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So Carolyn and I have read before the book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. There is more information on the Wikipedia article (of course there is!), but the basic tenet is that you break larger tasks like “do spring cleaning for the house” into specific concrete actions that need to be done, and has you concentrate only on whatever is the “next action” – something that you could literally accomplish right now. So in this case it might be “write down a list of the tasks you need to do”
What do you do with the rest of the actions that are needed to complete your overall goal? The basic idea is that the human brain is awful at remembering things (I think we can all relate to that), so we need what he calls a “trusted system”. This can be anything from an app on your phone, to a series of folders, or notecards – whatever works for you.
You just need to know that you can stick the tasks into the trusted system, so you can free your time and energy on the “next actions” – the things that you can actually accomplish RIGHT NOW.
So how does this apply to our game of travel hacking?
Just like anything in life, there are things that you need to keep track of. There are three major categories of things that we need to keep an eye on: Credit card signup bonuses, Credit card spending and payments, and mile / point balances.
Credit card signup bonuses
I’ve actually talked a little bit about tracking signup bonuses before – but this is one of the most important parts of travel hacking. It’s great to sign up for a bonus of 50,000 points, but if you don’t meet the spending requirements, then you don’t get the 50,000 points, and you’ve wasted a hit on your credit for nothing. I wrote in the above article about how I screwed this up when signing up for the American Express gold card last summer – I missed the deadline to spend $1000 by ONE LOUSY DAY and that cost me 50,000 Membership Rewards points. Talk about a MAJOR bummer!
Credit card spending / payments
When you have a credit card or two, it isn’t that hard to make sure you pay them all on time. But when you have 20 credit cards, then it gets a little trickier. It actually isn’t quite that bad, because at any one time, there’s actually only 5 or 6 that I’m actively using. Still, the very first thing that I do when I get a new card is sign up for automatic bill pay. That does require that you keep the money in your account, but so far that has worked for me.
Periodically (about once or twice a week), I go through all my accounts and put in any spending that I’ve done on a card into my Excel spreadsheet. Then I track when and from what bucket I need to put the money in to cover that spending. Whenever I get an email that a statement has posted, I review it to make sure I haven’t missed any spending, and then set up a note on my bank’s website that a payment for that card will be processed on the statement due date.
Still, I haven’t been perfect on this. Once I did miss a bill and got a late charge. Now, my philosophy on these types of bank “fees” are that they are for suckers – I never like to pay those – I’ll always call to get them waived. But even THAT takes a trusted system to make sure that you get them waived.
For this one, I was able to get the late fee waived right away by a phone call, but they wouldn’t waive the $15 or so of interest that I got, even after two phone calls. That would stop most people but clearly these people did NOT know who they were dealing with!! 🙂 – I had to write a super complain-o email and that worked – I actually had a senior customer service person call me and apologize and waive it.
Points / Miles
So as part of earning miles, you need to SPEND them. Miles are a deflationary currency, so it doesn’t make sense to just hold on to them. I use a tool called Award Wallet, which lets you track just about any type of balance. It’s completely free to sign up, and you can pay for more premium features such as tracking expiration dates and such. Award Wallet is actually probably worthy of a full post which I will try to get to here before too long.