What are we (you) a travel hacker or a travel enthusiast?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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Last week my friend Greg, THE Frequent Miler, put up a post about the ethics of the game we play. There are lines he will not cross and his wife acts as his moral compass when it comes to just what he will do to earn a point or two.

I too have lines I will never cross. I will never buy something that I never intend to use and will only return. I will never knowingly, and IMO fraudulently, manipulate computer code to get a deal. I think this is both wrong and could result in very bad consequences for you, the reader. I would not sleep at night knowing I had suggested this is the best course of action and then later find out you say got FR’ed (that is “financial reviewed”) by AMEX or even worse, had Chase close your account and ban you from ever having a Chase account again (do you know how much, long term, that could cost you?)!

As far as Delta goes, some DM or PM flyers try to sell or “trade” GOLD or SILVER medallion status on ebay and other places. While you are allowed to give away the status to anyone you want, selling or “trading” it is against Delta’s rules and could result in the DM/PM having their Skymiles account closed forever and all their Skymiles wiped out as well as any booked Skymiles tickets (the same for the one buying the status too)!

So that takes me to the point of today’s post. I am a travel enthusiast. What does that mean vs. a hacker? A hacker will do all of the above. As long as it does not land him/her in jail, it is AOK; a hacker takes risks! An enthusiast, on the other hand, reads rules. They read T&C. They find out EVERYTHING they can do that is inside the accepted terms of the program. They may USE these rules in ways the organizer never ever intended the program to be used, but that is not the fault of an enthusiast. Like the famous “pudding guy”, who collected millions from buying pudding tops and redeeming them for miles, if you have followed the rules you are, in my eyes, just doing what the rules say. This is much like golf:



For those who do not know or care about golf and the rules of golf, a non-fixed item, like say a rock, not in a bunker, can be moved as a loose impediment to your swing. Tiger got a bunch of fans to move a very BIG loose impediment to his swing, the BOLDER you see above. It was not fixed, and thus could be moved. Some say that was cheating. Tiger asked the rules offical, and was told that he was following the rules.

To me, with points, same thing. There are SO many points we can all collect, make and earn that are all, in this same way, inside the rules. Sure, we could make even more doing it the other way, but why? Why take the risk? There are enough points to go around that we do not need to take the step that could result in huge penalties to us and, to me anyway, result in the sleepless night feeling dirty and that I have “done wrong”. I have NO such reservations when I can say, “all I did was follow the rules you put in place!” You know, if a program did not want us to do this or that this way, they should have put that in the T&C.

Much the same thing goes for what I will print on the blog. I have stated before, and still stand by this, that if you can reproduce it I will blog about it. Are there exceptions? Sure, there are things I will only speak about at a “DO” or “FTU”. Why? Not because blogging about them would be wrong, it is just that there are many things that you may do that will not result in the “same” outcome for you or me or the “next guy”. Or, maybe a reader has sent me something or told me something from an internal document from some company. This information can not be verified and the company will never ever say this is the rule or will point to the public T&C. So, blogging about this will result in nothing but frustration and mixed results at best! At a “DO”, there are tips that are shared that those in attendance understand they are a YMMV kind of situation.

What about “free trips”? Rick, THE Frugal Travel Guy, does not accept free trips paid for by say a hotel or airline. I am the same way. Other bloggers will take a 1st class ticket and a huge suite with no other promise that to write about the experience. I have not accepted these nor will I; I will and do accept an upgrade if I have booked a ticket or trip or room. A double standard? I say no, but others may not. I also accept free stuff from companies to give away on the blog to readers. To me if I 100% give it away to you, then that is fine by me.

So what do you think? Are you a travel hacker or enthusiast? Are there lines you will or will not cross? Are there enough points coming in that you are still earning more points that you can burn each year? You tell me (and keep in mind this blog is PG) – René

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. ArizonaGuy Reply

    Still a travel hacker, not a mere enthusiast. Someone knowing how / having ability to manipulate IT security systems but declining to do so for personal moral reasons does not mean an this person is not a computer hacker. See blackhat / whitehat definitions. Same applies to our cadre of point/mile/status obsessed.

  2. Good post. Agree with your positions.

    Right is right and wrong is wrong … and we all know the difference even if we, at times, try to rationalize bad behavior.

    Ethically, how is manipulating computer code different from going into a brick & mortar store and placing a less expensive price tag from one product onto the product you wish to buy? Who will argue that that is acceptable??

  3. Definitely a travel enthusiast with a conscious; I’m not about to risk my good name and good credit just to get free stuff. I will, however, stay within the T&C to get miles and points. My thinking is that the bean counters have done the math and would not put an offer out there that will lose their company money.

  4. Definitely a travel enthusiast. I will always stay within the T&C to get miles and points.

  5. Thanks for the post; I completely agree with you. Collecting miles/points is rewarding (and fun!) but there are lines I won’t cross. Although in some cases it’s not black & white (at least not to me) whether something crosses the line, and in those cases my rule of thumb is that if I have to wonder then it’s probably over the line so just forgo the opportunity. Collecting a few (or even many) addt’l miles isn’t worth compromising my conscience for.

  6. Rene – I appreciate you making the distinction. To me hacking still denotes an illegal/ immoral use of a system. I know some are now saying that the term is broader and just means a person who uses the system smartly, but I think they are just trying to blur the lines. I will always be a travel enthusiast, not a hacker.

  7. Frugal Travel Guy: apparently won’t take a trip for free, but when United doesn’t honor 4 mile tickets he claims age discrimination, which is completely disgusting if you ask me. At least the other people who did the 4 mile thing generally took the cancellations without much complaining.
    And I’d consider myself a travel enthusiast. I don’t do all that semi-fradualent and certainly unethical card churning to get hundreds of thousands of points/miles a year, I don’t do fuel dumps, and I play by the rules as intended set by the carrier (basically always United).

    • @Glenn – you have my great respect, as always, and thanks for your input!
      @Kris Ziel – Rick went over this at the time. Your facts are wrong about what he said. There were many posts on FT that you can read to see what I mean. I got in on the 4 mile deal as in my book mistake fares are no problem for me either on points or to purchase. The way United ended the situation was all bad and I think they should have been forced to honor it and the way more and more deals are being just canceled, at some point, I think courts should get involved to EITHER side for the company’s OR for flyers. Either way, a precedent needs to be set rather than this limbo situation we find ourselves in now. As far as chard churning, you are way off base as we are 100% following the banks rules.

  8. I am an enthusiast. I have always believed points are a way for me to travel more frequently with less expense, and it has definitely worked out that way for me. I enjoy my upgrades as a medallion, and I enjoyed my 1 international trip in Biz Class to Asia. But, if given the choice between 2 economy flights vs. 1 Biz Class flight I will always choose 2 economy. More travel is better. More free-ish travel is best.

    I know my limits, I know my moral compass. I work within that and will occasionally push the limit (4 miles to Hong Kong, etc.). But I sleep well enough at night 🙂

  9. storminorm Reply

    Like Cory, I am an enthusiast. I have always believed FF miles are a way for me to travel more frequently with less expense, going to CDG/MAD/LIS in BE this May with wife, still have 1.3M miles and wife has hers, still enjoy flying and spending miles, getting upgrades as a medallion, looks like a good 2013.

  10. dot cahill Reply

    i’m too chicken to do anything but the legal correct way and so i’m an advid enthusiast…

  11. Interesting points. It’s good to highlight that important distinction between shrewd practice within the rules, and just plain breaking the rules. Sometimes, in the rush to get a freebie, that line can become blurred, or is forgotten.

    Being a hacker might get you the odd extra perk in the short term but, as you say, it is a risky business. You only need to get caught out once by a company like Chase and the consequences could be disastrous, so it is not really a viable long term option.

  12. Definitely an enthusiast. I’ve always been a rule follower and not a rule breaker. And, if truth be told, I’m having a hard enough time learning how to earn miles “legally” that I doubt I’d ever get to the point that I could figure out how to earn them otherwise.

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