December 23, 2023
Travel hacking is the art of taking advantage of tricks, loopholes, sweet spots, & so much more to travel for a fraction of the cost. Over the past two years, I've honed my skills in this exciting game, managing to visit over 20 countries. In this post, I'll share some of these insights with you.
The first step to travel hacking is figuring out all possible routes. The best way to start is by using FlightConnections and clicking on your origin airport. The map shows you all the possible direct flights out of that airport. Now is the time to explore your destinations, and click on one that catches your eye.
Now, you'll be able to see all the airlines that fly that route along with the days of the week the flight operates. Some routes are seasonal, so you may see something like March to December indicating when they operate. Once you've explored a few routes, take note of the airlines that operate some of your favourite routes.
FlightConnections between Lisbon & Oslo
For example, between Lisbon (LIS) and Oslo (OSL), you can fly TAP Portugal or Norwegian. However, TAP has flights every day of the year, whereas Norwegian only operates Wednesday and Saturday from April to October.
Most airlines these days operate within an alliance, which is a partnership between the airlines to share & extend routes. More importantly, this means that you can book flights on a partner airline using another airline's point currency. As of writing this, here are the alliances that airlines are part of:
You aren't restricted to a single alliance, but it makes things easier when it's time to book. If your home airport is a hub for an airline, I would recommend sticking to that alliance for the most route options and availability.
Tip: The free version of FlightConnections only lets you filter routes by a single airline. However, you can use the following links to filter by alliances and make searching for routes even easier:
When I was living in Canada, I flew out of Toronto (YYZ) and Detroit (DTW) for most of my flights. This meant that I stuck to earning Air Canada Aeroplan (Star Alliance) & Delta SkyMiles (SkyTeam) frequent flyer points. Now that I'm living in Lisbon, my Aeroplan points let me redeem on TAP Portugal (Star Alliance).
There are a number of ways to collect airline points. By booking cash fares, you earn points automatically. The best strategy is to pick a single airline from each alliance and pool your points there, no matter what airline you fly. For example, you can choose to earn Air Canada Aeroplan points even when you fly United Airlines. At the time of booking, select the frequent flyer program you want to pool your points with.
Another way to earn points is by leveraging certain credit cards. Travel credit cards are the best way to quickly earn airline points with your daily spend. Typically, you can earn either a specific airline point with a cobranded credit card or the banks' reward point (ex. Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, etc.) and transfer it to various airline partners. Airlines also tend to have shopping portals that let you earn additional points when making purchases at certain stores through their links. When renting a car, you may also be able to enter your frequent flyer number and earn points that way. The bottom line is there are plenty of ways to earn points, and the best way is to use all of them.
Now that you have an idea of what points to earn and how to earn them, you should have a pool of points ready. Ideally, you should search for routes before you start earning to get a better idea of how many points you would need.
The most common way to do this is by logging into your frequent flyer account with the airline and using their search tools. Some airlines have better tools than others, but it's usually a manual back-and-forth process to find award availability.
My favourite sites for advanced searching and filtering award flights are:
They have paid offerings, but the free version works well enough for most things if you sign up for an account. If you want to look up specific award availability, ExpertFlyer is the best tool for that. Using a combination of everything I mentioned, you should be able to easily find & book flights for your next adventure!
The thing about travel hacking is that it's an ever-changing game, so some information in this post might not be relevant anymore. However, the general steps remain the same:
If you have any questions or tricks to share, find me on X. Happy hacking!
Once you've mastered the basics, you can start optimizing points even more. Business & first class redemptions offer the best cost-per-point (CPP) and are a popular redemption choice for travel hackers.
Another common booking strategy is round-the-world (RTW) tickets with multi-city or stopovers. This means you could book New York to Rome with a stopover in London for only slightly more than flying direct. Stopovers let you get another stop on your trip and is nice when you already have a layover in the city anyways.