The Idea Behind Travel Hacking

To be honest with you, I don’t even know what the definition of “travel hacking” is.  It sounds like you are doing something unlawful to travel cheaply – which I can tell you is completely untrue.

Instead, I like to think of this as a personal hobby and doing what we in the community targets- travelling in luxury to exotic places and maximizing redemption value while staying completely within the rules, terms and conditions.  Some people calls this “the game” – because we are constantly trying out new possibilities or loopholes to find even better travel deals, effectively pitching you against the travel system.

As you begin to delve into this game, you will inadvertently have many questions (or you want to further your game by sharing experiences with like minded individuals) and the only way of doing so is by interacting with fellows “players” in this game.  The truth is the vast majority of the population, including most of my friends, simply purchases basic fares from airline websites and are completely oblivious to this other side of travelling.

I think this article gives a nice little teaser to the game.


Whatever the case,  I think most people can agree getting ridiculously cheap flights and flying business and first class for less than the cost of a discount economy ticket is a form of travel hacking.

But how do we pull that off?  You might have tried some of the following:

  • Using sites like Momondo or Skyscanner (so called online travel agency or OTA) to find slightly cheaper tickets.
  • Subscribe to sites like or to find cheap tickets and – if you are really flexible, lucky and fast, score some mistake fares.
  • Try to maximize the chance of a upgrade by showing up as close as humanly possible to the check in cutoff time.
    Frankly in my experience, your chance of success is really quite low given how it seems everyone (except you) have airline status these days.

No, the only sure way is to somehow earn tons of points and miles and use it to redeem it for flights in premium cabins.  I can tell you this is how all the travel hacking bloggers that you may know started out when they first entered this business.

When most people talk of earning points, they think of flying dozens of trips or spending thousands of dollars on credit cards to earn enough points for a single trip.  However, once they find out how much points are required for any sort of travel, they quickly lose hope of ever saving enough and imagine that these loyalty programs are only meant for executives flying weekly in business class.

To put this into perspective, a round trip from Canada to Asia 1 (eg. Hong Kong or japan), costs 150,000 Aeroplan points in business class.  Now in January I flew on a revenue ticket round trip from YYZ (Toronto) to HKG and back with layovers in Vancouver, Beijing and Calgary.
Guess how much miles I earned.

Aeroplan Flight miles earned
I’ll do the math for you – a whopping 7,616 Aeroplan miles

For me to earn enough miles for my NA->Asia trip in business class, I need to fly this route 20 times.  I literally need to fly this route almost every other week to earn the points I need in 1 year for my dream trip.

Let’s also talk about travel credit cards.  The earn rate of most Aeroplan branded cards is 1 mile per dollar spent, maybe very slightly more for premium credit cards.  If I have the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite and assuming half of my purchases are gas and groceries; I will need to spend $125,000 for the same dream trip, or over $10,400 per month.

TD Aeroplan card
I like how they even say “It’s easy to earn Aeroplan miles”

And let’s not even talk about earning Aeroplan by filling up gas at Esso stations.

What you need to realize is that the people who are actually relying on these methods to earn miles are effectively subsidizing the so called “Travel hackers” – those who abuse welcome bonuses again and again.

Without the vast majority of the population relying on normal spending to rack up miles, points or cash back, it is completely unsustainable for credit card companies to consistently have any sort of meaningful welcome bonuses.

The average credit card welcome bonus in Canada is 25-30k Aeroplan points (right now there is a 30k bonus for the CIBC Aerogold business card).  Assuming an average  monthly spend of $2,000, the average bloke will accumulate 30k miles in 15 months, while someone can apply for the CIBC card in 30 minutes and have the same number of points in a few weeks.

canadiantraveltips - travel hacking basics

Hopefully I’ve shown why we cannot rely on the traditional means of flying or spending to earn the miles needed for our dream trip.

Now let’s actually earn the miles we need on the next page.