A Beginner’s Guide To Travel Hacking : Earning a Free Flight In Under 15 Minutes

How To Earn a Free Flight In Under 15 Minutes

Disclosure: Zero To Travel has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Zero To Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. We appreciate your support.

*This article will help you avoid wasting time visiting a million different websites and provide all of the nuts and bolts of travel hacking so you can get started today.

A free flight in 15 minutes? You probably think I’m full of horse doo doo.

Just another idiot dude on the internet with some outrageous claim that can’t possibly apply to my life.

Not so fast!

Well ok, I do act like an idiot sometimes. But nobody is perfect, right?

But here’s the deal – it’s entirely possible to earn enough points for a free flight in under 15 minutes.

Before we dive in, a little education on travel hacking is necessary to provide a game plan that fits your lifestyle and current financial state.

There will be plenty of juicy nuggets along the way including a resource below that can take your game to the next level, so stay with me.

What is Travel Hacking?

Travel hacking involves working within the existing rules set up by airlines, credit cards, and hotels, and using them to your advantage to earn free travel including flights, lodging, and other upgrades.

Travel hacking is not a new thing. According to Wikipedia, the first frequent flyer program was created in 1972 for United Airlines. Loyalty programs have existed for decades.

Heck, I earned my first free flight about 14 years ago.

Travel hacking certainly is a hot buzz word of the moment. It seems like there are more people attempting to hack travel than there are people traveling.

The term ‘hacking’ in general, is overused…sort of like the plot-line to those Rocky films (blasphemy coming from a Philly guy, I know). Hacking implies some kind of matrix unauthorized access.

The truth is that travel hacking is completely legal and much less complex than an NSA spy algorithm.

Although travel hacking sounds sexy and dangerous, in actuality it’s pretty simple to earn free flights on a most basic level.

Is it hard to become a travel hacker?

Getting into travel hacking doesn’t require skeleton keys, retina scans or super-secret knowledge possessed by those lucky few with enough money and time to play the game.

It’s relatively simple to earn free flights and hotel rooms without much disruption or increased difficulty added to already complex lives.

For people who want to jump right into the game without having to weigh the countless options available or do hours of research, the following offers a basic plan to get started immediately.

If travel hacking becomes a hobby, it’s good to follow a few select resources dedicated to the subject. Since credit cards, airline rules and promotional offers are constantly changing, it makes sense to pay attention to maximize mileage and rewards points earning potential. These resources are provided at the end of this article.

For now, let’s keep it simple.

The Beginner’s Guide To Earning Free Flights

Do you know that story about the tortoise and the hare? In Aesop’s legendary tale the tortoise wins due to persistence. The hare could easily win due to his speed, but he becomes overconfident and takes too many risks.

Sometimes speed doesn’t matter as much as consistency over time.

Just like this classic fable, the race to earn free travel can take two approaches.

The difference is, implementing both strategies is key to racking up free travel. Becoming both the tortoise and the hare allows for optimal rewards points hoarding.

The Tortoise Travel Hacker: Earning Rewards Points Over Time The Old Fashioned Way

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now.”
-Chinese Proverb

This is true for most things in life, if not all. Whether it’s starting a business, getting in shape or earning free travel, if you haven’t gotten started yet then now is the time.

Here is an easy two-step process to Tortoise Travel Hacking

Step 1 – Sign up to join all rewards and frequent flyer programs

All of these programs are free. Don’t waste time signing up for every airline and hotel right this second. When you stay at a new hotel chain or fly a new airline, make sure to sign up for their program at that time to earn credit. Never take a flight or stay in a hotel without earning some type of points or miles.

To go a step further, you can always check the hotel or airline’s website before you book and see if they are running any promotions that can earn you bonus miles/points.

A List Of All Airline Websites

Over time you’ll end up with many frequent flyer and hotel rewards accounts. To track them all join Award Wallet, which is a service that helps to manage personal loyalty program accounts.

Here is a partial screenshot of my account.

A Beginner's Guide To Travel Hacking : Earning a Free Flight In Under 15 Minutes Award Wallet

The reason why I suggest joining Award Wallet is that it will help you track everything in one place. Plus, they will alert you when points or miles are about to expire.

I have foolishly lost miles in the past (pre Award Wallet) because I simply couldn’t keep track of my accounts. With Award Wallet’s help, I’ve been notified and was able to purchase small amounts of miles and points in order to avoid losing them all.

Step 2 – Be a repeat customer

Fly the same airline and stay in the same hotel chain as much as possible.

Loyalty programs were created for this specific reason, and it works. Find the companies you like and stick with them. It’s not always possible due to cost or availability but try your best to be a repeat customer. Over time these points add up to earn you free travel and hotels.

Again, this is the slow boat to earning free travel. To really kick things up a notch you’re going to have to get into the travel rewards credit card game.

Before covering that topic, if you want to dive deep into all things travel hacking and are willing to invest a little time – listen to this podcast I did with Travis from Extra Pack of Peanuts.

This show will blow your mind – I get emails about it all of the time. Here is just one:

A Beginner's Guide To Travel Hacking : Earning a Free Flight In Under 15 Minutes

I consider myself a pretty savvy traveler and frequent flier. I have booked hundreds of thousands of miles worth of frequent flier tickets. I even used to work at one of the credit card companies which offers frequent flier miles as part of a co-branded card, so I thought I knew it all. This one podcast totally changed the way I will redeem miles and plan travel forever.

Subscribe to the Zero To Travel Podcast For More Travel Advice

Now, let’s put you on the fast track to earning a free flight anywhere in the world.

The Hare Travel Hacker: Credit Card Travel Rewards

I’ll admit, it’s sort of boring to read about credit cards (yuck!). Why is it important? This is, by far, the fastest way to earn free flights, hotel rooms, and other travel-related goodies.

If you want to get off to the races fast, the only way to earn tens of thousands of miles for free flights without having to sit on hundreds of hours of flights is to sign up for credit cards that offer bonus miles or points.

Here is a list of the Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards.

Credit card companies get a new customer, and you get free flights or rewards.

In my opinion, earning free travel via credit card rewards is not a game you should be playing if you cannot figure out a way to do these 2 things:

1. Pay your credit card bill in full every month and carry absolutely no credit card debt.

Are you fiscally responsible?

If you carry credit card debt does it make any sense to get another credit card and go into more debt? I would say no. I’m not a professional financial advisor and don’t pretend to be, but part of active travel is not running yourself into a financial hole!

If I were dishing advice, and I guess I am, then I would only take on new credit cards if I had the ability to pay my bill in full monthly, and no existing credit card debt.

When it comes to credit card spending, start conservatively. Earn a free flight or two and make sure the extra responsibility of added credit cards isn’t a burden.

After that, you can step up your game. After all, what’s the point of earning all of this free travel if you can’t afford to take the trips!

2. Ability to meet the minimum spend requirements to earn the points.

When you sign up for a travel rewards credit card you must meet their minimum spend requirements in order to earn the points bonus. For example, my favorite travel rewards card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. This card requires you to charge $4000 in the first 3 months but you will receive 60k points. You can learn more about this card here!


That’s a lot of freakin’ money!

I know..but don’t worry.

Notice it’s charge $4000, not necessarily spend. Charging on your card is not the same.

More on that shortly, first…

What Are You Waiting For?

The bottom line is this; if you are currently carrying a credit card and it doesn’t earn you any rewards points you are wasting a huge opportunity.

Living in the United States, options are nearly unlimited when it comes to rewards credit cards.

If there is a card in your wallet that gets used and does not benefit you in some way, it’s time to pay it off, cut that sucker up and sign up for a card that actually benefits you.

Travel hacking with rewards credit cards can get complicated due to the sheer volume of choices in rewards credit cards. Not to mention keeping track of all the rules, minimum spend requirements, balance due dates and more.

However, by signing up for multiple credit cards, spending and transferring points you can rack up hundreds of thousands of miles and save big time money on flights, consumer goods, hotels, sports tickets, and pretty much anything you can think of.

You could google search travel hacking right now read every blog post, review and website on the net to find out which credit cards are the best but I’ll save you the time. They all reach this conclusion:

Credit Card Travel Hacking Simplified: The Best Travel Rewards Card To Get

(see this article for a more complete list with expanded options and current rewards/availability)
Option #1 The Consensus Choice for Travel Rewards Credit Cards

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers the best overall deal for personal cards. Earn 50,000 point bonus upon signing up and spend $4,000 in the first three months. Learn more!

  • Earn 50,000 point bonus upon signing up and spend $4,000 in the first three months.
  • 3x points on travel and dining
  • $300 annual travel credit
  • The fine print: $450 annual fee

The Chase Ink Business Preferred is the best overall deal for business cards. Learn more!

  • Earn 80,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months.
  • 3x points on travel and shipping, along with certain utility and advertising purchases.
  • The fine print: $95 annual fee


Both cards allow you to easily redeem points via Chase Ultimate Rewards for flights and hotels, among many other things

If you are going to roll with one or two cards, then check these out and see if they will work for you & your needs. Avoid the annual fee by canceling before the end of the first year, if you wish.

Option #2: The Hotel Rewards Card with Miles Transfer Opportunities

Runner up according to popular opinion, blogs and the like is the Marriot Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature for the opportunity to book some higher-level lodging and ability to easily convert and transfer points to a designated frequent flier account and earn even more miles in the process. Learn more!


Earn up to 100,000 bonus points for signing up and meeting the minimum spend of $5,000 in the first 3 months.

Cardholders will also enjoy an additional free night award (up to 35,000 point value) after each account anniversary.

The Fine Print

$95/year annual fee

Note: The Chase Ink Preferred is a business card. If you don’t have a formal business you can apply as a sole proprietor which is essentially just claiming that you are a business. It may require calling the credit card company and explaining to them what you do. Having a small side hustle could qualify you for a small business card like owning a blog or selling on Etsy for example. Learn more!

Check out How to Start a Sole Proprietorship (note you don’t need to fill out any legal papers) Consult with a tax professional for more details. If you apply as a sole proprietor your Tax ID number is your social security number.

Option #3: Choose a Card Based On Your Local Airport

If you live near Philadelphia, that airport it is the hub for US Airways then it may make sense to keep your eye on US Airways cards deals if you love flying that airline.

List of Hub Airports

The reason why I prefer Option #1 and #2 is because it’s easy to transfer points to many different airlines so why limit to one card that is dedicated to only one airline?

Keep It Simple

But we are keeping it simple. Want to test the waters with credit card travel hacking? Move forward and:

Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Able to handle another minimum payment and want double points? Jump in and:

Learn more about the Chase Ink Business Preferred Card

When applying, I spread out my applications to avoid the burden of spending massive amounts in a short time.

If you like Option #2 or want to add more cards into your rewards portfolio go ahead and:

Learn more about the Marriot Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature Card

After Signing Up

Track all cards and rewards programs.

Sign up for Award Wallet

Meeting the Minimum Spend

This can be tricky, but as I mentioned earlier think of this as a charge. There are ways to charge this money without actually spending your own.

How is that possible?

Check out this article on meeting the minimum spend for your travel rewards credit card and it will make sense.

10 Creative Ways To Meet the Minimum Spend Requirements

Another very basic way to avoid stress with minimum spends is to just time your rewards card applications with a big purchase you need to make.

For example, planning on buying a new computer? Snag a rewards card before that purchase so it goes towards the minimum spend.

There are plenty of other creative ways to meet the minimum spend so don’t let this seemingly large obstacle intimidate you.

Earning a Flight In Under 15 Minutes

Circling back to my promise at the beginning, here is how I earned a flight in under 15 minutes.

First I applied for a Chase Ink Business Preferred Card, which took about 10 minutes.

Secondly, did you know that you could pay your taxes with a credit card?

Since I paid virtually no taxes during the year I owed a lot of cash money to the feds.

Thankfully, the money was set aside. Once the Chase Ink Business Preferred card arrived, my federal taxes were charged on it and the balance was paid off immediately.

Even without owing taxes the same principle can apply by again, timing rewards card applications with a big purchase.

Where To Pay Taxes With a Credit Card

Travel hacking with credit cards isn’t complicated, and certainly nothing to be intimidated by. Start with one card, and get going. For more advanced strategies:

Listen to the Zero To Travel podcast on Travel Hacking, featuring a short interview with Travis Sherry from extrapackofpeanuts.com, a fantastic resource for all things travel hacking.

Check out thepointsguy.com for up to date offers.

The Final Word

It’s worth noting that when rewards points are used for miles for ‘free’ flights you may still be responsible for paying taxes and fees. However, this cost is minimal.

Sure, all of the tracking, spending and applying for cards or mileage points can be a bit tedious when the time comes to book a flight and rewards points

But when the time comes to book a flight and rewards points land you halfway across the world for virtually nothing, the minor effort is more than worth it.

Sit back, smile and enjoy your free flight. Safe travels my friend.

What do you think about travel hacking? Do you have any tips or strategies? Leave comments below.

Want to save thousands of dollars on travel? Tune into the Zero To Travel Podcast, with over 3 million downloads worldwide you’ll discover plenty of new and affordable ways to explore the world.

Subscribe to the Zero To Travel Podcast Now

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*Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post. Zero To Travel has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Zero To Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Disclosure: Zero To Travel has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Zero To Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. We appreciate your support.

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