Updated: How I Used Free Frequent Flyer Miles to Get $9,000 Worth of Airfare — Twice!

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:

  1. Always pay off their balance in full
  2. 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.

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Comments

  1. Wow this is definitely all great to know! I’ll be looking into this further because I’m always so interested in frequent flyer miles, but seem to never keep them long enough to make it worthwhile.

    • @SenseofCents I’ve never done much with miles that I’ve earned just by flyings since I never seemed to have enough. To me, the sign up bonuses are the only way to go.

  2. Wow, what a phenomenal trip for only $140!! Mike’s service sounds absolutely awesome and I’ll be sure to check him out once I start racking up mileage rewards. I’ve been using a few other cards but I think an airline miles card is in my near future.

  3. This is awesome! I’m so glad you shared your story because this is something I’ve been wanting to try out for a while. But I don’t have a lot of time to spend researching and I have no idea the first step is. But thanks to you (and Mike) I know what the first step is and have an expert in my corner who can help. Woot, can’t wait to book my next trip for close to free! Thanks Jeffrey, awesome stuff!

  4. I have used frequent flier miles for years.  I usually fly business or first class for overseas travel.  I do take advantage of additional cards to rack up my miles.  My wife and I flew to Istanbul from Los Angles first class that had a full fare value of $13K each for the cost f taxes ($200 each).

  5. Jeffrey, it was my pleasure helping you “extract” the most travel while adhering to the rules.  I hope you have a blast on your trip.
     
     @worksavelive I strongly believe travel rewards credit cards offer the best rebate, you should definitely look into it more, if you plan on traveling.

  6. This post is awesome and just what I was looking for! My wife and I have a toddler now so we don’t travel at all but when she gets a little older we plan on going on trips again. I have traveled extensively outside the country while my wife never has. I definitely plan on accumulating miles this way over the next couple years and hopefully we will be able to take a trip at dirt cheap prices. Thanks again!

  7. Also I’m wondering if there is way to use this method to get heavily discounted cruise trips?

    • That’s not something I can say I’ve really looked into before. However, I do like using TravelZoo.com to find deals, although probably not quite as discounted as this trip is for me.

  8. My wife and I use to take trips all the time before we had a toddler. As she gets a little older we’ll start taking more trips. We will definitely use this method to accrue miles in the meantime. Thank you very much!

  9. It’s incredible that you can stop at so many awesome places without any added cost!  I feel enlightened :)
     
    i signed up for my first travel rewards credit card for 75,000 points.  It was worth it to fly home a few times next year but I’m going to have to follow up with the airline because I don’t think they’ve credited me all the miles promised.  However, their website makes it easy, displayed front and center on my frequent flyer summary page is a link to a “Missing miles?” help desk.  This must happen pretty often for them.

    • @In Budgets We Trust Cool, sounds like a good deal if you get all those points. I like to use AwardWallet.com to track all my miles (although, unfortunately, some airlines aren’t available on there).

  10. frugalportland says:

    Amazing. You’re very inspiring, Jeffrey!

  11. How many cards do you keep active at a time? Do you cancel them before the annual fee kicks in or keep them so miles don’t expire? If I already have a United Card, can I cancel it and get a new United card with a different deal? Thanks~

    • Daniel Moss I have about 10 active cards right now. I almost always cancel them, and don’t pay an annual fee. Chase typically lets you refund the fee and close the account for up to 60 days after it’s charged, so that’s handy.
      I don’t think you can get a new United card with a different deal, but different issuers have different policies on this. Your best bet is to check directly with the issuer to see. Another trick is that often when they change the type of card or retire an old one, you may become eligible again.

  12. Love it! I just took my girlfriend to Israel in May for about $120 each plus miles. Great stuff!

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