Sept 1, 2015: Finally writing up something that has been growing in my mind for the past year.
A new friend, a roommate in Tzfat, Israel told me of her recent travel to China. (CHINA!!!) Her friend was going and didn’t want to go alone, so he took her with him — on his dime. She was telling me how disappointed she was that she was there, in China! — and the friend and none of their little group wanted to do anything to experience China. As a chef, she is very into food and she couldn’t get the people to eat out with her. They didn’t want to see anything. And then I realized the reason. She wasn’t with “travelers. She was with “travel hackers.”
Her friend couldn’t care less that he was in China. He likely couldn’t care less that he is anywhere. All he cares about is gaming the system: getting a good travel deal, getting free miles. There had been a “mistake fare” to China so he went on “mileage run.” He only cares to say he has been, not to actually be there.
This is sad — and becoming a big thing. It has been bothering me to see 25-35-year-olds brag that they have been to 75 countries, and then to learn they did it in a 6-month to 1-year trip, or over 4 years or so. You don’t experience 75 countries in that time! I still haven’t even set foot in 75 countries. (I counted 50 when asked, over 7 years of active travel in two multi-year trips. Still too short a time in most.)
It’s one thing to take advantage of a great New Card offer and get $35,000 or $50,000 bonus miles — giving you a free flight from say, the USA to Europe. It’s not easy to save for a vacation and we all need vacations. And a new card now and then is legitimate. But go on that vacation and enjoy the place you’d selected! Travel overland while you’re there and see the place. Take a train or bus and talk to the locals! Experience the place! Savor the locale, the people, the foods, the languages, the experiences.
It bothers me seeing so many “travel hacking” web sites pop up.
For as long as there have been Frequent Flier miles, there have been people flying to accrue miles or upgrade status. That’s legitimate, although I know of people who do the flight and don’t bother to appreciate the place they’ve flown to.
But this new “travel hacking” thing is about getting credit cards just to get the sign-up bonuses. It’s people bragging about the cards and bonuses they’ve gotten. It’s not easy to manage finances. Credit cards are serious business. I am seeing people with already horrible credit try to do this card game and I worry about their futures.
I am a traveler.
I started with Frequent Flier programs for each airline I flew — but not credit cards. My first miles program was American Airlines — and that’s the one I’ve stuck with and invested in. It is, in part, how I have gotten to be on this trip. My other first airlines of choice have gone away. I tried having Delta but it didn’t help my needs. I have flown Jet Blue but the timing wasn’t right for me so I never applied for a card. I have a couple of other miles memberships — Air Berlin and El Al — but not credit cards. I choose my credit cards wisely. I always have. And my purchases are legitimate. If I played the “hacking” games of buying and returning, I would not be able to live with myself.
A person is only as good as his word. Your credit is a reflection of how you manage your life and keep your word.
Be careful with the something-for-free trap. Everything has its price.
A note to regular people who want to travel
A Frequent Flier Miles credit card may not even be right for you. With the annual fee on many of them at $95 and even higher, will it cost you more in annual fees than to buy your ticket with cash? In the 90s and early 2000s, miles were great! Even when benefits went down and an international flight was 20,000 miles, it made sense to me to use miles, but at 30,000 miles with few seats available, I am rethinking saving miles and leaning toward a cash-back card (but will keep a free miles card to not lose my miles).
AirFareWatchdog.com has a good article called, Travel Rewards Credit Cards vs. Cash-Back Credit Cards: Which Is Right for Me? written by Tim Winship on April 01, 2017.
Other reasons miles may not be the best way for most of us non-business travelers people is that the perks may not match your needs. For example, do you really want to spend so much time in any airport that lounge access is a benefit? (Admittedly, I did love Air Berlin’s shared lounge in Berlin on a long wait.) If you’re traveling light, does a free checked bag help you? Do you fly alone as opposed to not having a companion?
Helping you to understand credit and your credit rating
Here are some sources you can use to learn about credit, your credit score, your credit reports and such. There’s a lot of talk about FICO scores too. I’ll add that as soon as I can.
The FTC web pages on credit
I suggest you start at the official website of The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as is perhaps the most reliable source. The FTC is consumer protection agency of the United States. It is tasked to: “prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace.” Here’s the link to the consumer-focused parts of the FTC site.
In this Money & Credit section, you can also learn how to get legitimate free copies of your credit reports. Please do not just go for any offer. There are fraudulent sites out there just waiting for you to give them your critical personal info.
Your credit card company’s web pages about FICO or credit scores
I found great information and understanding at the Citibank website. In fact, before websites were common, it was a Citibank rep that taught me a lot about the reality of a credit score. (Citibank provides the American Airlines miles cards.)
I’ll try to link to this Citibank info and to other good resources as I have time.
Million Miles Secrets
Although I don’t love the plethora of travel hacking sites, I do like a few. (The Points Guy and Million Miles Secrets are two that I like. I think it was The Points Guy that led me to Million Miles Secrets.)
Anyway, Million Miles Secrets is great about warning you not to overdo credit card use. He has this article to help too.
I have more to add to this. However, both work and life outside are calling to me so I’ll continue when I can.
Very interesting. I’m in several of those travel hacker groups. I’ve wondered why they’re spending so many “points” to stay in swanky hotels where they have no interactions with the local people. I’d rather stay in humble accommodations and stretch my travel dollars. I agree with you about overdoing it with the cards. It’s a dangerous game if you aren’t absolutely sure you can pay them off every month.
I love the way you think!