Am I organized with my personal finances?
I believe this is one of the single, most important aspects of travel hacking. Most credit cards are going to require you to spend money in order to earn rewards. So be honest… Do you budget or track your spending? Do you know how much you spend per month on groceries? Fuel? Restaurants? Are you living off of last month’s income (in other words, are you not living paycheck to paycheck)? Do you have an emergency fund? If you can answer yes to these questions, then you probably have a decent grasp of your finances. If not, check out my blog articles on personal finance.
Can I pay off my credit card in full and on time?
You’ve probably heard many statistics like “the average household has ~$15,000 in credit card debt”. How does this happen? This is because people don’t pay their credit cards in full. They pay the minimum. This is a big no-no in travel hacking. You MUST pay your credit card in full. This means you should never put more charges on your card than you can afford. If you can’t pay off your credit card in full and on time, you probably shouldn’t start travel hacking. The interest charges that you would end up paying would cost more than the rewards you earn. Additionally, if you view your credit line as access to cash/money and do not have enough self-control, you should avoid travel hacking. There’s a reason why credit card debt is such a problem in the US.
Do I have goals and plans?
When applying for credit cards, you should have some travel goals. Without goals in mind, you may find out that the points/miles you earn have little to no value to you. Goals can be as simple as: “I want to travel to Europe” or “I want to fly first class”. These will help you focus on which miles/points you want to earn. While you can utilize credit cards to earn cashback, it is definitely not as profitable as using credit card rewards for travel.
Furthermore, you need to be able to develop a plan to meet said goals. You have to create plans for how to meet minimum spending. For instance, if you have a credit card that you’ll receive the sign up bonus if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days. You better have a general plan for how you’re going to spend roughly $1,000/month. Before I apply for a credit card, I look at the minimum spend and document how I plan on hitting that minimum spend (i.e. use card for groceries, a big expense coming up, etc.)
Is my credit score above 700? Or is my income above $15k?
If you’ve never had a credit card before, it is probably worthwhile to establish some credit history before diving head first into travel hacking. New accounts and inquiries on your credit report will cause your credit score to drop (at least for the short term). If your credit score is around 700, you should build it up before going crazy and applying for multiple cards. Don’t know your credit score? Well then time to start monitoring your credit. There are several free ways to check your credit score/report. Credit Karma is my personal favorite. Additionally, if your annual income is below $15k, I would highly suggest building your credit before jumping in.
If you answered no to any of these questions, you probably should NOT start travel hacking.
Keep in mind, the banks offer these large signup bonuses because they know people are going to mess them up by either not getting the bonus or paying hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, in interest fees. Don’t be one of those people. Although travel hacking can be profitable and allow you to travel the world, it can also be dangerous if you don’t manage your finances/spending correctly.
If you answered yes to all of these questions, then travel hacking might be a good hobby for you.
Warning. This hobby can be addictive. At the same time, it also takes a lot of work and research, but the reward of being able to travel at little to no cost is worth it in my opinion.