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Passionate experience junkie. Lover of the arts and architecture. Want to see and share the world, one village at a time.

Free Airfare 101

Conrad and I just got back from Spain, and earlier this year we flew to Los Angeles and San Francisco. And we have enough miles leftover for us to fly to Europe again. We paid nothing for airfare.

house sitting travel

Barcelona’s a fantastic city.

But I get ahead of myself. Here’s how it started:

In the mid-1980s when my kids were growing up, I clipped coupons to save money at the grocery store. Every week saw me, scissors in hand, cutting out a new batch from the daily newspaper. At the store, I had a segmented coupon folder that snapped onto the cart handle so I could access just the right one while managing the kids, scouting out more bargains, and filling the cart. When I saved $40 or more, I considered it a pretty good week.

But I hated every minute of it. The amount of savings was a pittance compared to the time I lost – very valuable time! – organizing all those little coupons. But I did it anyway. Back then it was a tug-of-war between which was more valuable – money or time. And money usually won.

house sitting travel

More travel is a very good thing

Fast forward to 2008 when Conrad and I started traveling in earnest. I couldn’t get enough of articles on the web with travel advice and amazing, inspiring stories from folks who were doin’ it! I read about travel hacking, too – gathering points and airline miles for free travel.

Because of the coupon crap I’d dealt with in the past, I completely ignored travel hacking. Too much work for too little return, I said.

But I was wrong.

Free accommodation around the worldhile house sitting

The Professional Hobo, aka Nora Dunn

By 2011 I was following Nora Dunn’s blog, The Professional Hobo. Her writing and words rang true on many levels on a wide variety of subjects. She wrote often about travel hacking and her advice had me wondering if I should give this thing a chance. After reading everything I could get my hands on, I relented that the rewards of travel hacking sounded really good, with comparatively little outlay of time and resources.

So I started credit card churning.

For three years I have followed a travel hacking strategy called credit card churning. And for the amount of time invested, the rewards are great. Here are the facts:

  1. Major airlines sponsor their own credit cards, such as Delta’s American Express or American Airlines Citi Visa.
  2. When you sign up for one of the cards, you receive around 30,000 airline miles – after spending, (usually), $1,000 in the first 90 days of having your credit card. The miles are automatically deposited into your frequent flyer program after you pay off that $1,000.
  3. The annual credit card fee of around $50-$90 is waived for the first year of owning your card.
  4. Credit card churning means you sign up for multiple cards, receive the bonus miles, then cancel the card before your one-year mark – when they charge you the annual fee for the next year.
  5. The credit card offers are most plentiful for residents of the United States. Other countries with a good amount of offers are Canada and Australia, but offers exist in most countries.
  6. A tax still applies when purchasing airfare with award miles. For instance, our flights to Spain had us pay a tax of $108 each.

At any given time I hold three credit cards. Whenever Conrad and I have something we need to buy – like a new refrigerator for instance – I open up a new credit card and purchase the thing so that I can spend the $1,000 needed to receive the award miles.

I keep a spread sheet to keep track of the cards and their authorization dates, so I can cancel them before a year is up.

House Sitting Travel

Wouldn’t you like flying for free?

To give you a feel for how many miles you need to gather here’s what American Airlines offers during off-peak times, (October 15 to May 15):

(They differ from airline to airline, so check award charts for your particular frequent flyer program for miles needed.)

  1. 25,000 miles buys you one round trip within the United States.
  2. 40,000 miles buys you one round trip from the United States to Europe.
  3. 125,000 miles buys one round-the-world ticket – maximum 13 stops.

So that is my strategy. There are many variations on this theme and you can go way deeper than I do, collecting points and miles into the hundreds of thousands for first-class travel and hotel stays. It all depends on how much time you are willing to put into it.

Chris Guillebeau, my favorite travel hacking advice guy from The Art of Non-Conformity, holds an annual competition to see who can gather the most points/miles in 30 days. Amazingly the number usually stands around 300,000! In 30 days!

Here are my favorite sites for advice from several different points of view:

  1. The Professional Hobo
  2. The Art of Non-Conformity
  3. The Points Guy
House Sitting Travel

See The World

So if you’d like to throw off the financial shackles and travel more frequently, visit the above sites to find your own strategy. You may only want to gather points for free hotel stays, or to use miles to upgrade a flight to first class. Wouldn’t that be fun?

And of course you can combine free airfare with house sitting! Pay only for your food and other in-country expenses, such as museum tickets or walking tours. It’s a beautiful thing.

I bring you this website to help you travel more deeply, to change your life for the better, with compassion-sprinkled advice!

Click here for house sitting tips and inspiration.

House Sitting Travel

Wishing you safe and happy travels.

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18 Responses to “Free Airfare 101”

  1. A wonderful and extensive explanation, great tips and ideas on the process of travel hacking and not having to pay those annual fees.
    noel recently posted..Tiki gone mad – Travel Photo MondaysMy Profile

    January 12, 2015 at 9:51 am Reply
    • Hi Noel,
      So glad you found the information useful.

      January 13, 2015 at 8:26 am Reply
  2. I had never heard of credit card churning. You make it sound simple!
    Irene S. Levine recently posted..Guest Post – Europa 2: World’s best cruise ship?My Profile

    January 12, 2015 at 10:06 am Reply
    • Hi Irene,
      Travel hacking in general is much easier — and takes less time — than all that coupon clipping back in the day! And contrary to the name “hacking,” it is a completely legal practice.

      January 13, 2015 at 8:29 am Reply
  3. We attended the Chicago Seminars put on by Boarding Area points and travel bloggers several years ago and learned these techniques for air and hotel travel. Our 5 week trip a year ago to Europe had us in luxury hotels throughout, with next to nothing spend. It’s amazing what you can get with a little effort in these programs. I’m not one to churn cards, but the ones we do use all provide points in various programs. Good work!
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru recently posted..Dealing with Paperwork on the RoadMy Profile

    January 12, 2015 at 5:30 pm Reply
    • Hi Betsy,
      Thanks for giving your hotel points story! There are indeed many facets to travel hacking, giving opportunities for varying travel styles.
      And how fantastic to use your points for 5 weeks of luxury hotels in Europe! Makes the experience that much sweeter!

      January 13, 2015 at 8:44 am Reply
  4. Great advice for getting free (almost) flights. I started collecting credit card points a year ago, and just cancelled a few before the year was up. I’m now curious to see what happens when I reapply for new cards to collect the bonus points again.
    Shelley recently posted..Paris January 2015 “Je Suis Charlie”My Profile

    January 12, 2015 at 6:42 pm Reply
    • Hi Shelley and fellow hacker,
      The credit card companies are happy to have you back! Wishing you safe and happy travels.

      January 13, 2015 at 8:51 am Reply
  5. I’ve done this only a few times in the past and did stop because I was concerned about it messing with my credit rating. Any comments about that? Meanwhile, if you aren’t having problems as a result, go for it!

    January 12, 2015 at 8:32 pm Reply
    • Hi Carole,
      I’ve read that any time you apply for credit, your score takes a tiny hit but recovers on its own. Now I’m not in the habit of checking my credit score often, but I do know that in the time that I have been practicing credit card churning, my score has ticked up slightly — not significantly though — so I might say “there’s no change.” That’s my experience, and the websites I read tell a similar story. But I think credit score worries are the major reason travelers don’t try this strategy, so you’re not alone in that!
      I hope you were able to use the miles you gathered!

      January 13, 2015 at 9:06 am Reply
  6. Donna Janke #

    I’d not heard of credit card churning. It sounds as if you’ve mastered it. Happy travels.

    January 13, 2015 at 8:18 pm Reply
    • Welcome Donna,
      Thank you for stopping by. No, definitely not mastered the art of travel hacking! But we do our own little thing and enjoy travel.
      Wishing YOU safe and happy travels as well!

      January 14, 2015 at 7:08 am Reply
  7. I do the churning too although some cards such as my SPG Amex I’ve had for over 10 years. Another way I add miles is if I’m going to buy something online I go through one of the airlines I’m trying to accumulate miles on and buy the thing through their “shopping mall”. No extra cost but get points. It can add up! I’m going to follow the other people you mentioned – thanks!
    Kay Dougherty recently posted..How to create your own trip itineraryMy Profile

    January 15, 2015 at 3:28 pm Reply
    • Hi Kay,
      Thanks for bringing up these good points about the additional ways to earn miles. There are so many! But the shopping mall is a perfect thing — if you’re going to buy a thing anyway, do it through your airlines mall to get bargains, (sometimes), and earn the miles.
      We use the shopping mall, dining club, and simply using our credit cards. When a big purchase comes up — even when we have the cash — we’ll use the credit card and immediately pay off the balance with cash. We earn the airline miles. It all adds up for free flights.
      Wishing you happy and safe travels,

      January 16, 2015 at 5:56 pm Reply
  8. Excellent advice!! I was a coupon clipper in earnest myself and understand your hesitancy in getting back into it, so to speak, with points. I just recently started investigating this way of travel and believe it will be profitable for me too!! Happy travels!!

    January 17, 2015 at 6:03 pm Reply
    • Hi Marilyn,
      Haha, you remember those good old days, too, huh? Glad to connect with other coupon-clippers and fellow travelers!
      Wishing you safe, happy, and fee-free travel!

      January 19, 2015 at 4:19 pm Reply
  9. Tim #

    thanks for the info. I think this is the first I’ve read on how to manage all the cards. I didn’t know you can cancel before end of first year to avoid the charges…good advice. Thanks again. do all cards work that way??

    April 18, 2015 at 1:37 pm Reply
    • Hi Tim and Welcome!
      Yes, all credit cards work this way — that you can cancel before one year passes so you won’t get charged the annual fee. By the way: I have on my calendar to cancel one next week. Plus I earned 90,000 miles recently from only two credit cards that had super-duper offers. 1. U.S. Airways Mastercard offered as a last-ditch effort just prior to this airline merging with American Airlines. 2. American Airlines Citi Platinum Mastercard — offer still good til end April 2015. This stuff works! And my credit score has not budged in the last two years.
      Thanks so much for stopping by, and I wish lots of airline miles make their way into your accounts!

      April 18, 2015 at 1:51 pm Reply

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