I’m pretty sure that most of you guys have read the blog travelisfree.com if you haven’t, stop living under a rock and snap to it. The executive summary: Drew and Carrie are part of a crack commando unit that was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These two promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade, and now travel for free using airline points and miles.
They do great things with points and miles, as do many in the ‘game’ but you always get internet trolls who come out with classics like:
- Travel is not free because you have to eat on vacation.
- Travel is not free because if you weren’t traveling you could be sitting at home for free too.
And other such gems. The reality is though, that you really can make travel ‘free’ if you remember that travel is:
Getting from one place to another.
We then add in a touch of luxury by stating that shelter need is core part of Maslow’s safety needs. Therefore lets include the concept that if you are a happy and hearty individual, you’re not going to fly across the world to live on Giuliani’s front door step. You’re also going to need to eat. Eating isn’t traveling though, eating is just something you need to do, akin to breathing, drinking, and trolling on twitter.
The last point of contention is the word ‘Free’ as people claim that signing up for a credit card to get points isn’t free… if we take something like the Alaska air card, when it had no annual fee (or a rebate on it) and no spend requirement, it’s hard to say that ain’t free.. but argue if you will. Overall though, a more accurate description would be ‘deeply discounted’ but… I really think that’s pedantry at work.
My Travel is Free
I like to think that the amount of time invested in my effort to earn points makes my travel free. Yes, I eat on vacation (I also poop, for free!) but the flights, cruises and hotels are covered. As are the little bits in between, like getting to the airport and whatnot. I must confess that I’m at a point now where I can’t travel any day of the week in first class, but I can just about cover all our needs, and also, most of our food at home.
My Food is Free!
I’m not one to go out of my way too much to earn points, miles or cash from a credit card. That said, I enjoy grocery shopping. I do a lot of the cooking at home, and it’s from scratch, so going out to a grocery store, and a farmers market on the way home is actually a fun experience for our family. We buy ingredients and then find things to do with them to make our meals. When I’m in a store, I don’t mind deviating from the veggies to walk to the customer service desk and pick up a gift card or two.
Interestingly, I’ve noticed that for at least this year, the amount of cashback earned is often equal to the amount of groceries we go on to purchase. This isn’t always intentional, but it tends to work out like that. For example, if I’m doing a mini shop for some essentials (milk, banana’s for the baby, something for dinner for a couple of nights, a 6 pack of IPA) it comes to about $20. I buy a single gift card, earn about $21. I walk out of the store with free food.
I’m not hitting much harder than that for gift cards.
I know some people go out there on military style operations to harvest every gift card in town, but I’m happy with just traveling for free, eating for free, and when the right bonus comes along, filling the car up for free. The key for me is ensuring that the work of earning free stuff is so marginalized that I don’t resent it, and that it doesn’t interfere with my other activities in life. I don’t want a job that involves standing in line all day long.
Why I harp on about time all the time
I waste a lot of time talking about time. The equation may help explain that:
- Person A goes grocery shopping and spends $20, goes home, cooks, eats, and does whatever (for free).
- Person B goes grocery shopping, spends $20, earns $21, goes home.. then has to get rid of that damn gift card.
If we can reduce or eliminate the last stage, then all you have is upside. Until then, the difference between the two people is that the guy who got something for free must now trade their time to get back to zero liability again. This is particularly annoying to me today as I’ve a lot to get done, but I have about $5K in gift cards staring me in the face. The dummy next to me in line who didn’t do what I did gets the day to enjoy his family, whereas I now need to take time away in order to unload. If we do the math on that, I’m willing to say that $21 (or $210, or whatever) is worth it to sacrifice my Sunday.
Maybe my food isn’t free after all…