Here we go again! This is the second post in what will be a long series of free-travel posts. Yes, you can fly to Europe and back for free. [Update: The first and third free-travel articles are available to read as well!]
A benefit of living a frugal life is having the money to travel and do other things that many people cannot afford. However, one of the strongest side effects of frugality is an unwillingness to spend money. This has led to the existence of a small but passionate population that travels cheaply or for free by manipulating frequent flyer miles and credit card points.
When traveling to Europe I’m usually headed to the Netherlands, with short excursions to France, Italy, and other regular tourist-heavy countries. This time, I flew for a weeklong visit and spent exactly $0 to do so. Here’s how.
The Details – Getting There
Back in October (for a March trip), I bought my ticket to Europe separately from the return tickets. I searched flights on American Airlines and checked the box to view prices in miles instead of dollars. With AA, I had maybe 50,000 miles, most of which I had earned with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®. Wow, look at all of those idiotic trademark symbols.
I was able to get a flight from NYC to London for 22,500 points and $5.60 of my own money. I went ahead and bought it, deciding to buy a separate flight from London to Amsterdam. Please note, this meant that I could not check a bag because I’d need to enter England, retrieve it, recheck it on the new airline, and reenter the airport. A headache and a time-waster. So I committed to traveling for a week with just a carry-on. Oh, what a burden.
Then, I found a $67 flight from London to Amsterdam with KLM, the ultra-pleasant Dutch airline that puts our US domestic flights to shame. I was able to pay for that with the points that I earn with the card below. There was a two-hour layover, which was extremely tight due to a one-hour delay coming out of NYC. A risk you take when flying for free, I’m afraid. But all ended well.
You may be thinking that this is an unfair article since I had stacked up those 22,500 AA miles. Well, it’s hard to determine what miles came from where. But, I’ve earned 70,000+ miles with American through the above credit card as well as the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard from Barclaycard. I could say I earned those 22.5k miles through credit cards or through flying– just depends on how you look at it.
The Details – Getting Back
In order to get back, I turned to getting a new credit card with a meaty sign-up bonus. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus was offering 50,000 bonus miles, redeemable for $500 against travel purchases. I needed to spend $3,000 in 3 months to earn it, so I pre-paid some bills, asked a friend to buy her plane tickets on my card in exchange for a favor, and made it to $3k pretty easily. That spending also earns the standard two-miles-per-purchase, so all-in-all I collected more than 60,000 miles.
Here’s where it got fun. Flights were looking extremely pricey on Google Flights. $916 for a one-way flight with two layovers is nonsense.
I switched over to booking on Student Universe, which has probably saved me more than $2,000 over the past couple years. It’s a great discount flight site (with minimal effort needed to create an account) and beats other sites 99% of the time for me. It’s rare I venture away from Google Flights, so take these words seriously!
Student Universe found me a price that even American couldn’t offer! I even called them directly to check. For 43% as expensive as what Google Flights found, I booked it. Redeeming 39,400 points for that ticket made it free, and redeeming another 6,700 points for the KLM flight from London to Amsterdam canceled out that cost. I even had another 10,000 or so points hanging around on the Barclaycard.
So, that’s that! Free travel from JFK-LHR-AMS, AMS-PHL-CAE for free. It took some research time, but I was able to cut the dollar costs in half and strategically use my points to end up with comfortable free travel. The only downside? Couldn’t bring a checked bag. And I didn’t bother to insure any of this travel, because I had faith in my credit cards and ability to read the airlines’ fine print.
Ultimately, they delayed my checked bag for a night on my way back. I could’ve carried it on, but checked it and wrote an article entitled “Why I Hope the Airline Loses my Luggage.” It worked out to my advantage: they lost it, and I went to Target and spent $53 on various items of clothing and some toiletries that AA considers “essential.”
There you have it! Coming soon: free, permanent access to luxury lounges, Gold status with major hotels and car-rental agencies, free inflight wifi, and a free Boingo membership. The adventure continues… happy traveling!