I hung up the phone with the British Airways booking agent and turned to J, my then girlfriend, and told her we were all set. I booked us a round trip vacation from Denver to Israel and back for $244, which I was happy to pay to take my favorite girl to visit my favorite country. That was my proudest travel hacking moment, but it was not the first and is a long way from the last.
My First Travel Hack – London, Paris, and Amsterdam for $594.92
My first travel hack was to pick up the British Airways Visa from Chase Bank, which had a promotion at the time for 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months. I was a new travel hacker, so I was a bit nervous signing up for the new credit card, which carried a $95 annual fee, and I was wary of spending $1,000 per month to hit my goal.
It turned out spending the money was way too easy, and the $95 paid for itself quickly when I was able to book an “open jaw” trip to Europe with a “stopover” for less than $600. Open jaw is travel lingo for a one-way flight to one destination and a return from another. A stopover is when you change planes in a city with a multi-day layover. My itinerary took me from DEN-LON-CDG one way and AMS-LON-CDG for the return. I spent 5 days changing planes in London, flew to Paris for a few days, took the train to Amsterdam for a few days, and flew home from there. (We took a train from Paris to Amsterdam)
This trip seemed like a great deal at the time, but little did I know booking the award on British Airways was very expensive for a travel-hacking coach ticket due to fuel surcharges. So, for my next international travel hack, I did even better.
International Travel Hacking Part II: Denver to Tel Aviv
For my second big trip with miles, I used points built up with a Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa, American Airlines AAdvantage card from Citi, and leftover miles I still had at British Airways.
This time, I had travel hacking veteran Jason Steele at the helm of my planning. We worked out a way to combine my Chase points with my then girlfriend’s United miles for a one way booking. Our route was a bit more complicated, but the price was right. We flew DEN-JFK-FRA-TLV to get to Israel with a full (and fun) day in Frankfurt. Total cost out-of-pocket: $45.70 each. We flew on United, Singapore Air, and Lufthansa for those flights respectively.
For our return I booked us each a ticket on the same route. I had both American Airlines miles and British Airways miles, but only enough with each airline for one international one-way, not enough for both of us. Fortunately for us, both American and BA are members of the OneWorld alliance, so we can book partner flights on any OneWorld airline. We were able to book TLV-TLX-ORD-DEN on American for $63.77 out of pocket and the same flights on BA for $88.81. We flew AirBerlin for the first two legs and American for the last.
Total cost out-of-pocket for our flights: $243.98.
Miscellaneous Domestic Trips –Free or Close To It
Thanks to a slew of “app-o-ramas” and “card churning,” I’ve been able to collect lots of miles. An app-o-rama is when you get multiple travel credit cards from different banks to get big signup bonuses. It is important to apply the same day before each application hits your credit report and use creative methods to hit minimum spend requirements without spending thousands of dollars.
To meet minimum spend, there are many options to buy gift cards and use pre-paid cards. Check out sites like The Frequent Miler and The Points Guy for ideas on how to do this. They also post the latest flight deals so you know where to get the most miles per card sign-up.
Thanks to these deals, I’ve had a ton of great trips free or close to it, here is a list of some trips I’ve taken on miles that cost me $5 or less:
- Denver to Fayetteville, Arkansas
- Denver to Santa Barbara, California
- Denver to Las Vegas
- Denver to Portland (where I decided to move)
- Denver to New Orleans
- Portland to Denver (with free companion)
- Portland to Las Vegas
- Denver to Portland (with free companion)
The companion flights were made possible thanks to the Southwest credit card from Chase. I opened both the personal and business versions of this card and completed required spend to earn 110,000 miles, which qualified me for a companion pass for the rest of the calendar year and all of next year, plus I get all those miles.
Up Next – Spain 2015
My big trips this year are going to eat up most of my vacation time, but they are excellent uses for it and are close enough that I am not going to eat up any miles booking everything. In May, that girlfriend will become my wife and we are traveling to Vancouver, BC for a short honeymoon and then on to Denver for a friend’s wedding the next weekend.
So what am I working on now? I just opened the AAdvantage Executive card for a 100,000 point bonus. I already have enough American and US Airways miles for 100,000 when the programs merge later this year (expected). With 200,000 miles at one airline, I am going to throw my usual frugality aside and take J on a bigger trip to celebrate my 30th birthday, Spain!
You Can Do It Too, But Be Smart
Opening and closing credit cards has a direct impact on your credit score, so be smart about it. Don’t get a bunch of new cards if you are about to buy a home and don’t try this if you have bad credit or a spending problem when credit cards come into the mix.
Also, know there are some costs involved including annual fees and some costs with meeting minimum spend requirements, so if you are on a super-tight budget, you are best to hold off on the travel until you’re finances are in order.
Have any specific questions? Just leave a comment below! Tell me where you want to go and what’s been holding you back. Let’s help you make your dream trip a reality!
Photo by Clemens Vasters / flickr