7 Steps to Organize Your Travel Hacking

Here are 7 steps to stay organized.

1) Monitor your credit. Sign up with Creditkarma.com and Experian.com or some other combination of companies that can help you monitor your credit reports. You want to make sure YOU are the only one opening accounts in your name. Go read Credit Scores and Reports if you want more basic info on this.

2) Track your points. I use Awardwallet.com to track mine. (Disclaimer: that link is a referral link which helps me upgrade to plus status). This can take a while to set up if you already have memberships in a variety of programs but is so worth doing. I don’t know if this is the very best program out there, I just know it works for me and there is a free option. I like that I can track my whole family’s points on here and link our accounts. I pay for the Plus upgrade so that I can also track expirations and I like getting alerts about points that are about to expire. If you are concerned about security, you can choose to have the password info for all the accounts saved locally to your computer.

3) Make travel goals and work towards them. The best points are the ones that you are actually going to use for something you want to do.

4) Sign up for awards programs before you sign up for the credit card. This will just make your life easier. Make an online account. Make note of your username and password and account number. Add it to your award tracking system (like Awardwallet.com). Then sign up for the credit card. There is no need to go out and sign up for every hotel and airline program when you’re starting out — just whatever one(s) you are planning to get the credit card for.

5) Track your credit cards and finances.?For years, I used a spreadsheet. You can check out my basic template on Google Docs. I just started using a free online service called Travel Freely, which is essentially an interactive smart spreadsheet that emails you reminders! You don’t input any sensitive information into Travel Freely, just the date you signed up for a card and what the signup bonus is. As soon as I apply for a card, the info gets recorded. When I sit down to pay other bills, I check in on the spreadsheet to see if I have to do anything like sign a card up for auto pay or downgrade or cancel a card. In the past, I’ve also used mint.com to view multiple accounts at once.

6) Set up reminders. After I’ve been approved for a card, I figure out when I have to complete my minimum spending (let’s say it is 3 months) and then I put a reminder on my calendar for 2 weeks before then to make sure I’ve completed it. The great thing about Travel Freely is that it will automatically remind you by email, too. I also set up reminders to evaluate cards after 11 months. I also set up reminders to check to make sure I’ve received bonus points.

7) After you’ve had a card 12 months, evaluate that card. You want to keep cards a minimum of 12 months. Banks can (and might!) take back points if you sign up for a card and cancel right after getting the bonus. They also might not want to approve you for more cards. Your options at 12 months include keeping the card (sometimes worth it), downgrading the card to a no-annual-fee version (this can help those credit scores and your relationship with the bank), or canceling. If you are thinking of keeping a card, it is ALWAYS worth calling customer service, telling them you are considering canceling and asking if they have retention offers available. They often do. After your annual fee posts, you should have 30 days to call in and be able to receive a full refund if you cancel.

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