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Simon Calder’s recent article in The Independent declaring that ‘travel hacking’ is a “myth”, has finally nudged us into producing a proper UK-focused ‘Beginner’s Guide to Travel Hacking’.
We’ve been meaning to do it for a while now, but the fact that a traveller as experienced, passionate and knowledgeable as Simon can misunderstand ‘travel hacking’ to such an extent that he sees no value in it, shows just how badly we really need to get on and do this.
If someone like Simon doesn’t ‘get it’, what chance do most other people have?
InsideFlyer is all about demystifying ‘travel hacking’, and the purpose of the Beginner’s Guide is to help you travel more comfortably and more often, for less money, through simple, practical tips.
We have invited Simon to join in and read these Beginner’s Guide posts to see if he changes his mind at all (or doesn’t!) after following them for a little while. As an avowed (and knowledgeable) sceptic, we would really love to see him get involved and hear his perspective, and if you would like to hear his view too, please let him know on twitter and through other social media!
Simon’s article raises most of the common misconceptions about travel hacking, so it makes sense to go through the points made in it one by one.
Firstly though, what is ‘travel hacking’?
Straight-up, we don’t really like the phrase much at all. Unfortunately, it seems to be the one that has caught the public imagination when it comes to describing the sorts of things we write about at InsideFlyer.
The word ‘hacking’ has all sorts of connotations, both positive and negative, that just don’t really apply. Travel hacking doesn’t involve anything hugely technical or anything illicit – it’s basically just about finding ways to travel better for less.
Myth number 1: Travel hacking is a con or “myth”
To be fair to Simon, it’s the headline which uses the word “myth” and that was probably written by a sub-editor.
That said, lots of people do (understandably) believe that there’s simply no way you could legitimately fly in Business/First Class or stay at posh hotels without spending lots of money or using industry contacts – so it’s well worth taking the time to examine the point head-on.
The fact is that thousands of people in the UK alone now already ‘travel hack’ to some degree, and in the USA there is an entire industry built around it.
Check out how many Facebook followers ‘The Points Guy’ (probably the biggest US ‘travel hacking’ blogger) has – at time of writing it’s just short of 1.5 million people! Or, take a look at the forums over on Flyertalk, where just the British Airways section alone has nearly 2 million posts spread over nearly 100,000 different threads.
Travel hacking isn’t a myth, it’s not a con. In fact, it’s not even remotely secret – there are literally hundreds of blogs in the US dedicated to covering this stuff. BoardingArea features some of the most popular, and is well worth a quick look if you want to get a sense of the scale.
It’s also worth pointing out that even Simon doesn’t dispute that the blogger mentioned in his article (Daniel Gillaspia) really did fly around the world in Business and First Class and stay at nice hotels for very little money, so I think we can safely drop the “myth” label.
With that out of the way, there are still three substantive points in Simons’s article that need addressing:
- 1) People who write about travel hacking exaggerate the value they get from it.
- 2) Travel hacking is really confusing and time-consuming.
- 3) Travel hacking is all about luxury and if you don’t really care much about that, it’s not worth the effort.
Let’s now look at those points in turn:
(Sort of) Myth 2: The reality of travel hacking is nowhere near as good as the bloggers make out
One of the things that Simon really questions in his article is the valuations that bloggers put on their travels, and that’s a very fair point.
We actually totally agree that the ‘value’ some bloggers ascribe to the travels that their Points and Miles buy them is essentially fictional. If you would never pay £10,000 for First Class flights (and personally I think you’d be mad to, regardless of how rich you are!), then just because you might be able to find a ludicrously expensive ticket for a particular route that you can use Miles on instead, doesn’t mean that it’s reasonable for you to ‘value’ that ticket at the same price.
‘Value’ is hugely subjective, but it’s generally best to be quite conservative and think about it simply as what you would have been prepared to pay in cash.
Look at it this way: If you were buying an Economy ticket somewhere anyway, what would you normally pay and how much extra would you be willing to pay to upgrade to Business or First Class, if you were given the option. If you’re anything like us, your answer will vary quite a bit. For a honeymoon or a special occasion somewhere really far away, you might be willing to spend considerably more to upgrade than on a short flight for a cheap weekend break, for example.
Many bloggers overstate the value they get from travel hacking, but the reality is still fantastic. Forget the exaggerated valuations – you can decide for yourself how you value things. The simple reality is that travel hacking can make your travels cheaper and/or more comfortable.
Myth Number 3: Travel hacking is really complicated and time-consuming
The truth is that it can be, but it doesn’t need to be.
The whole point of this Beginner’s Guide is to keep things simple and help you grab the ‘low-hanging fruit’. Even just 10 minutes a week can make your travels considerably more comfortable and more affordable.
Here in the UK, there are just four key things you should consider doing to get off to a ‘flying’ start (and none of them are time consuming or require anything more difficult than a bit of basic organisation!):
- Apply for an airline Miles or hotel Points earning credit/charge card every 3-6 months.
- Take advantage of free/ultra-cheap Miles/Points offers when opportunities arise.
- Maximise hotel (and to a lesser extent airline) promotions.
- Use a cashback site.
At InsideFlyer, we monitor and write about the best offers for all of the above constantly, so it’s easy for you to keep track. We’re currently working on a way to simplify the process of getting the best possible deals (for hotels in particular) even further – so watch this space!
The Beginner’s Guide will cover each of the above areas, and suggest practical steps to get the most value from each area, for the least amount of effort.
Myth number 4: Travel hacking is all about extravagant luxury and Economy is fine by me, so what’s the point?
Travel hacking certainly can be about luxury (and that’s naturally where a lot of the focus ends up, because pictures of beautiful resorts in exotic locations are more appealing than pictures of your local Travelodge), but it really doesn’t have to be like that.
Travel hacking can be about travelling for less money instead of (or as well as!) travelling in greater luxury. How you balance that is entirely up to you.
A practical example of how a little bit of travel hacking knowledge can save you money – even in Economy:
In his article, Simon mentions that he buys British Airways Avios Points every year direct from BA at the standard price they charge (currently 1.65p per Point is the cheapest possible direct rate). He therefore clearly recognizes that there are circumstances where having airline Miles can be useful and can save you money when travelling in Economy.
The problem is that because he just pays whatever BA charges, his savings are much lower than if he engaged in even the most basic travel hacking.
Just last week we covered how to buy Avios for ~1p each, with almost no extra effort involved – that tip alone would save him nearly 40%.
We end that article by pointing out that 1p is still actually quite expensive for Avios, and that there are considerably cheaper ways to earn decent quantities without a lot of work. 0.8p per Avios is generally the maximum price at which we would be tempted to buy Avios and even then we certainly wouldn’t be in a rush – that’s less than half what Simon pays.
Myth number 5: Travel hacking is ‘dodgy’ somehow
Simon doesn’t make this point in his article, but it’s definitely a concern that some people have. The benefits of travel hacking seem too good to be true and that can naturally raise suspicions.
We mentioned at the beginning how mainstream travel hacking already is in the USA, so hopefully that provides some reassurance, but perhaps the thing that most people have trouble getting their heads around is how travel hacking actually works – or rather, why companies allow it to continue.
On the face of it, allowing some passengers to fly in First Class for less than what most other passengers are paying in Economy seems like an absurd way to conduct business. The answer to this apparent conundrum varies a bit by company, but generally boils down to two main elements:
- The relevant parties (provider, intermediaries, customer) have different concepts of value for the same product.
- Wider marketing/loyalty considerations.
The next part of the Beginner’s Guide will explain these concepts in detail, and hopefully help you understand that there really are good business reasons why companies allow some of the apparent absurdities that come from travel hacking to continue.
‘Travel hacking’ is essentially a (not terribly good) umbrella term for a variety of techniques all designed to help make travelling cheaper, more comfortable and more fun.
A little bit of knowledge and effort can make a very large difference – so if that sounds good to you, hopefully you’ll find this Beginner’s Guide useful!
If you have any questions about travel at all, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments below or on the forum. The whole point of this is to help beginners, so there really is no question too obvious or too silly to ask!