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How to be a travel hacker -- or fly just like one

  • Author: Scott McMurren
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published March 24, 2011

Skypeople. They are a special breed. Yesterday, I ran into my friend Mindy O'Neall, who coined that nickname for me when I sent her a message from 30,000 feet last month.

Truthfully, I puffed up just a little bit. That's because travelers are a little different from those who don't fly. And the difference often is purposeful -- we work at this adventure called living and it's powered by jet fuel.

There are tricks to every trade, that's for sure. Some of the tricks center on getting the best airfare. Some drill down on how to find the best hotel room. Lately, I've spent time trying to smooth out the bumps during a trip -- there's a real art to it.

You cannot do it on your own. Here are a couple of online resources, followed by some tips that I learned along the way.

Chris Guillebeau and his "Travel Hacking Cartel"

I'm a fan of Guillebeau's since I met him last year in Seattle. He recently stopped in Anchorage during a 50-state tour promoting his book, "The Art of Non-Conformity." Here is a guy who will buy a fully-refundable business class ticket in Hong Kong so he can get into the swanky lounge for an unplanned 14-hour layover.

Trust me -- if you are looking for a guide to unconventional tips and techniques for travel (and for life, quite frankly), Guillebeau offers up some rich fare.

His latest project is the "Travel Hacking Cartel." I signed up for $25 per month to get his periodic notices identifying mileage bonus tips, new credit cards that offer more than 100,000 bonus miles and general tips and trickery on how best to navigate the labyrinth of frequent flyer plans.

Why is this important for Alaskans? Silly -- the cost of air travel is going up, up, up. I'm checking on some Mexico travel and I cannot find a decent itinerary for less than $800 all-in. And with gas prices going up… well, you do the math.

So smart travelers are following Gullebeau's advice and working the loyalty plans, including American Express's Membership Miles, Starwood Preferred Guest and especially the airline alliances: SkyTeam, oneWorld and Star Alliance.

Guillebeau even guarantees you will get some free tickets.

Johnny Jet

I follow Johnny on his blog, with his weekly newsletter and even on Facebook. He's always on the go -- and there's no quicker way to learn what's important and what's not. His weekly dispatches from around the globe are fun to follow. One week, he's atop a new hotel in Singapore in the infinity pool on the 50th floor. Next, he's in Paris retracing the locations in "The DaVinci Code."

Take a look at his website, though. It's a great resource for important phone numbers, quick links to airlines, hotel and car rental companies, links for travel gear, tips on Priceline bidding -- the works.

Christopher Elliott

Elliott is a top-notch travel troubleshooter. Check out his site and read about the worst-case scenarios where airlines mess up, hotels forget your reservations and rental car companies charge you for a fender that fell off of that heap years ago. I am not making this up.

But for you and me, Elliott lays out what works and what doesn't when you're trying to seek a resolution to a travel problem. And if you have a problem when you're traveling, chances are one of Elliott's readers suffered the same fate. I get Chris's weekly newsletter, in addition to following his antics on Facebook.

Here are a few tips that came across my desk this week:

-- Jetblue is coming to town, so they are offering up to 20,000 TrueBlue points for signing up with their American Express card. It takes at least 26,000 points to get a ticket to Long Beach. So it's not quite a free ticket, but it's pretty close. And remember -- jetBlue is offering "double points" on the Anchorage-Long Beach route this summer.

-- Speaking of double miles, don't forget to sign up for Alaska Airlines' promotion to get double miles on their nonstop flights between Anchorage and Denver, plus Anchorage-Los Angeles. You have to register prior to your first trip. And the mileage bonus is only available on the nonstop flights from Anchorage.

-- Capital One's "Match My Miles" offer. You can earn up to 100,000 miles if you've earned other miles on a credit card. I have a Capital One card because it doesn't have foreign currency fees like my Alaska Airlines Visa. A 100,000-mile bonus is effectively $1,000 in airline tickets. Check out the site to see if you qualify. The offer only lasts until they give away a billion miles. Hmm. As frequent flyers can attest, a billion miles is not what it used to be!

Who we're watching this week: Era Alaska and their new summertime flights to Fairbanks, Edelweiss and their weekly flights to Switzerland and Frontier Airlines with their nonstop flights to Denver.

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his website at

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