Would you like to travel internationally but get put off by the high cost of airline tickets? Does the thought of amassing frequent flier miles and using them for flights confuse you or maybe just seem a little too much work? Would you like some really great tricks for traveling around the world for free?
Before we go any further I want you to know that this is not a sponsored post. I don’t have links to any credit card applications in this post – it is just an info post.
Also I want you to know that I am a single mom. The reason I have been able to travel around the world so much over the past few years is by using the tricks I am about to share with you.
Since 2010 I have flown round trip to Europe for free five times and to Australia for free twice. Flying for free was the difference between being able to travel and not being able to go. So if anyone reading this is in the same or similar position to me and has been thinking they can’t afford to take a trip to Europe or anywhere else in the world, buckle up baby! Let’s go fly the friendly skies!
My Latest Free Flight
This past weekend I was trying to explain to a group of my Glam Italia Tour travelers how I get flights for free using credit card miles. I had just booked a $1700 round trip flight for some travel I’m doing next year (not a Glam Tour) for free. Zero. Nada. Not one penny out of pocket.
As I explained how I do it, along with the concept of triple dipping on miles they all looked quite confused. I think it was info overload, so I decided to break the story up into two blog posts and deal with each part separately.
The first of the two posts is here: How To Get Great Deals On International Flights You need to read it in order to get the full benefit of what I am teaching you here.
It also made me think about all the people out there planning their trips around the world for next year who could find this helpful. I go into it in more depth in my book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) . If you or anyone you know is planning some overseas travel it is well worthwhile reading my book and really getting on top of how to get killer flight deals without downgrading to crappy airlines or taking crazy layovers. The book costs $15.95 in paperback and under $10 on Kindle.
This past summer some of my Glam Italia Tour travelers saved as much as $800 on their round trip tickets, I saved something similar (I can’t remember exactly what I paid). And now I just got a $1700 flight on one of the best airlines in the world for free. It’s worth investing$15 in the book just for the hundreds of dollars it can help you save, let alone for all the tricks I have for making your flight fantastic and avoiding jet lag…
I use the same methods no matter where in the world I am flying. In this post I am explaining how to triple dip with frequent flier miles.
HOW TO FLY AROUND THE WORLD FOR FREE
Credit Card Frequent Flier Miles
I have a couple of rules for using frequent flier miles.
The First Rule is only ever use them for flights. Using credit card frequent flier miles for magazine subscriptions or hotel stays is a waste and false economy. You just wasted a bunch of money on things that you can get cheaply anyway. With print media subscriptions waning you can get most magazine subscriptions for under $24 per year. Save your miles!
Before you blow miles on a hotel check out sites such as Booking.com where you can generally get a better deal anyway.
The Second Rule is to save frequent flier miles for international flights. That’s where you really see the benefit. You can almost always find deals on domestic flights and they seldom cost as much as international flights. If they do then you’re not looking in the right places for your flights. (again read my book – it works for domestic flights as well as international. You can buy your copy here)
Choose The Right Card
The first step is to get a credit card with a really good frequent flier program. You can google the best credit cards for travelers and for frequent flier miles. If you subscribe to my newsletter you will be getting an email tomorrow telling you exactly which card I use. If you are not on my newsletter list you can sign up for it here
Read the fine print and see how much the card will charge you per year in fees. Some look great at the outset but their annual fees negate the value of having the card, or undo the benefit of being in the program.
Don’t Use An Airline Credit Card
Don’t use an airline card. This doesn’t mean don’t get a credit card tied to your airline of choice, it means they are two separate things. I fly regularly with American Airlines and technically could apply for their card. I would get a chunk of free miles if I spent enough in the first 3 months, which would be good, and I would get some added benefits if I was flying with them.
This can be getting the first checked bag for free on domestic flights and getting priority boarding on domestic flights. Depending on which of their cards you use there can be other benefits too, but the annual fee gets very steep, and unless you travel a ton more than me it’s not necessarily worthwhile.
Most airline credit cards work with variations of the same principles.
The problem is that when you use an airline credit card you have put all your proverbial eggs in one basket. They hold all the power. They decide if you can use your miles on the flights you want, not you. They also decide how many miles you need to make your flight and how crappy of a seat you may be relegated to. And who wants to give up the power of choice when you don’t have to?
Use Your Credit Card Like A Debit Card
Here’s the clever part: use your frequent flier credit card like a debit card. Most of us no longer use cash or checks, instead taking advantage of the convenience of swiping a debit card.
You need to have some financial discipline, but instead of your debit card you swipe your credit card. For everything. At the end of the day just move the money from your debit card to your credit card. I do it on my phone from either my credit card app or my bank app. It takes 2 seconds and means for the most part unless there has been an emergency I never owe any money on my card. (Emergencies like the maniac house sitter who trashed my house in a drunken fit this summer. I used my card to pay emergency plumbers while I was on the other side of the world– a nightmare story I’m not quite ready to share yet) Otherwise I never run a credit card balance.
Most cards with frequent flier mileage programs will give you 2 miles for every $1 spent. So if you run $100 of groceries through your card then you just made 200 miles.
Think about how much gas you put in your car each year, or how much you spend on parking or public transport, uber, or however you get places. Just doing normal life, but running it through your card, means you can accrue huge miles very quickly.
I pay every bill I can with my card. I wish I could pay my mortgage with my card but they don’t allow it. When I pay my bills each month – phone, utilities, insurance, car insurance, internet and cable (yes – I still have cable!) everything I possibly can gets paid on my card, earning me 2 miles per dollar spent.
Then I just move the money over and pay the card. It’s a tiny extra, very simple step that takes no time at all but pays off enormously.
Sometimes it takes a couple of years to earn enough miles for a round trip international flight, others times it’s a year or less.
Another Benefit of Non Airline Cards
Over the years I have used two different credit cards for frequent flier miles.
Each of them have had a free year then an annual fee between $75 and $95. The fee charges to the card and I get double miles on it, so I’m not too concerned, but you have to figure it into your total plan.
Both of these cards have let me use their miles on any airline. That is one of the biggest things to factor in.
You need to be able to choose the best airlines in the world, the routes you want to take and the times you want to take them.
The trip I booked this weekend was available to me using my airline frequent flier miles, the only problem was the options they gave me for the return flight across the world. Flights that long are exhausting anyway, but the airline was going to make me travel 40+ hours to come home, routing me all over the place with heinous layovers along the way. It was like a recipe for DVT.
If I wanted to take a direct flight back to the USA they were going to triple the number of miles I would have to use. They held allllll the power in this equation and I was effectively completely powerless.
By using my credit card miles instead of my airline miles I was able to choose the flights I wanted, the airline I wanted, and the dates and times I wanted. I designed my flight plan to best suit me. Not them. And I was in control of the number of miles used.
The Frequent Flier Miles Triple Dip
You always need to maximize the number of miles you can get on a flight, so here is how the frequent flier miles triple dip works.
Frequent Flier Miles Dip 1:
I use my credit card frequent flier miles to pay the entirety of my flights. There are no added taxes or fees. I find the flights I want (using my tricks in this post). I use the airline of my choice, which is always one of the good ones. Why fly a junky airline with bad food and worse service if you don’t have to?
Airline frequent flier miles require you to pay airport taxes, so you do actually have out of pocket expenses.
With my credit card miles I simply choose the flights I want, charge them to my card and then pay the card by redeeming my credit card accrued miles. It is very simple and very straight forward. And I got a smoking deal!
Frequent Flier Miles Dip 2:
Because I bought the flights on my credit card I got 2 miles per dollar spent. This meant that I was accruing miles while using miles. Genius!
Frequent Flier Miles Dip 3:
Of course I attached my airline frequent flier program to the flights I bought. This was a Star Alliance partner airline, so the miles I accrue with these flights can be used on a variety of airlines.
Using Airline Frequent Flier Miles
Every flight I take is accruing miles with my airline frequent flier program. I have mileage programs with every airline I fly, so as I’m buzzing around the country and around the world I am building my mileage bank both with my credit card and with the airline.
Most major airlines are part of the One World or Star Alliance partnerships and their miles cross over to the partner airlines in the programs.
For example I often fly Delta, KLM and Air France. Each of their mileage programs works with the others and combine into one.
I also fly American and Qantas, and their mileage programs add to each other and work together.
When I’m using airline frequent flier miles I do one of three things:
Airline Miles Tip One:
The first is keeping an eye out for their mileage special offers. In the off season airlines will often offer good deals, such as round trip to Italy for only 40,000 miles. I like to take advantage of these kinds of deals and get a roundtrip flight for just the cost of the airport taxes, and not use up all my miles.
Airline Miles Tip Two:
Another way I use them is when I really want to go on a trip but really cannot afford it. It takes some extra sleuthing and some flexibility with my dates, but I can swing the trip for just the cost of the taxes. This can mean Europe on a good airline for under $200.
Airline Miles Tip Three:
The last way I would use airline frequent flier miles is to get an upgrade. Depending on how full the economy cabin is the airline may need to move some passengers up to business class to open up economy seats to standby passengers. (If I were to do this I would only do so on an international flight – domestic flight upgrades aren’t worth burning your points.) Sometimes you can use frequent flier miles or frequent flier miles plus cash to upgrade.
On a recent trip to Barcelona the airline had to upgrade a passenger to business class and had me at the front of the line. A passenger came up and used 30,000 miles plus $150 to take that spot. When I calculated the miles and cash it just wasn’t worth it, so I rode in the main cabin. It was a 777 so every seat was good anyway.
I hope this helps you to get some free flights or tax only flights around the world. A little planning at the front end can open the world of travel to you, or can afford you more trips. Make sure you also read the other post in this 2 post story: How To Get The Best Deals On International Flights.
If you subscribe to my newsletter keep an eye on your inbox! Tomorrow you will be receiving a detailed letter about which card I used, which airline I’m flying and and how I got such a killer deal, step by step. If you don’t subscribe to my newsletter yet you can sign up here
If you have any questions about how to do this and you are on my newsletter list just bounce back a reply when you get your email. I respond to every email you send me!