This post gives an overview how to get free airline miles (frequent flyer miles) using credit card signup bonuses and the best way to use airline miles for free flights.
Why Airline Miles?
Airline miles or frequent flyer miles can be redeemed for free airline tickets (or mostly free; there are minor fees involve). Miles are especially a good deal for tickets that would normally cost a lot of money, like business class or first class, or tickets to places that are often expensive. Another less known advantage of using miles is that in most cases you can add stopovers to your trip for free, allowing you to visit more than one place or even get free one-ways for a different trip. I’ll be sharing many examples of how to use airline miles for the best value on this site.
How to get Airline Miles
The traditional way to get airline miles is earning miles for flying. This is fine, but most of us don’t fly enough to get a meaningful number of miles this way.
You can earn frequent flyer miles without ever flying. The better way for most of us to get airline miles for free travel is via credit card signup bonuses. You apply for a credit card, get accepted (hopefully), and then meet some sort of required spending on the card. Then you get a certain number of bonus miles. There are plenty of credit card signup bonuses out there, but some are better than others. I will only mention the best airline mile deals on this site.
Some of you have a fear of credit cards, and some of you don’t fear them enough. There is no doubt that the credit card industry is evil and out to take advantage of consumers. But if you are moderate and smart about these credit card deals you can get great value without putting yourself in debt. Never carry a balance on your credit card. Use the card for things you would be buying anyway, staying within your budget. These deals don’t make sense if you’re going to be paying interest, so you have to be responsible with the credit card. Of course, that’s exactly what the banks are hoping you won’t do. Here’s a post that talks more about the dangers of applying for credit cards.
Many cards have annual fees, but they are usually waived the first year, and you can cancel the card before the one year mark when the annual fee kicks in, or you can ask to convert the card to a non-fee version. But the bonus miles are often worth it, even if the annual fee is not waived.
What about my Credit Score?
That’s a very good question, and something you should pay attention to. My summary answer: whenever you apply for a new card, the “hard pull” on your credit reduces your credit score slightly, but in the long term (months later) your score will generally improve if you continue to pay off your account online. I’ve been doing this for 5 years and in that time I’ve probably applied for two dozen or so credit cards (most of which I’ve since canceled) and my credit score is the best it’s ever been. Credit Karma is a great free site for managing your credit.
Buying Airline Miles
Sometimes there are promotions where it makes sense to buy airline miles and then use them to get flights rather than spending money on airline tickets directly. I’ll go into specific examples as they come up, and explain why it might make sense.
How to Use Airline Miles
You can redeem airline miles for almost anything, but the best use of miles in most cases is for flights, and sometimes for hotel stays. The biggest downside to using airline miles for flights is that airlines limit the number of seats they give out as award redemptions, so sometimes it can be tough to find seats on the flights you want. I will be showing you ways to get around this, but the bottom line is it will be easier if your travel dates and times can be flexible.
But there are huge advantages to using airline miles, the first of which is getting a free plane ticket, but that’s just the beginning. I’ll be focusing on the more creative and lucrative use of miles in future posts.
The number of frequent flyer miles needed for a flight depends on which airline miles you have and where you want to fly. As an example, most airlines charge 25,000 miles for a roundtrip domestic economy ticket anywhere within the USA and Canada. Miles can be redeemed on partner airlines as well which opens up many possibilities. As a simple example British Airways miles (called Avios) can be redeemed on American Airlines flights.
Airline miles from different account usually cannot be combined, though you can use miles to book tickets for anyone else, so there are ways to share the miles around. Whenever there is a good credit card signup bonus, my wife and I each sign up separately so we each get the bonus.
I will be covering redeeming miles a lot more on this site, so consider this a very brief introduction.
Are there Risks?
Very few things are truly free and nothing is without risk, so naturally there is some risks in playing the airline mile game. It takes work, patience, and self control to do this right. You have to be smart about credit cards and be willing to take a bit of risk since finding award seats is sometimes hard. If you’re looking for an easy way to book travel, this is not for you. But a little work can pay off in huge ways to enable travel that would be impossible for most of us to afford otherwise, especially if you can be flexible about your travel dates.
Once you’ve experienced your first free international flight in business or first class, you’ll probably be hooked (and a bit spoiled perhaps).
I’ll be explaining all of this more in the future on this site, but here are some other travel resources to check out if you’re itching to dive in:
- Here’s a beginner’s guide that is worth checking out.
- MileValue has a great series of posts here that go even more in depth.
- Frequent Flyer Master eBook – This is a comprehensive resource, though slightly outdated and not free at $49. You can learn all of this elsewhere (including on this site), but this is an easy resource if you don’t want to go digging.
- If you want to jump in to seeing what current credit card mile deals there are out there currently, check out these lists: this page, this page, and this one.