How to travel for almost free

It is possible to travel often without breaking an arm and a leg.

As an avid traveler I am always looking for tips and tricks of purchasing cheap tickets and finding affordable hotels. I have a friend who travels often by redeeming airline miles. She also books hotels and rent cars with airline miles but the idea didn’t make sense to me till last year. She would go on vacations and stay in nice hotels and when I ask how she says “I used points”.

“Uhn? Points? That makes no sense to me”.

This was always my reaction

Being the curious soul that I am, I started researching the idea of “points” and the possibility of exchanging points for services. It was recently that I realized the beautiful art of earning and using airline miles, also known as “points”. I see this method as a way to recycle money. The purpose of this post is to earn you how to earn airline miles and exchange it for plane tickets.

Exploring the colorful streets of Bogota, Colombia

I recently bought a one way ticket from Johannesburg, South Africa to Tokyo, Japan for $65. The trip cost about $2000 but  I paid $65 for it?

How you ask?

By using airline miles.

I also booked a ticket from Seoul, South Korea to Chicago, IL for $42. The flight cost over $900 but I paid $42 for it. Sounds ridiculous right?

The flight was also purchased by using airline miles.

The ticket above cost $65 because I redeemed 50,000 airline miles.

The fastest way of earning airline miles is by opening an airline credit card. Some people might not like an idea of opening a credit card account but think about it this way- a credit card can be used for purchases to replace cash or debit cards. Miles can be earned on those purchases while the balance on the credit card can then be paid off in a timely manner- this is an ideal win win situation. The miles become very useful when planning a solo vacation, a couples get away or to pay for your flight during a group trip.

Earning and redeeming airline miles has encouraged my hobby as a traveler because traveling has become more affordable for me. I have saved thousands of dollars by booking flights using the airline miles I earned and I will be discussing the several ways that I earn airline miles.

Here are ways to earn airline miles:

1) As I stated earlier, the fastest way to earn miles is by opening an airline credit card account. United Mileage Plus, American Airlines AAdvantage or Delta Skymiles give a lot of bonus miles for spending a certain amount within the first few months of opening an account. Each airline above belongs to a network of airlines called an alliance. You can get a credit card from any airline within any alliance as long as the airline offers a credit account. It is recommended to get one credit card from an alliance and use it to earn points across the same alliance. For example, American Airlines AAdvantage card can be used to purchase tickets and also earn miles within the same alliance.  There are 3 major alliances- Star Alliance, Sky Team and One World.

As an opening bonus for new credit accounts, United airlines is currently giving 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2000 on the card within the first 2 months. American Airlines is giving 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3000 within the first 3 months and Delta SkyMiles is giving 30,000 miles after spending $1000 within the first 3 months.

When deciding which credit account to open for what alliance, keep in mind that Star Alliance airlines has the highest daily departures of any alliance. Here are the numbers for 2017

One World Star Alliance Sky Team
Annual Passengers 527.9 Million 725.51 Million 730 Million
Destinations 1,012 1,300 1,074
Daily Departures 12,738 18,400 16,609
Countries 158 191 177

Also keep in mind that the credit accounts offered varies by region. Please check with the airline of your choice in your region before applying for a credit card.

Personally, Star Alliance is my favorite because they also fly to a lot of destinations. Here are the member airlines in each alliance:

Star Alliance One World Sky Team
ADRIA Airways American Airlines AEROFLOT
Aegean Airlines FINNAIR Aerolineas Argentinas
Air China QATAR Airways AirEuropa
Air New Zealand SriLankan Airlines AIRFRANCE
ANA British Airways Alitalia
Asiana Iberia China Airlines
Austrian Malaysia Airlines China Eastern
Avianca Royal Jordanian China Southern
Brussels Airlines Cathay Pacific Czech Airlines
Copa Airlines Japan Airlines DELTA
Croatia Airlines Qantas Garuda Indonesia
EgyptAir S7 Airlines Kenya Airways
Ethiopian Airlines KLM
EVA Airlines Korean Air
Juneyao Airlines MEA
LOT Polish Airlines SAUDIA
Lufthansa TARON
SAS Vietnam Airlines
Shenzhen Airlines Xiamen Air
Singapore Airlines
South African Airways
Tap Portugal
Turkish Airlines
United Airlines

2) You can also open a free non-credit account for any airline stated above and earn miles as you fly across each alliance. The only way to earn miles using this option is by flying. This option is advisable if you don’t want to open a credit account or if credit accounts are not offered by the airline of choice.

Living my best life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

3) Use the credit card for daily purchases and shopping. Shopping at some stores earn up to 10 miles per dollar!

Maximum miles can be earned by the using the airline credit card for day to day purchases. Also, using airline credit cards to shop at certain stores can earn up to 10 miles per dollar.

American Airlines AAdvantage and Delta Sky Miles shopping portals.

4)Dining earns miles. I get up to 5 miles per dollar for dining at certain restaurants.

United Mileage plus has partnered with a wide variety of restaurants so that customers can earn miles while dining. Dining at certain restaurants using the united mileage plus card can earn up to 5 miles per dollar including an additional 3,000 bonus miles within the first 30 days of opening an account. I take advantage of this offer whenever I eat out.  The list of participating restaurants can be found on the Mileage Plus Dining website.

5) United Mileage Plus offers opinion surveys in exchange for miles. I take as many of these as time permits. Below are examples of award miles offered per survey. I usually take the shorter surveys because it makes more sense to take a 15 minute survey and earn 50 miles versus a 55 minute survey for 80 miles.

United Mileage Plus Opinion Miles Club

6)Registering your airline rewards number with some hotels, for example, Best Western also earns miles after you stay at their property.

7) Another great way of earning airline miles is by charging big purchases on your credit card on behalf of family and friends. For example, if your friend is moving and wants to buy a new TV or some furniture, the cost can be charged on the airline credit card in order to earn points. This method is only advisable if the friend/family member gives you cash before making the purchase.

Caution has to be exercised with using airline credit cards just like any other credit card. I have learned to exercise self control therefore, I only use the credit card for necessary purchases and I pay it off. A lot of self control is necessary in order to use airline credit cards to their full potential.


Views of Old City, Jerusalem

How to redeem airline miles

The process of redeeming airline miles is similar to purchasing a ticket. On United Airlines website for example, while searching for a ticket, you can select the option of purchasing using miles and it will show the price in airline miles instead of cash. This is process is similar across all airlines.

A small fee is usually added in addition to the airline miles which serves as taxes.



Thank you guys for sending your questions regarding this post. The most common question so far is people asking if it applies to other regions outside of the US.

I am not sure since I live in the US and I opened these credit accounts in the US.

For UK travelers, KLM and British Airways are popular airlines so you might want to check if they offer credit accounts. For Latin American travelers, Avianca Airlines and LATAM are popular so it is advisable to check the airline website to confirm if they offer credit cards.

Personally, I have one credit card from each alliance and I use it to earn miles across the rest of the airlines within the same alliance. For example, I use my United Mileage Plus card to earn miles with Avianca, ANA, KLM, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines and so on.

I use my American AAdvantage credit card to earn miles with  LATAM, Cathay Pacific and so on.

I used my Delta Sky Miles credit card to redeem miles with Air France. The trip itinerary can be found at the beginning of this post, and I earned those miles by spending $1000 within the first 3 months of opening the Sky Miles credit card.

I hope this post helps someone

Like my post?

Please share and comment!


Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *