How to fly (almost) for free

You’d love to travel, but flights are just too expensive.

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. We’re talking about a round trip to Hawaii for $12 or to Europe for $80. Almost free.

This method is called Travel Hacking. In this series of emails, I’m going to explain exactly how it works. Sign up below. Or keep reading and sign up later. That’s fine too.

Note: Advice is specific to travelers from the United States, however the same principles apply internationally.

It all starts with credit cards

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

  • Earn points from credit cards
    Sign up for a credit card offering a bonus
  • Credit card minimum spends
    Meet the minimum spend (usually a couple thousand dollars in 3 to 6 months)
  • Learn travel hacking for free
    The miles show up in your account
  • Booking free flights
    Book your free flight

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

But Travel Hackers see this world of sign-up bonuses as an amazing 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.

  • Credit card churn
  • Canceling a credit card
  • Learn travel hacking for free

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. After all you’re just paying with points and miles, so why not splurge?

Sign up bonuses give you lots of 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 and wait for the miles to arrive.

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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.

Want to learn how to earn enough points to fly to that place you’ve always wanted to visit? Sign up for this free email course below.

Note: Advice is specific to travelers from the United States, however the same principles apply internationally.

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.

I had a poor credit score when I started travel hacking. With each card I opened and managed responsibly, my score went up. The main parts of credit that we’re concerned about are payment history, age of accounts and number of accounts.

  • No missed payments
  • Average age of credit history
  • Number of accounts
  • Credit score increase

If done right, travel hacking can actually improve your credit score. I’ll explain how all this works in the course.

Redeeming miles

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

  • Travel alliances explained
    United, Air Canada, Singapore, etc
  • What you need to know about airline alliances
    American, British Airways, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, etc
  • Skyteam alliance
    Delta, KLM, AirFrance, etc

There are three major alliances and if you hold miles with one airline you can redeem them for flights on any partner airline.

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

Learn the rules to guarantee you never lose

There definitely can be downsides to travel hacking. But I want you to 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:

  • Acquire the right credit cards
  • Book high-value rewards
  • Only spend money you normally spend (and can afford)
  • Pay your credit card on time every month to avoid late fees.
  • 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, Prauge, 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.

Note: Advice is specific to travelers from the United States, however the same principles apply internationally.
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