As most of you know already, a very big part of how we travel for free or pretty damn near it is by getting free flights whenever possible via airline miles we have accumulated in various ways. Because, except for lodging on a longer trip, the cost of airfare affects the total cost of a trip more than anything else. This is especially true for an international excursion, because the airlines tend to get away with charging higher prices for overseas routes.
With this in mind I thought I’d give you a quick update on how we’ve gained additional points and how we’ve been using them so far for the first half of 2011.
First off, at the beginning of the year I signed up for two new Chase bank accounts, a personal one and a business one. I had wanted to do this anyway, because I was sick and tired of Bank of America jacking me with silly fees. Luckily, at the time there were sign up bonuses going on with Continental Airlines, and after jumping through some pretty easy hoops those two accounts netted me 62.5k miles with Continental (got an extra 12.5k miles due to a screw up in their system – yay!). I used 25k of those points for my recent flight to Seattle with a return back to Austin from Vancouver. That probably would have cost me at least $500 if I had bought them the old fashion way due to the international return flight. And I’m pretty sure that I will end up using the rest of those points to help me eventually ‘buy’ yet another ticket with United to Southeast Asia for 65k miles, since Continental is now merged with United which we often fly to that region of the world.
Around that same time I signed up for two American Express Gold Cards, again a personal one and a business one, that netted me 96k miles with Delta. I am of course glad to have those miles and will use them in due time. However I think I will no longer pursue deals that offer miles with Delta, because their frequent flyer program seems to be the weakest one out there, at least as far as the major airlines are concerned. On average it takes a lot more points to get somewhere using Delta, because they seem to have a miniscule number of seats that you can get using the cheapest tier structure for free flights. I don’t run into this problem nearly as much with airlines such as United, Continental (again, now part of United) and American.
Then I signed up for a Citibank American Airlines business credit card which gave me 79k miles with American after I made the minimum required purchases. About a month ago I used 65k of those miles to ‘buy’ both of our tickets to Nicaragua for a three week trip we plan to take in January. At the time the cheapest I saw that route for on Kayak was like $800, so that saved us $1600! Schwing!
The only other thing that I have signed up for so far this year is for a Barclay US Airways card that gave me 35k miles after my first and only purchase. I’m guessing I’ll most likely end up using those points for another one of our trips to Portland or Seattle, since we like that region of the country so much.
And along these same lines Shelley and a few of her family members are taking a trip to Montreal at the end of this month. They used points to purchase three of their airline tickets, and that saved them like $600 for each of those three tickets. Nice, huh?
But the fun won’t stop there for 2011. I will most likely be signing up for some more credit cards soon. Last week I checked my credit score, and it is still doing quite well at 791 with Experian. Likewise, today I read on Flyertalk.com that some new offers with larger bonus mile amounts will be coming out some time later this month. We love playing this little game, and it helps us immensely when it comes to traveling on the cheap.
This all goes to show that putting in the time to sign up for the right points programs and using those points wisely can be one of the easiest ways for you to travel to really cool places on a limited budget. It really doesn’t require all that much work, but you do need to be informed in the way you go about it. I personally have learned quite a lot about doing these kinds of things even more effectively on FrugalTravelGuy.com, and we hope to have the founder of that site, Rick Ingersoll, do a guest post for us in the near future. When it comes to playing the airline points game, Rick is the man!