“Oh, no, I skip that sort of thing…but, don’t get me wrong, I still travel for free.”
My friend looked at me as if I was speaking the official language of some distant planet, or as if there were no sound emerging from my mouth at all. He was incredulous. This is because I told him that it was entirely possible to travel for free and not use airline miles programs to do it. He was annoyed. This was because he had just spent the last hour relating to me the complex tale of his efforts to amass points, meet spending requirements and time lines in order to get X number of miles, points and so on. I repeated my statement, “I don’t do that, but I do get to travel for free.”
And by “that”, I meant bending over backwards to hit targets for different rewards. Instead, I look for ways to integrate travel rewards into everyday expenditures. While there are certainly excellent reasons to turn to the many frequent flyer programs and credit cards that send points into your travel accounts, if you don’t actually do a lot of travel, it could be a waste of time just creating an account.
After all, you might learn that your credit card provider has an option for an account that gives you points towards travel for every dollar spent at participating airlines and hotels. Yet, if you vacation once or twice a year, that won’t give you much in the way of free travel. No, you need something that rewards you for everything.
Credit cards to earn flyer miles are a good thing for frequent travelers, and for those who use their credit cards for costly purchases. And though I am going to talk about them a bit, I want to look at the many other ways you can start to stack up your points and earnings towards future travel.
It may sound peculiar to complain about the ways that certain programs ask you to meet specific spending levels and other requirements only to turn around and say that you should spend money to travel free. Yet, that is what I am suggesting. However, I am not saying what those unspoken credit cards to earn flyer miles say. I am definitely not encouraging you to rack up thousands or tens of thousands on a credit card in order to get travel rewards. And I am certainly not recommending that you choose cards that reward you only if you spend X amount of dollars in the first year or so.
No, my rules are thus:
- If the rules for earning big rewards mean spending more than you normally spend, seriously consider the value of the rewards
- If you pay for something online or with a credit card, AND it is part of your travel rewards initiative, you must immediately pay off that balance with cash on hand
- If you cannot afford something but try to justify the purchase of it for points, DON’T make the purchase
- Join a single frequent flyer program to ensure that you make a big difference with every penny spent. It makes no sense to belong to half a dozen programs and attain only watered down results with spending
I am in complete disagreement with going into debt (even for one month) to use credit cards to earn flyer miles. Rather, I favor buying essentials and through very targeted channels that give the maximum returns.
To edge closer to your goal of traveling for free, then, you can use shopping, albeit controlled and targeted shopping.
Look for Portals
The really good news here is that you can use shopping portals that specifically reward you with miles for transactions. Even better is that you can often use debit cards that let you spend the cash you have on hand and get those points.
Often, the portals are a partner of or entity of the actual frequent flyer programs and that means that you should begin building your “travel for free” strategy by finding a program in alignment with your goals.As an example, don’t join the Alaska Airlines program if you are not in that area, near one of their hubs or eager to travel to that state. Yes, it is an award winning program, but if your goals don’t include long stays in Alaska, find a better fit.
Instead, look for the airlines that will take you where you wish to travel and which has the rewards that might fit best into your ability.
For instance, maybe your goal is to use your accumulated mileage for short visits to many places. If that’s the case, work with an airline in your nearest large airport. However, let’s say your goal is to travel for free to Hawaii. Then, you might want to join the HawaiianMiles program that gives you points for flying Hawaiian Airlines or one of its many partners. It also has a long list of ground partners that allow you to earn points, and it has a MasterCard that earns points with every dollar spent.
Think about that – it has a program that works with other airlines, meaning you might earn points any other time you fly. It has a shopping component that might mean you can use purchases of everyday goods towards your travel. Finally, if you are good with credit and can pay off purchases right away, you can get even more with their card.
In this example, you can travel with companies like JetBlue or Virgin Atlantic and earn miles towards your free Hawaiian getaway. You can also shop their portal and use “five ways to earn miles on everyday purchases”, and lastly, you can take it that much further by obtaining their MasterCard and using it for your purchases to double up on points, miles and so on.
So, start by selecting your preferred airline’s travel program and look for the shopping portals that integrate with it. Use that portal on a regular basis, to accumulate points buying the things you use and need on a daily basis. Office supplies, pharmacy items, clothing and much more are all part of the options.
This tells you that step one in learning how to travel for free is to go to your airline of choice and find out whether it has a shopping portal. If it doesn’t, reconsider the airline because this is truly one of the easiest ways to use debit cards to earn miles and to pile up points without unnecessary expenditures.
NOTE: I often turn to the ev’reward site to streamline my rewards shopping experience. This is a fantastic shopping portal for those of us who use any rewards credit cards, airline miles programs, and so on. I just enter the store I wish to make a purchase in and see the amount in rewards or points a purchase from that store would offer using various methods. For instance, I might wish to shop online at Kohls. Using ev’reward, I would see if my Citi card or Ebates supplied the best rewards or the numbers of miles or points I might earn if I shopped using an airline or hotel portal.
Once you have figured out ways of using debit or credit cards to earn flyer miles via shopping portals and rewards sites, you should then consider if you might earn points for fun activities like dining out. Some of the biggest airlines have dining programs, such as AADvantage Dining program, Southwest, Delta, JetBlue and United, among many others.
There are also websites with points granted for their use, including the OpenTable reward system that can net up to 100 points just for a booking that is completed (i.e. meaning you eat at the restaurant and leave a review). Do this once or twice a month and you get a tidy return on that small expenditure. Use your reward debit or credit card and you increase the outcome.
Hotels may provide you with airline miles, as well. This requires that you use a non-airline card (so no points for that stay booked with your Hawaiian Airline’s rewards MasterCard, but maybe with your debit card offering miles, which we look at below), and it often becomes an “either/or” proposition. That means you either get airline miles or the hotel’s points, but never both. Some also require you to book through their site rather than through other channels. That might mean a higher rate for the room, so it is best to pay attention if you are seeking to leverage your stay for rewards of any kind.
In addition to hotels and dining out earning miles for your free travel, you need to also keep a sharp eye for “cross promotions”. You might typically get these offers from the airline’s rewards program, but they do come from just about anywhere. For instance, in February, I often get an email from my airline program that gives me bonus miles if I purchase from one of their flower or candy vendors during the Valentine’s Day holiday period. Some of these options require you to create an account at another site, such as a TurboTax promotion or a magazine site, but if you follow the instructions and make the purchase, you typically get some pretty measurable rewards.
A bit earlier, I stated my personal rules and did so because I have heard of many people amassing a bit of unwelcome debt on their quest for free travel. This is why I also strongly urge anyone serious about learning how travel can be free to explore any opportunities for a debit card that extends travel rewards.
Currently, one of the most famous is the UFB‘s Direct Airline Rewards Debit Card. It gives a mile for every $3 you spend, and it is partnered with a long list of popular airline mileage programs. You can earn points only in point of sale transactions (i.e. real world), but it is a great way to see yourself earning free travel with that morning coffee and bagel, the tank of gas each week, the grocery bill and more.
Another of the useful methods I have had success using to enjoy free travel is to do surveys with travel oriented sites. I love the E-Miles option because it lets me earn hotel or airline points just for doing surveys, trying products and exploring new brands.
And as many of my readers know, I try always to push you towards blogging and affiliate marketing as ways of reaching your financial goals. It works for anyone trying to travel for free, as well.
Simply create a blog that focuses on your dream of free travel, the methods you discovered or anything travel oriented. Then blog all about your chosen subject matter, but always using affiliate links that help you to make money whenever a reader acts on the content and link.
The best options for those hoping to travel for free would have to include:
- Agoda Affiliate Program
- AirBnB Affiliate Program
- Amazon Affiliate Program
- Booking.com Affiliate Program
- SkyScanner Affiliate Program
- TripAdvisor Affiliate Program
Use such options to write blogs about your previous travel experiences and mention some of the products or services associated with your affiliate links. For instance, you might say that your SkyScanner activity nets you the lowest airfares, and simply use your link when mentioning it. Anyone who follows through on your recommendation by clicking your link has, effectively, just paid you for the advice.
Even if you are just blogging about your fantasy vacations, you can load them with links that can each bring you that much closer to your goal of free travel. The good news is that it costs you nothing but the time to setup the blog, do the writing and promoting, and start earning.
Free travel is a reality. Yes, it takes a bit of legwork and ongoing effort, but there are so many resources that it makes sense for anyone to start planning their next journey today.