Traveling for free means the amount of money I spend getting to my destination plus the money I spend at that destination is the same as I would spend if I stayed home. At the end of this series I'll show you how I could actually take an international luxury trip spending absolutely no money. In fact I'll show you how I can do it at a negative cost, meaning I can actually make money in the process. Sounds impossible doesn't it? But it's not! Stick with this series and I'll show you.
In this part of the series I'm getting into what would likely be the most expensive cost for most international trips. The cost of hotels. Now you can mitigate the cost by using long term AirBnB or the like, but I'm not covering that. I like to move around when I travel and hotels are more practical for what I do.
Hilton resort Egypt
Now I'm getting into the crux of low cost travel. How can I stay in hotels for free or nearly free! The answer is I'm into the loyalty points game. I collect loyalty points for hotel stays. In a very big way!
There are multiple methods to do this but the only one I'll cover is credit cards. That's where I generate 95+% of my loyalty points. My favorite point currency for hotels is the Hyatt brand. They have excellent hotels and the loyalty points are generated in abundance at low or no cost
How is it done? Well this game is much less lucrative than it used to be. But it still can be done at large scale. Years ago you could apply for the same credit card multiple times, sometimes even on the same day! When approved you could receive 50,000 to 100,000 loyalty points for that program. I signed up for 100's of them over the years. Now that translates into millions of points on sign up bonuses alone. I'd estimate I've generated over 10 million points by sign up bonuses alone over the years.
I know what you're thinking. Won't that mess up your credit report? No! In fact it helps it long term. Although your score drops a few points each application, after approval you have a higher credit limit. One of the big factors in determining your credit score is credit utilization. If you pay off your credit card each month and carry no balance, your utilization drops shortly after each approval, but long term your score increases. My credit score is currently 830!
Credit card approvals have since become more restrictive for churners like me (churning means getting the same bonus over and over on the same card). Now I generate probably only about 300,000 points per year this way. Not enough to support my travel habit
Many people in this game stop there. They generate points through sign up bonuses and spending on this cards organically. It's enough for most people. But I take the game to an extreme. I generate most of my points through manufactured spending (MS). This is better explained by other bloggers but I can elaborate here if there is any interest (just comment below if interested). MS involves putting a lot of spend on a credit card, some people even put a million dollars or more per year, without really spending any money at all. This is where I generate most my points. Of course, it's all perfectly legal.
So, are the points I generate through credit card spend free? Some points are free, some have a small cost to generate, but some you can earn points and get money back. I know, you're thinking, "just do the thing that generates points and cash",. That's possible, but not quite in the volume I require. So I do a mixture of all three.
For credit card sign up bonuses there is usually an annual fee involved. My average annual fee is $85 which generates an average of 70,000 points. So the cost per point is about $0.0012 per point. Or about a tenth of a cent.
Manufactured Spenfing is a mixture of free and not free. The cost can come if you buy gift cards with a purchasing fee. Thankfully the purchase fee can be eliminated in some cases, or greatly reduced by methods I've discovered. For an average, my cost to manufacture points is about $0.0009 per point. Less than a tenth of a penny per point!
For both methods my overall average is about $0.001 per point. So 1,000 points cost about $1.00.
So how many points do I need for a nice hotel stay? The Hyatt Regency in Bangkok cost 8,000 points per night so my cost is $8.00 for a hotel that goes for $200 per night with taxes.
I could stay a month in this hotel for the $240 average cost it would require for 30 days. You can stay in much more luxurious hotels like this one in Bali with a private pool.
This hotel cost 30,000 Hyatt points per night costing me a little over $30 per night in points. Not bad for a hotel that goes for $1,000 per night!
My hotel stays are a mixture of Hyatt Regency types ($8 per night), luxury hotels like this one in Bali ($30 per night), and low end hotels in remote areas I may spend $25 per night for. Even the ones I've paid for in the remote areas I use Hotels.com gift cards I've purchased in the past at 20% discount. Added to that was the 10% rebate they offered until recently through their rewards program, and those $30 rooms only cost me about $21.00.
If I average these (I don't stay too many nights in the luxury hotels) I budget about $450 for a one month trip. Remember from my previous post (https://www.kirkstravelstories.com/post/how-i-travel-for-free-part-4)
that meals are mostly included in many of these stays.
This method of loyalty point generation is not for everybody. MS involves buying visa or MasterCard gift cards in stores then using liquidation methods. A common method of liquidation is buying money orders with the gift cards. This liquidation method is getting tougher as Western Union is restricting this method, but there are still multiple ways to do this. I still do it on a large scale.
Once you have liquidated the gift cards and recovered the assets in a money order, simply deposit the money orders into your bank account. Then use that money to pay off the credit card you used to buy the gift cards. So you manufacture points without really spending anything,
What greatly improves the return is there are bonus categories for many credit cards. Some offer 3 - 4 x points for grocery purchases. So buy gift cards there to maximize this category. Some cards offer 5x points for office supply stores. Office Depot and Staples have fee free or negative cost sales on gift cards every month. Great way to rack up points.
Not everyone is comfortable with this game. Why? Because using gift cards to buy money orders is the same game fraudsters use when they steal credit cards. It gives the appearance of fraud even though it's not. Personally I've had very very few issues here, but it can be a concern for some.
This takes some practice to learn how to maximize point generation as well as how and where to buy money orders. But in a month you'll easily get the hang of it. It's not difficult to manufacture a million points per year with points valued nearly $0.02 per point. That's $20,000 of travel per year. If you view this as a hobby, you could easily do more than a million points per year. So if you're retired and love to travel, what better hobby?
Bottom line: pay Pennies on the dollar using loyalty points you've "earned" through credit cards that you get offers for in the mail all the time. If managed properly, see your credit score and loyalty points increase dramatically.
Again, there are many blogs to explain this better. Or I can do here if there is interest.
Go to part 7: