Sarah McAffry | Voted Knoxville's Best Photographer | Family, Senior and Teen Photography in East Tennessee » Knoxville Family, Senior and Teen Photographer in East Tennessee

I’ve been sitting on the blog post for awhile, unsure about how to share it. I heard from enough of you on Instagram that you want to know all about how to start traveling more, for practically nothing, so I’m sharing these tips – but with a warning first.

Here’s the thing. It involves using credit cards, and Andrew and I are just now starting to use them. We have followed the Dave Ramsey financial plan for years, using cash and envelopes and the whole system to get ourselves on a strict budget. The last thing I want to do is to encourage you to use credit cards, racking up tons of debt that you can’t pay off immediately.

If you are not disciplined with your spending, I DO NOT recommend doing this. I recommend taking a year or two to get yourselves on a Dave Ramsey style cash only plan first. Then if you’re in a good place, debt-free and controlled in your finances, this is a great way to start traveling often and many times practically for free.

Okay, so as long as we agree on that I’ll share all of the things I’ve learned in just the last few months of travel hacking.

STEP ONE

Choose your brands. It pays to be brand loyal when travel hacking. If you or your spouse travels for work regularly, you might be able to maximize multiple brands, but given the amount that we travel, we’ve decided to pick one and stick with it for now. We’ve chosen Delta Airlines because we already had miles with them and have always had our best flight experiences with them.  Starwood and Marriott hotels now allow you to link your accounts so you can switch points back and forth, and the sheer amount of options in each city is enough to make me choose them. Maybe the Ritz Carlton played a role in my decision making too. What can I say? I like fancy places.

I made a mistake in the beginning by not choosing a hotel chain, so our 7 nights in California will be a good start for Hilton rewards, but as I’ve researched more I’m preferring the Starwood brands, so we’re sticking with them as much as we can.

STEP TWO

Know your credit. It is a commonly held misconception that openings a credit card will reduce your credit score. I’m by no means an expert, but my credit card company has a simulator where I can test what opening a new card will do to my credit score before I actually do it. If you’re concerned about your score, I recommend testing that out first.

STEP THREE

Gut check. Before you go on to step four, I really mean it about checking in on your spending habits. If you’re likely to racking up thousands in debt in just a few months, this is not worth it. At all. In case I haven’t made that clear already, get yourself on a tight budget and work with cash only until you reign in your spending habits.

STEP FOUR

Choose one credit card with a great bonus offer. The offers change all the time, but after researching, we chose the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card because you get 50,000 bonus points after spending $4000 in the first three months. If your regular expenses don’t add up to that, you might want to check into another offer, but as a family of five, our groceries and gas for three months pretty much get us to that spending limit.

We had Chase points already accrued from my business and combined them with the 50,000 bonus points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to save 85% on our hotel in Southern California. We used 81,140 points and paid only $185.14 for 7 nights in a suite in Orange County! If I’ve seen you in the past few weeks, I’ve probably already told you about it. I still can’t believe we paid less than $200 to stay for a full week just outside of Laguna Beach. This is why I’m now obsessed with travel hacking!

STEP FIVE

Keep track of your spending regularly to make sure you’re not overdoing it and to make sure you meet the minimum. Make a promise to yourself that you will pay off your card every month. Your credit score will thank you for it and you’ll sleep better at night.

STEP SIX

Spend your points! I recommend booking a trip as soon as you can. Our travel philosophy is to travel more places more often, not to try to rack up points as long as we can. Who knows when these companies rewards systems will change, so when you have the points, use them! I’ll share more in another post about how we booked our flights to Boston and NYC for $53.20 and saved over 50% on two pretty swanky hotels.

P.S. If you have a business, this Chase card is a great option if you’re likely to spend $5000 in three months. You earn 80,000 bonus points if you meet that spending minimum. That’s the equivalent of $1000 in free travel if booked through the Chase website. Combine it with your points from the Sapphire Preferred card and you have $1625 to spend on travel through the Chase website. You can apply here. 

 

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Photographing Baddie Winkle for London-based Debut Magazine was a bucket-list kind of day in the studio. Baddie is known for her edgy ways by her 3 million Instagram followers. We loved seeing that side of her personality in front of the camera, but what I loved even more was hearing her story about what brought her here. Like most of us, her story is one with heartache and tragedy, but she found a way to move forward through her alter-ego Baddie Winkle, with her brilliant tagline “stealing your man since 1928.” Her new book is out and it’s on my list to read!

Sarah McAffry is a Knoxville-based commercial and portrait photographer. Contact info@sarahmcaffry.com for booking inquiries.

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