Before You Go: Savings Tips

If you’re just starting out, look at what you earn each month, and figure out how to put some of that money toward your trip. As you have more free cash, bump up the amount you’re adding to your Vacation Account and watch the total grow.

This is possible even if you’re not bringing home a ridiculously high salary. Before they left on their trip, Britnee worked as the communications manager at Thanksgiving Point, a nonprofit farm, garden and museum complex in Lehi, Utah. Mark worked as the Photo Editor at the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah.

Pay Off Debt First

“The first big step was to Pay Off All your Debt” said Britnee. The couple pulled from their savings to eliminate two car loans and some credit card debt. “It hurt to see our savings of several thousand dollars disappear so quickly, but doing so freed up $500 [a] month. The money saved from paying those bills then transferred directly into our savings account.”

To pay it off faster, y0u may want to think about consolidating you debt (Here's How To Do That). Instead of drowning in 20%+ credit card interest, you'll save a ton of money if you move your debt to a personal loan (where Interest Rates as 5%).

Make More Money

If your monthly expenses are pretty set in stone, boost your savings by Earn More Money.

One great option is to look for Freelance Work related to your skills. On top of her day job in communications, Britnee found clients to hire her for social media and writing projects. “Even though it meant a lot of evenings and weekends were spent working from my dining room table,” she said, “it was worth it knowing it would finance my dream of traveling.”

Keep Your Finances Separate

Unlike many married couples, Mark and Britnee decided to manage their savings goals separately. Doing so made them responsible for every penny they each saved and spent. Britnee said this required “us both to keep up with each other, working toward saving $20,000 each.”

The result was less nagging and greater fiscal responsibility. “We agreed to put at least half of our paychecks into travel savings each month and then divided bills and grocery costs between us. Whatever we had left, we spent as we chose,” she explained.

On the Road: Make Your Money Last...Heading off on your adventure? Use these tricks to stretch your savings further.

Move Less

Not only do you have to pay for food and accommodation while traveling, but you’ve got to cover the costs of physically getting from place to place — and they add up quickly.

When Mark and Britnee arrived in Europe, they cut some of their original destinations so they could spend more time (and less money) in fewer places. This decision also meant they could better experience each of the cities they visited, since they had more time to explore.

Offset Your Costs

Once Mark and Britnee realized properly experiencing some destinations, like Paris, would require significantly more money, they offset those higher costs with six months of an affordable lifestyle in Nepal and Southeast Asia.

“For example,” Britnee told me, “we spent only $36 total on a month's worth of accommodation while trekking in Nepal's Annapurna region.” That said, she added, “Don’t let your budget keep you from enjoying the vacation you worked so hard for.”

Making Money on the Road

Unless you’re planning on Making Money on the Road (or never plan on coming home), you’ll need some cash to kickstart your life again once you return from your travels. Mark and Britnee saved a little extra on top of the $40,000 for their trip, enough to cover living expenses for at least three months when they return to Utah. “We hope to have full-time jobs, but it’s comforting to know there’s something there just in case,” said Mark.

What Are You Waiting For?

As Mark and Britnee’s story shows, it is possible to save up a enough cash to travel the world. It’s not a short road, but the good news is saving for a big trip like this will create strong money-management habits and give you a better sense of control over your cash.

“Saving for this trip and carefully managing a budget while traveling has instilled a habit we’ll continue back home, whether it’s for the next vacation or buying a house,” said Britnee. “It’s hard to say what life will be like when we return, but we’ll be grateful to be surrounded by family and friends again and will look back fondly on this year of adventure.”

M I Ro

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Travel Free

Create Travel Goals

Though few people bother to do it, this step is actually one of the most important parts of your frequent flyer journey. Why do you want to travel for free? Where do you want to go? Not only will this motivate you to earn miles, it will also help you figure out which frequent flyer programs you should target Earning Free Flights

If, for example, you dream of going to Easter Island, then you should focus on American Airlines. If cuddling a koala is on your bucket list, then Delta might be a good choice. If you simply want to visit your sister in Dallas more often, check out Southwest. To determine which programs have the best offerings for your destination, just Google “how to get to X with frequent flyer miles.”

Sign Up for Mileage Programs

Now that you know where you want to go, it’s time to start signing up for programs by visiting your target airlines’ websites. Note that most major airlines are members of one of three airline “alliances”; airlines within an alliance are considered “partners” with each other. (Here’s a list of the alliances and their participating airlines, which are constantly shifting). List of Alliances

If you earn miles on one airline, you can use those miles to fly with any of their partners. British Airways, for example, is a member of the oneworld alliance, as is American Airlines. Since they are partners, you can use American Airlines miles to fly for free with British Airways, and vice versa.

If you only do one thing on this list, make it this: Sign up for one program in each of the major alliances. Since you can’t combine or switch miles down the road, you want to avoid earning miles on several different airlines within the same alliance. It’s much more useful to have 50K miles in one program than 10K in five different ones.

Tip: To keep track of your membership numbers (and mileage expiration dates), sign up for a free online service like AwardWallet or UsingMiles.

Always Remember Your Number When You Fly

As long as you pay money (and not miles) for your ticket, you can earn frequent flyer miles for every flight you take. No matter where you’re flying or who you’re flying with, don’t forget to add a frequent flyer number; even small amounts can add up over the years.

There’s a box for including your frequent flyer number when booking flights online, and if you forget, you can log into your reservation later and add it. When checking in for a flight, double-check that your number is attached; if it’s not, ask the agent to update it.

You may not know that you can earn miles for your target airline even when flying with one of their partners. Let’s say you have a flight to Bangkok on Thai Airways. Though you might not ever use Thai Airways again, they’re in the same alliance as United — so be sure to add your United frequent flyer number, and therefore, earn United miles for your flight.

Check your Credit

Once you’ve got the basics down, you might want to apply for a Travel Rewards Credit Cards, as they’re the quickest way to earn lots of miles.

But before you do, it’s imperative you check your credit score. If it isn’t above 700, you shouldn’t use credit cards to earn miles. Work on paying off debt and Improving your Score before concerning yourself with travel rewards. If you have little or no credit, apply for a basic credit card (make sure it has no annual fee) and build up your credit for a year or two before getting a travel rewards card.

Even if your credit is good, you should also take a moment to check yourself: Are you going to be able to use rewards credit cards responsibly? Are you going to pay your bills in full each and every month?

If the answer is no, you should avoid getting a travel rewards credit card. Most of these cards have extremely high interest rates, so leaving a balance on them will negate any rewards you earn. It’s not worth going into debt for travel rewards.

Apply for a Travel Rewards Credit Card

If your credit looks good, it’s time to apply for a travel rewards credit card. You can choose from an airline-branded credit card that earns miles for a specific airline, or a general points card whose miles can be transferred to several different partners.

Take a look at the travel goals you created and find a card that will help you achieve them. Since the world of travel rewards changes frequently, it’s important to research which cards have the most lucrative offers at the time you’re ready to apply.

Great resources include newsletters like The Credit Card Fly and blogs like One Mile At A Time, and The Points Guy, and Million Miles Secret and MommyPoints. (Full disclosure: I write for The Credit Card Fly.)

Use Your Credit Card — Intelligently

Now that you have a travel rewards credit card, it’s time to use it! First off, make sure you complete the Complete The Minimum Spend required to get the sign-up bonus. You might even want to put a reminder in your calendar to help you stay on top of the deadline.

After you’ve earned your bonus, continue to put every expense possible on your credit card. Whereas you’ll earn at least one mile per dollar spent on your card, you won’t earn any miles by Paying with Cash. Never make extra purchases to get more miles; simply use your credit card instead of cash on things you would’ve bought anyway.

Most importantly, pay your bill in full each and every month. Remember: rewards aren’t worth going into debt.

Once you’ve had the card for a year, you’ll probably get hit by an annual fee. To avoid paying it, you have a few options: you can cancel the card; you can downgrade to a card with no annual fee, and thus keep the line of credit open; or you can threaten to cancel the card, in which case the issuer may offer you a “Retention Bonus.”

Apply for More Credit Cards

If you’ve used your credit card responsibly, you might want to apply for other travel rewards cards. You can either apply for just one, or for several at once; the process of applying for multiple cards is called a “Credit Card Churn” and is the strategy used by advanced frequent flyers to earn millions of miles each year.

Before applying for more credit cards, ensure that your credit is still excellent and that you can responsibly meet the requirements for each of the cards.

Tip: Never close your oldest credit card account. If it has a high annual fee, then simply downgrade the card — which will remove the annual fee but keep your line of credit open.

Find Other Ways to Earn Miles

Though credit cards are the quickest way to earn miles, they’re not for everyone. That doesn’t mean you can’t get free flights — it just might take a little longer. We’ve written an entire post about how to Earn Miles without Using Credit Cards; you can use these strategies on their own, or in conjunction with smart credit card use.

Here are a few of the ideas listed in the post: Sign up for dining programs....Shop through online portals....Participate in social media promotions

Redeem Your Miles for Free Flights!

You could write a book on how to redeem your frequent flyer miles for free flights; it’s far too much to cover in a single blog post. In addition to the constant shifting of the travel rewards world, how you redeem your miles will greatly depend on where and when you’re flying.

This list of Airline Awards Charts should give you an idea of how many miles you’ll need for your particular travel goals. Do your research, and book as early as possible — far earlier than you would if you were paying cash for your ticket. For the most popular routes, award space can fill up a year in advance.

I’ve been using frequent flyer miles for several years now and am so thankful for the Travel Opportunities they’ve given me. I’ve been able to fly to such wonderful places as Italy, New Zealand, Indonesia, Alaska and the Republic of Georgia. The price tags for these flights would add up to thousands of dollars; without miles and points, I never would’ve been able to afford them.

So believe me when I say that — though it may seem like a lot of work at first — it’s so worth it. Send me a postcard from wherever you end up!

Want to learn more about earning frequent flyer points? Join the Travel Hacking Cartel, a community of expert travel hackers.

You may think there is a lot to do but believe me it's not once you have done the first step and sort out the credit card then you done and just imagine how free you are going to travel

M I Ro

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