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3 Steps Towards Traveling for Free...

Want to use miles to fly First Class around the world? Yes, it can be done! Sure, it sounds like one of those ‘too good to be true’ things, but it really works. We at Frequent Miler have been traveling in First Class for free (less taxes and fees) for years using the tricks explained in this blog. The catch (and yes, there’s always a catch) is that it takes knowledge and organization to pull it off. That’s where this blog can help!

Ironically, traveling is not the best way to earn miles & points (but it doesn’t hurt!). Credit card signup bonuses are the biggest and best opportunity for earning free points and miles. For many, it’s easy to earn hundreds of thousands of points each year through signup bonuses! Here’s how:

1. Sign Up for the Best Offers

Credit card issuers want your business and they’re willing to pay you for it in the form of huge credit card signup bonuses.

As you’ll see on our best credit card offers page, there are dozens of great bonuses out there. A common practice is to regularly sign up for new cards, primarily for the signup bonuses. And, couples can double points earnings by each signing up for the same cards.

There are so many great credit card offers available that it can be tough to know which are best for you.  One solution is to check out Greg’s Top Picks where I list my favorite card offers along with info about who I think would benefit from the card.  

A year after signing up for a card, consider avoiding the annual fee by downgrading to a no-fee card, or by cancelling altogether.

TIP: If you’re new to this, consider using Travel Freely to guide you through the process step by step.  The Travel Freely service is absolutely free.

2. Meet Spend Requirements

Most credit card signup bonuses have minimum spend requirements. For example, a 50,000 mile signup bonus will typically require $3,000 in spend within 3 months of signing up.

Techniques for meeting spend requirements include using the new credit card for all purchases; using the credit card to pay monthly bills wherever credit cards are accepted; using the credit card to pay your rent, mortgage or other loans (often for a fee). Our daily blog posts can help you learn those basics as well as additional ways to increase credit card spend without going broke.

See more here: Increase credit card spend (and get most of it back). What still works?

3. Travel for Free!

Once you’ve earned points and miles, you’ll want to use them for free travel. With some loyalty programs, that’s easy. With hotels for example, it’s usually the case that any time there’s a standard room available for sale it’s also available to book with points, or with a free night certificate. Airline miles are both more complicated and potentially more rewarding. Many airlines drastically limit availability of their cheapest ‘saver’ awards. If you want to plan the ultimate international getaway and you haven’t yet learned the ins and outs of booking award flights, consider using an award search tool or an award booking service. You’ll have to pay for these services, but in many cases it can be well worth the price..

Caution!

There’s a reason that credit card companies are willing to give away points & miles. They make a lot of money from interest and fees. Interest and fee payments can quickly wipe out the benefits gained from signup bonuses. The only way to come out ahead is to pay your credit card bills in full, every month. If you can’t do that, then I highly recommend against signing up for new credit cards.

More Points and Miles

Signing up for new credit cards isn’t the only way to earn points & miles without flying. A few options include:

  • Maximizing credit card category bonuses: Many credit cards offer extra points for certain categories of purchases (e.g. restaurants, travel, groceries, etc.). It is often possible to shift spend towards those categories in order to earn far more points than you would otherwise.
  • Online shopping via portals: Online portals offer extra rewards for shopping that you would have done anyway.
  • Marketing promotions: Businesses often offer free bonus points or miles in order to attract your business. Occasionally these offers are incredibly lucrative!

There are many other ways to earn points and miles without flying. Please see this post: Top things to do for MORE miles.

Getting Started

  1. Sign up for Travel Freely (it’s free!) to keep track of your credit cards and to walk you through the process.
  2. Sign up for Award Wallet (it’s free!) to keep track of your points & miles balances.
  3. Find the best credit card offers on our Best Credit Card Offers page or go with Greg’s favorites in our Greg’s Top Picks page. If you get an offer in the mail, though, compare it to our Best Offers page. Sometimes targeted offers are better than anything else publicly available.
  4. Read more:
    1. The games we play (a big picture overview of the points & miles ‘game’)
    2. The tools we use (a list of useful tools for earning and using points & miles)
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Steve S

Greg and FM Team, I was thinking about writing this in comments section of the podcast post this week but thought I’d try it here too. I thought it would be nice since you guys completed 40K to far away to revisit some of the sweet spots you found for travel between different areas not to/from US. For instance, what’s the best mileage program to fly between Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia? I have extensively tried researched this and it’s not widely covered and searching for options in business I’ve jumped down a lot of rabbit holes researching programs from Thai to EVA and more. I’ve started diving pretty deep into this and honestly can’t really come up with anyone covering this except for maybe Spencer.

By the way, great job with the Podcast. It’s one of the most valuable things in the travel rewards blogosphere at the moment. You guys cover such a range of topics and the occasional debates and constant insight goes beyond what’s possible to write about and keep someone’s attention in a post. So kudos

WILLIAM LEVAN

Hi, I just received my first travel card and I am trying to find a company online that would allow me to use my card to pay bills and have the transaction post as a charge to receive travel points.

Athul

Thank you for this great write up. This will help a lot of travelers!

Dave

It’s a shame that you can’t use your site without tracking cookies … and a little deceptive that when you try to disable them they stay on anyway.

ssss

Do you know anyone who has used the travel credits on the CNB card for gift cards recently? Do you know what works if anything?

ssss

You can use the credits for the taxes and fees for award tickets? I had no idea. Thanks!

steve vallenari

Hello, I will not reach my 50 stays required to retain platinum status with Bonvoy. I see on several sites including this one that I can retain my status with $75K in spending for the year on my SPG Luxury Amex. When I called to confirm with Marriott I was told on three occasions that that was not the case. The only way to retain status is with 50 stays. Not getting much help from Marriott customer service.

steve vallenari

I have the SPG Luxury Card. I have been told by customer service that the only way to get platinum is to spend 50 nights. Your link clearly says that with $75k spend I can keep platinum. Is there a definitive Bonvoy document that shows this to be true.
Thank you for all the help!

Nick Reyes

This is a credit card benefit rather than a Marriott Bonvoy benefit, so I’m unfortunately not surprised that a Marriott customer service representative isn’t familiar with how the credit card benefit works. If you go to American Express and pull up the application page for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant (the new name for what was the SPG Luxury card), you’ll see listed right in the key features:

“COMPLIMENTARY GOLD ELITE STATUS
Enjoy complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status with your Card.‡ Earn Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status after making $75,000 in eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year.‡”

You can find a link to the application page (which has that above quote) on our page dedicated to that card:

https://frequentmiler.com/spglux/

That’s definitely a card benefit on that particular card. Again, I wouldn’t expect a general Marriott Bonvoy customer service rep to be super familiar with it since it is a benefit on select credit cards offered by Chase and American Express. If you called the number on the back of your credit card to talk to Amex or chatted with an Amex chat rep, I’m sure they would be able to confirm with you that $75K in purchases gets you Platinum status.

steve vallenari

Thank you Greg and Nick! I really appreciate your taking the time to answer my question.

Steve S

Hey, @Steve Vallenari – in the interest of saving your potential burden I wanted to point out that AMEX is odd about Simon reporting for points. If MS on AMEX is your plan to get to the threshold, tread carefully and look for other options.

Steve S

I’m not sure if that applies to meeting spend thresholds 100% but I would assume it does.

steve vallenari

Thanks Steve.

Jim

Hi Greg, I love the Saturday video you and Nick do a great jobI have two trips to Hawaii planned for next year. Seven nights at the Ritz ( cat 7 ) on Waikiki and seven nights in Residence Inn Wailea ( cat 6 ). So I need to earn a bunch of Marriott points. I have the Marriott Brilliance card and also got one for My Mother, so I will combine those points and the annual night certificate. Going forward I’m using my Gold Amex for grocery and dinning (4x)and my Business Blue (2x) for non bonuses spend. Is this a good plan? What would you do different? What’s your favorite Marriott in Hawaii? Thanks Jim

Jeffrey

How do I post a question?

richard h brauchler

How do I go about booking a companion ticket ?

Lisa

Can you compile some guidelines about how often one can open a new account and get those bonus miles? I’ve run into some problems and would love to know all the ways to master this art! Thanks so much.

Ed. C

Greg/Nick:
The 2nd quarter 2019 5X categories for Chase Freedom are groceries and home improvement stores. While grocery stores seem to have a VISA Supplier Code as “Grocery Stores/Supermarkets/Bakerys” there does not seem to be a VISA Supplier Code for “Home Improvement Store”. How are we supposed to know if a merchant meets the “Home Improvement” category if there is no such category in the VISA Supplier Locator short of going and making test purchases at various stores?

Ed. C

Thanks Greg. The store I actually was wondering about has a 5713 code – Floor Covering Stores.. I had an exchange on Twitter with @ChaseSupport and they suggested pretty much the same thing when I asked how to determine a home improvement category store given there is no such category on the VISA Supplier Locator. I guess I still don’t know. I’ll just have to go make a small test purchase to confirm definitively.

I did go back to a previous Chase credit card statement where I had made purchases at this particular store and a Lowe’s also. They both say “Home” in the category on the statement. Do you think that is an indication that it is in the “Home Improvement” category?

frugalman

Hi Greg, I have a big project challenge for you that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Similar to how you post “Best Category Credit Card”, could you list “Best way to purchase air ticket”? OK, my request is more complex than it sounds. Here is my argument:

Why it is important: Airfare are often the most expensive part of a travel. The saving on this part could be huge to your readers.

Why it is complex: Simply put, because it IS:
1. Customer has the options to pay with cash or redeem airline miles.

===IF you use cash=========
2. They need to decide using credit card(obviously you have the answer for that), Chase UR/Citi TYP, or Airline GC (many of them stock quite a few due to the credit card annual airline credit. AA GC for me).
3. Many airline has companion tickets
4. Some special here and there: e.g. Chase Ritz-Carlton has $100 domestic discount. This is just one example. There are tons of “special savings” as you know well better than me.

====If you use miles=========
5. Domestic short distance: AA, UA, AV(no fuel fee), BA, blabla.
6. Domestic long distance:
7. Continental to Hawaii:
9. US-Asia
10. Trans-atlantic
11. US-Australia
The above discussion need to consider the ticket is a coach or a business ticket, separately.
(No stopover, open jaw discussion please. Let it belong those travel zealot who think they are the smartest and luckiest ones. Let them keep thinking that way. Don’t correct them.)

=====Generic limit==========
12. It is peak season or off-peak (has children at school or flexible on the dates).
13. What’s your nearby hub
14. Are you single, couple, or a family with kids.
15. Small/cheap airline options

If the decision is hard to hand calculate, maybe you can develop an algorithm or use AI to solve the issue (this sounds like a business opportunity!).

My ultimate goal is we have a xx-step SIMPLE way to find the best way to purchase ticket. Getting those steps may be complex, but the results has to be user-friendly.

Now you see why I say it is complex :). Greg, will you do it?!

frugalman

Haha, glad it called your attention. Just think about it but don’t take it too serious. This question may not have an optimal answer at all as the boundary conditions are dynamic (price is changing, route is changing). Also people criteria are different (I care total duration time, some care the cost, some care if it is a direct flight, some must keep it “free” by using miles). I think everyone will have their own answer. Probably the simple answer to my question is to just list two separate checklist including top 10 most common items for those using cash and those using miles, respectively. Understandably it would not be the best answer but should be a good enough one.

Back to my dreaming: if someone really takes on this job, I think the best candidate is Google Flight search team, who can reach out multiple airlines to do the search simultaneously and do multi-dimensional analysis. But they never play mile games. They shall hire you to be the consultant :).

frugalman

One more thinking: assume there is an ideal way, if you expose it and catch everyone’s attention, it may not survive then. It is kind of likely MS. You can kill it by giving it out. If too many people do the same thing, for cash, it will bump up the airfare; for miles, you will see no availability. So Greg, I actually confuse myself and don’t know if there is an answer or even if it should be published. Maybe ITA Matrix+be flexible on dates is the best answer? For miles, it should be goal-driven: where do you want to go and which airline serve that route, then whether you have miles that can redeem that route. I answered myself but as if I didn’t say anything…

optimusprimerate

The MS link in step 2 does not display properly…

Rick

I remember a post that Greg wrote a few years ago indicating that it was great that Amazon sold so much stuff because he could buy Amazon gc elsewhere, load them to Amazon, and then buy stuff with the credit in his Amazon account. I’m not a reseller, and I don’t have lots of need to buy from Amazon, but I do have a large credit on my account there. Am I overlooking something I can buy from them that I can easily turn into cash-like stuff? I see they have $200 VGC, but the price seems high vs. Staples brick & mortar for $500 VGC. Suggestions appreciated. Thx.

Nick Reyes

Staples doesn’t sell $500 VGCs. You’re not really missing anything. Amazon sells just about every type of daily need imaginable, so I’d think you could buy food, household supplies, etc. You could also buy 3rd party GCs. There isn’t a better way to turn them into cash than VGCs or reselling products. While the fee on VGCs is higher than in some other places, if you really have no need to buy anything from Amazon, the fee is lower than your next best alternative (to leave the credit in your Amazon account collecting dust). That said, I haven’t tried buying VGCs w/ Amazon GCs.

Michael

We don’t understand what’s going on with the Southwest website. We travel from GSP, which has Southwest service to Atlanta. But when we try to price flights from GSP to other cities (say, Manchester NH (MHT)), for the great majority of dates we get a message that there are no such flights. That is nonsense, of course, as there are convenient one-connection flights GSP-ATL-MHT. Southwest won’t price such a ticket for most dates, and on the very few dates for which it will price such a ticket, the prices are ridiculous (say, $800 r/t compared to $250 for Delta and American). Please let us know what we are doing wrong!

BoardingArea