Travel Hacking for Dummies: How to Search for Reward Flights​

Maximizing your points isn't as easy as it looks
How to Plan a Trip by Travel Hacking


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This is the part you don’t want to hear. Finding reward flights takes a bit of work. Not only do you need to learn where your points can go, but you’ll also need to learn the partner airlines, which airlines offer the best award rates, and most importantly, when a flight isn’t worth it.

While that’s too much to unpack in one newsletter, I’ll run through my basic process for finding a flight. From there, you can do your own research and build your own.

  1. Decide where I’m going and roughly when. Being flexible is the greatest strength for travel hacking, so if you’re a long way out, don’t limit yourself to a specific date. Let’s say I’m flying from JFK to Paris.

  2. Analyze my points and where they are. Let’s say 100,000 Amex points, 75,000 Delta points, and 85,000 Chase points. Now I know I can transfer 100,000 points to Amex’s 17 airline partners and 85,000 to Chase’s ten airline partners. Delta SkyMiles can only be used on Delta.

  3. Next, I’ll use a travel site like Skyscanner or Google Flights to check some of the airlines flying direct. In this case, I don’t want to transfer at all, if possible. I see that Delta, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue, and American all fly direct routes.

  4. Starting with airlines I know have reasonable award rates, like Virgin, I search for award flights. I note down the best redemption for each airline and ensure I can transfer points to that airline. Remember, you might fly with a different airline than you booked with. You could book a Delta flight with Virgin.

  5. I crosscheck the cash prices of the flights with the award flights to make sure I’m not missing a fantastic cash deal that’s devaluing my points.

  6. I transfer my points to the chosen airline and book the flight.​

Learning the ins and outs of each reward program is important. Take your time, and it’ll get less overwhelming. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me for any advice.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone. This post contains references to products from one or more of our partners and we may receive compensation when you click on links to those products.

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