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Education

The not-so-secret travel hacking 'game' that allows you to travel the world for free

The not-so-secret travel hacking 'game' that allows you to travel the world for free
Photo by Serey Kim on Unsplash

The points and miles game is free to learn, complex to play, but totally worth it.

If you have friends who post drool-worthy photos of luxury resorts in beautiful, tropical places and you wonder how on Earth they can afford such amazing vacations, there are four main possibilities: 1) They're rich; 2) They saved up for a long time and splurged; 3) They went into debt to make it happen; 4) They spent far less than you think—perhaps close to nothing—because your friends know how to play the travel hacking game.

If No. 4 intrigues you, buckle up, because I'm about to take you on a mindblowing trip through Travel Hacking Land.

Luxury travel is far more doable than you might think. Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

But before we embark, I want to make something clear: Everything I'm about to share with you is legitimate, legal and honest. I say that upfront because often people's initial response when I describe how travel hacking works is, "That sounds sketchy." They usually respond with 1) This is a scam, or 2) This is unethical. Neither is true. More on that shortly.

Okay, off we go!

Welcome to Travel Hacking Land, where if you learn to play the game well, you get to travel for free.

A few things to keep in mind as we take this tour:

1. Think of travel hacking as a game rather than a "hack." Like any game, the more strategies you master, the better you get at playing.

2. The game is simple in concept, but complex in practice. Don't expect to walk away from this article knowing exactly how to book a free trip to Europe. There's a fairly steep learning curve, but speaking from experience, it's 100% worth the time to learn it.

3. (Almost) anyone can play. If you have a good credit score, you can play this game. (That being said, people with more spending power will be able to play it faster. No way around that really.)

4. Be ready to unlearn some things. Most of us come into the game with major misconceptions about how credit card points and airline miles work.

5. It truly is as mindblowing as it sounds. Yes, the people who play this game really do travel the world regularly—often in luxury—for free or nearly free. No, it's not an exaggeration. (I'm not selling anything here, by the way—I love to travel, I love saving money and I love strategy games, so this hobby just hits all my happy buttons.)

Also, I didn't make any of this up or figure it out on my own. I learned it from Bryce Conway, founder of 10xTravel, a website where anyone can learn all the ins and outs of this game and see how other people are playing it. (10xTravel Insiders is also the largest and most active Facebook group dedicated to this game, with more than 113,000 members, so Conway definitely is the go-to expert in this space.)

As we take our tour through Travel Hacking Land, I'll share what Conway says about how the game works and what anyone who's interested in it needs to know.

The travel hacking game is played with three main pieces: credit card points, hotel points and airline miles.

On a basic level, the goal of the travel hacking game is to optimize credit card points, hotel loyalty points and airline miles and make the most of how those award systems work and interact with each other. You have to understand these pieces of the game to strategize using them.

The first thing to understand is that credit card points are the most powerful pieces in the game. Everything else stems from there.

Each credit card grouping (Chase, American Express, Citibank, Capital One, etc.) has its own points-earning system. You earn points by spending with a credit card (i.e., "earn 1% cash back on purchases") or by signing up for new cards and qualifying for sign-up bonuses ("spend $4000 in the first three months and get 100,000 bonus points"). Most of us most likely have points-earning cards of some sort, because they're so common.

Generally speaking, the cash value of a credit card point is one cent, so 100,000 points would have a cash value of $1,000. If I have 100,000 Chase points, for instance, I can trade those in for $1,000 cash back.

That's exactly what I used to do—get cash back for the points I earned on my Chase cards—and I thought it was pretty awesome. Now I kick myself for it because those points are sooooo much more valuable when used in the points/miles game for travel.

Credit card points become more valuable when they are transferred to travel partners.

Transferring credit card points to airline or hotel partners greatly increases their value.

Photo by Trac Vu on Unsplash

As I said, the game is complex, and there's no way to explain it all in one article. But here's one example of what it means to optimize the points and miles systems.

Recently I wanted to buy a one-way ticket on Southwest airlines. The cash price for the ticket was $88, but I could get the exact same ticket for 4,400 Southwest Rapid Rewards miles.

Southwest is a travel partner with Chase, which means I can transfer my Chase points to Southwest and they count as Rapid Reward miles. 4,400 Chase points would be worth $44 if I got cash back for them, but if I transfer them to Southwest to purchase that $88 ticket, I've just doubled the value of those points.

Double the value is pretty good, right? But that's just scratching the surface. As another example, with 100,000 Chase points, I could get $1,000 cash back or I could transfer those points to Hyatt and get four nights at the Grand Hyatt resort in Kauai—which, on the dates I just looked up in August, would cost $900/night cash. So for $1,000 worth of points, I could get a $3,600 stay at a luxury resort. Almost quadrupled their value.

But keep in mind, I'm not actually even paying that $1,000 out of pocket. These are points I earned for free, just by signing up for and using my credit card (on things I'm spending money on anyway) to earn points.

When people say they're traveling for free, this is what they mean.

If you want to play the points/miles travel hacking game, you can learn how for free.

I had a vague understanding of airline miles and credit card points before taking Conway's 10xTravel course. I'd used frequent flyer miles before and my husband and I have used credit cards for everything (paying them off every month—that's vitally important) to earn points for cash.

I don't even remember now what made me click on the course, but I'm so glad I did. There are multiple travel hacking websites and courses out there, but I appreciated the way Conway laid the whole thing out and that he was totally upfront about how he makes his money with a free course. (Basically, he asks that course participants use his credit card referral links if/when they start getting into the game, which is beyond fair for the amount of knowledge the course provides.)

Conway started puzzling out the game himself when he was in college, when there were only a handful of online forums and Reddit discussions about how to optimize points and miles. His friends would see him traveling all the time and ask him how he was doing it, so he'd explain it. Eventually, he got tired of having to go through the whole game with new people over and over again at parties, so he wrote it all down in an email that he could just forward to whoever asked.

Finally, a friend told him he should turn it into an ebook. That ebook eventually morphed into the course and the 10xTravel website and a full-fledged win-win business. We win by getting free knowledge about how to game points and miles to travel for practically nothing. He wins by earning credit card affiliate income each time people use his referral links to start playing.

The biggest travel hacking hurdle to get over is our misconceptions about credit cards.

Credit card points can be incredibly valuable for travel.

Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash

One big key strategy in this game is regularly signing up for new credit cards to take advantage of sign-up bonuses, as that's the quickest way to accumulate a lot of points. But most people think that's nuts.

"When I tell people that I generally open 10 or more credit cards a year, almost every single person … their eyes get bigger and they kind of freak out," says Conway. "And the next question is always, doesn't that destroy your credit score?"

No, it doesn't.

"It's very straightforward how that works, but of course, people have a bad association of credit cards with debt and bad credit," he says. "So you have to kind of get past that."

But won't credit card companies get wind of people doing this and shut it down? Conway says nope.

"They know that this exists. In some ways, they kind of encourage it because most people aren't able to make points work or are not willing to put in the effort to make points work in a way that is really advantageous to them," he says. "So it's kinda like the banks are making a bet like, 'Hey, we have this cool point system. You probably won't figure it out. It's profitable for us anyway.'"

"Credit card companies make a lot of money when people use their product, both on interest charges and fees—kind of the negative side of credit cards—but also just on swipe transaction fees," says Conway. "People forget that credit card companies make a large portion of their money on people who don't even ever pay interest or have credit card debt."

Credit cards are profitable for banks, so they incentivize people opening them. And banks compete to get you to open their cards, so all we're doing here is making the most of that competition and the incentives that come with it. No one is getting swindled. You have to spend on the cards to earn the points—even the sign-up bonuses—so banks are still making their money.

The key is to use your credit card for every transaction possible, pay off the balance each month before any interest posts and keep getting new cards for the sign-up bonuses.

Here are some examples of people who have learned how to play the travel hacking game and won big.

The places travel hackers go for free or nearly free is mind-boggling.

Photo by Ittemaldiviano 🇲🇻 on Unsplash

One of the things you start seeing after you take the 10xTravel course and join the group on Facebook is people sharing the amazing trips they've taken for free or close to free. Some of those stories get posted on the 10xTravel site, too.

For example, one couple took a two-week, five-country, $17,000 trip to Europe for just over $1,500 out of pocket. Another family detailed how they saved $14,000 in travel costs on trips to Puerto Rico, Europe, Costa Rica and Canada—not to mention getting a ton of free travel domestically—over a two-year period.

Some people in the Facebook group have shared trips where they've gotten redemption values of 10 or 20 cents per credit card point or more (essentially turning what would be $1,000 cashback into $10,000 or $20,000 in travel value). Those are exceptionally amazing, but it's not unusual at all to see 3x, 4x or 5x point values being redeemed by travelers in the group.

Often the only cash people have to shell out on their trips is for food and a modicum of taxes on flights, which don't get covered by points. At all-inclusive resorts, food is covered, so all they pay for are any extra activities.

And we're not talking cheap places or terrible traveling conditions. You know those over-the-water bungalows you see in the Maldives? I've seen people fly first-class there and stay in those places, all on points and miles. It's bonkers what people can do if they play this game well.

Why don't more people play the travel hacking game if it's really so great?

Again, the game is simple in concept but complex in practice. There's a lot to learn and a lot to unlearn at first, and how the various points and miles systems intertwine and interact can make your brain hurt until it all starts to click. But a lot of what stops people from even starting to learn is simply not believing that it is what it is.

"I think it doesn't really make sense to most rational minds," Conway admits. "Because things don't just kind of come for free in life. There's always gonna be some sort of catch down the road. So when you can show them how easy it is to book a meaningful amount of travel—and good travel—using simple tactics with points and miles, it seems too unbelievable."

This is especially true with business or first-class airline travel. The redemption values for points on those seats can be simply astounding.

"People assume that I'm gonna do a bunch of work just to be able to get a three-stop red-eye flight to Vegas—is that even worth it? And that's just not the case," says Conway. "My wife and I have flown first-class all over the world and can do so pretty much whenever and wherever we want, thanks to this."

The only thing better than hanging out in paradise is hanging out in paradise for free.

Photo by Serey Kim on Unsplash

Travel hacking (a term Conway bristles at because it makes the whole thing sound sketchy) is a long game—and more chess than checkers for sure—but for those who wish they could afford to travel more, it's definitely a game worth learning how to play.

Thanks for coming along on the tour of Travel Hacking Land! And hey, if you see your friends sunning themselves in Fiji or exploring Machu Picchu or galavanting around Europe, don't assume they have gobs of excess wealth. They may have just learned to game the points and miles systems in a way that lets them travel for ridiculously little money.

Education

Someone criticized a middle school teacher's behavior. Her comeback was an A+.

When a person commented, "your a teacher act like it," Amy Allen hilariously took the advice to heart.

A rude commenter got a lesson from Ms. Allen.

Being a teacher isn't easy. Teaching middle school students is especially not easy. Teaching middle school students who spent several of their formative years going through a global pandemic in the age of smartphones, social media and a youth mental health crisis is downright heroic.

If you haven't spent time in a middle school classroom, you may not fully grasp the intensity of it on every level, from the awkwardness to the body odor to the delightful hilarity that tweens bring to the table. When you connect with your students, it can be incredibly rewarding, and when you don't…well, we all read "Lord of the Flies," right?

Skilled teachers bring out the best in young people, and that can be done in many different ways. For Amy Allen, it's by making her middle school classroom a fun, welcoming place to learn and by bonding with her students.


"I love teaching middle schoolers because they are awkward, and I’m awkward, so we get along," Allen tells Upworthy.

She plays games with students, gets rambunctious with them and creates opportunities for them to expend some of that intense pre-and-early-teen energy in healthy ways. For instance, she shared a video of a game of "grudgeball," an active trivia game that makes reviewing for a quiz or test fun and competitive, and you can see how high-energy her classroom is:

@_queenoftheclassroom

If this looks like fun to you, pick up my grudgeball template (🔗 in bio) #qotc #grudgeball #10outof10recommend @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️

"I think for teachers, we always want to create moments for our students that are beyond the standard reading, writing, memorizing, quiz, 'traditional learning,'" Allen says. "Games are a great way to incorporate fun in the classroom."

Allen clearly enjoyed the game as much as her students—"I love the chaos!" she says— and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Fun keeps teachers sane, too. But one person took issue with her classroom behavior and commented, "your a teacher act like it." (Not my typo—that's exactly what the person wrote, only with no period.)

Allen addressed the comment in another video in the most perfect way possible—by acting exactly like a teacher.

Watch:

@_queenoftheclassroom

Replying to @كل الكلبات تريد مني Come see me if you have any further questions. #qotc #iteachmiddleschool #weDEFINITELYdonthavefuninhere @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ #Inverted

There are two solid ways to handle a rude comment without making things worse—you can ignore it or you can craft a response that makes the person look like a fool without being cruel or rude yourself. Allen's grammar lesson response was A+ work, right down to the "Come see me if you have any further questions" caption.

In fact, the person apparently went back and deleted their comment after the comeback video went viral, which makes it all the more hilarious. The video currently has more than 4 million views on TikTok and over 18 million views on YouTube.

"What’s funny is I left my correction on the board accidentally, and the next day, students asked me what that was all about," Allen says. "When I explained it, they thought it was cool because 'why would anyone go after Ms. Allen'? At that point, the video had maybe 10,000 views. I never imagined the video would go viral."

Two days later, as the video was creeping toward a million views, she upped the stakes. "Some of my students are my ultimate hype people, and they were tracking it harder than I was," she says. "I made a 'deal' with my fifth period if it reached 1 million during their class, they could sit wherever they wanted the entire week. During lunch, I checked, and it reached 1 million. So when they came back from recess, I announced it, and it was like I was a rockstar. They screamed and cheered for me. It was an incredible moment for me."

The irony, of course, is that Allen was acting like a teacher in her grudgeball video—an engaged teacher with engaged students who are actively participating in the learning process. Just because it doesn't look like serious study doesn't mean it's not learning, and for some kids, this kind of activity might be far more effective at helping them remember things they've learned (in this case, vocabulary words) than less energetic ways of reviewing.

Allen has her thumb on the pulse of her students and goes out of her way to meet them where they are. Last year, for instance, she created a "mental health day" for her students. "I could tell they were getting burnt out from all the state tests, regular homework, and personal life extracurricular activities that many of my students participate in," she says. "We went to my school library for 'fireside reading,' solved a murder mystery, built blanket forts, watched the World Cup, colored, and completed sudokus. Is it part of the curriculum? No. Is it worth spending one class period doing something mentally rewarding for students? Absolutely."

Teaching middle school requires a lot of different skills, but perhaps the most important one is to connect with students, partly because it's far easier to teach someone actually wants to be in your classroom and partly because effective teaching is about so much more than just academics. A teacher might be the most caring, stable, trustworthy adult in some students' lives. What looks like silly fun and games in a classroom can actually help students feel safe and welcomed and valued, knowing that a teacher cares enough to try to make learning as enjoyable as possible. Plus, shared laughter in a classroom helps build a community of engaged learners, which is exactly what a classroom should be.

Keep up the awesome work, Ms. Allen, both in the classroom and in the comment section.

You can follow Amy Allen on TikTok and YouTube.

A mother and daughter read before bed.

In a world where both parents usually have to work to support a child, it’s rare that a parent can spend the entire day with their kids. So, as parents, we have to do our best to be there when they need us the most.

TikTokker Sara Martinez says there are 3 key moments a day when a parent should be with their child: the three minutes after they wake up, the three minutes after they get home from school or daycare, and the three minutes before they go to bed.

Affective neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp is widely credited with the 9-minute theory. “It’s a common thread among parents, from those who stay at home and juggle countless tasks to working parents who face their own unique challenges,” Martinez told Newsweek.


Joanna Seidel, MSW, RSW, the Clinical Director and Founder of Toronto Family Therapy & Mediation Inc., says that the 9-minute practice is probably related to attachment theory. “The times the mother is referencing in the video are all significant—they are times of routine and transition—therefore moments where critical parenting is involved,” Seidel told Parents.

@iamsaramartinez

I always struggle with mom guilt and questioning if i was present enough. If this is true or not, I do find setting aside specific time to be present with my toddler (no phones out, etc) has made a positive impact. #raisingkids #parenting #parentingtips #parentingtip #childpsychology #raisingtoddlers #toddlerparents #toddlermom #presentparenting #toddlermama #raisingchildren

She adds that being present for children during these 3 key moments helps foster “security, consistency, and a meaningful presence—all of which is done to form a secure (emotional and physical) foundation for your child(ren).”

The 9-minute theory resonated with many of the moms who watched the video. “This is such a comforting theory for a working mom,” Marisa wrote. “I’m not perfect but I can try to be in THOSE 9 minutes,” Emmy added.

A tourist visiting Italy. (Representative image)

Americans pride themselves on living in the “best country in the world.” However, the American way of life isn’t for everyone and some prefer the more laid-back approach to life that people enjoy in Europe.

Four years ago, a writer named Roze left her tiny apartment in Los Angeles, booked a one-way flight to Turn, Italy and never looked back. Now, she documents her new life in Europe on TikTok to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

Recently, she posted a video in which she counts down 5 things that she’ll never do now that she lives in Italy. These are examples of the relief some Americans feel when they move to Europe and settle into their new, stress-free lifestyle.


1. Rush

"One of the first things that attracted me to Italian culture is the fact that people don't seem to be in a rush. There are no drive-thrus. People don't walk and eat. If you need a coffee, you sit down and drink a cup of coffee. There's always time for that."

2. Own a car

"I don't plan on ever living in a place where you need a car to get around. I don’t like the expense of a car and it’s just bad for the environment.”

3. Live for work

“I’ll never obsess about work as much as I used to do in the U.S. Now, I'm not saying that people don't work here. People work very hard, but there's not as many people who make working hard their whole personality."

@rozeinitaly

A few ways my perspective has changed since moving abroad, maybe some other American immigrants can relate? #fivethingschallenge #5thingsiwouldneverdo #5thingschallenge #americanimmigrant #movingabroadtips #expatsinitaly #italylifestyle #lifeinitaly🇮🇹

4. Trust the internet for business hours

"If you look it up on Google Maps, it says that it's open from 10 am to, I think, 7 or 7:30 pm. Does that mean I can go there at like 2:30 3 o'clock? No. What is not listed on there is that they are closed from 1 to 4 for lunch."

5. Worry about medical bills

“I just don’t plan on living anywhere where there is not some kind of universal healthcare.”

Lunchables have lead in them, parents are reacting with shock

Today's kids are busier than ever, which means parents are often feeding them something quick on those days. A quick go to has been Lunchables, a prepackaged kid-friendly meal with a sweet treat inside. Some are just made to be snacks and those contain crackers, cheese, luncheon meat and cookies or candy. But the other Lunchables come complete with full sandwiches, pizza, chicken nuggets or hot dogs and include a drink.

They made the perfect thing to grab in a pinch and fit perfectly into lunch boxes. But parents are getting a jolt as a new consumer release reveals that these solutions to a quick meal or snack actually contain large amounts of lead. Yes, lead. Turns out there isn't really a regulation on how much lead can be in foods in America outside of California. One dad took to social media to express his dismay at the discovery of this information.


Pearlmania500 says in a shocked tone, "oh my God, Lunchables have lead in them? They got 74% of the maximum allowable dose. We have a maximum allowable doses of lead? On no, that's in California because there is no federal limit so you can just put–THERE'S NO FEDERAL LIMIT TO HOW MUCH LEAD YOU CAN PUT IN A LUNCHABLE!"

@pearlmania500

Consumer reports research is out there for all concerned parents to see #parenting #schoollunch #moms #dads #grandparents #PTA #pizza #pearlmania500 #news getting harder to trust these food companies

The more he reads the consumer report, the more shocked he becomes at the staggering amount of lead found in these products our children consume. Parents in the comments are just as flabbergasted as he is.

"Thank goodness it's not in paint anymore so paint chips are now safer to eat than luncables," someone writes.

"WAIT IS THAT WHY THE CEO OF THE COMPANY SAID HE WOULDN'T FEED THEM TO HIS KIDS," a commenter questions.

"Well thank God they took the lead out of the paint and made sure the kids eat it in their lunch," another writes.

"My daughter has high lead levels and we couldn't figure out why. We changed everything except eating lunchables," someone else says.

One commenter wrote a multi-comment response to the video explaining that his college professor warned them of the high levels of lead in foods. Others were now suddenly thankful their parents couldn't afford to buy Lunchables when they were children. This will likely be something that spurs change, but in the meantime parents are probably going to toss out these quick meals just in case.

It's mu-fu-' Lunchables, man 5 dollars a pack We gon' make… | Flickr

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Jamey Stillings, Wikipedia/ Canva

There's a new way to give tough love.

The “sandwich technique,” also known as a “compliment sandwich” or “feedback sandwich,” has been a tool for delivering criticism since the 1940s. But it really became something of a workplace staple after 1984, thanks to Mary Kay Ash’s book “People Management.”

The idea seems sound enough. The deliverer of the criticism would first offer a compliment to the recipient, followed by the actual feedback, then another bit of praise. This should theoretically allow the criticism to be received without bruising any ego or hurting any feelings. Everybody wins.

But according to organizational psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant, the compliment sandwich “doesn’t taste as good as it looks.”

In various interviews, podcasts, social media posts and even a Substack article, Grant has chalked up the compliment sandwich ineffectiveness to two major shortcomings.

One being that people are simply too familiar with it. So whatever compliment is given, no matter how genuine it may be, people know what’s coming next and they begin “waiting for the other shoe drop.” Knowing the compliments are obligatory can actually make someone take the criticism ever more personally.

Two: the opposite can happen. Because people tend to remember the first and last parts of a conversation, the criticism might be downplayed or outright buried underneath the positive feedback. This goes especially for narcissists, Grant notes.

Luckily there is a kind, yet efficient way to give some tough love. And it all boils down to one simple sentence:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

The phrase comes from a 2013 study conducted by researchers at Stanford,who were able to increase a student’s openness to criticism by at least 40% just by using those 19 words.

As Grant explains, this strategy works because it conveys an intention to help a person become the best version of themselves. “It’s surprisingly easy to hear a hard truth when it comes from someone who believes in your potential and cares about your success.”

Of course, using the exact words isn’t mandatory. The point is focusing on helping someone improve, rather than attacking or patronizing them.

To that point, Grant also has a few other helpful pointers, like not assuming a position of superiority, asking if the person is open to feedback first (Grant attests they usually welcome it) and lastly, keeping the language transparent, not manipulative.

At the end of the day, most people want to grow, become better people, and live up to their potential. Remembering that one little truism can go a long way.