Get your next flight free! (almost)

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Flying for free, almost

What if you could fly for free? Unfortunately you can’t. But there is a way you can get plane tickets and only have to pay the taxes and fees. This is the “almost” we’re talking about. So more accurately, round trip tickets to Hawaii for $12 or to Europe for $80. See, almost free.

This method is called Travel Hacking. In this series of emails, I’m going to explain exactly how it works.

Use Credit Cards to earn miles…but not in the sucky way.

You've probably seen those credit cards offering a free flight if you sign up. If not, here’s how they work:

  • Sign Up

    Find a credit card offering a large bonus for signing up. Usually around 50,000 miles.

  • Spend Money

    Meet the minimum spend by charging a couple thousand dollars in the first 3 months (usually).

  • Get Miles

    Miles magically show up in your account the billing period after you meet your minimum spend.

  • Book Free Flights

    Pick a destination and look for award availability.

Most people are happy with their one free flight and stop there.

But Travel Hackers see this world of sign-up bonuses as an opportunity and take it a bit further. Instead of getting one new credit card, they get 4 or 5. Every year.

Once they meet the minimum spend on the cards, the banks deposit hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles in their accounts. All collected without having to set foot on an airplane.

Then instead of redeeming the miles for a cheap ticket within the U.S. they spend a few more miles and travel internationally, many times in business or first class.

Signup bonuses get you a shit-ton* of points

*A Shit-ton is equivalent to 24 metric assloads, or 1/10th of a fuck-ton.

Like way more miles than actually flying often. Let’s look at an example. This graph shows the results of several different travellers accumulating points.

The casual traveller might take a trip every three months, with an average distance flown of 1000 miles each direction. This gets him 2000 points every three months. The business traveller may travel monthly, and the distances he travels will probably be similar. So he’ll get 2000 points every month. Finally a consultant may fly every two weeks on continental flights, netting him an average of 4000 points per month. This is the slow way to get airline points.

Reward miles earned over a year

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One card will often get you 50,000+ miles. That’s enough for a round trip to Europe or South America. And a second card will give you enough points to fly anywhere around the world. As soon as you meet the minimum spend on one card, you move on to the next. This way you end up with way more points than the most frequent travellers all without taking actual flights.

Won’t signing up for cards hurt my credit?

Now you may be worried that applying for a bunch of credit cards would hurt your credit score. And it will… but only by a couple points. After you keep the card open for six months or a year, your credit score will gradually increase to a few points higher than it was when you started.

The main parts of credit that we’re concerned about are payment history, age of accounts and number of accounts.

  • Payment History

    Pretty much just don’t miss payments. This one isn’t that complicated. There are a few things I’ll show you in the course that will make sure you never miss a payment again.

  • Average age of Credit

    This is the average age of all of your credit accounts. This is why your credit will dip slightly when you open a card but then slowly increase over time.

  • Average Balance Ratio

    Don’t use all the credit you have available. If you have $10k of credit available, you want to be using only about $1k-2k when you need your credit to look good.

  • Number of Accounts

    Turns out that credit agencies like to see a large number of credit accounts. In general, the more the better.

Equation to understand credit

I had a poor credit score when I started travel hacking. With each card I opened and managed responsibly, my score went up.

Redeem miles for flights, not toaster ovens

Now let’s get back to the fun part of actually redeeming miles.

Let’s say I want to get an almost free flight to New Zealand. I’d start by looking at the route map from my city and pick an airline that offers the best routes. In my case that would be Boise to Auckland for 80,000 miles on United.

Next I look at the available credit cards and pick out one or two that will get me points I need. I apply for the cards, meet the minimum spends, and then set the cards aside waiting for the miles to arrive.

After a month the miles will post to my account. Then I can search for availability, pick a flight, and book a ticket. The flight is free except for few government taxes and fees.

That normally $1300 flight to New Zealand would only cost me $65 and 80,000 United miles.

Travel hacking flight map

The best deals are often from earning miles with one airline and then redeeming them on a partner airline.

To do that you need to understand alliances. There are three major alliances and if you hold miles with one airline you can redeem them for flights on any partner airline. All this is explained in the course.

Here’s a quick example: my friend Nathan planned a trip to Thailand and wanted to fly home on Cathay Pacific, which is one of the nicest airlines in the world. So he applied for two credit cards from Citi Bank that gave him 35,000 American Airlines miles each. After about 2 months he had completed the minimum spends and received the miles. Then he called AA to find availability and book the flight on their partner, Cathay Pacific.

He booked a first class ticket for only 67,000 miles along with $112 in taxes and fees. In addition to having a comfortable bed on the flight, they also served steak and caviar!

If he’d paid with cash instead of miles, that ticket would have been $7,000 instead of just $112.

The best thing about this is that it isn’t some loophole you are exploiting. The credit card companies actually want you to do this! They earn money when you spend on the card, so everyone wins. That’s why they keep offering larger and larger bonuses!

Travel hacking is a game where you hold all the cards

If you learn the rules, you’ll never lose.

There definitely can be downsides to travel hacking. But think of this as a game that you are playing with the airlines and credit card companies. You can go about it any way you want, but there is an optimal way to play that will mean you win every time. It goes like this:

That’s the best way to play, and it’s pretty easy. Do that and you’ll come out miles ahead every time. Pun intended. But if you play poorly you can lose money and waste time.

Playing to win

  1. Acquire the right credit cards
  2. Book high-value rewards
  3. Only spend money you normally spend (and can afford)
  4. Pay your credit card on time every month to avoid late fees
  5. And cancel or downgrade the card after a year avoiding annual fees

That’s the best way to play, and it’s pretty easy. Do that and you’ll come out miles ahead every time. Pun intended. But if you play poorly you can lose money and waste time.

Playing poorly looks like:

  1. Spending money you wouldn’t normally spend to earn a few more points
  2. Spending money you don’t have
  3. Missing payments and incurring late fees and interest
  4. Redeeming miles for low-value awards like domestic flights, toaster ovens, or other consumer items through the airlines website.

If this sounds too complicated then it’s probably not for you. Travel hacking requires learning about all the different airline programs, tracking your credit cards in a spreadsheet, and staying on top of your finances. It’s not for everyone.

But if you’re willing to spend a little time to learn, then you’ll be booking free flights in just a few months. Personally I’ve traveled to Athens, Prague, Cancun, Chiang Mai and several other places in the last few years without paying for plane tickets.

I hope this introduction was helpful. But at this point I bet you have a ton of questions. I know I did when I was just getting started. To help, I put together a free, step-by-step email course.

Want to learn to fly for free? Take this free email course.

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