I often talk about lifecycle effects when it comes to travel hacking. That's what I call the phenomenon of people believing that travel hacking has become objectively more difficult when in fact it's their own lifecycle progression that has made them subjectively experience travel hacking as more time-consuming, laborious, or downright boring than when they had more time and fewer responsibilities.
This is a totally normal and indeed ubiquitous phenomenon in all fields of human endeavor, but it's important to keep in mind when you hear a retiree explain how much better everything used to be: sure, travel hacking might have been easier, but he also had more hair, better joints, and fewer kids.
I had my own lifecycle effect moment the other day while renting a car for a Thanksgiving trip.
How I think you're supposed to rent cars
Travel hackers have a lot of options when it comes to minimizing the cost and maximizing the value of car rentals:
- Redeem Discover cash back for car rental certificates. You can redeem $20 in Discover cash back for a $40 certificate with National, Alamo, and Enterprise.
- Earn frequent flyer miles by using airline promo codes when booking. I often see Frequent Miler posting these codes, for example here and here, but you can also earn miles by booking through airline car rental portals, e.g. Delta's.
- Use Autoslash to track car rental prices. Autoslash has changed quite a bit through the years but you can still use it to track your car rental reservation and alert you when the price drops, so you can make a new reservation at the lower price.
Five years ago I probably would have done all that, and made sure to minimize the price I paid and maximized the rewards I earned on our 4-day rental.
How I actually rented a car for Thanksgiving
I logged onto Chase Ultimate Rewards and redeemed 15,840 Ultimate Rewards points for a rental that priced out at $198, which seemed in line with the prices I saw glancing at Kayak.
I did create a Hertz account and earned 275 points for the rental (worth approximately $0), but I didn't bother searching for referral codes or promo codes to apply to the reservation.
Coming to terms with lifecycle effects
There are still lots of marginal travel hacking techniques I pursue. I still credit all my paid flights to a frequent flyer program, even if it's a program like United's that doesn't offer me much if any value. I still try my best to keep my Delta SkyBonus small business account active in order to gradually earn points towards redemptions like drink coupons and domestic flights. I use shopping portals when I buy stuff online, even if the rewards end up being just a few thousand points per year.
But when it comes to renting a car once a year, I can't bring myself to care the way a younger me probably would have.