How to fund travel by paying for your favorite hobbies
Combine rewards cards, shopping portals and referrals to earn points
Travel expert who writes the "Have Cards, Will Travel" column for CreditCards.com
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It should come as no surprise that my No. 1 hobby is travel.
When I’m not on the road or in the sky, however, I have a handful of other hobbies I practice – like yoga, photography, tango and triathlons.
While taking on new hobbies can be expensive, these activities can also create even more new opportunities to travel.
Here are three tips to hack your hobbies and turn your passions into points.
See related: How to earn an exotic vacation at the grocery store
1. Put your hobby expenses to work for rewards
It’s not uncommon for people who are really into their hobbies to spend hundreds of dollar a month supporting them – especially if the hobbies require lessons or specialty equipment.
While there aren’t any credit cards that pay out category bonuses for specific hobbies – unless your hobby is eating out, shopping or travel – you’ll still want to make sure you’re earning as many points as possible.
Over the past three years, Calvina Nguyen, founder of the photography, food and social justice blog STIRR and mother of two teenagers, got savvy with her credit cards points earning.
She leveraged expenses for her photography business, family and the cost of her children’s competitive swimming to earn travel rewards that allow them to further their hobbies as well as travel more often together.
“Travel rewards have enabled me as a mother of a very competitive traveling athlete to take the edge off the expenses or to utilize those travels for family vacations,” Nguyen explains.
It might take a while to earn enough miles for a trip around the world on hobby expenses – unless your hobby includes buying a yacht on your credit card – but if you commit to earning reward points from the beginning, your awards bank account will soar along with your new hobby skills.
2. Double dip on expenses with shopping portals
One of the simplest ways you can double or triple up on points you earn for your hobbies is to use your credit card together with shopping portals whenever you can to purchase equipment, services or pay for lessons.
When I first took up triathlon training, I put my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to good use and went on an online shopping spree for new equipment, including goggles, quick dry triathlon shorts, cycling shoes, new pedals for my bike, water bottles, race nutrition and even quick release shoelaces.
Nearly every accessory on my shopping list was available through a store offering a shopping portal bonus – from big box outdoor shops like Dicks Sporting Goods (offering 1 extra point per dollar spent) to online specialty stores for triathletes, like Competitive Cyclist (offering a 4x bonus).
I was outfitted – and my Chase Ultimate Rewards points balance got a big boost.
If your interest is rather experience-centric, consider exploring sites such as Living Social or Groupon, which also offer a points bonus if accessed via a shopping portal.
These sites are both useful to secure lessons when you want to test out a new potential hobby.
I’ve both earned points and got discounts on glass blowing lessons, welding, float tanks, ballroom dancing and aerial yoga – all while earning a bonus of 1-3 American Airlines miles per dollar spent by accessing the discount sites through American Airlines AAdvantage eShopping.
3. Enlist training partners for shared rewards earning
One of the greatest parts of pursuing a hobby is the relationships you make with other people who share your passions.
For wise rewards collectors, these relationships can bring about shared-rewards earning and training-partner travels.
For nearly three years I’ve been taking tango lessons in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I've earned quite a few points, month after month, as I’ve handed over my credit card to pay for weekly tango lessons, fancy new shoes with special felt soles, social dances, twirling dresses and tickets to tango festivals.
And since it takes two to tango, I’ve also added a lot to my life in terms of social capital.
After two years of practicing my pivots, I recently traveled with a couple of friends from my tango class to attend a four-day tango marathon in Danang, Vietnam.
The trip, which would have been a prohibitively expensive trans-Pacific dance weekend otherwise, was made possible because we were all able to earn rewards points and could join forces to cover hotels and flights.
Since I already had the rewards cards, we used a strategy of sharing referral bonuses.
As many credit cards offer referral bonuses for both the referrer and referee when someone signs up for a new account and meets a minimum spend, it often makes sense to work together with a travel partner who may also be a training partner – or even a tango partner! – so that you can both boost your points balances quickly toward a shared trip.
This works especially well if your partner is just getting started – but do be careful and always remember that your relationships are more valuable than points.
While this probably isn’t what they’re talking about when they say it takes two to tango, it’s a sharing strategy that works.
Fund your travel hobby with your ‘at home’ hobbies
The next time someone asks how you can afford to travel and pursue all your other hobbies, explain to them that points and passions continually breed one another.
Then make sure you give them your link to your favorite rewards credit card and invite them on a travel-hobby adventure!
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