You Can Travel Hack without Credit Cards with these Tips
Most of the information for people who want to travel hack (i.e. travel really cheap) revolves around credit cards. Usually the story goes like this: you get an airline specific credit card and then you get points for spending money with that card. Sometimes you get points for using related services like hotels and rental cars, too. The only potential problem is that having a credit card to get points can cause you to spend more money than you would without a credit card. Also, if you don’t use credit cards wisely, you can end up going into debt. If you don’t have a credit card or don’t want to get a credit card these are some ways that you can travel hack without one.
1) Use Airline & Hotel Points
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to use credit cards to accrue airline and hotel chain-specific points, you can simply sign up with their loyalty programs and rack up points when you use their services. At one time, I used to travel somewhat frequently for clients when I was a database consultant. Even though my clients made all the travel arrangements and did all the bookings for my travel, I was able to keep and use the loyalty points from the airline they used (usually SouthWest.) So you can choose an airline that you fly more frequently and you can get points just from using them to fly consistently. You can follow the same protocol for hotels.
Related reading: Choosing the Best Travel Credit Card
2) Start a Travel Blog
Since I’ve been writing about travel on my blog and other places like The Huffington Post I’ve been able to use past articles as leverage complimentary accommodations for things like hotels, local tours and even restaurants. On my recent trip to San Diego, I received press passes (read: free) to Sea World San Diego and the San Diego Zoo! It’s really a win-win situation. If you’ve always dreamed of traveling anyway but don’t necessarily have tons of money to do it, writing about your travels are a good way to get complimentary accommodations and reduce your travel expenses. There are even things called pressed familiarization trips (FAM trips) that will cover your airline, hotel, meals and arranged activities. FAM trips are great deals because you get to travel for free and there is the potential to sell articles related to your trip money. Breaking into travel writing is not easy, but it’s also not impossible. One way to get going is to start writing about travel (even local travel) on your own blog. You can start a blog for as low as $3.45 per month. If you need help, I’ve got a free tutorial on how you can start your blog:
3) Use SwagBucks and to Book Travel or Convert Points to Travel Gift Cards
Swagbucks is a program that allows you to accrue points for completing certain activities like shopping, taking surveys, just surfing the internet. Once you you get points from these activities, you can exchange them for money or gift cards. There are gift cards for places like Amazon, Walmart and travel related services as well. There are gift cards for airlines, hotels and even cruise lines. Through SwagBucks, you can also use coupons and earn cash back on travel bookings. Sign up for swag bucks here: SwagBucks Sign-Up.
Related reading: The Best Cash-Back Travel Cards
4) Use eBates to Book Travel and Earn Cash Back
eBates is a lot like Swagbucks but you don’t have to do anything other than purchase items through thousands of sites that you would have probably already purchased through any way. When you use eBates as your shopping portal to shop at places like Kohl’s, Amazon.com, Walmart, etc. you get cash back from eBates. This is real cash that is sent to you via PayPal. The eBates website has an entire section dedicated to travel. There are hotels, cars, flights and vacation options to choose from. Book through eBates and you get cash back on these services. You can sign up for eBates here: eBates.com
Related reading: Benefits and Drawbacks of Travel Rewards Credit Cards
5) Become a Travel Writer
This is along the same lines of starting a travel blog. But if you don’t necessarily want to start a blog, travel writing is another viable option when it comes to getting complimentary accommodations. You may have to finance your first couple of trips on your own and then it write about them in some place like the Huffington Post, Medium or another outlet that will accept contributions without vetting. Once you build up your portfolio, you might be able to submit inquiries (story pitches) for some of your travel writing articles. Again, once you build a reputation for being a quality travel writer, you’ll start to get those coveted familiarization trips. Plus, it’ll be easier to reach out to places like restaurants or other venues for complimentary accommodations with the idea that you will write about them once you’ve experienced them. My friend Holly of ClubThrifty.com travels as much as 12 times per year as a travel writer. She just launched a course to teach others how to break into freelance writing called, Earn More Writing. Here is a link to that course if you want to check it out: http://www.principlesofincrease.com/EarnMoreWriting.
6) Use AirBnb Referral Codes
I really like Airbnb.com because I like having a “home” with a kitchen while I’m traveling. I’m one of those food snobs that doesn’t want to eat out a whole bunch (hyper-local, super cultural cuisine.) I’m not a fan of chain restaurants or your run-of-the-mill grease spoons. That is why I am happy to go grocery shopping and cook even on vacation. Once you open an Airbnb account, you get a unique referral code that works two ways: 1) you get a credit for someone who signs up and uses Airbnb through your referral code 2) that person also gets a credit on their first visit or booking. You can earn up to $5,000 in Airbnb referral credit! Sign up for Airbnb using my referral code and $35 (for first time Airbnb travelers only.) Once you sign up, you can start sharing your code
7) Use Uber Referral Codes
No, you’re not likely to take a long distance trip and but ride-sharing taxi codes can still come in handy while you’re traveling. On my most recent trip to San Diego, I used Uber quite a bit. Those discount codes came in handy getting to and from restaurants, parties and event venues. Again, this is one of those two sided referral codes where you get sign up credit and so does the person your refer. Sign up for Uber or Lyft here and get your free referral codes to share with your friends (plus you’ll get a credit as well.)
8) Use Groupon to Book Trips
Groupon always has great deals on travel especially if you like resorts and arranged accommodations. Groupon features many types of travel deals from “last minute get aways ” to “occasional travel” and “hot travel deals.” Many times you can score a good deal if you are willing to take some time and search for one.
9) Couch Surf
Couch surfing is just what it sounds like- staying on people’s couch (or air mattress, text, etc.) while you travel. But since we are in the internet age, there’s a website to match you up with the perfect couch in the perfect place: www.couchsurfing.com. You have to be ready for an adventure, but for a free stay, maybe you’ll find it’s worth it.
10) House Sit
This is another adventurous, free travel hack that is worth exploring. There are sites like Normador.com and MindMyHouse.com that will match up house sitters and home owners on a global level. You can make arrangements that suit your situation from free to paid, though mostly you will be house sitting in exchange for free board.
11) Use SkipLagged to Find the Lowest Air Fares
I had to change a reservation on my recent trip to San Diego and Southwest was going to be almost $2,000 to change on such short notice. Skiplagged found tickets for less than half the price. You can use it on your desktop or your smartphone. It’s a great tool to find the very lowest fare quickly and easily.
Use Travel Search Engines
There are tons to choose from including: Expedia.com, TripAdvisor.com, HotWire.com, Hotels.com, etc. It doesn’t hurt carve out time and search on a few different sites for deals. Your wallet will thank you!
If all else fails and you really think having a credit card will give you a boost on travel hacking, proceed with caution (i.e. never keep a balance and never pay interest, like ever in your life….capeesh?) and check out the only airline credit card we own: