When we first started our journey paying off debt, I just assumed that any big travel plans would have to wait until we were finished paying off debt. I’d heard of travel hacking before but assumed it was too good to be true and or that we’d have to use a million different credit cards and completely mess up our credit score to do it, which wasn’t worth it to me. But after doing my own research, I figured out that travel hacking New Zealand (really anywhere!) was possible for us, even though we still have six figures of student loan debt to pay off.
WHAT IS TRAVEL HACKING?
Travel hacking is using airline, credit card, hotel, or other rewards points to travel for free or at a deep discount. Travel hacking is like a step up from finding good deals on travel. It’s like amazing travel (like getting free luxury upgrades, elite/premium status) for little to no cost. It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? I can say from first hand experience that it’s not! You really can travel for almost nothing, to almost anywhere you can dream up. Here’s our experience travel hacking New Zealand.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW FOR TRAVEL HACKING NEW ZEALAND
(1) Sign up for a credit card with good travel reward points.
The first thing you need to do to get started travel hacking New Zealand is to sign up a credit card with good rewards points. If you are really interested in travel hacking New Zealand, you’ll need a card that not only offers good rewards, but good travel rewards, so you can get the most bang for your buck.
We signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card about a year ago because it had a generous sign up bonus (60,000 points = roughly 1 flight), bonus rewards points for travel and dining, and 25% boost when your points are redeemed for travel. There’s also no foreign transaction fees so when you are traveling you can use your card like normal. There’s a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year and you do have to spend $4000 in the first 3 months of opening the card to earn the bonus points (but that’s only $1333 a month).
(2) Sign up for another credit card with good travel rewards.
If you don’t already have several credit cards, go ahead and sign up for another credit card that has good travel rewards. Since we own our own business, we opted for the Chase Ink Business Preferred card. We chose this card because it offered 80,000 rewards points for signing up after you spend $5000 in the first 3 months and like our Sapphire card, you get a 25% boost when you redeem your points for travel. We also earn 3 points per $1 spent on things like advertising, internet, cable, and phone services, shipping, and travel.
We got all three of our flights to New Zealand for free! We also got 4 nights at nice hotels for free which we would never do if we were paying with our own money. It was really fun to be able to stay at nice places right on the beach when we’d been playing so hard during the day. We felt like kings! That’s the true beauty of travel hacking.
(3) Make sure you actually earn your sign on bonus rewards.
You can have the best travel rewards credit card in the world but it won’t do you nearly as much good if you don’t actually earn your sign on bonus points. Any travel rewards credit card that I’m aware of is going to have requirements to earn the sign on bonus– usually you have to spend a certain amount in the first few months of owning the credit card to get them. So, instead of using cash, a debit card, or any other card you might have, focus on doing all of your spending on your new travel rewards card until you earn the bonus. To that end, you may want to only sign up for one card at a time and focus on earning the bonus points. Once you’ve earned the bonus points, you can move on to the next card and start earning it’s points. We took out the Chase Sapphire close in time to the Business Preferred card only because they were seperate spending (the business card is obviously only for business expenses, the Sapphire was only for personal use). If you aren’t using a business card, hold off on a second card until you’ve earned that first bonus. Af
(4) Keep doing the majority of your spending on your cards to earn even more points.
After you’ve earned your sign on bonus(es), don’t forget to keep doing the majority of your spending on your new travel rewards cards, since that’s how you can earn even more points to save up for your big trip!
(5) Maximize value when you cash in your points for travel.
When it’s finally time for you to trade in those points for travel, make sure you are making them go as far as possible. You can do this in a variety of ways– travel when it’s not peak season (not Christmas, Spring Break, other holidays). Check out other airports. We live in the Phoenix area but saved $900 by flying out of LAX (even though that’s the worst airport in America). In some instances, you may want to transfer your points to Chase’s travel partners for even better value.
(6) Sign up for airline’s free rewards points/loyalty programs.
Another thing that can really help your travel hacking New Zealand is signing up for major airlines’ free loyalty programs, like Delta’s Skymiles. Not only can you save up points to travel, but you can earn points on the travel hacking you are doing. These are mostly good for things like getting upgraded. You won’t earn the kind of crazy points that you’ll get with a credit card but it’s completely free and effortless so you might as well take advantage. We earned a few thousand miles on our free tickets to New Zealand that we’ll be happy to use in the future! This can really come in handy if you end up transferring your points to Chase’s travel partners.
(7) Sign up for a free AirBNB account.
For travel hacking New Zealand, we knew we would want to stay in a lot of different Airbnbs not only because you can find some amazing deals, but you can get a better feel for how people actually live in the country you are visiting. Often, hosts will have a lot of good insight for places that you should check out, things to do, places to eat, etc. Airbnb does a good job of vetting it’s hosts (as well as guests) and we’ve always had great experiences with it. You can earn up to $55 off your first stay by signing up for an account here. Our cheapest Airbnb was only $49 to give you an idea of how far your savings can go on Airbnb.
Once you fall in love with Airbnb like we have, you can start referring your friends and family to earn Airbnb credit (usually around $30 per referral after they make their first stay). If you’ve got an extra bed room/guest house/won’t be living in your own house for a while, you could consider becoming an Airbnb host to make some serious money as a side hustle. [Related: How to Earn Money Without a Job].
(8) Have anyone you are traveling with sign up for a free Airbnb account.
The sweet secret sauce to travel hacking New Zealand with Airbnb is to have EVERY ADULT (including spouse) you are traveling with sign up for an Airbnb account so they can get $55 off too! We stayed at a few places that were between $50-$75 per night, so for each adult you are traveling with, this could give you a free night’s stay. It was just me and Danny travel hacking New Zealand. We kept imagining ways we could have saved if we’d just invited one other couple.
(9) Other ways to save on travel
In addition to scoring big with airplane tickets and accommodations, you can save a ton on travel following a few simple rules, such as buying grocery store food and cooking yourself instead of always eating out. If you run out of points for accommodations, there are plenty of cheap options like staying in hostels. New Zealand also has tons of holiday parks which are campgrounds but usually have small, inexpensive rooms with beds. Another way to save is to travel with friends so you can share the costs of things like a rental car and gas. And last, but certainly not least, you don’t have to completely avoid touristy areas, but beware of tourist traps. Don’t buy souvenirs in heavy touristy areas, they’ll always cost more. Food will also be more expensive in those areas.
Here’s exactly what we did in bullet point format:
- About a year before we wanted to travel to New Zealand, we grabbed the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
- We did all of our spending on that card until we earned our bonus points.
- We also grabbed the Ink Preferred Business card. It’s a business card so there was no need to wait until we’d earned our points, but if you chose to do 2 personal cards (i.e. you don’t own a business and don’t need a business credit card) you should wait until you’ve earned all your points on one card
- We continued doing the majority of our spending on these cards throughout the year to earn the most points possible.
- After about a year, we had hundreds of thousands of points. We could have traveled during off season or to somewhere closer to maximize our points, but for us, New Zealand at Christmas time was the dream and it wasn’t cheap.
- We bought all 3 of our plane tickets using our points. It would have cost us close to $6,000. We saved $900 worth of points by flying out of an airport that was 6 hours away from us.
- We also got 4 nights of hotels using credit card points. We were traveling at peak season so most cheaper options were gone, but we got to stay in some really nice places for free!
- We also got 3 free nights at Airbnb’s using Airbnb credit.
OUR NORTH ISLAND NEW ZEALAND ITINERARY
We flew from LAX to Auckland, where we rented a car and drove two hours south to Matamata to spend the night.
Day 1: Hobbiton tour, Arupuni Swing Bridge hike, Waitomo Caves, spent the night on a farm that looked exactly like the Shire from Lord of the Rings.
Day 2: Drove one hour from Taumaruni to Tongoriro National Park, where we hiked all day. At night, we drove to Taupo, ate delicious food there.
Day 3: Hung out at Lake Taupo, did a jet boat ride to Huka Falls, hiked around Huka Falls, then drove to Ohope Beach.
Day 4: Spent the day playing at Ohope Beach, did a hike, drove to Papamoa Beach, hiked Papamoa Hills and thought my pregnant self was going to have a heart attack.
Day 5: Hiked Mount Maunganui, hung at the beaches in Tauranga, went back to our Airbnb and played more at the beach in Papamoa.
Day 6: Drove up the Coromandel Peninsula, hiked around the Cathedral Cove area (beautiful hike to a beach where one of the Narnia’s was filmed), slept in Whitianga, played at the beach there.
Day 7: Went to hot water beach (hot water heated from lava comes to the surface of the earth here and drains into the ocean so you can build your own sand hot tub on the beach! Amazing!) Drove to Auckland to sleep at a hotel near the airport.
Day 8: Flew home!
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