T-Rex Travel Tips, Part 1 – Flying For Free

When I announced my upcoming trip to South America, I also mentioned that I would be adding a new section of the blog where I talk about how to travel relatively inexpensively and/or more efficiently and/or with less irritation. As a woman of my word, here we are! I’m excited to start this aspect of the blog, and I’ll be referring to it as the very cleverly titled “T-Rex Travel Tips” because I’m not that creative  everyone likes alliteration. The things I will be discussing here are not going to be groundbreaking for those of you who may be frequent flyers or points/miles addicts, but I know that just a few short months ago, I had no idea that any of this stuff even existed, so I’m assuming there are plenty of you in the same boat.

Ok, first things first. We all know travel is expensive. For many people, the airfare is the most expensive part, especially if you are traveling to a foreign country, so we are only going to talk about airfare today. How about we just not pay for airfare? Sounds pretty good, right? So, how do we do that? With frequent flyer miles, of course.

“But Danielle, I don’t fly very much. I’ll never get enough for a free flight!” Nonsense.

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The first step is to sign up for a frequent flyer number on your airline(s) of choice. This seems so simple, but it’s amazing how many people just don’t bother to do it. Even if you don’t travel super often, I’ll show you in a minute how your miles can really add up. I have a frequent flyer number for several different airlines because I fly all different airlines for work based on what is cheapest (hey, we’re a startup!), but some people love one airline and stick to that, or live near an airline’s hub and just tend to get on that airline more often. Whatever the case, pick one and sign up – it’s free! It’s also important to note that most airlines (with the exception of discount carriers like Southwest and JetBlue) belong to alliances, so if you’re flying on one airline, you can get frequent flyer miles on another airline in that alliance. For information on how that works, click here.

You might think that the only way to accumulate frequent flyer miles is by flying a lot. If you think that (like I did), you’re wrong. Flying is actually pretty much the least efficient way to accumulate miles. Surprising, right? The most efficient way to get those coveted miles is via travel credit card bonuses. Now, I know there are plenty of people who prefer not to use credit cards, so you can skip this section. We’re still going to get you plenty of miles, don’t you worry. For the rest of you, travel credit cards are a super lucrative way to earn miles for all your everyday purchases. To get you to sign up, credit card companies offer pretty big bonuses – for example, I got 50,000 American Airlines miles as a bonus for a credit card I got in the fall. Guess how many miles it costs to fly round trip to South America on American Airlines when I’ll be there? 35,000. Yeah. Figuring out what credit card is right for you can be confusing, but some good articles to help get you started can be found here, here, and here.

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In addition to offering great bonuses that can get you enough points for a free flight really quickly, travel credit cards also give you points/miles for each dollar you spend. The Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example, gives you one Ultimate Rewards Point (converts to many different frequent flyer programs, hotel chain points, etc at a ration of one point per mile) for each dollar you spend on most purchases and two points per dollar on travel and dining. Pretty easy, right? If you are able to put all of your bills on your credit card (and pay it off each month – very important!) you are earning points or miles for money you have to spend anyway. I currently put ALL of my bills on my travel cards and pay them off each month to accumulate points. Of course, this requires some ability to budget and some self-restraint, but if you have both of those things, I highly recommend it. I get thousands of miles each month just for paying my bills.

Ok, so maybe you live the Dave Ramsey lifestyle (no hate for Dave – I got out of debt thanks to him) and you don’t want to use credit cards to get points and miles. You won’t accrue miles as quickly, but that’s ok. You still have options! First, most airlines have online shopping malls that give you miles for every dollar you spend simply by clicking through the site to the store of your choice, basically like Ebates. American Airlines and United Airlines are two of the big ones, but almost every airline has one if you take the time to Google. Again, if you are going to buy something online anyway, why not click through the site and get some miles for it while you’re at it? For example, this Christmas, the American Airlines shopping mall had a promotion where you could get 24 miles per $1 spent on PersonalCreations.com. I hadn’t thought of a gift for my parents yet, and with a bonus like that, I thought I should check out the site to see if I could find anything. Sure enough, I found this U.S. Travel Map on sale and ended up getting 3,600 American miles for buying an awesome Christmas present that I needed to buy anyway! That’s the equivalent of a round trip flight from Columbia, South Carolina, to Phoenix, Arizona – my trip for work next week. All because I took two seconds to go to American’s online mall first and click on the Personal Creations link. It’s really that simple! Different airline malls have different bonuses for the same stores at the same time, so check out a site like EVReward to compare options. I am currently building up my mileage on American and United right now, so I always go to EVReward and check to see which one has the better offer.

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There is no better feeling than earning a ton of miles for something you were planning on buying anyway!

Do you sometimes go to restaurants? Of course you do. Good news! You can get frequent flyer miles for that, too. Like online shopping malls, most airlines have a dining program that rewards you with miles per dollar spent at restaurants. All you have to do is register a credit or debit card through the website and you’ll get points at participating restaurants, no matter where you are. Easy.

You can also get frequent flyer miles for booking hotels, rental cars, and other travel. Some hotel chains or rental car companies will allow you to accumulate miles instead of points if you have a member number, but you can also get miles simply by clicking through the airline’s website and using their code. United partners with a bunch of different companies, as does American and many of the other airlines. Again, if you’re going to be getting this stuff anyway, why not? Another option is to use a website like RocketMiles, which allows you to select a frequent flyer program and then shows you hotels within your search area that will offer bonus miles on that airline for booking. I booked a hotel for the Sedona Marathon today and looked at many different sites to find the best rate -Hotwire, Priceline, Orbitz, Hotels.com, Booking.com, etc. I found the best rate on RocketMiles AND I earned 4,000 United miles just for that one night. That’s more miles than I will earn for flying to and from the marathon!

If you do any or all of these things, you’ll have enough miles for a free flight before you know it! You can maximize your miles by obsessing over it, like me, and doing tons of research for every purchase you make to make sure you are getting the most miles for your money, but even if you don’t do that, you’ll still get something. The most important thing to remember is not to get trapped into spending money you wouldn’t otherwise just to get miles! The only way you’re going to actually save money by traveling this way is if you’re not overspending or getting a bad deal on something just for the sake of earning a few miles.

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If you’re making yourself broke while trying to get “free” miles, you’re doing it wrong.

LEAVE A COMMENT: Where would you go if you could go anywhere (because it’s free!)? What is your favorite strategy to earn miles? What questions do you have? Also, feel free to contact me if you’d rather not ask your question in the comments!

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