Being able to find cheap flights can be the difference between whether or not you actually get to go on vacation.
Clearly, we’re all for saving money around these parts. But I’m also in favour of doing things that you truly enjoy – as long as you can afford it, of course. And travelling definitely meets that requirement.
If you’re able to do so, paying to see new things, meet new people and eat new food is, for me, one of the best reasons to save money.
(After paying off your debt and starting to invest as soon as possible, of course.)
However, there’s no question that it can be expensive as hell.
I’ve mentioned before on this site that I’ve travelled to
51 53 countries. While I certainly have my tricks to make this as economical as possible – that I’ll share another day, I promise! – there’s no denying the fact that some places (hello, Norway!) are simply more expensive than others (Sri Lanka, I love you).
In particular, all the budgeting in the world doesn’t change the fact that flights alone can be hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
But they don’t have to be! How do I know this?
There’s no need to spend a fortune on your flights
Well, I’m writing this article at 30,000 feet in the air on a 15-hour flight.
This trip has been amazing, but it’s even more amazing to be able to do it without breaking the bank.
You see, on the day that I bought these tickets, they cost a hair over $1,500. Several four-letter words were hurled at my computer screen when that popped up.
Yet I ended up only paying $180.
Just to reiterate, that’s a saving of $1,320! And all I had to do for saving this huge amount was to simply live my life.
How to find cheap flights
You may not be surprised to hear that I did this through frequent flyer miles. However, I didn’t accrue these from taking other flights.
While this is clearly a great way to earn miles, we’ve already covered how expensive flights can be. This means that spending that much in the hope of earning a cheap future flight isn’t really the best use of your money.
Just to clarify: you should make sure that you’re earning miles on every flight you take.
But while those miles I earned on previous flights helped me to purchase these flights, it wasn’t the main way I did it.
Instead, I consistently put every single purchase I make on my miles-earning credit card.
I’m talking everything from the bottle of milk I needed to grab last weekend to the thousands of dollars I paid off in student loans last year.
My rent? Credit card. (Although I realise that this option isn’t available for everyone)
That dental work I had done for which I had to pay upfront before being reimbursed by my health insurance provider? Credit card.
Taxes? Credit card.
If you think about it, your annual expenses easily total tens of thousands of dollars. This is the case even if you’re as frugal as I am.
And if you’re earning even one mile per dollar spent, that’s tens of thousands of miles going towards saving you easily in excess of $1,000 on a future flight.
Which credit card is the best for earning miles?
There are a range of credit cards available that all have great rewards, depending on what you need.
But for travel rewards, the best I’ve found by far is the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card.
There’s no annual fee for the first year and, after that, you only pay $95 per year.
That’s a touch annoying, I agree. But if you’re using this card to get the kinds of rewards I’ve described above, you’ll easily earn your $95 back.
My favourite part about this card though is that you get 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000 in your first three months.
I go into this in more detail below, but essentially: I really recommend getting a rewards card when you know you’re about to make a big purchase.
You’ll also earn 2 miles on each dollar you spend. Considering that the average family in the US makes around $74,000 a year and spends about $57,000, that’s an opportunity for a mountain of miles if you put all of that on your credit card.
And the best part about those miles is that there are no expiration dates, no cap on the amount of miles you can earn and no blackout dates (those are dates on which you’re not allowed to use miles to travel, usually Christmas etc.)
Essentially, if you have enough miles and you’re good to go, then book your flight and pack your bags!
Finally, once you’re actually at your destination, you can use this card without incurring any foreign transaction fees.
That’s a great perk considering that the few dollars you usually pay here and there for those fees when you’re travelling can really add up.
Click here for more information.
Take advantage of introductory benefits
As mentioned above: The absolute best time to start doing this is if you know that you have a large expense coming up.
In my case, I got my card when I knew that I had a large student loan repayment due very shortly. Whether or not I had the credit card, I knew that I had to spend that money in the next few weeks.
As an extra bonus, my student loan is in my home country, where I don’t currently live. This means that, for the purposes of my brand spanking new credit card, it was considered an overseas purchase – for which the bank offered two miles for every dollar spent instead of just one!
So without changing my spending habits at all, not only did I earn double miles on the student loan payment, but I got the massive introductory bonus.
This actually ended up equating to more than one third of the points I used for the flight that I’m currently on.
That is, by using my money exactly how I had to spend it anyway without doing anything special or changing my spending habits at all, I saved more than $450 on this airfare based on that one transaction.
Not too bad at all!
Never spend more on your credit card than you can afford to pay off
The most important thing to keep in mind if you decide to do this is that you should never spend more on your credit card than you can afford to pay off by the due date.
There’s absolutely no benefit in putting thousands of dollars on your card to earn some miles and then getting slugged with a huge amount of interest (not to mention late payment fees) on top of that.
You could easily end up paying more in interest than you’d save on the plane tickets. Clearly not a good idea.
Of course, you wouldn’t do this if you’re automating your finances!
Following the super simple process in that article – like I do – will not only save you thousands of dollars per year, but it will ensure that you’re maximising the power of your credit card to give you these sweet travel benefits.
And in case it needs to be said, I also wouldn’t recommend spending more money in an attempt to earn more miles.
Earning miles is great, but it’s not the most effective use of your money, even if you’re aiming to travel more.
This is why I maintain that this strategy works best when you maintain your normal spending habits. It means that it involves spending no extra money for a lot of gain.
RELATED ARTICLE: HOW TO AUTOMATE YOUR FINANCES AND SAVE MONEY IN 3 EASY STEPS
But I’m trying to reform my spending habits
That’s great! And don’t worry, you won’t miss out on the fun, as this trick goes hand in hand with that.
After all, putting all of your expenses on your credit card is an excellent way to track what you’re spending each month. It makes it super easy at the end of the month to simply pull up your statement and see where all of your money is going in one document.
Of course, if you struggle with credit card debt, I’d strongly recommend tackling that first before taking out a new credit card to earn some miles.
Credit card debt and the huge amounts of interest that it can cost you is what you absolutely should be focussed on destroying as soon as possible.
It can also wreak havoc on your credit score, which can make it extremely difficult for you to be approved for that great new credit card with the amazing travel benefits in future.
(Not sure what your credit score is? Why not find out by checking it for free with Credit Sesame.)
If this sounds like you, consider checking out The Definitive Guide to Getting Out of Debt for a simple strategy that’s proven to work for getting rid of your debt.
RELATED ARTICLE: FAQs ON GETTING OUT OF DEBT ASAP
What’s the best travel deal you’ve ever found? Let us know in the comments!