"Give a man your points, he'll travel cheap for a day.
Teach a man to earn his own points, he'll travel cheap for a lifetime"
--Unknown Travel Guru
The picture above was taken in Lima, Peru from the runway of the Jorge Chavez International Airport.
How I’m traveling from Maui to Punta Cana (D.R.) to Vancouver to Phoenix for only $220. I’m posting some links below to the real travel experts and I’ll talk about some of the tricks I use.
[Disclaimer: I am NOT a financial planner, nor am I a lawyer. Nothing in this post should be considered as a recommendation, suggestion, or advice for YOUR specific situation. You should NOT use information in this post to make or not make decisions relating to your credit. Consult your lawyer, accountant, or financial planner before making decisions which impact your credit.] (disclaimer borrowed from millionmilesecrets.com, hopefully he won’t mind since I’m sending traffic his way)
Ive been putting off buying these plane tickets for weeks, and my trip is less than a month away. My step brother is about to get married in the Dominican Republic to an awesome gal who is soon to be my step sister in law (is that how it works?), anyways, I’m super excited to see the two get married and to travel to a new designation in one trip. This vacation also culminates the end of my work contract in Maui and I’ll be traveling home for a few days before I’m off to my next endeavor.
So, what’s a guy to do? Being that I don’t know where I’m working next, but it’s definitely not Maui, I won’t be booking return airfare. Most people know that booking a roundtrip ticket is usually cheaper than booking 2 one way tickets, depending on the days of the week and airlines. I’m going from Maui to Dominican Republic, ultimately to my home in Phoenix, which is quite the distance to travel, so I’m not looking at cheap airfare, and I’m not rich either. Since roundtrip tickets are the cheapest, but multi leg ticket purchases are cheaper than buying separate one ways, I decided to throw in a week long trip to Vancouver after the wedding. It’s gorgeous there this time of year and I have some friends to catch up with. Since I’m not rich but I don’t have time constraints, and I personally enjoy flying on airplanes and traveling through airports, I use some tricks, like picking longer length flights, traveling certain days of the week, and use credit card points, and ultimately end up with a trip for about $220 USD.
This guy just found out Alex and I paid literally $0.00 for airfare for 2 roundtrip tickets from Phoenix to Peru using my Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. I think he's jealous.
The complete partial guide to cheap airline travel.
Step 1. Frequent flyer credit cards and racking up bonus points.
This is definitely the most controversial way to afford cheap travel, but also the effective if you have decent credit. Here’s the inside scoop, credit card companies want your business. They want it so much that they’re willing to give you thousands of points or frequent flyer miles just for signing up with their credit card. Then, to sweeten the pot more, they give you bonus points for using their cards on everyday purchases like gas or dining, and even MORE bonus points for purchasing travel related expenses with them. I’m not going to get into too much detail in how to do this, that’s what the travel experts are for, but I’ll give you the gist of what I do, and how it works.
The quickest concept for racking up miles is called “credit card churning” in the travel hacker industry. Obtaining a new credit card only minimally effects your credit score, and if you apply for multiple ones at the same time you can earn points 3-5 times faster without having a large negative effect on our credit score. Before I go further, since you’re wondering, these are the main two questions and concerns with this practice, which I haven’t heard of anyone personally experiencing.
“Will my credit score decrease?” Slightly. Very unlikely to be enough to really negatively effect your credit, and only by a few points. Although Credit Karma explains it better than I can, here are the cliff notes. The reason why your credit score decreases is because you decrease the average age of open credit lines which is not a major but only a moderate impact on your credit score. Opening more credit cards (assuming you are responsible) is generally healthy for your credit score. Open credit card utilization has a major impact on your credit score and by increasing the total amount of available credit and keeping your debt the same you decrease the percentage used. The “A” rating for this area is 1-20% utilization. It also boosts the total accounts category, which has minor but still some impact on your credit score (the more open accounts the better).
“It seems wrong.” First, that’s not a question its a feeling. Its not wrong, banks don’t generally mind, when I speak with the card approval teams I’ve told them it’s just for miles and they haven’t said a thing, they’ve actually helped me more. Companies want your business and they know that the only way they make money from you is if their card is in your hand. So they give you incentive, and we use the incentive to our advantage. We’re not signing a contract to exclusively earn bonus miles through one company.
There are plenty of more concerns I know, check out the sites below and search FAQ and you can see where they address all of them, much better than me, including giving you tips on how to reach the minimum spending requirements.
Back to the idea of credit card churning. The bonus for signing up for a credit card is 20,000-50,000 miles, with only rare ones being higher. I personally only sign up for one’s that are 50,000 miles, because that’s generally the amount of points required for a roundtrip ticket to europe, and there are plenty of deals out there you just have to research and look and maybe be a bit patient. To fully earn the miles most credit cards require spending anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 in the first 3 months of having the card. This can get tricky if you sign up for 3 or 4 cards at a time, because the total needed to be spent is between $9,000-$12,000. I’ll wait until I know I have some big purchases coming up like plane tickets or car rentals, or I’ll just sign up for less cards. Most cards have an annual fee and most waive them for the first year as part of the sign up bonus, keep track of the date and cancel them next year if you want to, plead for the fee to be waived, or do what I did and downgrade the cards and credit limit at the end of the year if the bonuses aren’t sweet enough. That way you keep the line of credit open, decrease your total available credit for future churns, and avoid the fee. Also, these cards don’t have great interest rates, I wouldn’t recommend keeping a balance on them, that’s not what we’re using them for.
The cards I have in my pocket:
Chase Sapphire Preferred card (50,000 bonus points on startup) - This card is really cool, its a nice blue color and it’s made of metal. There are no foreign transaction fee’s, the number on the back goes right to a person instead of an automated service and the points are not frequent flier miles like most cards. Therefore if you use them through the rewards site you don’t pay taxes or fees. Also the points transfer on a 1 to 1 basis to your favorite airline for free. I transferred 1,000 points so I would have enough to get my PUJ —> YVR portion of the trip. It carries an annual fee of $95 and I’m okay paying that because of all the advantages the card gives me.
Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card (50,000 bonus points on startup) - I’m not sure if they’re still offering the same amount of bonus points but I think there are some good deals out there still. You earn United miles and there is an annual fee. I like this card though I don’t use it as much and I forget what benefits it has. I will use the card for any purchases through United Airlines because of the bonus point factor.
Citibank American Airlines Visa and American Airlines American Express card (50,000 bonuses each) - there was a really cool loophole that may be closed now, but when I got these cards, if you applied for them at the same time with different internet browsers you could be approved for both and get a total of 100,000 bonus points. I think mine wasn’t approved right away and I called and told them to decrease the total credit availability I just wanted the security of having Visa and American Express in my pocket. Search the internet or check out the blogs below and they talk about it more, and will tell you if the offer is still available. I’ve since downgraded the card’s to card’s without fees since I hardly use them but if you use them sometimes it’s worth asking about any bonuses or deals for the card they can apply as incentive to maintain it. Sometimes these become magically available if you intend to “close” the card completely.
Southwest Rapid Rewards card (50,000 bonus miles) - annual fee is not waived the first year but is only $65 so it’s like paying $65 to have two roundtrip tickets anywhere in the USA.
American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (50,000 bonus miles) - Always happy to have another American Express card in my pocket, especially one that’s the color of gold. The best part is that these are points not airline miles so you can purchase the ticket through their reward site while avoiding taxes and fees.
To decide which points to use I made a chart detailing here I was flying to and compared how many frequent flyer miles the different airlines require and how much the taxes and fees would be. To do this you have to book to the last page right before you pay for the ticket and then back out and start over. For this trip I used 50,000 American Airline bonus points, due to availability it cost me less points (37,000) to fly Business/First class from Maui to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. The leg from Punta Cana to Vancouver was going to take up to many miles so I didn’t book that through American Airlines, but I did book Vancouver to Phoenix with them as part of a multi-leg trip for only 12,500 miles. The total cost for me is $171.50 and it would have been $75 cheaper except I booked the ticket less than 21 days before my travel flight and apparently there’s a fee for that. Punta Cana to Vancouver was tricky. I was 300 frequent flyer miles short for ticket which cost 17,500 miles. I transferred 1,000 points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card for free. Taxes and fees: $52.55. Total trip cost including the first leg being Business/First Class: $224.05. Okay so that’s more than $220 but screw you, I’m going to use another trick I have to get free drinks on all my economy class flights ;).
Step 2. Organize your points
So this is actually step one but everyone does it second anyways so I put it here. Write down all the airline companies you might ever use, or at least the big ones. Go to each of their web pages and sign up. Do this now, before you even think about buying tickets. Once you’ve signed up you’ll thank me because you won’t have to remember to do it later. You’ll already have an account when you apply for a new card. You’ll never miss points again because you decided that small trip only worth a few hundred points wasn't worth it. How do we keep track of all the points we have without having our head explode? Award Wallet is a free service that can track most of your frequent flyer miles. They even have smartphone apps so you can sign in easy on the go. I not only use it to keep track of my miles but for my frequent flyer numbers too. Once I signed up for all the programs I opened an award wallet account, punched in all the numbers that were conveniently sitting right in front of me, and the rest is history.
The main frequent flyer mile programs to sign up for: Million Mile Secrets - Airline frequent flyer program sign up
Step 3. Do some research below, learn the travel tricks from the pros.
Ways I have learnt to save money?
I hear if you buy tickets super early they're cheaper, but I’ve never done it. I travel last minute usually to a destination I am only really sure about 2-4 weeks in advance. This only bit me in the ass on this trip with American Airlines because I redeemed points under 21 days from the travel date. A $75 mistake.
Flexible travel dates. I always search for airline fares on lower travel days like Tuesday and Wednesday, and sometimes Mondays and Thursdays. If you can travel during the week you will save HUNDREDS of dollars over the long run.
Flexible travel time. I’m excited about my trip, and I like airports and airplanes. Watching people scurry about and fumble in the security line or freakout about getting on an airplane first (especially when you have a reserved seat) calms me and makes me feel centered. I laugh. “Let’s hurry up to board the plane so we can sit there and be bored and cramped for an extra 45 minutes” my friend Alex jokes. My trips often consist of layovers and multiple stopovers. I know the tricks of how to comfortably sleep on a plane and I enjoy airports. I also save money.
Free checked baggage through Frequent flier clubs and credit cards. Some credit cards offer 1-2 free checked bags as part of the bonus. This doesn’t generally effect me because I travel carry on only for 99% of my trips including international ones longer than a week. Nonetheless, it’s nice to know I can have a free checked bag. Also, travel enough with one airline and you get a “status” with them that allows you certain bonuses like free checked bags or premier boarding.
Be flexible with your destination. If I’m traveling for fun, I’m in a rush to travel anywhere but not in a rush to travel somewhere. I know I’ll most likely be alive long enough to see many awesome places in the world and there are so many places I want to go. When I plan a trip I look at a map and write down the names of all the places I can think of I want to travel to. I wikipedia the average weather for the time of year I’m going and cross off anywhere unacceptable to me. Then I do a kayak search for my ‘general’ dates and write down the fairs/dates next to each location. I pick the cheapest 5 and then I search on all the travel websites I can think of, including the airline’s official sites (use kayak to find out who’s flying the trips), and find the cheapest destination. This brought me to Berlin for about $870, Dublin for $630 and Amsterdam for $720 to name a few. All the while the other locations I was looking at were $900-$2,500+ for a roundtrip ticket. This technique works for saving cash or saving your airline miles and I’ve saved hundreds of dollars and thousands of miles this way.
Hostels - use hostels. You’re not traveling to explore the inside of a hotel room are you? Didn’t think so. Well maybe on occasion like going to an all inclusive resort, or a honeymoon, but really considering how much you’re spending for a room you’ll probably hardly be in at all.
Here are some websites to check out:
Frugal Travel Guy - he talks about credit card churning as well as some other things, I think he gets affiliate credit for recommending products, good for him. His information is worth money. Check out the sections “Start Here,” “Rookie Guide,” and “Top Credit Cards” first.
Million Mile Secrets - like the site above, Darius gives information, for free, on how he has earned and redeemed millions of airline miles and hotel points. It is worth checking out his site as well as Frugal Travel Guy because although some information overlaps there is plenty of unique and helpful content. Check out the sections “New to miles and points,” “Hot Deals,” and “Mile & Point Resources.” The last section is super cool because it links to airline reward charts so you can find out just how far your new airline miles will take you.
The Points Guy - this is the last of the three experts I have read and can recommend. Again, there is unique content worth reading as well as a “Beginner’s Guide” that is well organized and helpful.
www.creditkarma.com - keep track of your credit score for free
Award Wallet - organize most of your frequent flyer miles
Seat Guru by Trip Advisor - A site from Trip Advisor that tells you which seats on which airplanes are the best. When you have the option to reserve a seat, find out ahead of time if its good or bad. Never stay in a seat that doesn’t full recline again. Learn which seats have power outlets or more leg room. Learn to become your own, yes I went there, Seat Guru!
Flyer Talk - (click on the forums up top in the middle) - travel advice and secrets from thousands of frequent travelers. Anything from money saving tips to destination advice.
www.tynan.com - Tynan is his name. He has a travel book on amazon thats very useful - talks about minimilism, traveling light, how to save money on airfare, etc. The book is called Life Nomadic and is really cool. Here’s an example of how minimalist his travel is Tynan's 2010 gear post
Nomadic Matt - Nomadic Matt has his own opinions on travel hacking like budget vacations to avoiding ATM fees while over seas. He also has some advice for solo female travelers.
http://matrix.itasoftware.com - An alternative airfair search kind of like kayak lite. I haven’t really used it but some people seem to have luck.
www.vrbo.com - Stands for Vacation Rentals by Owner for travel apartments
Air BnB - Traveling somewhere sand want to save money? Stay with safe people at lower risk because you review them and they review you. Anywhere from renting a full house to renting someones room. The leaser has to approve you first, usually by exchanging a few emails and getting to know each other. I used this service to find my apartment in Washington DC.
Couch Surfer - Sign up and people let you stay on their couch, or in their mansion, for free.
http://www.sleepinginairports.net/ - Travel guide to sleeping in airports. Save money, sleep in an airport. At the very least learn to be more comfortable on long layovers.
www.wanderlustandlipstick.com - This is a female travel blog that has some good luggage review, travel advice, etc. Although it's mainly a woman's travel blog I still found a lot of useful information and advice.
www.Onebag.com- For those interested in minimalist traveling and using one bag
www.Autoslash.com - I hadn't used this site before, but had heard of it several times. Autoslash is a site where you can book rental cars and if the price drops they cancel and rebook you at the lower price.
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