Is your travel appetite larger than your travel budget? This week, Kim and Tamara speak with Dia Adams, The Deal Mommy, about how to hack your way to free or cheaper travel. We cover the best hotel and airline programs for families, which credit cards provide the best rewards, and some of the amazing trips Dia has taken with her family through her travel hacking efforts.
But don’t despair that all this takes a ton of work! Dia walks us through how to get started.
ON THE PODCAST
1:03 What we are talking about this week — Travel Hacking with Dia Adams
1:24 Kim and Tamara’s favorite credit cards for earning points for travel
2:00 Tamara’s travel hacking with the Marriott
3:15 Kim’s Norwegian Cruise tips for earning points
4:00 Travel Hacking with Dia Adams
4:40 About Dia
5:50 What is travel hacking?
7:05 Scoring free rooms through sweepstakes
9:05 Why Dia doesn’t like the Marriott program
10:15 IHG Point Breaks
10:55 Best deal Dia has scored
12:58 First steps to start travel hacking
13:29 Set a goal
14:25 Get on Twitter
15:35 Strike when the iron is hot
17:12 Book award flights 11 months out
18:15 Free rebooking on Southwest
19:06 Alaska airlines
19:55 Favorite credit cards – American Express Membership Rewards
23:20 Chase Ultimate Rewards card
23:25 Best airline reward programs – Southwest
24:51 British Airways
26:15 Flexibility is key!
27:50 Book one-way tickets for reward travel
29:27 Award wallet — free app for tracking programs
29:55 Favorite travel gear
31:00 Family Travel for Real Life Conference
33:30 Next week — San Diego with Mary from The World is a Book
About Dia Adams, The Deal Mommy & MacGyver of Family Travel
Dia Adams, AKA The Deal Mommy, is a real-life Mom of two tweens in the DC Metro area. Between growing up foreign service and working in consulting, she built up a serious love of travel that included visiting over 30 countries and living in Thailand, China, and Ireland (where Deal Kid was born). After Deal Kid and then Deal Girl came along, Dia and Deal Dad struggled to balance their passion for travel with the realities of, well, real life with two kids. They have been able to show their kids the world while still maintaining their savings and sanity. She developed The Deal Mommy to create a community of Moms and fellow travelers who can share tips and tricks and motivate each other to get out there!
Dia writes about family travel and real life at TheDealMommy.com and TravelingMom.com. She also leads the “Family Travel for Real Life” conference which brings together leading family travel experts to share tricks and tips.
Travel Hacking Defined
Simply put, “travel hacking” is the art of strategically crafting the best in travel and loyalty programs for your benefit. Another way to think of a “travel hacker” is MacGyver: give me some salt and a paper clip and I’ll make you a trip!
Best Travel Hacking Deals
Dia’s most ambitious hacking deal was crafting a month long Asia trip with first class tickets (typically $12K each) to Japan. It took a year’s worth of miles, but the out of pocket was $117/person. Another one was Bastille day in Paris in a 1,500 sq. ft suite for $100/night. On the podcast, she tells us how she used 94 stamps to enter an IHG sweepstakes with a minimum prize of 500 points and earned a total of 150,000 hotel points.
Best Credit Cards, Airline & Hotel Programs
Marriott is Dia’s least favorite hotel point program. Generally you shouldn’t pay more than a penny a point and sometimes the Marriott might be 70,000 points per night for a $200 hotel room. Marriott does have good promotions where for two stays you can get a free night. If you pick two nights at a cheap hotel, you can earn one night at a nicer hotel.
IHG Point Breaks are great promotions and perfect for those “obligation” type of stays. It is easy to earn points on Hilton, but it takes a lot of points to redeem them for a stay. Dia’s favorite hotel programs are Hyatt for service and IHG for coverage.
Depending on your travel goals, Dia’s favorite credit card for earning points is American Express Membership Rewards Gold, which is a $95 fee but gives you a $100 credit toward airfare and gives two times points on groceries and other common expenses. They also are easy to transfer points to Delta, Virgin America, and others, and offer transfer bonuses. They also transfer to Hilton and Starwood (which aren’t at good rates), but also Best Western and Choice, which can be good in Europe.
Her other favorite is the Chase Ultimate Rewards card, which has a $95 fee, but you can then transfer to a no-fee version after the first year. They transfer on a one-to-one ratio to Southwest or Hyatt. If you know you want a specific airline, get a Chase Southwest card for example.
Southwest is the best airline reward program by a mile, especially if you are flying in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. They offer free luggage, no change fees, and a lot of flexibility. For international travel, Dia recommends the British Airways program, where you can book via British Air, but then fly on either American or Cathay Pacific (for Asia), which is the best program in the OneWorld Alliance. They offer a distance-based program, where a flight from Washington DC to Florida would cost 12,500 points on American and 7,500 points when booked through British Airways.
Getting Started with Travel Hacking
The first step is figuring out where you want to go! Then you can map out how you can get there, where you can stay, and where you need to focus your efforts. Not all airlines fly to each destination so it really helps to start with a destination in mind.
Flexibility is key when your dates are fixed! Use the “just get over the pond” strategy for both Europe and Asia. Once you can get to Europe or Asia, it is inexpensive to use low-cost carriers or high-speed trains to bounce around. Otherwise, don’t redeem for less than a penny a point- use cash if it’s less than that.
To get the best deals, you need to follow the hotels, airlines, and travel companies on Twitter to find short-term deals. But remember, you need to strike when the iron is hot and jump on great deals.
To find the most reward seats on airlines, book 11 months or 330 days in advance. They will continue to release them throughout the schedule, but especially if you are looking for a larger family, you will have the most selection the farthest out. Southwest has a great policy where you can book and rebook without any change fees if the price drops.
Favorite Travel Gear
Dia likes traveling in clothing from Soft Surroundings and FitFlops, which are thongs with bling that are super comfy, or Memphisto shoes.
App of the Week
Dia recommends AwardWallet is great for keeping track of your point programs.
Mentioned in the Podcast
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