Since retiring we have driven to many of our destinations; primarly, because we have the time and we enjoy seeing the sights along the way. However, there have been times when we’ve flown because our time was short or because it’s hard to drive across oceans. When we do fly we try to fly for free or as cheaply as possible. Here’s how we do it.
In the last eighteen months we’ve flown to Hawaii (first class), Seattle, Denver, New York, and Orlando. For those five flights we paid a total of $487 per person. Most of that was for the Seattle trip for which we paid $287 each. Had we paid directly for all five flights we would have paid $5317. Thus, we saved approximately $4800 each, thus $9600 in savings to our family budget . How did we do this?
First off, we are airline miles junkies. There, I’ve said it and now I can breathe easier. Actually, being a miles junkie isn’t all bad…not at all. What it means is that anytime possible we use our credit cards to buy things, any thing. From re-siding our house to ice cream cones for the grandkids, everything gets charged to a credit card that gets us miles. Typically, for each dollar we spend we get a mile. However, we are always looking for ways to get more than one mile per dollar…and that’s part of the trick. Speaking of “tricks” the number 1 trick is to never pay credit card interest; always pay off your bill every month. If you don’t then being a milage junkie doesn’t pay and there really is no need to read further.
We both started off as TWA miles junkies. Yes, both of us got TWA airline credit cards. That’s because the signup bonus was for 25,000 miles, enough for a free trip and we both wanted a free trip. We’ve continued that pattern through today, always both of us getting new cards that offer sign up bonuses. We signed up for TWA because that was the airline that had hubs near us so it was our airline of choice for most travel. Later, TWA was bought by American and we’ve continued to use them as our primary airline.
As time went on, we noticed other airlines offering sign up bonuses if you used their credit card. Last year, Southwest was offering 50,000 miles if you signed up for their credit card and spent $1000 within the first three months. So, we both signed up for Southwest cards and spent the required $1000 within the first three months. Since we buy everything with our credit cards it was easy to meet that requirement. Net result: we each had enough miles for two Southwest trips. Note: Currently, Southwest is only offering 25,000 miles for signing up; enough for one free trip. You can sign up now or wait and hope they again offer 50,000.
When you sign up for an airline credit card be sure to watch for companion deals. Sometimes, they’ll offer 10,000 points if you use their card to get new cable service or perhaps it’s 500 miles if you use a particular florist. We only take advantage of these deals if and when they are convenient and at a savings to us.
Another way to rack up miles is to look for other credit cards that offer transfer points. For instance, Starwood (SPG) offers an American Express card that gives you a bonus of 25,000 points when you spend $3000 in three months. They also have a program whereby you can transfer 20,000 of those points to an airline (American in our case) and receive 25,000 miles. What a deal! That’s like getting 1.25 miles for every dollar you spend! In fact, because of this transfer rate our primary card is now our American Express Starwood cards. (Remember, we each have a card.)
- 1. You should sign up for a credit card for the airline you most frequently use. Do some research and get the biggest sign up bonus you can.
- 2. Pay off your bill each month. Never pay interest.
- 3. Watch for companion deals…especially if you’re in the market for new services.
- 4. Look for other companies that have transfer programs for your airline.
Note: Yearly fees for these credit cards vary so read the details before signing up!
Now you’ve racked up a lot of miles and it’s time to redeem them. What’s the best deal? First off, any time you can get free tickets it’s a good deal, right? Right! However, you can leverage those miles to get the biggest bang by doing some homework.
Let’s say you wanted to fly round trip from St. Louis to Seattle on American. The last time we booked this trip the flight cost was $387 or you could fly for free for 25,000 miles. That meant we would get 2 cents for each of our miles. However, in our case we had coupons from our American Airlines credit card for $100 each so our miles would have been worth only 1 cent per mile. Bad deal for us so we paid for the flight.
Okay, let’s look at another case. Our first class trip to Hawaii would have cost us $3600 per ticket. However, we could cash in 75,000 miles and get those tickets for free, plus taxes/fees of approximately $75. For this deal we got 5 cents per mile. Not bad! And don’t forget, with first class tickets you get to use the first class lounges and priority boarding. That can spoil you!
Our final case study for today. In 2013 we flew to Paris and back from Spain first/business class. Had we paid for it the flight would have cost us over $10,000. Instead, we used the American Airlines Advantage program and got our tickets for 100,000 miles thus making each mile worth 10 cents! (Taxes/fees were approximately $200.) Our trip included free meals with tablecloths, inflight movies, free alcohol, free use of the first class lounges including free showers at London’s Heathrow and of course, priority boarding. Now that’s value!
Second Recap: Use your miles to get the most value per mile. We use a simple spreadsheet to track ours.
So how did we travel so cheaply for those five flights we listed above?
- Hawaii – first class – We used 75,000 American Airlines miles
- Seattle – We paid for our tickets and got $100 off using a coupon that we get each year from our American credit card.
- Denver – We flew for free using miles we got for signing up for an Alaskan Air credit card
- New York – We flew for free using miles we got for signing up for a Southwest credit card
- Orlando – We flew for free using miles we got for signing up with a United credit card.
We’ve already signed up for American Airlines flights in 2016 to Australia (first class) and from Hawaii (first class) using miles and flying for free.
We hope you’ve been able to pick up some tips from this post. If you want more information then we suggest you follow The Points Guy on Facebook. This site gives all kinds of information on how to maximize your points whether they are from airlines or hotels.
PS If you have a business you can get even more miles!