budgeting · Earn Money · Lifestyle

Easy Travel Hacks Anyone Can Use

We’ve all heard about those people that travel the world for free or next to nothing using a ridiculous amount of airline mileage and hotel points. But if you’ve actually looked into it, it can be as complicated as trying to figure out your own taxes or calculating the next digit in pi. Even so, there’s still plenty of ways to travel hack that the common non-mathematician can easily do without having to spend hours reading or watching online tutorials.

Everyone that knows me knows that my favorite thing on the planet (next to cats and wine, of course) is traveling and exploring new places. In fact, I side-hustle and work several extra jobs just so that I can afford to travel (read my previous article about side-hustling here). Even though I haven’t figured out how to completely beat the travel system like those crazy awesome travel hackers, I’ve still managed to earn plenty cash back and even fly to Hawaii twice for free.

My favorite way to get free flights is by signing up for credit cards that offer airline miles. Seattle is Alaska Airlines’ home city, so naturally Alaska Airlines is my airline of choice. I signed up for their credit card several years ago when they were offering 40,000 miles just for enrolling mid-flight. That got my Hawaii trip #1. I regularly use my Alaska Airlines credit card as my debit card (paying it off every month, of course) so that I can earn one mile with every dollar I spend. It’s an easy way to rack up frequent flier miles without doing a damn thing.

I signed up for a credit card with Delta Airlines once when they were offering 50,000 miles after spending a certain amount within x number of months. They also waived the annual fee for the first year, so it didn’t cost me anything. Because I used the credit card for my every day purchases, I easily hit that mark and earned free Hawaii trip #2. Side note, just remember to cancel your credit card after your trip but before your year is up so that you don’t have to pay an annual fee.

Most recently, I’ve been saving to splurge on a big family vacation for my mom, brother and I. (I won’t say where though, because it will be a Christmas surprise for them). Once I had the money saved up, I looked online for cards offering airline miles with purchase, and found the American Airlines AAdvantage card with Citibank which was offering 60,000 miles when you spend $3000 in the first three months. (Again, please keep in mind that I will pay the balance off in full once I receive the statement in the mail.) So while I paid full price for my tickets this time, I’ll be able to take another free trip again in the near future. I’m sorry to say there won’t be a free Hawaii trip #3 though…I’m ready to explore somewhere new!

In addition to earning miles, most airline credit cards offer other perks for travel, simply for participating in the program. For example, many airlines will give cardholders and their travel companions free checked bags, complimentary travel insurance, complementary auto insurance for car rentals, and discounts on food and drinks while on your flight. Make sure you check your card’s website so you don’t miss out on any awesome perks like these!

I also will never book any type of travel online without using Ebates. I just go to the Ebates website, then click on the link to Expedia or hotels.com, my two favorite websites to purchase travel on, then it reroutes me to those websites. The websites look exactly how they would look if I had instead typed in the URLs, but somehow Ebates keeps track of my purchases and gives me a percentage of cash back. For example, I spent around $4000 purchasing this big trip on Expedia yesterday, and Ebates gives me 10% cash back on purchases made at Expedia. Voila! I just earned $400 for booking a vacation. The only downside is that they won’t send me the check until after I’ve completed the travel, but I’m still totally OK with that!

So there you have it! Super easy ways to earn free trips and extra money without doing anything too crazy. Happy travels!

Managing Money

Giving Your Graduation Advice an F

As I recently drove myself to a high school graduation party, I came to a startling realization. I’ve now been out of school just as long as I was in school. It’s pretty miraculous how quick the time has flown by, especially considering how the years in a classroom felt like they dragged on for several lifetimes.

I can still remember what an exciting time high school graduation was. A whirlwind of emotions, hopes, fears, and plenty of unsolicited advice from those who had tossed their caps in jubilation before me. Most people were, of course, trying to be helpful and prepare me for my impeding adulthood, and some of the advice was actually pretty sound. Some tidbits, however, were probably best left unsaid. Especially when it came to some of the financial advice I received.

Student Loans are Good Debt

This is an utter and complete fallacy, in my humble, broke-ass opinion. Don’t get me wrong, having an education is undoubtedly one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. But you’re kidding yourself if you think dragging around five or six figures of debt for the next ten to thirty years is a good problem to have.

I was fortunate enough to pay for my time at a community college out of pocket (but unlucky enough for it to be funded by a drunk driver that almost took my life). I took out student loans to pay for my remaining two years of college, but didn’t really understand them or how they would continue to impact my daily life several years later. Despite paying hundreds of dollars toward them each month for the past three years, I now owe more on them than when I started paying!

Repeat after me… no debt is good debt!!!

Always Carry a Balance on Your Credit Card

Remember a second ago when I made you repeat that mantra? Let’s say it again… No debt is good debt! Carrying a balance on your credit card is debt, plain and simple. Carrying a balance on your credit card is not better for your credit score. Paying your credit cards on time each month (and in full, so you don’t end up paying any interest) is better for your credit score.

There are several components to a credit score. I won’t go over all of them today, but for the sake of my argument there’s two that you need to understand.

35% of your credit score is based upon payment history. In other words, making all of your payments on time on all of your credit accounts (such as credit cards, car payments, and mortgage payments).

30% of your credit score is based on your credit utilization. In other words, out of all available lines of credit you have, how much are you using? For example, let’s say you have two credit cards: one with an available credit limit of $4,000 and the other with an available credit limit of $6,000, for a total of $10,000 available to you. Card A carries a balance of $2,000 while card B carries a balance of $1,000. Because you currently have $3,000 out of $10,000 borrowed, your credit utilization is 30%. 30% and below is considered good, although the lower your credit utilization, the higher your credit score.

If You Can Afford the Payments, You Can Afford It

This commonly-gifted bad advice is a great way to get yourself under the dark, burdensome cloud of debt. Sure you make enough money now to pay your monthly payments, but what if you lost or job or suddenly found yourself unable to work? It’s better to save the money and buy whatever it is you want (a car, TV, Christian Louboutin pumps) outright. You won’t have to worry about defaulting on a loan if you find yourself lacking in the income department. Plus you’ll have extra money every month to put toward saving for a rainy day or other items you like.

You’re Young. You Don’t Need Insurance.

Anything can happen to anyone at any time. I mentioned earlier that I was hit by a drunk driver in a head-on collision, which is how I had the money to pay for my first two years of college. What I didn’t mention is that I was only nineteen years old and suddenly found myself unable to work, with medical bills stacking up for eleven months.

Thankfully I worked for a coffee company with excellent benefits, including short-term disability. For the duration of my medical leave, I was paid 66% of my income, which was enough to pay for my car insurance, car payment, and phone bill. Luckily I lived with my parents and didn’t have to worry about keeping a roof over my head at the time. I now have both short-term and long-term disability policies through an insurance company instead of my employer so that I don’t have to worry about lapses in coverage if I switch jobs or work for a company that doesn’t offer plans.

 

As you walk across that stage and head straight toward your adult life, keep in mind that with your newfound freedom comes plenty of advice on what to do with your new life (and with that huge wad of cash to be found in your cards of congratulations). Just remember that while your relatives and friends mean well, not all advice is good advice.