How to Travel For The Long-Term
I will be traveling all my life. Not every day of my life, but travel will always be a part of my life. Whether it's a weekend trip to a nearby Southeast Asian country or a weeklong trip somewhere else, the moment I arrive from a trip, I cannot wait to think about where I will be going next.
So I travel with the long-term in mind. I invest in my travels, so that sometime, somewhere in the future, I will reap some rewards from it. Like any investment, the rewards don't happen overnight. But when they do, the rewards can be anything from an upgrade to first class or free roundtrip tickets or to hotel room upgrades or free hotel nights in some of the most expensive hotels in the world.
There are a lot of travel hacks in the Internet on how to travel on a budget for a specific destination. Those are useful and complementary to this one. But if, like me, traveling for you is embedded in your life, why not invest in your travel?
Here's how I do it:
Do not just purchase a ticket because there's a seat sale. If that airline has a loyalty program where you can earn points, ENROLL. And then buy your plane fare from them as much as possible to build your points. If the difference between two airline fares is minimal, book the one where you already have points.
But do not just enroll in one airline program. Enroll in two or three and maintain an active account in them. For me, I am active in two airline loyalty programs: GetGo of Cebu Pacific and Delta Miles from Delta. Cebu Pacific is my go-to airline for domestic and Asian destinations, while Delta is my go-to airline whenever I fly to the US.
How did I choose them? I didn't consciously choose them. They happened to be the ones who gave me initial bumps in points because of the credit cards I have. So I stuck it out with them, for better or worse. Just like a marriage.
So far, I've redeemed a few roundtrip tickets with Cebu Pacific. The first one was last year from Manila to Legazpi. I travelled alone. The second one was this January from Manila to Singapore, where I redeemed for two people. And then I have redeemed another one for an upcoming trip to Legazpi this March.
And I still have around 11,000 points with them left for redemption. I'm waiting for their next Points sale for more free flights.
I have yet to redeem a free flight for Delta, but it's only because I'm saving up all my earned miles for that one first class roundtrip flight to the US sometime in the future. What I have gotten from Delta were bumps from economy to economy comfort and, in my return trip from US last December, I got bumped to first class.
2. Build your hotel loyalty.
Airbnb and couchsurfing are very popular these days. They are often the preferred choice of accommodation for any budget traveller. But they don't give you points, which you can later on redeem for free nights.
Similar to building your airline loyalty, if you want to travel for the long-term, look for hotels where you can build your points. There are so many hotel chains in the world that offer different rewards program. Choose one or two and stick it out with them.
For me, I have IHG, Hyatt, and Hilton. Again, I did not choose them. These hotel chains typically have quarterly promos where you can accelerate your points for free nights. IHG have different promos every season where you can earn anywhere between 50,000 points (good enough for one night at a five-star IHG property or two nights for a three- or four-star property) or 2 free nights. Hyatt and Hilton have seasonal double or triple the points.
One tip here is to do what those obsess in hotel loyalty points call the mattress run. Whenever these hotel chains have promos to double, triple, or reward you generously with points or free nights, book the cheapest possible room in their hotels. Have a staycation or fly somewhere where hotels are cheap and build your points (Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines are good countries with relatively cheap hotels). Book cheap (hotels), redeem high (-end hotels).
Once you have completed their promos and increased your points substantially, you can now travel to more expensive destinations and stay in fancy hotels for free. What's more, building your loyalty with hotel chains give you higher status which allows you to have free room upgrades, early check-ins, late checkouts, free breakfast, and lounge access (where they have afternoon teas and cocktails).
I have stayed in several hotels in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea that I could only afford because they were free. Some of the hotel rooms I've stayed at go as high as 40,000 pesos/night. I'm far from a millionaire and the only reason I was able to stay in these hotels is because of the loyalty I have with these hotel chains.
3. Exploit the power of your credit card.
This is not well-known and sometimes it doesn't work. But do not underestimate the power of your credit card. Visa and Mastercard sometimes have tie-ups with hotel chains that give you discounts only if you contact the hotels directly or through email. They do not promote it; you have to look and ask for it.
I have used this a couple of times. What I would do is I would choose three or four hotels and I'd email them asking if they have any credit card promos. Out of those four hotels, I'd get one who would reply that they have a 50%-off promo for any Mastercard.
Combine this with building your hotel loyalty program and you're saving a lot of money while increasing your points for future redemptions. These promos make them even cheaper than Airbnb.
Also, Philippine credit cards like BPI, Citibank, or BDO offer promotional discounts with airlines, so it's always worth looking into. And these credit cards have sign-up offers that give you bonus points after you make a certain amount of purchase with the first two or three months of your new credit card.
Like any travel hack, this is not for everyone. Some might find hotel chains lacking in personality; others might say that it's not worth it to stick it out with just one or two airlines. But this is what works for me. If I do not make a conscious decision to invest in my travels, I would never experience what it's like to fly first class with my own money or travel to Singapore for free. I would never experience what it's like to stay in a hotel room with a spectacular view of the Hong Kong harbour right outside my window or the Avenue of the Stars just below me or wake up with the view of the Marina Bay Sands. I would never experience the luxury of staying in a hotel suite that's big enough to have an anteroom or two baths with a personal butler who can make my bath.
Travel is my ultimate expense and experience, that's why I invest in it.