Update: I just booked another trip using frequent flyer miles. This time I’ll be flying to Japan, India, and Nepal — for just $120! The real cost was just 80,000 miles that I earned from a couple of credit card offers.
For those who missed it last year, here’s my strategy that I posted in October 2012. Enjoy!
I’m excited to share how I’m spending a month traveling to Paris and Bangkok – and spending only $140 on airfare (just the taxes). How? It was really easy, actually: Free frequent flyer miles.
No, not the kind you earn from flying around from flights you paid cash for. And I don’t spend a ton of money on credit cards, either. Here’s how.
Earning Free Frequent Flyer Miles
For me (and many others), the best way to earn frequent flyer miles is to apply for credit cards that offer big bonus miles for opening a new account. I routinely earn anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 miles for each new card I open.
To earn these rewards, you’re basically only required to spend $500-$2,000 within the first few months of activating your account. Most cards have an annual fee that’s waived for the first year, too.
Of course, the most common question is: “Doesn’t this hurt your credit score?” But, like many others have reported, the answer for me is “No.”
Using Credit Karma, you can see my credit score (from TransUnion) has been pretty stable the past 2 1/2 years. I’ve bounced back and forth between 740 to 765, but I’d hardly call that much of a change.
(Update: Since October 2012, my score as actually INCREASED to ~759. This is despite opening several new credit card accounts while closing several other credit cards, too. Lesson: there are many myths out there about your credit score and opening and closing new accounts, so beware.)
While I don’t normally endorse credit cards, I feel this can offer a lot of value to people like me that:
- Always pay off their balance in full
- Want to travel, but don’t have thousands of dollars to do it (hence the need for the free frequent flyer miles)
If you meet both these criteria (and ONLY if you don’t have credit card debt problems), check out CreditCards.com to find some of the best cards for travel. You can do this easily by going to their “Airline Credit Card” page.
Again, you’re looking for cards that offer at least 25,000 miles to sign up. Make sure you can earn at least this much without increasing your spending in any way.
Redeeming Miles for Great Value
Earning the free miles was the easy part. But when I wanted to book a trip, I honestly had no idea how to go about it.
So I emailed my buddy, Mike, who runs IFlyWithMiles.com where he literally takes your miles and desired destination and sets up the entire itinerary for you.
I just told Mike “I want to go to Thailand. Can you get me here?”
Mike said, “Sure. But why don’t you stop in Europe for free on the way?”
My reply: “Um, what?!”
Thanks to Mike’s knowledge of how redeeming miles worth, I tacked on 3 nights in Paris to my journey at no extra charge.
Mike’s next piece of advice “Would you like to fly into Chiang Mai, Thailand and fly out of Bangkok? It will save you an extra trip between the two cities, and it doesn’t cost any extra.”
Of course, I said “Hell yes!” to this, too.
After settling on this, Mike worked his magic and came up with an itinerary for me that told me exactly which flights to book. His trip gave me 3 nights in Paris followed by 3 weeks in Thailand.
I went ahead, following Mike’s instructions, and booked by entire trip. Right before I booked, United asked: “Would you like to book your travel with cash instead? Pay $9,000.” I said “No, thanks” of course.
Instead, I paid just $140 in taxes and 65,000 United MileagePlus miles.
I would note that redeeming miles for domestic flights almost certainly won’t get as much value as going for international trips like this one. This is totally fine for me since I’ve been eager to make my first trip to Asia.
So to get started earning free frequent flyer miles, you’ll need to sign up for credit cards that offer great rewards, such as ones offered here on the Airline Credit Cards page. Then check in with Mike at IFlyWithMiles.com – he’ll even give you a free email consultation!
Note: Mike agreed to provide me his $80 service for free for this trip and post about it. However, I would definitely recommend his service so much that I’ll gladly pay him from now on. This post also contains affiliate links, but these are services I use myself and recommend to others.