Travel Hacking with Brad from Richmond Savers and Travel Miles 101

One of the complaints that I frequently hear doubters fling at the frugal set is this:

Dude, you live a life of deprivation! I just can’t live without my <insert one or more: 5,000 square foot home, $70,000 sedan, the newest iThing, season tickets to the Local Area Team, vacations on Fiji>

I’ve never considered myself deprived:

  • Our cars are older (one is from 2003 [gasp!]), but they are just a means to get from Point A to Point B.
  • Our home is about 1800 square feet, but I’ve lived in a McMansion and a fancy lakefront home. I’m happier in my modest house because my neighbors are better.

However, I draw the line at travel.

I’m not very good at sitting still. I love to get out and see the world. I’ve been to 39 states along with Belize, Canada, Grand Cayman, France, Mexico and Spain. That is barely scratching the surface, but I have lots of time left, so it’s all good.

Reconciling travel with frugality

If you play your (credit) cards right, travel doesn’t have to break the bank. My introduction to travel hacking came from J.D. Roth on Get Rich Slowly. At first read, it sounded too good to be true:

Flights to Hawaii for free? No way!

I did my research though and it all checked out. The wife and I signed up for the cards and six months later, we were the proud owners of 200,000 points. We traded 140,000 of them (35,000 for each round trip ticket) for four tickets to Hawaii. It was glorious:


The whole trip set us back about $1,500* (yes, I’m obsessed with that number). And, we still had 60,000 points left which we traded for three tickets to Florida at a later date.

My go-to guy for travel hacking

I first came across Brad Barrett from RichmondSavers way back in 2013. I had some travel questions and contacted him. His answers were thorough and accurate. It was immediately clear that he knew what he was talking about. A while later, I met Brad in person at a conference and was thrilled to find that he is a genuinely nice guy. We chatted often that weekend and then again in subsequent years. Brad went on to start another site, Travel Miles 101 with Dr. Alexi Zemsky (an electrophysiologist!).

If you like to see new places, travel hacking is an essential tool to have in the toolbox. Frugality/Financial Independence should be about doing more of what you love, not less. If you love to get out and explore like I do, travel hacking will help you accomplish your globe-trotting goals without draining the bank account.

If you haven’t met Brad yet, consider this your introduction**. I’m introducing you to him today because he can help you travel on the cheap***. If you’re a Disney nut, he can help you get to see The Mouse for almost nothing. Brad, take it from here!

Barrett family at Yosemite

The Barrett family enjoys the Yosemite valley

Tell me what travel hacking is and your basic guidelines for the strategy.

The aim of travel hacking is this: To earn large signup bonuses on very specific credit cards, and then combine a few of those credit card bonuses for free (or nearly free) travel throughout the world.

Many banks offer premium travel cards with signup bonuses such as this:  “Earn 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.  $95 annual fee waived the first year.

This strategy is only good for those who are smart with their credit cards and pay them off on time and in full every month; for those people, they are using their regular purchases to hit these spending requirements and paying them off every month so they are paying $0 of interest.  In most cases the annual fee is even waived the first year, so you are literally paying $0 of expense.

Depending on the type of points/miles you earn, you can hope to get $500-$1,000+ of value out of each bonus, so you can see how valuable this can be when you open a few cards over time and rack up multiple of these bonuses.

With the right planning and flexibility, you can put together a nearly free trip to essentially anywhere in the world!

This. Is. Awesome.

This. Is. Awesome.

I’ve known you for quite a while, in internet years anyway and love what you do over at Richmond Savers. For readers unfamiliar, please describe what your mission is over there and how you help people.

I love counting you and Mrs. 1500 among my friends and have definitely enjoyed getting to know you two over the past few years!

Richmond Savers started out as a personal finance blog (we live in Richmond, VA and we enjoy saving money, so “Richmond Savers”) but it actually changed over fairly quickly to focus on travel hacking.  I wound up putting together a family trip to Disney World just using rewards points (saving $4,000+ in the process!) and blogged about it; we wound up getting mentioned in The New York Times, NBC, CBS, Huffington Post, etc. for this trip and that changed the trajectory of the site.

I realized there were lots of people like me out there who would love to learn more about maximizing credit card rewards, but just didn’t have the time to research it, so I started a completely free “travel rewards coaching service” where I worked 1-on-1 with people to help them get started.  It has been amazing to help so many people over the course of the last 2.5 years, and I can’t believe that my life has taken me from being a CPA sitting in an office doing tax returns to someone who helps families travel the world for nearly free with credit card rewards points.

I quickly realized I couldn’t help everyone 1:1, so I started offering a free 15-day email course with my friend Alexi from Miles Dividend MD over at  This is the easiest way to get started with travel hacking, so I encourage everyone to sign up for the free course:

Richmond Savers is now focused entirely on helping people get to Disney World for free, and we recently launched the Keys to the Magic Kingdom Challenge where we’re helping 500 families each save over $4,000 for a total group savings of over $2,000,000.


The Barrett family in San Francisco, for less than $50!

You and I have discussed travel. Tell me about some of your favorite vacations and destinations.

Travel has always been a passion of mine, and my three most memorable trips were:

Our honeymoon in Maui and Kauai, Hawaii.  Hawaii is a magical place, and my wife Laura and I enjoyed every minute of this trip.  We especially enjoyed The Road to Hana and riding a bicycle down Mt. Haleakala (a 10,000 ft. volcano!).

Studying abroad for 2 months in Hamamatsu, Japan.  I got to live with a wonderful host family in Japan while taking intensive Japanese language courses all day.  It was incredible to experience the culture as a resident instead of just as a typical tourist.

A four week backpacking trip across Europe with my brother just after I graduated college.  We had a blast on this trip and it was really cool to spend that much time with my brother while seeing the sights of Europe.  If we could do it again we’d have stayed twice as long and not tried to see as many cities, but we definitely had fun while utterly exhausting ourselves!

One universal truth about children is that they love Disney. My own children are no exception and I’m sure yours aren’t either. As fun as Disney World is, that mouse is hyper-efficient at removing money from the old wallet. Disney is not a frugal endeavor. Please tell me what you’re doing with your Magic Kingdom Challenge to help rectify this.

Children love Disney and Disney is incredibly expensive.  Universal truths indeed.  When we started researching our trip we realized it was going to be easily $4,000+ for airfare, on-site hotel rooms and park tickets.  And the frugal part of me just recoiled in horror at that thought!  I did a lot of research and figured out how to travel hack Disney for our own family and now I’m trying to ‘pay it forward’ and help other families across the country.

I would love to help everyone, but my time is limited and what I’ve realized over the past few years is that a lot of people just simply don’t take action, even on things that can change theirs lives for the better.

So I added an “application” aspect to this Challenge Group to make sure that the families are a good fit financially for travel hacking and that they are serious enough to follow through on the plan.

From there I will help them every step of the way, which starts with a step-by-step guide and many explanatory videos walking them through every aspect of this plan.

I also provide a personalized plan for each family depending on their local airports, the number of people in their family, etc. and we have a private Facebook group just for members of this Challenge so we can all discuss and ask questions in real-time.

I try to make it as simple as possible to make this a reality!

Thanks Brad for teaching us all a little bit more about travel hacking!

Brad is the real deal. I would never steer anyone toward a product or service that I didn’t completely believe in. Whenever I have a question about travel, Brad pops into my mind immediately. Most recently, I asked him for advice on airfare for a trip to Ecuador that I’m taking later this year.

Go out and see the world. It’s too amazing and beautiful not to.



*Trip breakdown:

  • Condo (100 yards from the beach): $840 ($120/night for 7 nights)
  • American Airlines service fee: $192
  • Rental car: ~$250
  • Food (which we mostly made for ourselves in the condo) and random expenses: $200

**I received no compensation for this post. Brad provides a valuable service, so I’m happy to help him out.

***”What’s in this for Brad?” you might ask. Travel hacking requires responsible credit card use. To get free airfare or hotel stays, you may have to sign up for a new card. If you do this through Brad’s site, he may earn a commission without any drawback to you. Everyone wins.

Join the 10s who have signed up already!

Subscribing will improve your life in incredible ways*.

*Only if your life is pretty bad to begin with.

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45 Responses to Travel Hacking with Brad from Richmond Savers and Travel Miles 101

  1. Travel hacking is one of my goals for 2017. I miss all the free travel (and Southwest Companion Pass) I had for several years when I was promoting concerts all over the United States. Right now, we have about $2,000 to spend on a European vacation, but I want to keep building the number. We’ve got friends to crash with in London, Berlin, Brussels, Zurich, etc. It would be amazing to cover the costs of most of the trip! Now, how do I hack my food expenses?! 😉
    Kate @ Cashville Skyline recently posted…How to Survive on a Bare Bones BudgetMy Profile

  2. I am actually working my way through Trqvel Miles 101 right now. I love the idea of free travel. We have a lot of places we want to go and if we can do it more cost effectively, it will only enable us to go more places! Great interview Mr 1500 and Brad!

  3. Hi Brad! I’ve definitely heard of the Richmond Savers and your free trip to Disney. I got into the FIRE crowd in the last couple years and heard of you quickly thereafter which is what got me into travel hacking. My wife and I are amateurs, but we have successfully gained rewards from close to 10 cards which has been great. We travel a fair amount to see family who are spread out across the US so it has been very useful.

    Thanks for the into, Mr 1500.
    The Green Swan recently posted…The Path to A Million: Moving to Move UpMy Profile

    • Nice, sounds like you are rocking it — congrats!

      You should definitely sign up for the TM 101 course if only for the Facebook group. We have a wonderful community there and it’s a great support system.

  4. “However, I draw the line at travel.”

    YES. That is exactly it (if you could note tell by my user name lol). Very few experiences teach you and change you as much as traveling AND vacations (two different things, both which I appreciate but especially the former).

  5. I was recently introduced to Travel Miles 101 and have been working my way through it. I had assumed that travel hacking was either too good to be true or too much work to be worth it. I am learning a lot from Brad and Alexi and I think many others will benefit from their information as well!
    Matt @ Optimize Your Life recently posted…Understanding the 4% RuleMy Profile

    • Glad you already joined the course Matt, that’s great!

      I think we all assume it isn’t real or might be too much work, so you’re in good company for sure 🙂 As you’re probably seeing now, it’s pretty straightforward to get started and get some significant benefit from, right?

  6. I went through the free Travel Miles 101 course late last year after meeting Brad. Our family has a wedding to attend on the west coast next year. 5 airline tickets is a tough bill to swallow. Brad’s course has taught me everything I know. AND the Facebook group is there if you have any specific questions. We’re at about 150,000 bonus miles so far without any manufactured spending.
    Retire Before Dad recently posted…The Nude Selfie Of Personal FinanceMy Profile

  7. I connected with Brad awhile back and got to meet him at FinCon last year. Super cool guy and super generously with his travel information. We saved over $2100 on our summer vacation this year. We are targeting a trip to Disney next year with airfare and hotel already covered thanks to Brad’s challenge.
    Brian @ Debt Discipline recently posted…Financial Literacy MatchmakingMy Profile

  8. miriam says:

    Hi, I see my country is mention Belize, I’m glad u had chance to vusit, but must important is your advice I will look at it, thanks miriam.

  9. Mr. PIE says:

    Thanks for the e-mail course and Facebook group which have both helped enormously with getting started with travel hacking and tricky questions on travel options.

    The FIRE community has many things in common particularly travel. We enjoy spending on vacation/travel experiences and that will continue as we move towards early retirement in two years.

    This year alone we have saved nearly $5,000 in part due to the TravelMiles 101 site that Brad and Alexi run. We have nudged friends and colleagues to the site to get started with building their own travel plans.

    Our next trip is to Quebec City for four nights between Christmas and New Year. We have four free nights at the Chateau Frontenac in a family suite. The kids are so excited to be going back to what they call “their castle”.

    Keep up the great work in showing us how to experience more with less!!
    Mr. PIE recently posted…How Flexible Are We? Better to Bend Than BreakMy Profile

    • We’ve been meaning to do the Fairmont for Quebec as well! You’ll have to tell me how it is as that is on our short-term to visit list 🙂 We used the Fairmont cards for Bermuda, which turned out to be a great redemption.

      Really glad you enjoyed the course and community and I completely agree with the FIRE community sentiment.

  10. We also love traveling, and have been getting more and more into travel hacking. Earlier this summer we got free tickets to fly out to CO for a road trip. And this fall we will be flying to Costa Rica on miles. Now that I am done working it’s great to be able to travel even more than we used to, and still spend less money doing it.
    Mr Crazy Kicks recently posted…Meet Lightning – Our $5,000 PriusMy Profile

  11. Ms. Montana says:

    Travel hacking is something that I have been wanting to look into. We have traveled a ton, but have just done it low cost. As our kids get older, I would like to do more trips that require airfare with them.
    Travel is our line in the sand as well. I don’t mind an older car. I really like our modest house. But I do want to see more and more of the world. 27 countries and counting.
    Ms. Montana recently posted…How I Earned $50 Vacationing in ParisMy Profile

    • Agreed with the ‘line in the sand’ with travel! Using your smart financial habits to earn miles & points is a great way to optimize your financial life even more and help your family see the world.

      If you wanted to get started our free course is an easy way to get the basics 🙂

  12. This is awesome! Mr. Picky Pincher and I use credit card rewards for cash to pay for Christmas presents. But lately we’ve been wondering if travel rewards might be better. We’re still pretty young and want to see the world just a bit before we have kiddos. 🙂

    Traveling (and airfare in particular) can be expensive, but I view it as one expense that I never regret. There are frugal ways to travel and enjoy the world; you just gotta make it happen!

  13. Brad is the MAN. He’s gotten us to Europe twice already (third trip coming), South America twice, Africa, Asia (two trips in plan)…and none of it would have happened without his knowledge and encouragement.
    Done by Forty recently posted…Early Retirement Isn’t for YouMy Profile

  14. Tawcan says:

    Is there something for Canadians? 😀

    • Unfortunately the signup bonuses for Canadians just aren’t as significant. There are some, but only a small fraction of what we have here in the US.

      That said, the tactics on spending are similar, so you might get some value out of the concept…

  15. Another +1 for Brad! He helped me figure out how to save money on my trip to Ecuador. I’m also a member of his FB group that is a great resource for those just starting out. I’ll be excited to see him at FinCon this year!
    Gwen @ Fiery Millennials recently posted…My Best Financial LessonsMy Profile

  16. Kruidigmeisje says:

    Good luck for everyone. In my country (NL), such cards are not available. Boooohooo.
    Ill have to vind other hacks. Mostly we cycle places, nut with Iran, Cuba And Indonesië on oud wishlist, Well have try other welcome though.

  17. Stephonee says:

    Oh! Is the Keys to the Magic Kingdom Challenge new? My husband and I travel-hacked Disney this year (our first “real” travel hack, as in the past all I did was take advantage of a $440 bonus for a Chase card right before a trip to Ireland), and I probably used information found on Richmond Savers to do it! The only problem is that I made a mistake with one of the cards (the spending minimum I had in my notes did NOT match the offer the credit card company had on file for me).

    It turned out okay in the end (we had to stay at an off-site hotel instead of at the Disney hotel because we had half the hotel rewards points that the plan called for, and we had to pay for a small amount of points to make it work), but I probably wouldn’t have made the mistake in the first place if I had been a part of a support group of people doing the same thing! So I think the Keys to the Magic Kingdom Challenge is a great idea – thanks for doing that, Brad. 🙂

  18. Mrs Groovy says:

    Can’t wait to go through TravelMiles 101. I’m bookmarking it right now. Thank you. I’m also glad to read Gwen’s comment about Ecuador as it’s on our list.
    Mrs Groovy recently posted…Eight Ten Reasons Not to Get a Bachelor’s DegreeMy Profile

  19. I started reading Richmond Savers after a post on JL Collins (if I remember right!) when he talked about Brad helping people figure out flights to the Equador for the Chautauqua. I love the focus now on Disney – what a benefit for families. We’ve learned to travel hack well enough that we haven’t paid for a flight in 4 years and we have almost a million miles banked. When our son goes off to college next year – it’s time to see the world, thanks to sites like Brad’s!

    • Hi Vicki — sounds like a good memory to me! I definitely helped people get to Ecuador for the Chautauqua 🙂

      Sounds like you are really rocking the miles, so well done indeed. Where do you plan to travel to?

      • Vicki says:

        Hi Brad! We are planning on going to Europe in 2018. We have a Southwest Companion Pass right now and use it for travel from upstate NY to Tampa numerous times a year. We’d love to get to Ecquador for a Chatauqua too!

  20. CPA Housewife says:

    I was converted to travel hacking last year. Signing up for two credit cards allowed my family of six to fly to Cancun, with plenty of points left over. I’m so glad to hear about the Richmond Savers.

  21. Mr. RIP says:

    ROFL… 1800 square feet home is 170 square meters! You really get told “you should get a 5K square feet house?”

    How can anyone possibly feel deprived in a 170 square meters home? I’ve never lived in a place with more than 30 square meters per family member and I’ve never felt deprived!

    Anyway, sorry for the rant 🙂

    Nice article. Sadly, in Europe most of the travel hacks don’t work. Especially those related to credit cards.
    Mr. RIP recently posted…CyclesMy Profile

  22. Have done some travel hacking but not too much. Tough traveling with a toddler and a newborn! Wish I had gotten into the game earlier! Will definitely look to check out the tips on Disney when my little ones are a bit older…and also learn from the Travel 101 course

  23. I’ve been getting my feet wet with some beginner travel hacking over the last year. I just cancelled my first credit card, which feels like a milestone of sorts, since it represents nearly a year since I signed up for my first bonus with the Southwest Chase card.

    So far, I’ve been able to fly my wife with me for free on CME trips to Maui and San Francisco, and fly her and her mother to the Caribbean. I also took the family of 4 to Orlando, and flew myself to Colorado. All on points from about a half dozen CC bonuses.

    I didn’t realize how much we’ve been able to do in a year until I wrote it all out. I could get used to this!

  24. Chief Mom Officer says:

    A question on this-I love the idea but I’m an identity theft victim and have my credit frozen. How many cards over what period of time does this strategy require? Thawing and refreezing my credit can be a pain. Thanks in advance!

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