At PCWorld we don’t often recommend bargain-hunting sites with a membership fee. But if you’re a fairly frequent traveler, a new deal aggregator called Travel Hacking Cartel is one of those rare cases where paying a monthly subscription fee could save you hundreds of dollars.
The travel site draws on the knowledge of its founder Chris Guillebeau, who claims that he visits 25 countries a year. Once you sign up for membership (THC makes you pay a $1 first-month fee and then automatically charges you $15 to $39 a month based on whether you choose the “Economy Class,” “Business Class,” or “First Class” membership), you get access to tutorial videos that break down travel-related “hacks,” such as how to score deals on airline miles and rewards points, or how to respond if an airline tells you that you can’t use points on a certain flight.
Your monthly subscription also signs you up to receive one to three email alerts each week that report the most lucrative travel deals on the Web. Usually the deal involves joining a rewards program to receive free miles, or staying some number of nights at a specific hotel to earn loyalty points for free nights at that lodging chain later, but sometimes the deal earns you miles and points for nothing more than signing up for a major company’s newsletter.
Ultimately, this service is best for deal hunters, not casual travelers who want to save on trips right away. You have to put effort into assessing the cost and benefit of each deal notification THC sends. If you don’t travel often, or if you want to go to specific destinations at specific times, buying a THC subscription is not ideal.
But if you are a frequent traveler, the company guarantees that you’ll earn a free plane ticket (or 25,000 frequent flyer miles) every three months as long as you’ve spent 30 minutes a month following up on the deals THC discovers. If you can’t get that ticket, THC will comp the points you need to earn your free flight. Frequent flyers, you have nothing to lose but the chains that bind you to full-price travel.