Travelling With Frequent Flyer Miles

4 minute read

During my time in Japan I met a American-Korean guy called Mike. He was an interesting character who firstly liked to do [wiki]CrossFit[/wiki] sessions wherever he travelled to see how it differed (and also to keep in shape), and secondly, got to many of his destinations accumulating and using air miles. Simply put, current travel was helping fund future travel. We've both written articles for each other's blog (mine being Cycling Across The World - Troubles And Tips). Here is what Mike wrote for me...

Barriers When Travelling

The most common barrier preventing people from traveling the world is money. Rightly so, we need money for airfare, accommodations, and food. To make travel affordable we save whatever money we have in our daily budget and make sacrifices when it comes time to planning our trips.

Accommodations vary in price depending on how extravagant a place you fancy so to make travel affordable, we tend to pick budget accommodation. Similarly, with food, we can skip the 5 star restaurants and eat from street vendors or smaller establishments.

This just leaves airfare as the only big expense associated with travel and the most cost prohibitive. A round trip ticket from North America to the Far East can run upwards of $1,500 depending on when you book and when you fly. But little do people know about the secondary economy to purchasing flights - frequent flyer miles.

For those that are unfamiliar, frequent flyer mile programmes are loyalty programmes offered by the airlines rewarding customers with free flights the more you fly with the same airline. The more you fly with the same airline or alliance, the more miles you earn. Those miles translate to free flights. Now, one must still pay the taxes and fees when flying with miles, but these out of pocket expenses are a small fraction of what it would actually cost.

Earning Frequent Flyer Miles Without Leaving the Ground

Credit cardsSome may argue that they don’t fly enough to earn miles. In North America, specifically the United States, frequent flyer miles can be earned without leaving your home.

Many credit card companies offer sign-up bonuses ranging from 40,000 to 100,000 miles just for signing up and using the card once or spending a certain amount. Rinse and repeat this process across multiple credit card companies and credit cards offered by these companies, you’ll have yourself a nice bank of miles to travel on.

Now of course, to sign-up for these credit cards, one must have excellent credit and be disciplined in paying their bills on time and in full. One must not be tempted purchasing consumer items that they can’t afford to pay off in full. Once that’s established, frequent flyer miles can be earned in abundance and the world is yours to travel.

Travelling On Miles Earned

Redeeming miles for travel can be another challenge in itself. When using miles for travel, you want to get the most value out of your miles meaning:

  • Never book a simple round trip flight - Most frequent flyer mile programmes allow you to add a stop over or open-jaw in addition to your destination city without any additional miles or cost to you. A stop-over is exactly what it sounds like, a stop in a city before or on you way home to your departure city. An open-jaw is simply flying in to one city and flying out of another city. As an example I could fly from Frankfurt, connecting in Bangkok, then on to Phuket. My flight back to Frankfurt would be from Hong Kong. I’m responsible to get myself from Phuket to Hong Kong to catch my flight.
  • Fly in a premium cabin - International flights on a premium cabin (Business or First Class) costs 4 or 5 times the cost of an economy flight. While redeeming miles for a seat in a premium cabin will only cost 30% or 50% more miles. It makes sense to book into these premium cabin seats to get more value per mile. Now of course, if you don’t have the miles, you have no choice but to book in the class of service in which you have the miles for.

Something To Take Away

Travel can be affordable to those that have a good credit history. I’m not advocating that everyone should sign-up for a credit card to travel – it’s an option. It takes a great deal of organization and some time to apply for these credit cards. My credit score does get impacted, but it’s already high enough to where it doesn’t decrease my credit score below the “excellent” category.

Use frequent flyer miles to travel to places you otherwise couldn’t afford to do on your own resources. I never use frequent flyer miles for domestic trips unless it’s last minute where the fares are high. I always book in premium cabin because it’s more comfortable on those long haul flights and you’re getting more value out of the miles.