Travel hacking seems like a particularly parasitic hobby to me. And by that, I mean that we primarily find ways to benefit at the expense of others.
Take credit card churning, as an example. The only reason why these credit card companies offer such ludicrously large sign-up bonuses is because it’s overall profitable for them to acquire customers at such a cost. But if all people were like us and just signed up for credit cards continuously and 1) didn’t continue using the cards and 2) didn’t pay any fees or interest, then the credit card companies would no longer find it profitable to offer such large bonuses (hence, the current trend toward higher barriers to churning). Even when you take into account things like annual fees and minimum spend requirements, essentially all of the credit cards that people talk about in this space must be net negative for the banks if you don’t keep spending on the card.
Or think about frequent flyer miles. Part of the reason why we’re able to get such outsized returns on our miles is because so many people don’t use their miles in these ways. As long as most people are redeeming their miles for things that don’t cost the frequent flyer program very much, we don’t really need to worry about devaluations, even if lots of miles are being created.
We benefit from people who pay late fees. We benefit from people paying ridiculously high interest rates on credit cards. We benefit from people who only sign up for one new credit card every couple of years. We benefit from people who redeem their miles for blenders.
This parasitic nature of travel hacking is particularly problematic as the hobby has grown in popularity and magnitude. While it might be okay for a small percentage of a bank’s customers to be lifetime value negative, we’ve seen multiple times over the past several years how publicity “kills” deals, as the size of the travel hacking parasite grows and attaches itself more quickly than ever.