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.
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.
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.
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:
- Major airlines sponsor their own credit cards, such as Delta’s American Express or American Airlines Citi Visa.
- 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.
- The annual credit card fee of around $50-$90 is waived for the first year of owning your card.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.)
- 25,000 miles buys you one round trip within the United States.
- 40,000 miles buys you one round trip from the United States to Europe.
- 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:
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!