Note: Chris Guillebeau just opened the doors to the new Travel Hacking Cartel.
If you’ve ever wondered how people get free flights, first class upgrades and stay in hotels for free, you might want to jump on one of the 1000 pre-boarding spots open today. After that, the program will be available by invitation only. There’s a 14-day trial for just $1 for this inaugural group.
For about five years from 2000 to 2005 I flew almost exclusively first class and took about 150 flights around the country and to foreign destinations. Most of that travel was for work (I was a business technology consultant to Fortune 500 companies) and I flew hundreds of thousands of miles and stayed in hotels nearly 200 nights a year some years.
My company didn’t pay for first class tickets, but I managed to nearly always fly first class. I had to upgrade the flights myself, and after learning the ropes from my seasoned traveling colleagues, I quickly figured out how to never fly coach again.
That was my introduction to travel hacking. Back then it didn’t have such a cool name, but all of us at the company knew some tricks for getting free perks.
My wife and I took a lot of vacations during those years as well. Sometimes we traveled within the U.S. (New York and New Orleans were favorite destinations), and sometimes we went out of the country. We took quite a few trips to Hawaii and went to Puerto Rico, Buenos Aires and Mexico.
We took probably 12 to 15 vacations in total, and almost never paid for a flight or hotel room. Almost all of the flights were first class (even international).
This was all possible because of the airline and hotel loyalty programs. The airlines and hotels are always running special promotions for earning more status and more points. Once you learn how to accumulate massive amounts of points and achieve the highest statuses, they start to treat you like royalty.
For example, we spent two weeks in Hawaii for our wedding. We flew first-class and had my best man and his wife upgraded to first class on our flight as well. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Kauai for our honeymoon and were put up in the deluxe ocean suite (which had a rate of over $1,000 per night at the time), but we didn’t pay a dime.
Life was grand, at least as far as the free travel was concerned. At some point I finally had it with that job and started working for myself. The program points dried up and we started paying for travel again.
I assumed that without flying thousands of miles a year and staying dozens of nights in hotel rooms that we couldn’t take advantage of the points programs.
That’s where travel hacking really gets interesting. It turns out that if you know where to look and what to do, that you can still get some amazing free travel even without paying for travel to earn the points in the first place.
Steve Kamb just booked a 15-stop around-the-world ticket for just $418.36. He did it by becoming a travel hacking ninja and earning over 300,000 airline points in less than a year all without flying.
Introducing the Travel Hacking Cartel
Chris Guillebeau is unquestionably one of the leaders of the current travel hacking movement. He has learned how to get amazing free travel benefits while on his quest to visit every country in the world by his 35th birthday. Chris earns over 1 million miles every year.
That was the genesis behind the Travel Hacking Cartel: “to democratize free travel,” as Chris puts it. The cartel aims to demystify the process of travel hacking for anyone interested.
I just joined myself and will be working towards enough points for a free trip to Croatia this summer. The video tutorials Chris put together are really great. I learned that most miles are actually earned “on the ground” (not by flying) and that the cartel lets members know about fast earning opportunities as they come up.
Here are some of the main ways Chris explained to me the cartel will earn its members free travel and upgrades:
- Regular “Deal Alerts” sent via email and SMS/text message (when a big opportunity comes up, our members will be the first to know)
- Tutorials and an extensive Knowledge Base to get people started (our research showed that most people have no idea what to do with miles and points… we’ll tell them)
- The Refer-a-Hacker Program that pays members 500 Frequent Flyer Miles for each referral (we’ve tried to make this process extremely easy – everyone has their own referral link directly in their account settings)
By far, the most impressive feature of the cartel is the “World’s Greatest Guarantee.” If members follow the directions and spend at least 30 minutes a month travel hacking, they’ll earn enough miles for at least 1 plane ticket every quarter, or 4 plane tickets a year (they also provide info on how to redeem miles for great awards).
Like I said, the Travel Hacking Cartel just opened its doors today. There are 1000 pre-boarding spots available at just $1 for a 14-day trial. After that, the program will be available by invitation only.