Flights are one of the biggest categories in travelers’ budgets and any and every way to slash these costs will let you travel longer and go farther. There are many search engines that will find cheap prices (Kayak, Adioso, Momondo, Hipmunk, Skyscanner, ITA Matrix, etc), but the best way to cut your flight costs is with Awards Tickets.
There are two main ways to earn these points: butt-in-seat travel or credit card churning. The former is a must-do - any paid flight that isn’t attributed to a frequent flyer account is lost miles that should be used to save money on your next trip - Don't waste these miles.
For those who don't fly very often, credit card churning is the easier option. It’s how Anaïs and I accumulated over 600,000 miles in 9 months. In the following posts, we’re going to show you how we earned our miles, how we’re going to use them, and how you can do it too:
Part Two: Credit Scores and Itinerary Tools
Part Three: The Cards we Churned and Important Tips we Learned
Part Four: How to Book Award Flights
Part Five: Our Flightinerary and the Costs of Churning
Since the beginning of 2012, the two of us have earned ~38,000 miles via flying with American Airlines. This includes round trips from LA to Dallas to visit my family and round-trip flights to Paris (1 each). There were hard-earned miles - every time we fly together on American, our flights get rerouted/delayed (usually weather, one time the plane we were supposed to fly on was diverted due to a medical emergency). Anaïs also has approximately 23,000 miles in Flying Blue, the Air France-KLM joint program, earned from flights home to Paris.
When it comes to miles earned for paid flights, focus them into as few accounts as possible. My advice is to direct your miles into an American Airlines AAdvantage or United MileagePlus account. The good news is that this process is pretty simple - for any flight you take on a oneworld alliance member, you provide your AAdvantage account number, either online or to the check-in agent at the airport. The same goes for your MileagePlus account number and flights on Star Alliance members.
I recommend these two programs because, in our experience in planning our trip, we find these two to be the most versatile and most rewarding programs overall. With miles in these two programs, you’ll most likely be able to find a way to get between most of the major cities in the world, which should get you to the places you want to go. We'll explain in more detail in the next post how to go about deciding which programs to focus on.
Credit Card Churning
Credit card churning is the act of applying for multiple credit cards on a single day every 3-4 months in order to earn the sign-up bonuses associated with those cards. Churners usually apply for multiple cards with each churn, usually between 2 and 5 on a single day. If they are approved, they then set about meeting any minimum spending requirements associated with each card to earn the bonuses (anywhere from 10-100K miles or points). Redeeming these miles/points to travel very cheaply, churners often only pay the taxes and fees associated with a flight/hotel room.
Before we go any further: We are not accredited financial advisers and in no way should our advice be construed as such. Nothing written in this post or the posts to follow should be used as the sole source of information/advice if you plan to earn miles by applying for and using credit cards. By reading this disclaimer, you agree that you will not hold us liable for any misfortune that may befall you in your attempts to earn miles. Feel free to praise us if you have success, though!
There are risks involved in churning, but if you weigh them carefully, you'll most likely realize that the rewards are worth it. We wouldn't be able to take the trip we have planned right now if it weren't for the miles we earned - the flights would have cost too much and we would have had to keep saving for at least an additional 6 months - probably more. But, thanks to churning, we don't have to wait to fulfill our dream of seeing the world with our own eyes.
In the next post, we'll provide some details about our experiences with our Credit Scores and share some tools to help you decide where to focus your mileage earning.