does travel hacking actually work

Does Travel Hacking Truly Work, or are SCAM Reports true?

Does travel hacking work, or are the reports of it being a scam actually true?

I hate making such cliche titles as they sound like clickbait, but it is something that many are asking.

Does travel hacking work? Of course, it does. Is it a scam? It might be, depending on several factors that I’ll mention below.

But let’s start with, what do you consider travel hacking to be!

For many (if not most) it’s to find the best program that gives the most points when you travel by plane (frequent flyer miles) or stay in hotels. With those points, you can get huge discounts, free flights, free hotel stays, and so on.

For many, that is the essence of travel hacking.

What I personally consider travel hacking is including travel tips that give you an edge compared to usual travelers, be it in a form of tips and tricks. Since I’ve traveled a lot in my life, I have used tons of tricks that I call “travel hacking”, which have helped me tons. It doesn’t always have to be related to credit card, and flyer miles hacks (although it occasionally is).

But since it’s a big topic, I will start with those points hacks:

Does travel hacking work in terms of credit cards and flyer points?

Flyer Points:

To explain it the best way, Flyer points (or Air Miles) can be compared to experience points in a game. Airlines make their own game and the reward depends on how far you travel with them. As you gain more miles, you get a “level up”. Each Airline level gives you different benefits like a priority, better seats, luggage benefits, and so on. The amount of miles you travel has to be maintained throughout the year, otherwise, you may be downgraded from ‘Platinum’ to ‘Gold’, for example.

first class

That’s why the Frequent Flyer Miles points system works best for people who fly a lot.

You also have to remember that those points that you accumulated, typically have an expiration date of around 18 months.

These points can also be cashed in towards travel tickets, or even items. It all depends on the Airline.

Some airlines, like American Airlines, for example, can even give you their own credit cards for you to use. Each dollar that you spend with it, earns you points. It doesn’t matter if you buy food, fill a gas tank, go to the cinema – every spending is turned into points.

There is some certain value with those points accumulate, but in most cases, I found the ‘additional perks’ to be the biggest value right now. If you don’t have the AA credit card, you get the most value from the sign-up, as you basically get points valued at around $500 of travel. Make sure to read the requirements though! Depending on the Airline, as well as time, the requirements and rewards differ.

So do flyer points actually work nowadays?

Yes, they do! If you travel more than 2 times a year (with AA for example), you are already saving money by not paying any baggage fees.

american airlines

I am not even talking about the additional perks or flyer points that you accumulate.

If you plan to travel, I wholeheartedly recommend signing up for Airline programs, whether you know what you are doing or not.

Credit cards:

With credit cards, travel hackers like to play around with a thing called ‘churning’. It’s a process where you repeatedly apply to different credit card accounts, just to get that sweet, sweet sign-up bonus. Once the advantage is taken, ‘churners’ close the account and open the next account where they find the most value.

credit card in terms of churning

So, to sum up the good parts of churning, it allows you to get free hotel nights, airline awards, in some cases even cashback. The discounts are tremendous, the classes are oftentimes upgraded in hotel suites or on tickets. If you truly know what you are doing, it can even increase the credit score you have.

You’ll be basically treated like a king on travels while paying a discounted price.

BUT, it’s not for beginners. In fact, if you are hearing about churning for the first time, I’d advise you not to do it. Only do it when you are fully aware of the risks and know what each sign-up actually does.

There are many pitfalls around that activity. It is NOT a scam, and can be incredibly useful, BUT only when you know what you are doing. If you don’t know what you are doing, your credit score may plummet HARD. You will be hit with interests far higher than a regular person should pay, and in some cases, your account just gets terminated.

It wasn’t like that in the beginning. However, once credit card companies started to get a whiff of churning people, the sign-up conditions became much more strict.

So what are the examples of things to be aware of?

Credit cards will have a requirement for you to spend, for example, 5000 dollars in 3 months. If you apply to 7 different credits cards at the same time, they will have different requirements. Each of them has to be paid on time, otherwise, the interest you are hit with is an ouchie. That’s actually what many credit card companies hope for and bet on.

That’s one of the ways they make money – they hope people mess up. Juggling between 7 different credit cards is not easy, and you should be completely prepared for that and make plans.

Speaking of “7 different credit cards”, there is a 5/24 rule.

5 24 rule

It says that you can’t be approved for most Chase cards if you have opened 5 or more credit cards within 24 months.

But not all credit cards count towards that “5 max” list. There are certain cards that can be opened without worry. But you’ll have to follow forums to keep track of that.

Once you have finished the ‘churning’ process and got all the required bonuses, you will have to close down the account (or downgrade), otherwise, the annual fees will reach hundreds, if not thousands.

The last thing to keep in mind is, your credit score will be reduced for a few months, once you start the ‘churning process’. So if you apply for any place that requires a credit score check, be it a mortgage, car, loan, apartment, job, then it’s best if you stop the churning activity. Most recommend the time to be at around 2 years, as most credit score graph checkers stop at 2 years.

Is churning even for me then?

There is an easy way to check that. Ask yourself a few questions:

asking a question

1) Do you have a history of running into monthly debts?
2) Do you have a long-standing relationship with a certain bank, which you don’t want to lose?
3) Are you careful with your personal finance?
4) Do you have a plan for those months and have you made a spreadsheet?
5) Do you have a certain goal you want to achieve with churning?

Who is a typical churner?

There was an interesting poll made in 2022, with quite a lot of responses:

churning demographics by age

Here is the summary for that poll:
1. People who churn are mostly 20-30-year-olds.
2. 85% of churners are male.
3. Over half of the churners are married.
4. 70% don’t have children.
5. Almost a third of them travel a couple times a year for work.
6. Majority of churners have not served in the military.
7. Majority are Caucasians, with Asians being in second place.
8. A bit over half are with an undergraduate degree.
9. 90% are employed.
10. Household income is mostly between 60-260k (better seen on graph).
11. Biggest percentage live in California.
12. 70% of churners have ACTUALLY churned a card.
13. Most (24%) stop the churning at 4 cards.
14. FICO score is mostly between 740-800.
15. This one’s actually funny: 60% of people are “business owners” in quotes while 14% of churners are actually business owners. Kudos for honesty.
16. Most churners do it for travel, with occasional cash benefit reasons.
17. Most have applied for well over 10 cards since they started churning.
18. 35% (the majority) of people have not been denied by credit card companies.
19. 91% of churners have not been banned by any bank for their churning activities.
20. Majority has not paid any interest on a credit card before discovering churning.
21. 90% hasn’t paid interest AFTER starting churning.
22. Most people organically spend between $1,000 and $3,999 per month.
23. Primary source for churning information is r/churning.

I skipped some of the polls, so you can check it for yourself later. It’s a very informative poll, as I have discovered quite a few interesting facts as well.

So, to conclude, churning is a serious business that CAN affect your life in a drastic way. Always be informed and my advice would be to check Reddit for updates.

You can also follow me if you want, as I follow that anyway and will write and update my guides accordingly 😉


does travel hacking actually work

To conclude, travel hacking does work. Many people have different understandings of what it is. Some call it churning, some use it to find great flyer points deals, and some seem hacks as just travel tips and tricks.

I like to write about the ‘tips and tricks‘ part, as I’ve found it the most useful for my travel situation. But I do occasionally dip into the point system. After, it’s a big part of travel hacking, and it works 😉

If you have any questions on this topic, feel free to comment below. I’ll answer as soon as I can!

Please consider sharing. It helps me out A LOT!

  1. Very interesting article.  Also very eye-opening stats about the profile of churners.

    At first, I didn’t know that “travel hacking” meant trying to get as many rewards as possible to travel cheaper (and I consider myself to be a frequent traveler).

    That said, we generally fly to different places around the world, and so we’re not tied to any one airline brand or network.  We often prioritize flying direct than trying to chase rewards and make more connections (where you spend more time in transit and greater likelihood of lost luggage).  

    Makes things less complicated in our minds.  But we’ve also had a hard time converting miles to international flights due to black-out dates, bad routes, and the quantity of miles required for such flights.  

    We even once did a discounted flight through miles (I think it was through Citibank) and the rewards agent booked our flight erroneously under “student fares” and nearly got us stranded in Paris (the ticketing agent noticed the discrepancy and caused us to miss our originally scheduled flight, but helped us get on another flight later that day).  So personally, I’m pretty skeptical about bending over backwards for the sake of travel hacking, especially for international flights.  

    That said, we have used Chase Sapphire Reserve for airport lounge food and rewards points for booking accommodations and rental cars (though even those aren’t as efficient as making the bookings ourselves since we’re involving a middle-man).

    Anyways on the flip side, I have a co-worker who milks the heck out of his AA status (much of which are grandfathered when it was easier to get a million miler status).  I remembered he even took “BS” trips where he would do a 2-day trip to say Frankfurt, Germany from LA and back just to maintain his status.  

    He travels differently than I do (he likes cities, food, and seeing convenient sights whereas I go chasing waterfalls and really drive all over the place in the same country for weeks at a time to thoroughly explore the place).

    So I guess the moral of the story here is that travel hacking definitely works if you’re willing to adjust your travels for the specific rewards programs, but if you want true freedom, often times the travel hacking has to be sacrificed when time is of the essence.

    1. Very informative comment. Thank you for the time! I agree on most points you mentioned. Specific travel hacking is definitely not for most as it not only takes time, but careful preparation as well.

      But once you’ve gone that route and learned how reward systems actually work and how Airlines make money, it’s really a second thought, doesn’t even bother the mind. At least it is for me and many others.

      – Alex

  2. This is really interesting that I just found this as I was read about someone who did this many years ago. He was the first person to do it, way back when. 
    Now travel is opening up again after the pandemic these things are going to be very pop again. When I was a Sales person in Australia I had to fly around Australia and NewZealand for work and it was quite amazing how quickly you could add extra points and privileges to your card. Another Rep within the same company managed to get a mobile phone doing this.

    It has been a long time since I’ve done  this, for obvious reasons, and I am out of touch wth the reward systems in place now. What cards would you recommend. I am currently using visa debit and have frequent flyers with Virgin ( I think, would have to check ) I also use booking dot com. 

    I really want to start this again, but am very wary about doing the churning side of things.

    What’s the easiest way to start doing this again.


    1. You are right, many are not ever aware how much rewards you can get from flying frequently!

      Currently, I’d recommend Chase Sapphire reserve or Amex Platinum. 

      With Chase Reserve, you get a ridiculous amount of points per $ spent. And you can convert them to any Airline miles or hotel points you want. And you get regular miles per distance points on top of it.

      And yeah, churning is more for those that truly want to do it as a hobby. Most could start learning about it from r/churning subreddit.

      – Alex

  3. Now that’s something new. First time I hear the term travel hacking and to be honest I became a bit confused trying to understand how all this works. But from what I understood this definitely is not for someone that doesn’t know what he is doing. Just out of curiosity I will try to read more about it as all this looks very interesting.

    1. Travel hacking per se is nothing hard, but the ‘churning’ part is definitely not for most.

      – Alex 

  4. I had never heard the term travel hacking.  I love to travel, so this piqued my interest.  I’d also never heard the term churners. But it seems nowadays, they don’t give you the miles when you first sign up.  You have to use the card and spend “x” amount of dollars over a time period.  Sometimes 3 months, before you see any kind of mileage credit. And doing so, repeatedly signing up for cards, and then closing out the account does ding your credit…could be quite a bit.  I know, been there done that.  So churning (did not know that was the term) really is not in anybody’s best interest, and after one or two, you will no longer have the credit to continue churning LOL.

    1. They still do give miles, and will keep giving miles on the sign-up, as long as the requirements are met, like spend $5,000 as in the example written in article. It’s a lot indeed, but churners do that and usually juggle with 4 different credit cards like that. When bonuses are depleted, they discontinue the card.

      Is it in their best interest? For most it probably isn’t just like you said, unless you’ve really done the research and truly read through “terms and conditions” we all love to skip 😉

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