From the Archives :: Travel for Free

how to travel for free {This was originally published Monday, December, 7th, 2009---the month Trip Styler first started stylin'. It has been republished below with enhancements.}

Although the notion of traveling for free does sound too good to be true, it is completely and legitimately possible. All it takes is a little insider knowledge and planning. Whether you travel once or ten times per year, traveling free boils down to a) being strategic about your {travel} spending, b) being serious about your hotel and airline loyalty, and c) tracking your points and miles in order to take advantage in a timely fashion.

If you are serious about reaping the benefits of travel, here are 3 major ways to start accumulating points, miles and dollars toward travel.

1) Get a Travel Credit Card Getting a travel credit card was one of the best decisions my husband and I ever made. Rather than selecting a credit card with points toward a GM vehicle or cash back, every time we spend money on our card our travel points go up. Our Travel Rewards Card has no black-out periods, an online booking portal and if you book your travel via expedia or the like, you can apply your points/cash to your purchase. The most popular travel redemption credit cards in Canada are RBC's Avion, CIBC's Aventura and TD Canada Trust's First Class. The Travel Strategy: Rather than using a combo of cash, debit and credit for your purchases, use your travel credit card{s} {responsibly} for everything, and the points will accumulate much faster. Another way to collect points quickly is to put business expenses, charitable donations or big-ticket purchases on your card. Both regular and one-time payments add up, so if you are disciplined, using a credit card for the majority of your purchases can get you one step closer…to Paris!

2) Join an Airline Loyalty Program As mentioned in Friday’s post, making a point of choosing one or two Airline loyalty programs can be advantageous. Since most airlines are part of larger syndicates, you gain points flying with multiple carriers through programs like One World or Star Alliance. Try to find flights with one of the carriers within your preferred airline’s alliance to amass points every time you fly. I hear the Seychelles whispering your name. The Travel Strategy: When possible, look for flights with carriers within your preferred airline alliance. Redeeming your points in low season will render the greatest bang for your buck. Here's an example. Also use airline points to upgrade to business or first class, or to redeem non-travel related items {like a slow-cooker} through their loyalty page. Finally, many carriers' points expire after 18 months. So keep track of your points through a website or app like PageOnce.

3) Join a Hotel Loyalty Program Choosing to be an Intercontinental Ambassador or Starwood Preferred Guest has its benefits, and this too can put you on the path to free getaways. When planning your trips, seek out your hotel group’s properties, and if the price is right, try to give them first right of refusal. Often, joining programs such as these will give you the inside track on new property openings and discounted rates, so it pays to be loyal and in-the-know. The Travel Strategy: When possible, stay at one hotel group's properties to continuously gain points. Most hotel points programs have a yearly cycle, meaning you need to achieve a certain amount of stays each year to keep your status. Also, knowing your loyalty program's benefits and fine-print is a must to fully take advantage. Some hotel loyalty programs offer more than just free stays. Between complimentary dinner or spa vouchers, additional points towards a partner airline’s miles program, free internet, upgrade or 3rd night free certificates, it is important to familiarize yourself with your program’s opportunities so you can effectively reap the rewards.

Using Free Travel Some people save up their travel points for that one, dream vacation. I know someone collecting and holding onto their points for a rustically fancy, over-water hut in Bora Bora. Or, there's the use your points as you go method. I've opted for the latter to ensure none of my points expire and I take advantage of everything. Both strategies have their time and their place. My biggest piece of advice for free travel is be intentional about spending on your travel credit card, be intentional about your flights and hotel stays and monitor your points and miles. Having lost points before---akin to losing money---I'm now committed to keeping track, so I can consistently redeem points and miles to offset the cost of puddle-jumping from one continent to another.

[photo by moi, taken at the Marriott Wailea, Maui]