Calibrate your 2018 Travel Hacking strategies, particularly as they relate to the "Miles & Points" aspect of it, according to trends that will affect the travel industry as a whole over the coming year.
Travel Hacking is a complex and dynamic pursuit, even when you don’t consider the various changes it has undergone over time, or evolutions the future will surely bring. Indeed, you should calibrate your 2018 Travel Hacking strategies, particularly as they relate to the "Miles & Points" aspect of it, according to trends that will affect the travel industry as a whole over the coming year. Here are a few of them.
Prioritize Credit Card Points Over Airline Miles
De-valuation of airline frequent flyer programs is far from a new thing, although it’s certain to accelerate and intensity in 2018. Delta Air Lines has already come under fire for further de-valuing its notoriously skimpy (and unpublished) award chart, while Air France-KLM’s "Flying Blue" program will become revenue-based in 2018, in spite of being one of the few remaining distance-based schemes over the past several years.
This is only one half of the reason you should prioritize credit card points in 2018. You see, while airlines are tightening their belts, credit card providers are offering even more ways to earn. In addition to the fact that the American Express Platinum card (as just one example) offers 5x points on airfare purchases, all American Express customers can seriously increase their earnings potential using "Amex Offers"—a recent one offered a whopping 10,000 bonus miles for hotel purchases of $500 or more booked directly through AmexTravel.com.
Even if you use an airline-branded credit card, this trend can benefit you. For example, while redeeming miles via United’s MileagePlus program will be less lucrative than ever in 2018, tools like "MileagePlus Shopping" allow you to supercharge your earning potential. Depending on what you buy, you can earn dozens of miles per dollar spent!
When it Comes to Sign-Up Bonuses, Don’t Settle for Less
If you frequently read travel hacking blogs such as The Points Guy, you’re aware that most travel credit cards offer bonuses, usually between 30,000-50,000 miles or points. What you might not have noticed, if you’re not a religious follower of suck blogs, is that these bonuses spike several times throughout the year, albeit sometimes on a targeted basis that depends on your credit score or other factors.
Irrespective of the particulars (the bonus in question or, indeed, your own creditworthiness), keep an eye on bonuses and how they fluctuate to make sure you sign up at just the right time. Both the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards currently offer 50,000-point sign-up bonuses, but the latter has offered 100,000 points in the past.
As credit card providers like Chase continue to sense consumers’ slow shift away from traditional mileage earning models, they’re sure to entice with bigger bonuses more often, in 2018 and beyond.
Remember That Alliances Are Less Important Than Ever
In addition to the fact that you earn less miles from flying and have to spend more of them to earn free travel, airline alliances are becoming a less reliable way to counteract the deficiencies of one particular airline’s frequent flyer program.
In the past, for example, the best way to get around American’s revenue-based earning system was to credit your miles to its oneworld partner Qantas. Today, however, as Qantas moves closer to non-alliance airline Emirates and further away from American and other oneworld members, you’re better off avoiding American entirely if you don’t want to earn and spend solely according to the rules of the AAdvantage program.
This goes for redeeming as well as for earning. While it used to make sense that miles from a SkyTeam carrier (Delta, for example) would be the best way to purchase award flights on fellow SkyTeam airline Korean Air, non-alliance partner Alaska Airlines actually offers the cheapest redemption rates in this case. It’s even cheaper than Korean Air itself, with a round-trip flight between the US and South Korea going for just 105,000 Alaska MileagePlan miles, as opposed to 160,000 Delta SkyMiles or 140,000 miles from Korean’s own SkyPass program in 2018.
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Don’t Discount Hotel Points
I’ve personally always found hotel points to be the least lucrative part of Travel Hacking, mostly because I prefer staying in independently-owned boutique hotels (which don’t participate in corporate points programs) as opposed to big-name properties. On the other hand, these points will become even easier to earn in 2018, and will remain just as flexible as they’ve always been.
Hilton in particular is offering high bonuses, with end-of-2017 offers for certain cards having reached 100,000 points in some instances. While signing up for an American Express card from Starwood Preferred Guest usually offers a rather meager bonus (around 30,000 points), 2018 should see bonuses applied when you transfer hotel points from SPG to airline programs such as EVA Air and Virgin America, if 2017 was any indication.
The Bottom Line
While prospects for traditional frequent flyers will continue to be dim in 2018, further expansion of credit card-based programs could make next year one for the record books when it comes to your Travel Hacking potential. In particular, you should seek out sky-high sign up bonuses, educate yourself about airline partnerships outside of traditional alliances and keep your mind open to using hotel credit cards, even if you don’t like to redeem points for hotel stays.
About the Author
Robert Schrader Leave Your Daily Hell
Robert is a writer, photographer and expert travel hacker. When he’s not out globetrotting, he’s devising the cheapest ways to fly in the world’s top first- and business-class cabins.