Travel Hacking in Action – A Trip to North America (Part 1)

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Rather than just write about the notional possibilities of travel hacking, at InsideFlyer UK we like to show how we put some of our favourite strategies in action. I recently travelled to North America so I have additional material for another installment of “Travel Hacking in Action”.

Flights: Barcelona to New York to Washington DC to Fort Lauderdale (American Airlines)

Joe and I write frequently about Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, but I’m not sure that either of us have shown an actual example. Earlier this year, I found out that I needed to get to Florida in early July – my parents are celebrating their 50th anniversary and wanted to take the grandchildren to Disneyworld and the entire family on a Caribbean cruise. With a trip to the US on the horizon I naturally looked at options available through Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. I might sound like a broken record, repeating the same mantra over and over, but Mileage Plan is great because of:

  • One free stopover on one-way itineraries (more on that later)
  • Many different airline partners – for Europe to North America that would mean American Airlines, British Airways, Air France / KLM, Icelandair and so on
  • Free cancellation and re-booking up until 60 days before departure

When I first starting looking, there were no suitable flights available from Barcelona. So I just booked something… anything that would get me from somewhere in Europe to somewhere in Florida on a suitable date… I can’t really remember although it would have been on American Airlines due to the lack of surcharges. I paid Alaska’s $12.50 partner booking fee along with some taxes and knew that I could cancel or change my reward for free at any time before early May 2017, when the 60-day deadline would be reached.

Every once in awhile I would take another look at award availability on the Alaska website. And once I found a Business Class itinerary on a suitable date, I simply changed my existing award itinerary online. Unfortunately I neglected to screenshot the process, but it is really quite simple.

So, for 50,000 Alaska miles + $65 in taxes, I flew in American Airlines Business Class from Barcelona to New York with a same-day connection to Washington DC. After an overnight layover in Washington (less than 24 hours, therefore not counting as my “stopover”) I continued to Fort Lauderdale. And that was only the first half of my itinerary, as I set my stopover for the Miami area, before continuing onwards.

Again, the Alaska website is quite flexible. When I booked the Barcelona to Fort Lauderdale section, I added a random connecting flight for a later date. Essentially you are using the “Connecting flight (optional)” field to look for your post-stopover route…

The ability to change reward bookings for free, online, is simply amazing for a travel hacker. So, once I locked in my transatlantic flights, and set my itinerary to have a stopover, it was a simple process to make yet more changes. I could leave my transatlantic flights untouched and just change individual flights. Apologies… I really should have taken screenshots. Next time…

Would most people prefer a direct flight to Miami? Quite likely… but if you can’t find award availability in Business Class then you need to be creative. Pay for an economy ticket? Or fly in Business or First using miles, even though it requires a connection, sometimes overnight? For me the answer is obvious, and not just because it opens up more travel hacking opportunities…

Hyatt hotel nights in Washington and Fort Lauderdale

Even though I am surely Hyatt’s biggest fan at InsideFlyer UK, Joe beat me to the punch back in February and wrote about one of World of Hyatt’s new benefits, where members can earn a free night (at a Category 1-4 hotel) for staying at five different Hyatt brands over the lifetime of your World of Hyatt membership. As Joe correctly points out, it is a bit tricky to accumulate five brands in Europe, at least cost-efficiently. But in the United States it’s really rather simple.

I took advantage of my overnight layover in Washington DC to stay at the Hyatt Centric hotel in Arlington, right next to a metro station four or five stops away from DCA airport. And upon arrival to Fort Lauderdale, I stayed at the Hyatt House hotel near FLL airport. Both hotels were priced competitively, so I easily picked up two brands. Within days I received this e-mail.

And, sure enough, I had reached my first five brands quite easily…

Since the free night certificate is valid for a year, I can now stay for free at any World of Hyatt Category 1-4 hotel between now and July 2018. It won’t be quite so easy to stay at another five brands, but I welcome the challenge.

I happen to quite enjoy having a half-day to briefly wander around a new city or an old favourite but, even if I didn’t, 40% of a free night certificate would be well worth it…


Car Rental

Unquestionably my travel hacking skills are weakest when it comes to renting cars. But some of the things I try to keep in mind are:

  • Cashback – rebates can fluctuate, so whenever I see an increased rate or a new promotion from Topcashback (often highlighted on InsideFlyer UK), I try to re-book my car rental if the rate is still the same
  • Earning miles – I try to take advantage of bonus mile promotions to earn as many miles as possible
  • Country of residence – I sometimes find that rates can be lower if I play around with my country of residence

I ended up booking from Avis due to a combination of lowest rate and the fact that they are one of the partners for the Iberia Plus partner promotion that you can read about here.

But I would love to be educated by any readers who are willing to share their car rental hacking tips…


Why did I need a rental car? I’ll save that for part 2…

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