Time to read: 7 minutes
On March 18, I’m flying to Medellin, Colombia—the City of Eternal Spring.Horseback Riding in Salento, near Medellin
28 days later, I’ll be flying to New York City—business class.
Total cost? $77, for taxes and fees. For an INTERNATIONAL round trip business class ticket.
Getting free plane tickets for fun and profit (Total time required: 15 minutes)
Over the last 18 months, I’ve increased my frequent flier mile balance from 0 – 600,000+. Below, you’ll see my AwardWallet screenshot. (NOTE: If you want a free premium account at AwardWallet, sign up using this AwardWallet link). I really don’t get any money or benefits from this link, it’s just a special link that gets you premium. It only works for new users, not for upgrading old accounts.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this article in March, 2012, I have earned 1.2 million starpoints, and 350,000 more miles on various airlines (Air Canada, AA, United, etc). Award Wallet has been attacked by airlines a few times, so it won’t work with United Airlines, Southwest, or AA anymore. Allow me to type a sad face.My Mileage Accounts–600,000+ Miles
A couple of years ago, I read an article on Chris Guillebeau’s site called the Frequent Flyer Challenge. Chris wrote about his experience applying for credit cards that offered a mileage bonus for signing up. I’ve been hooked ever since I received my first 20,000 mileage bonus. And now I’m going to share with you the exact steps you need to follow to fly anywhere in the world, for free.
Step by step–how to earn a round trip flight to Colombia
I’ve written about this in the past in my Travel Hacking Report, but I’ve gotten some questions about the specific steps to make it happen. I want this article to go into more depth about how it works—and how you can redeem tickets.
Here are the specific steps. I’ll go in depth after.
How Frequent Flyer Miles, Alliances, and Credit Card Hacks Work
I spend hours every week reading forums, booking sample tickets, and trying to optimize for miles. Honestly, if I just worked, I would make more than enough money to cover the ticket.
Fortunately for you, I’ve done all the hard work.
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An airline alliance refers to airline partners. When two airlines are in the same alliance, you can use the miles from one airline to book a flight on the other. For example, if I have miles with United Airways, I can book a ticket to Europe with Lufthansa, using my United Miles. However, I must book by calling United Airlines, not Lufhtansa.
This also means that if you pay for a ticket on Lufthansa, you can earn miles that accrue in your United Account. The goal is to centralize all your miles into a single milage account for each alliance.
There are three alliances:
- Oneworld, consisting of American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, LAN, Qantas, and several others.
- Star Alliance which consists of United, Continental, US Airways, Lufthansa, Swiss, and several more.
- Skyteam which consists of Delta, Air France, KLM, and a bunch more. Skyteam sucks. It just does. This alliance is irrelevant for international flights. It’s okay for flights within the US though, using Delta.
You’ll want to create an account at one airline in each alliance, and centralize there. I recommend the following
Oneworld: Create an account at American Airlines.
Star Alliance: Create an account at United Airlines. (although, there may be benefits to using Air Canada—read here for details.
SkyTeam: Create an account at Delta.
Once you have the mileage accounts set up, make sure that you credit miles into the correct alliance account whenever you fly.
Some notable exceptions that don’t have alliances are JetBlue and Southwest Airlines. If you fly with these airlines, you can’t credit them into one of the alliance accounts.
How Frequent Flyer Miles Work
This part is confusing for people. What are miles? How can you redeem them? How do they work?
Frequent flyer miles are accrued for flying on an airline. Usually, you earn one mile for every mile you fly. Flying isn’t the only way to earn miles, however.
You can also earn miles by acting on promotions, or spending money using an airline credit card. Generally, you’ll earn one mile per dollar spent.
Once you have enough miles in your account, you can redeem miles by going to your airline’s website, or calling their help desk. I recommend you call in, because only by calling can you search partner airlines as well.
One major question is “How many miles does it take to fly somewhere?” For your resource kit, here are links to all the award charts.
Let’s take a look at the American Award Chart and see what it means.The OneWorld Award Chart
It’s a complex beast, no? Let me break it down for you.
I’ve marked flights originating or ending in North America with a red box. As you can see, the cost in miles is based on the region you are originating from and the region you are ending up in. Doesn’t matter which airport, which city, etc. This means that it costs the same number of miles to fly to a capital city as to a difficult and hidden airport.
So, if you see the column I’ve highlighted, you’ll see the costs to fly from anywhere in the USA to any other region in the world. Here are some sample economy class one way itineraries.
USA -> Europe, offseason: 20,000 miles
USA -> South America, offseason: 20,000 miles
USA -> Central America (incl. Peru and Colombia), offseason: 15,000 miles
USA -> Another city in USA: 12,500
So, for 30,000 miles round trip, you can head all the way to Peru or Colombia. These tickets often cost $1000+ to fly to. But, with miles, it costs almost the same as flying to another US city. Amazing, right?
So, depending on where you want to go, all you have to do is earn enough miles to book that ticket. Then, when actually booking the ticket, I recommend you call in—by calling in, they will check partner airlines as well as the original airline. When you try to book on the website, you have much less availiability.
Here are the phone numbers to book award tickets, for your records:
Oneworld: Call 1-800-882-8880.
Star Alliance: For travel within the U.S., call 1-888-467-0507, for international award travel, call 1-888-674-4680.
SkyTeam: Call 1-800-323-2323.
How to Hack Travel With Credit Cards
So, now we are getting closer to the method. Here’s the deal — many banks in the US want you to apply for their cards. In order to get you to do this, they offer enormous promotions if you apply.
My favorite card, the Starwoods Preferred Card, gives you 25,000 miles that you can redeem on any airline. The coolest part is that Starwoods offers a 5,000 point bonus when you transfer 20,000 at a time—the only card that offers such a serious bonus.
The OneWorld cards are great for mileage. Here’s why.
For spending just $750 in 4 months, you get 30,000 miles. BUT, that’s not it—you also get $100 in free credit. That’s right—they are actually paying you $100 AND giving you a FREE Roundtrip flight to central america…for just a single credit card.
So, if your goal is to get to Colombia or Peru or central america, round trip, you only need to apply for a SINGLE Citi AAdvantage card. But you can apply for 4 or more at the same time, earning up to 120,000 miles.
The other cards that are great for starting out are the United and Continental Award cards. I use the Continental OnePass card. These guys give you 30,000 miles after hitting the minimum spend, and because they are about to merge, you can transfer the miles into a single account. Awesome.
Now here’s the cool part–after you’ve received the miles, you can cancel the card, and they’ll usually pay you more if you just hold off for 24 hours. I usually call in, and they say ‘we’ll give you 3,000 miles if you wait to cancel.’ Free 3,000 miles? Score.
Your credit score doesn’t usually go down. We’ll talk about that a bit later on.
The Step-by-Step process
Okay, so now that you understand how the whole system works, here is what you need to do.
1) Best overall card (GET THIS FIRST): Starwoods Preferred Amex Card.
Why? You can transfer the miles to ANY frequent flyer program, and it gives you a 25% bonus (25,000 miles for every 20,000 points transferred).
Apply at the link above to get the bonus offer: 15,000 automatic points, 10,000 bonus after spending $5,000 in 6 months, and $0 fee for the first year (AMAZING)
You shouldn’t ever have to cancel this card, it is the best of the best. It should be your goto card.
2) Next card to get: American Airlines Citi Mastercard and Amex
Why? American Airlines is part of the OneWorld Alliance, which has the best redemption offer out of any alliance. Offseason, you can get to Europe OR South America for 20k miles.
Apply at the link above to get 30,000 miles after spending $750 in 4 months of membership, and 10,000 more after spending another $5,000 in 6 months. PLUS, get $100 in
statement credit (that is FREE MONEY, with no annual fee for the first year).
Other excellent cards to research and get: Continental OnePass Mastercard, United MileagePlus Explorer Visa. There are other ones with many airlines, but these are good to start with.
Check out Chris Guillebeau’s Airline Card Comparison Chart for more info.
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And that’s really all there is to it…
It takes 5 minutes to apply for a card. For example, this is all you have to do to sign up for the Starwoods Card.The Starwoods Amex Signup Form
As you can see, it’s just a few fields…and takes less than a few minutes.
After applying, you’ll either get an ‘Application Approved’ message or ‘Application Received.’ If it says ‘Application Received,’ then you’ll know the result via email or mail in a few days.
Next, just meet the spending requirements.
And that’s all it takes to fly free. Click here now to apply and get started.
Some Frequently Asked Questions
1) What about your credit score?
I’ve written several articles about credit scores when I blogged at Lending Club, but my experience has been this: In the four or so years that I’ve done credit card mileage hacking, my credit score has increased from 715 to 800. The reason is this: I always pay off my cards on time. Because each new card increass my credit limit, and I continue to pay off my card, my record looks consistently better and better, and therefore my score increases.
From anecdotes and experience, it seems that your credit score will drop in the short term, especially when canceling cards, but will go up in the long term. So, if you don’t expect to be purchasing a house or car in the short term (1 year or so), then this mileage hack is perfect for you.
2) What if I’m already in debt?
Then, this is probably not for you. I don’t recommend that people deeply in credit card debt attempt this method of mileage hacking for two reasons. 1) You probably won’t be able to get the cards anyway, and 2) I’m worried you’ll overspend and go deeper into debt. Don’t do this if you’re stupid and will go deep into debt.
If you’ve got good spending habits, and your credit history is decently long, then you’re a perfect candidate for this method.
3) Do I need to sign up for the rewards program before signing up for the credit card?
No, usually they will create a number for you if you are a first time applicant.
But, if you are applying for three AAdvantage cards, you may want to create the account first, and use the same number—otherwise, they may create 3 different accounts for you.
Great, that’s all there is to it! Please post any questions in the comments, and I’ll add them to the FAQ above!
What do you think about this hack? What sort of hacks would you like to learn? Please let me know in the comments below!