Earning and using points effectively as a backpacker: why budget travellers should understand points

In this series of guides to making the most of points as a budget traveller, Martina Donkers gives us the rundown on how she earned and used points to make her travel dollar go a lot further, and how you can do the same.


Point Hacks Backpacker Series


‘How much did you pay for your flights, if you don’t mind me asking?’

This is a question repeated again and again, in hostels and backpacker bars across the world. More than any other type of traveller, backpackers and budgeters are open about looking for the best deal, whether it’s on transport, accommodation, or beer.

Can you blame us? Most backpackers I know are travelling ‘until the money runs out’ so it makes sense to try to push that money as far as possible.

Yet, when you bring up the subject of point hacking, there’s almost always incredulity.

Flying on points, many seem to think, remains the domain of the well-heeled business traveller – those who already have access to the realm of airport lounges, six-figure salaries and complimentary wine (when you spend over $300 of course). They think it’s just not something that the average backpacker can do.

But I know point hacking is well within the reach of most backpackers. And not only that, I think anyone who’s serious about going as far as their money will take them should be making the most of it.

Welcome to Point Hacks for Backpacks. I’m Martina, and I’m a backpacker who uses points to try to get as far as I can for as little money as possible. In article series, I want to show you that backpackers and other budget travellers really can point hack too. It’s not hard, and it’ll make your budget go a lot further.

  • In Part I, I’m going to show you that you absolutely can point hack as a backpacker or budget traveller, even if it seems geared to wealthier travellers

  • In Part II, I’m going to use myself as a case study and take you through just how I got to South America and paid next to nothing for my flights

  • In Part III, I’ll share some practical tips on how backpackers and budgeters can get started, including how to make your minimum spend and squeeze the maximum flights from your points

Is Point Hacking just for luxury travellers?

No, it’s not! But I’m always surprised at how many people think this.

They think that to play this game you have to already be part of a privileged club, or that the only way to access extra points is to spend a lot of money in the first place. That’s not true.

Sure, there’s a focus on travellers who are after luxury and have money to spend. The credit cards with the best sign-on bonuses have names like ‘platinum’ or ‘prestige’, and many of the products that earn bonus points are on the more expensive side.

Despite this, the fact that the target customer of many banks are the bigger spenders and travellers is no reason that we adventurous, penny-pinching backpackers can’t be part of it.

There’s no reason you can’t pay for your $8/night hostel bed with a platinum credit card. I do!

Matt Kepnes, also known as Nomadic Matt, is probably the king of point hacking backpacking. A backpacker to the core, Matt earns about a million points per year.

‘Some people do this for the love of the game,’ he writes on his blog. ‘I do this because I’m cheap and want to pay for as few flights and hotels as possible.’ While Matt has the advantage of being in the American market, his experience still shows that travel hacking is absolutely something backpackers can do.

Part of this comes down to how you value your points. You’ll see plenty of articles here on Point Hacks advocating saving up your points for that much-coveted First Class upgrade, or arguing that you get the better return on investment, dollar for dollar, when you spend your points on Business Class tickets.

That’s all true, but just because something represents good value for money to one person doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for others.

Rather than valuing your points in cents, I choose to value them per kilometre, and see just how far I can stretch my points in terms of distance covered.

When you value your points per kilometre, the aim of the game becomes covering as much ground (or ocean) as possible with as few points as possible. Or, more importantly, getting exactly where you want to go and paying as little as possible for it. It’s not so much about return on investment, and much more about exploring, saving, and seeing the world.

How do you pull this off?

It’s not at all hard. I got comfortable with the idea of using credit cards, and I also started planning while I was still in the ‘saving up’ phase of my trip.

Some backpackers jump on a plane with $10 to their name and a vague idea that it will all work out. For those people, using points won’t generally help much.

But most of us choose to work hard and save up a few thousand for our travels before we go. While you’re in the saving up phase, you’ll likely have a steady income, and that could make you eligible for a number of useful credit cards with hefty point bonuses that can save you thousands.

Getting started might seem tricky because so much of the points and loyalty program advice isn’t necessarily geared towards budget travellers.

You need to pick and choose which advice applies to backpackers and budgeters, and which tips should be left for those looking for luxury.

Does this really work? Yes, it does! Read Part II and I’ll show you just how I got to South America and paid next to nothing for my flights.

Earning and using points effectively as a backpacker: why budget travellers should understand points was last modified: May 16th, 2018 by Martina Donkers