After reading this post on travel hacking, I was inspired to begin my own point-accumulating journey. Using Crystal’s tips (and some of my own) I had a pretty successful year.  I’ve become slightly obsessed with travel hacking, and since my husband is tired of hearing about it on a daily basis, I decided I’d share my tips with you all through this post and break down my last year of hacking to a simple step-by-step process for travel hacking novices in need of some inspiration.

Tips and Tricks for Accumulating Points: My Travel Hacking Year in Review

Tips and Tricks for Accumulating Points: My Travel Hacking Year in ReviewStep One: Choose a Rewards Credit Card

My first step was to pick a rewards credit card.  After a bunch of research, I decided on the Capital One Venture Rewards Card and I can’t say enough good things about it!  I immediately moved all of my automatic bill payments to the card and started using it for my everyday expenses. After meeting the $3,000 spending requirement within the first 3 months, 40,000 bonus points were deposited into my account. To put this in perspective, 40,000 Capital One Venture points equal $400 towards travel. At two points per dollar spent on every purchase, I decided this was the perfect card for my year’s spending and travel goals.

Tips and Tricks for Accumulating Points: My Travel Hacking Year in Review

Step Two: Accumulate Airline Points

My next step was to sign up for various airline frequent flyer programs. That’s how I found out about Southwest Airlines Heartlanta promotion (and how I became obsessed with Southwest). With this promotion, if you booked three roundtrip flights from Atlanta between specified dates in February through May, you earned a companion pass with unlimited flights for the rest of the calendar year (and no blackout dates)!  Since my husband and I planned to fly to Cancun for a wedding, this promotion immediately caught my eye. I already had a girls trip to San Francisco and a trip to see my friends in Raleigh planned. With Southwest’s low fares (sometimes as low as $50 one way) it was definitely worth it to purchase a second trip to Raleigh to get the companion pass so that one of the $450 tickets to Mexico was free.  (You only have to pay minimal taxes on the companion ticket).

I used my rewards points from my Capital One card to pay for the cost of my ticket to Mexico, and I still had some points left over.  My husband and I ended up using the companion pass for four trips throughout the year: Houston, Cancun, Boston and New York City.  Southwest allows you to change the person your companion pass is designated for up to three times, so in December I changed my companion from my husband to Karisa and we flew to Tucson, Arizona for a weekend at a dude ranch (more about this trip soon!).  We split the cost of the flight, which made the price very reasonable.

Tips and Tricks for Accumulating Points: My Travel Hacking Year in Review

Step Three: Get Creative With Your Points

I also looked into different ways to rack up the points besides spending money on my credit card and booking flights.  It’s easier than you might think earn extra points with Southwest. First, you’ll want to sign up for Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Dining program. Just connect your credit or debit card to your dining account online and every time you eat at a qualifying restaurant you get points. That’s it – eat and get free points!  You get three points for every dollar you spend, and 10 points if you take a short survey after your meal.  So by using my Capital One Venture Card, I’m getting two points per dollar at dinner, while also getting Southwest points for having registered that particular card with Rapid Rewards Dining.

You’ll also want to sign up for Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Shopping program, even if you’re not a big online shopper.  It’s really easy to rack up points on things you’d buy anyways.  Here’s an example: I have to buy a wedding present.  I log into Rapid Rewards Shopping, click on their link to Macy’s (where the couple is registered), spend $100 and have their gift sent to them.  I earn two points per dollar on my credit card while also earning points in my Southwest account.  Another example I love is Groupon. After logging into Rapid Rewards Shopping, I click on “Groupon” and I earn three points per dollar on my airport parking spot. Again, by using my Capital One Venture Card I’m getting Venture Rewards points and Southwest points simultaneously.  Easy peasy, right?

My total points earned just through shopping and dining in 2015 was 7,267.  When you add in the 500 bonus points I received from Southwest (Thanks, Southwest!) my total was raised to 7,767.  To put this into perspective, 7,767 points with Southwest is about the cost a roundtrip flight from Atlanta to New York City (which can be pretty pricey).  With the total points I earned on Southwest solely through dining, shopping, and flying in 2015, I booked a trip to Austin to visit friends over a holiday weekend and have more than enough points for another roundtrip ticket.

I hope this post has inspired you and given you some tips on how to start your own travel hacking adventure!  Stay tuned to see where my travel hacking takes me throughout this next year.

Related Post: A Novice’s Guide to Travel Hacking

Have you tried travel hacking?  What are your best tips?

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This post was written by Flirting with the Globe contributor, Becky Jackson.  You can read more about Becky here.  This post was not sponsored or paid for in any way by Capital One Venture Card or Southwest Airlines – we just want to pass along information about the brands we love and tools we use to travel more frequently and less expensively.