Travel Hacks – How to work the system to get free and cheap travel

Because I’ve been planning my first big period of traveling, and therefore booking lots of flights, accommodation and tours, I’ve been looking into ways to make traveling cheaper. I don’t mean let’s eat baked beans and not do anything that costs money, I mean how can I book exactly the style of travel I want but save money in the long run?

So here is my list of top travel hacks so far – feel free to comment with any of your own

Get a rewards based credit card

Credit cards can be a slippery slope for people that get into the habit of spending money they don’t have, and that’s how the banks entice you with their “24 month interest free” promises and numerous rewards for signing up with them, they know that they will make a bucket load off these poor suckers that are in way over their head. But for those who know how to work the system, and can pay off the balance within the interest free period, they’re a fabulous asset to have.

Most banks have a travel rewards credit card that is designed to help you accumulate frequent flyer points and even offer things such as free travel insurance, lounge access etc. It’s worth looking into all of the ones that are available in your country, not just the ones that your bank offers. For example, I looked in to all of the travel rewards credit cards currently available in Australia – including fees, what additional extras they offered and the interest free period that they offered. Any credit cards that don’t offer an interest free period (there are some) immediately get struck off the list because that’s defeating the purpose of saving money. I compare the yearly cost of having the credit card to what additional extras it provides and how relevant those are to me, it’s very easy to think ‘ooh free things’ when they aren’t actually free things that are of use to you, and will just end up costing you more in the long term such as discounts on services you don’t usually use.

So how did I come to choose the credit card that I did? The tipping point for me was the free travel insurance, this was the only substantial perk that was a necessity and would save me money on every single holiday I booked. Unlike free lounge access or extra airpoints, travel insurance was a practical and necessary thing that I could potentially spend thousands on each year, therefore making the credit card fees obsolete as I would be making them back plus more in the travel insurance that I would be saving. I excluded all the other credit cards that didn’t offer this and was left with two that did. Of these two, when reading the fine print, one had a limit on the travel insurance of 30 days at a time, and the other one was unlimited. Because my first big trip is 5 months in duration, it was really important to me that I have comprehensive travel insurance for that entire period.

The travel rewards card I chose was the ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures card which in addition to offering free unlimited travel insurance, offers one complimentary return domestic airfare per year of membership, two Virgin Australia lounge passes per year, a competitive rewards points system that can be used to purchase from their online store or can be converted to Qantas frequent flyer points or Velocity points, and a range of other bonuses. And as long as I go on one trip a year that would have cost me more than $225 in travel insurance (the quote for my 5 months in Central and South America was over $700), then I’ve made the yearly fees back, not to mention the rewards that I have accumulated with my Velocity points!

So you see credit cards aren’t as bad as they sound! I was always deathly scared of them, as I was raised that you don’t spend money that you don’t have, which is very good advice, and being raised by a single mother of 3 girls, you definitely learn some budgeting skills, but credit cards don’t have to be scary when they’re used to their advantage! Credit card providers rely on people not being able to repay their balance, and they make stupid amounts of interest off these people, so for the budget savvy traveler who has figured out how to work the system, they’re not losing out just because we learned how to play their game! In fact, for the people that want to make some serious rewards points, I’d suggest purchasing EVERYTHING on these rewards cards, and just paying off the balance in total within the interest free period. If you treat this like your eftpos card and only spend what you have in your account, and transfer it all over to pay off the credit card balance, you will never get into any strife!

Join a frequent flyers programme

This is something you want to think about before you get your rewards based credit card, as you want a rewards based credit card that’s going to contribute to your frequent flyers points with whatever airline you use most frequently (let’s face it, these things take ages to accummulate if you don’t travel for work or on a regular basis). I selected Velocity which is the frequent flyer programme associated with Virgin Australia. The reason I chose this programme was because the associate airlines included Air New Zealand which was important to me as I am also a member of their frequent flyers programme and intend to fly with them. Also, I already had my eye on a travel rewards credit card that was in alliance with Velocity. The advantage of these frequent flyer programmes is you can accumulate points by shopping with their programme partners such as selected supermarkets, department stores and gas stations but if you also have one of their co-branded credit cards and you pay with that as well as swiping your frequent flyers card, you earn double the points. In addition to every day purchases, you earn frequent flyer points when you travel with one of their associated airlines or use their accommodation partners, rental car partners and other approved travel partners. I did not choose to get one of the co-branded credit cards as their offers didn’t suit my needs, so instead I chose an associated credit card (a card that offers for their rewards points to be transferred into Velocity points). The other thing that comes in handy with the frequent flyer programmes, is the prepaid credit card option. For Velocity, it’s called Global Wallet, but other frequent flyers programmes have similar cards with different names. Essentially, it is a prepaid travel card that you can upload money to in multiple different currencies for use overseas, with the added bonus of earning you frequent flyer points on every dollar spent, including cash withdrawals. The real bonus with these cards is you upload the money in the currency that you desire when the exhange rate is good, and then it’s fixed at that rate and isn’t affected by the fluctuating exchange rates!
All in all, all of the frequent flyer programmes offer similar deals, it just comes down to choosing a frequent flyers programme that suits you. My advice would be to look around to see how easy it will be for you to accumulate their points (do you shop with their programme partners or fly with their associated airlines) and who you would like to fly with – then see if you can find a credit card that you like that offers frequent flyers points with that programme.

Join booking sites

Most of us compare the costs of booking accommodation online, and there are lots of different websites to do that on depending on what kind of accommodation you want (, Expedia, Trivago, Airbnb etc). When we find a deal that we like, we book it, and unless we absolutely have to, we usually check out as a guest. Why? because we don’t want another lot of junk emails from another website flooding our inbox. But a lot of these websites have incentive programmes that mean that you can save money.

Here are some of my favourite booking sites that offer incentives: is an excellent example – they offer the usual referral incentive (if you refer a friend who makes a purchase, you get $30 AUD credit and so do they) but they also offer their genius travel programme which is automatically unlocked after you make 5 bookings within 2 years. It’s worth noting that these bookings don’t have a minimum spend value either, my first three bookings that were counted towards my genius travel programme were each a one night stay in a backpackers with a value of less than $30AUD each! The genius travel programme saves you 10% on selected accommodation and unlocks other rewards such as complimentary airport transfers, late checkout or welcome drinks. The things I love about are that it offers a range of accommodation to suit everyone’s needs – from backpackers to 5 star hotels and you can plan future trips on there by setting up different folders for different trips (I know you can do this on a lot of booking sites). The website is also very intuitive to use.
If you want to use my booking code, click here, then you and I can both be a little closer to our next adventure.

Airbnb is another one that everybody has cottoned onto now and is an excellent alternative to hotels or motels, with the option to stay in a bed in a shared room, rent an entire house and everything in between. Airbnb offers all sorts of accommodation around the globe, from treehouses, to tents, with options to suit everyone’s budget and accommodation style. They have recently given their website and their app a spruce up, and they now offer travel guides including featured places to travel, featured houses, bars, eateries and local activities. Airbnb offer a rewards programme also, that rewards the person referring and the person purchasing, a $30AUD Airbnb credit when the first purchase of $100 or more is made using the referral link. They also reward $100 airbnb credit to both parties if the referral link is used for the new member to sign up as an airbnb host. This credit is awarded once they host their first guest.
My airbnb link is here, should you choose to use it.

Luxury escapes is my favourite for luxury holidays! Five star, often all inclusive holidays at a fraction of the price. The deals on here change on a regular basis (some last 3 days, others 3 weeks), and usually always feature a minimum of a Thailand deal, a Bali deal, a Pacific Island deal and usually an assortment of Australian and New Zealand mini getaways. They have recently broken into the market of luxury tours as well – offering luxury African safaris, tours through Europe and the Greek Islands and more! The thing I love about luxury escapes is you can purchase the travel voucher and then you have up to a year to book your travel dates (depending on the deal, sometimes heavily discounted options give specified travel dates) – so you can snap up the deal while it’s going and then worry about flights and time off work later! This is how I got my amazing an inclusive holiday at The Village, coconut island in Phuket – 7 nights of five star all inclusive luxury with unlimited food and drinks and free spa treatments. Bliss! I booked this over a year in advance and had to change the travel dates at short notice because the dates for my trip changed. Not all places will be this accommodating, but it’s nice to know that you’re not locked in. Plus, they have a money back guarantee where if you enquire about your travel dates within two weeks of purchasing the voucher and they can’t accommodate them, you get a full refund.
If you think you may like to purchase a holiday though luxury escapes – use my code to sign up here and when you make your first purchase – you’ll be crediting me $25 towards my next luxury escape, then you can pass on your code to your friends and get discounts on your luxury escapes too!

The new one I have added to my repertoire lately is Tourradar – which is an awesome website that I found that combines all of the tour companies into one website, so you can search tours by country, tour company, travel style, departure date, age range and much more. This is the website I am using to book my Central America and South America tours for 2018 and they have hundreds of tours to choose from! The thing I love about this website is you can compare similar tours to see which one will suit your needs, read feedback from other people who have been on the tours and see a day by day itinerary of the tours including what is included and what additional extras are offered. The website also links you to the MeetApp which is a chat group for people going on the tours to chat before the tour to get to know each other – which is ideal for someone traveling alone such as myself! The advantage about booking with this website is the rewards system to save money on ongoing travel isn’t limited, like a lot of the other sites that offer referral programmes. With Tourradar, for every tour I book, I make 3% of the cost back in credit for my next adventure, so if I book a $4000 tour, I make $120 back to use on my next tour. This incentive programme continues for every booking that I make with Tourradar. In addition to this, if I refer a friend, and they make a booking, we each get 5% of their total booking cost back as Tourradar credit. But get this – the referrer not only gets credit for the first tour that their friends purchase, but for every tour they ever book through Tourradar! Tell me that isn’t one of the most generous rewards system you’ve heard of? In addition to this, when you sign up, you get more exclusive deals and promotional codes! If you’re keen to start saving money and start touring (who knows, maybe you’re going to tag along for one of my adventures), sign up with my referral code here.

You can use the referral links I’ve given you above to sign up, which will kick start you with rewards and give me some rewards too and then you can share your referral links with all of your friends to help them get amazing savings while earning yourself some extra travel credit! It’s a pay-it-forward scheme that works for everyone!

So those are my top three travel hacks to help save you some money and earn some freebies – these are currently the things I am employing, after lots of time researching the internet, reading travel blogs and asking around. The key is whatever works for you will be the thing that you stick to, and this can depend very much on your personality type. The suggestions above are a mixed bag because some rely on others (such as the referral programmes) and you don’t want to be the nagging friend always sending email links to everyone to the point where no one opens your emails any more…and others are self driven, such as the rewards points credit cards and frequent flyer memberships. I find it useful to have many tricks up my sleeve, and not rely on any one method, as sometimes people click your referral links and other times they dont, and therefore you need to have the referral systems as an added bonus above and beyond the things you are doing to make travel cheaper for yourself, such as building credit with booking sites so you get discounts.

If you have any top travel hacks to save money, please comment them below so we can all spend less and travel more

Hope this helped

Nikita x

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2 thoughts on “Travel Hacks – How to work the system to get free and cheap travel”

  1. Great article Nikita.☺️ I have some tips that may be helpful. Regarding how to use your cards whilst travelling. The currency card is a fabulous tool, but beware, you must sign up in your country for one before you leave. Also, we were told if you lose a card it’s easy to replace, not so, we are still functioning on one, as we move a lot you need to be able to be in one place for 5 to 10 days to collect and have an address in that country. Aside from being given 5 different lots of incorrect advice on the international help number, by barely legiable English, and them losing our cards, we are still functioning on one, 2 months since the loss. So research them carefully. We got ours through BNZ, it’s the iffiliate currency conversion card they recommend, not a bnz card. We hear travel ex or nz post may offer better options. Once travelling, this can be annoying to rectify. Another thing we found, is never use ‘free’ ATM’s in airports or bus or train or travel Terminals. They are meant to ask you if you want to withdraw in the countries currency, but often don’t, so that good rate you secured on your pre loaded card is ignored and you get a conversion fee also, one airport cost us an extra $100 NZD, on a withdrawal of 300 pound. They are not free. So make sure you also have some currency of the country you were entering to avoid needing an immediate withdrawal. Also, in some places where pick pocketing is prevelent, you should travel light money wise until you reach your destination, accommodation wise . Prepaid currency cards are, however free for all purchases and ATM’s anywhere away from travel sources. So the best way to go. Only then do you get that rate you secured when you purchased your euro or pound or whatever currency you loaded. You will always incur charges on a credit card or debit card from home in an atm, always, plus a dodgy currency conversion, so cash withdraws should only be done from your preloaded currency card. These take 2 days to transfer cash from your account to the card, so be organised and think ahead. Another thing to watch in italy, is some accommodation will try to charge extra fees if you use a credit card, always ask and confirm your price before you pay at the counter on arrival. Easy to overlook when you arrive late and are tired, but always know what the cost is, open your email and check. City tax is charged in all bookings, it’s cash only and varies from 1 to 3 euro per person per night. Pay it in cash, if they add to your credit card, they will charge a surcharge. Another way we save with accommodation is we will book well in advance with booking. Com with the ability to cancel, this way if a better deal comes up later you can change, but you will always have somewhere to sleep. Lots of money is wasted when we have no where to sleep and are desperate, ie taxi at night, last minute fare costs. Always you save money booking in advance, as most destinations book up, better deals are to book in advance. Also you can time manage better if you have a plan and this saves time and money. In terms if transport, taxi is always dearest, but getting and my ride and Uber are cheaper. Some countries this is cheaper than public transport so check. In countries where you don’t know the language Uber is good as your card is charged, saves you carrying cash, the address can be typed in, if you can’t pronounce it and you see on your phone app the route as he drives it, so the driver can’t rip you off. In places where only cabs are available like Naples, we looked up the cost on google then negotiated before we got in, say ‘quanto’ means how much, then agree ‘si 15 euro…’ no more, they often know English basics but pretend not to. This is essential as they often don’t turn on meter, then argue or refuse to open boot to get bags. As long as you do this, it will be fine. We love Uber for so many of those reasons, and no need to haggle price before hand. Thus way they may be able to spend time pointing out good places to eat it sights to see. Local knowledge can save money. Also, many places have 24hr passes that work on all modes of transport for a certain time frame. Much cheaper. In italy you must purchase in tobacconists and validate on vehicle, but other countries you can buy on bus or magazine stand, or tobacconist, try not to purchase on bus as they are a lot dearer and single fared. A tip when eating out too, tipping is custom and expected check on Google or trip advisor for the current customary amounts, how much is custom before you eat out. You will often get charged a service charge on your bill, 1 to 3 euro, per person at table. Or sometimes you tip, but not both, watch this, in most countries we have found the waiters will try to get both and it adds up. I have argued before and said no, you have service charge, no tip also! But they may try. It’s essentially the same thing, but the service charge will be shared amongst staff, tip goes in waiters pocket. Remember it’s one or the other, or both if they think you are green. Tipping is generally 10 to 15% of your bill. I have seen many people in some parts of Italy not pay it, but it is custom and a lot of hospitality staff are mainly paid this way. One more thing, you literally have to spend a penny to go to the bathroom in Europe, so always have change. Anything from 1 to 2 euro. It’s not fun being caught out on that one. It’s cheaper to go to a Cafe, restaurant and buy a water or espresso for 2 euro free clean loo and something for your money. And read your bus tickets, we have been charged extra to put bags in carriage on the bus so have cash. It is in the small print of your ticket, if you have to run and use the atm in the travel centre, ping, big fees. That’s all I can think of for now, niki I hope you don’t mind me adding these things, but we have learnt a lot travelling, and so many of these things catch you off guard….. Mama x

  2. I couch surfed in Europe with my mum and highly recommend it. I’ve hosted in New Zealand, but it’s not a prerequisite. We stayed with lovely people in Paris and also in Perinaldo, Italy. Free accommodation, and beautiful home cooked meals…often people will show you some sights too if they have time. You can sign up with the website, and once you have your travel dates start requesting hosts. We partly chose our destinations by the accommodation offered – which took us to places off the beaten track, we otherwise would not have seen – couch surfing really was one of the highlights of our trip.

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