in San Francisco, so what I’ll usually do to start is go to Google Flights and just be like, my wife and I don’t like to have a lot of stops. Usually, I’m looking for one-stop or less, for a flight like that. I’ll just look at Google Flights and see who are even the possibilities of airlines that go there, with one-stop or less. Once I know that I’ll start looking at the point currencies that I’ve got with Amex points or city points and that sort of thing, and then I’ll start to look at, which one of those currencies either transfers to one of those airlines, so like Rome, like Air France and British Airways are good examples. They’ll both have flights, one through London to Rome, one through Paris to Rome. Then I’ll also look at, what other airlines are partners with those airlines that could have really good value, in terms of redemptions. The reason why I think of that is that Almost every airline in the world is part of an airline alliance. So you may have heard of One World or Star Alliance. Then there are also some airlines that have just individual partnerships with other airlines. So Alaska Airlines, for example, is known for that, although I think they just joined One World in the last year or so.

But prior to that, Alaska Airlines wasn’t in an alliance but had partnerships with companies like American Airlines and Qatar. So once you know how you want to get there and what airlines or possibilities, that’s when you can start looking at even some of their partner airlines. I would start doing some star Alliance searches, so why would I do a search on star Alliance? Usually when you’re doing a search in an alliance, the advantage there is, every airline in that alliance usually has the ability to redeem on one of their partner airlines and individual airlines are better at doing searches for things in their alliance than others. So for example, if I’m gonna look in Star Alliance because I know they have a lot of availability to Europe, I’ll go to the United website, do a search there, and you’ll see possible redemptions for British Airways or Air France or whoever else they’re partners with.

 A big part of it has to do with kind of the part of the world that you’re going to. Star Alliance, like going to Asia, they have less good coverage. So I’d probably look at Alaska Airlines to search on their tool for award availability. If you’re in Atlanta and you’re near Delta, they’re part of another alliance and so you might use the Delta search engine to find things. You start following some of these threads and these trails off. But Google Flights is the first place I’ll take a look. And then from there, you can even do something simple, which is just like search on Google for like best Chase Point redemptions for a flight to Europe or a flight to Asia, or a flight to Africa, or even a specific country, like sometimes they’ve got blog posts on from the US to Italy, from the US to Switzerland. It’ll help you get a leg up on where to go. Start looking for some of these opportunities.

Brighde: So do you have any sort of go-to blogs or mailing lists, newsletters that helped you when you were first learning and maybe help you keep on top of the latest offers or deals or anything like that?

David: Yes, absolutely. I don’t subscribe really to any email lists, although they are out there. What I’ll generally do though is subscribe to blogs that are basically travel-hacking blogs. So a few that I run into and come across all of the time and I subscribe to, in fact, in my feed reader, The Points Guy is probably the most well-known. There’s also Your Mileage May Vary, Y M M V is what that’s known for or One Mile At A Time, O M A A T, those are just a few of the websites that are travel hacking. Almost daily they will have an update. Sometimes it’s news about, oh, there’s a new alliance or you can do this new redemption with your point, or Hey, this credit card is gonna offer a new bonus in this way. You can take advantage of it. So there’s really good information out there on the internet. You don’t need to subscribe to 50 of these things, even if you subscribe to two or three of ’em, you’ll probably be covering the 80% case of what you’re interested in.

Brighde: So I know something that Seb has, is all of these different pots of points in various different places in different accounts. How do you combine those?

David: Sure. So each credit card company has different options in terms of what you can combine and sometimes there’s a fee involved as well and airlines do this too. If my wife and I have two separate, American Airlines accounts and we wanted to combine them to get a particular redemption. They might charge us for it, but it’s kind of case by case. The reason why you would combine points is that having your significant other or other family members, participate in travel hacking is a really helpful part of doing this too.

Now, in order to do that, my wife has her account, for example, and I’ve got my account and sometimes you wanna combine points in order to get a bigger redemption or something that you don’t have enough points for, and that sort of thing. Some credit card companies make it a bit easier, some of ’em are more difficult and there are some nuances too. So for American Express, you can’t just combine the two American Express points into a single account. But what you can do is you can transfer your Amex points to an airline, and if your partner is an authorized user of your credit card, you can also transfer into their frequent flyer airline account, so that’s how Amex does it. Whereas Citi, they’ve got a bit more flexibility. Up to a hundred thousand points a year, I can just transfer it from me to my wife or back. Although when you transfer them, you have to use them within 90 days of the transfer date. So you’ll hear coming to these little rules. But absolutely learning how to combine the points in order to maximize the redemptions is a really key part of taking advantage of what’s out there.

Brighde: For people who might be feeling a little bit overwhelmed listening to all of this right now, these are just things that you can be thinking about in the future to be excited about these possibilities of working the credit card system a little bit but you can just start out with one card. See what you can do with just one card before you start exponentially increasing your cards and making them all the more complex, but it’s doable like normal people do it with great success. You don’t have to be a mathematical ninja in order to do this, I’m guessing. Although I know you are very good at math, David.

David: You do not need to be. it’s just some very basic fundamental back-of-the-napkin math, which is really like at most what you’ll need. The reason why you’ll wanna be doing that is that there are times when you know, you might have a point redemption, but maybe it’s not worth spending all those points. For example, I was recently searching for some points for some travel to Italy. It’s only six months away. When I’m looking at point redemptions right now, sometimes it’s like 200,000 points, 300,000 points for a one-way ticket from the US to Italy, in that case. I could buy a business class ticket for less than $2,000 or pretty close to it. You wanna have a rough idea as to like, Hey, is this redemption reasonable or not? It doesn’t have to be down to the cent, really. It’s like, what’s valuable to you? One of my rules of thumb is, if I could buy that ticket for the same amount as the points basically for that redemption, hey, I’m probably gonna save the points for something else because I can usually use my points to get redemptions where the point value ends up being, three x or four x or five x, like the Qatar redemption I mentioned earlier like you could get 10 x value out of the points. To get business class to Cape Town in Qatar might cost you 5 to $10,000, but you can use 75,000 points to get there.

That’s like spending 750 bucks for a 5,000 or a $10,000 ticket. That’s where the value is. And so just keeping that in mind and doing a little bit of number crunching, that’s very simple will help keep you on the straight and narrow in terms of doing reasonable things with your points and getting good redemptions out of them.

Brighde: Hmm. And I know that, um, nearly all of these credit card holders can actually earn points by referring people to take these credit cards as well. We are gonna invite people who are listening to this, if they are interested in getting one of these cards, we’ll have referral links. And of course, there are little bonuses that you can get as credit card holders. We are gonna have all of the credit cards that David has talked about in the show notes and David will get a referral bonus. So how do those referrals work generally? And how many points can you get? If I’m imagining that somebody has a card and they wanted to use their referral link to encourage a friend or family member to also get that card, how does that all work?

David: Yeah, so those referral links can be very valuable as well. The way that they work is if you have a friend or family member or whoever wants to sign up for a card, most of these credit cards they’ll give you access to your referral link that is connected to just your account. You share that link with your friend or whoever you’re talking to, and as long as they apply through that link, then you will get a referral bonus, basically. And often that’s like, a bonus, 15,000 points or something like that. As you get into travel hacking, using referral links and sharing them with people who are interested in signing up like we’re talking about right now, can be very helpful too. And this is all kind of part of how this thing works, right?
It’s all about getting the value outta the system that the credit card companies are making available to you. This is very low-hanging fruit. I would love it if people who are listening to this, use some of those referral links. It’s something that I don’t even do that much of. But in true travel hacking spirit, I’m trying to take advantage of all the opportunities I’ve got.

Brighde: Absolutely. Yeah, we’ll have referral links in the show notes. And if there are any Canadians listening as well, like we’ll have some referral links, but do whatever you like listeners, do whatever you like. 
Great. Alright, so David, thank you so much for taking the time to share this knowledge with our listeners and maybe we can have you come back again to talk maybe some more specific advanced stuff. And if anyone has any questions regarding this, then of course they’re very welcome to drop us an email and we’ll try to get back to you with some concrete answers. But thank you so much for being on the podcast. Really appreciate it, at last.

David: Yes, I know it’s been a long time coming. Well, my pleasure, Brighde. Thank you so much for having me on and best of luck to everyone who’s out there starting to do this travel hacking thing for the first time.

Brighde: Thank you.

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