My flight was booked with only 3 weeks notice and I traveled to Athens for 9 days and then to Prague for 5 days. The $200 were the (abnormally high, usually around $60) taxes and fees on the flights. I think you can do it too which is why I’m going to explain how I pulled this off. Also, these are not standby flights.
In August of 2014, I was in Boise, Idaho and had graduated from a university about 8 months prior. I was working a full-time job but didn’t have extra money. My little brother had finished high school and was bumming around Europe, and my girlfriend had been planning a trip to Greece with her friend for months and months. Needless to say I was feeling a little like I didn’t do anything cool.
I had a friend who had explained to me a few things about travel hacking back in the spring. So I followed the steps he laid out and had a bunch (almost 100k) of miles from opening two Chase credit cards: the United Explorer card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. I hadn’t booked any trips with miles and really had no idea if the whole travel hacking thing would work.
(me being a dork. I was at a cafe near Delphi)
So there I was, with only a little money in Boise, Idaho wanting to go to two different places in Europe. I looked at flights to both and the total neared $3000 to make the trip work. That was clearly out of the question for me.
But because of those travel hacked miles, I was able to book a multi-destination flight on United using the miles I earned from travel hacking. The “multi-destination” means that I booked a round trip to Athens for 9 days, then had a “layover” in Prague for 5 days. Usually doing something like this would cost a lot more money than a normal round trip fare. However, because I was using miles to book the flight, United let me book one additional city like this (has to be an out of country flight) for free. So the extra stop to see my brother in a different country didn’t cost me anything. I was able to book all these flights for 60k United miles and the $200 for taxes and fees.
How to get the miles
Ok so it’s possible to book a flight like this, but how did I get all those miles you ask? Yes, that is the important part isn’t it.
(trying to be artsy)
It’s actually really easy. Credit cards offer signup bonuses if you meet their minimum spends in a certain amount of time. The minimum spend is just the amount that you need to spend in the first three months (usually) on thecard to be eligible for the sign up bonus. I opened two cards, a card called the Chase Sapphire Preferred and one called the Chase United Explorer. The bonus on the Explorer card was 50k points and 40k on the Sapphire card (50k on the sapphire now). That’s more than enough miles for a round trip flight anywhere in the world.
Together the total minimum spend was $4,000 (it’s slightly more now). My problem was that I didn’t spend anywhere near $4,000 a month. So, I had to get creative to meet the spends (which really isn’t that hard).
3 ways to always meet a minimum spend
1) Deferred spending
2) Manufactured spending
3) The old fashioned way
Deferred spending is just the idea that you can charge things to your card now, but not actually spend the money until later, when you’d normally spend it. The easiest way to do this is to buy yourself gift cards to places you know you’ll spend money at later. Like coffee shops or gas stations or retail stores. In the past I’ve put $500 on gift cards to Chipotle, Starbucks and Shell gas station to meet a minimum spend.
Manufactured spending is spending money without spending any money. For instance, for a while you could deposit money into a Target account with a credit card. Then withdraw the money immediately with no fees. Manufactured spending changes a lot so you have to jump on them quickly. But when you get one that works it’s really fun. If I put a specific way on manufactured spending in this post, it would become outdated very quickly. So my best advice is to google ‘manufactured spending’ or browse flyertalk.com to find current ideas for manufactured spending.
The old fashioned way
The old fashioned way is the most reliable and the easiest for most people. Just ask your friends or family if they have any large purchases coming up. Then go with them to the store, use your card to pay and have them write you a check.
The bottom line is that the minimum spend is not a problem.
Shortly after I met the minimum spends, the points showed up in my account. That’s how I earned enough miles to visit Europe.
(monk village in Meteora)
Booking the award flights
At the time, the United website didn’t show availability for the multi destination flight that I wanted. From Boise to Athens, then to Prague and back to Boise. But I checked award availability for each of the legs and it showed up as available. So I called United and explained what I wanted to do. I then was able to book my flight over the phone once I told them that it was possible. This brings us to an important part of travel hacking, if you’re not getting what you want, just call and ask. And if you still aren’t getting what you want, hang up, then call and ask again.
This was my first taste of what I realized I could do with some basic travel hacking. It wasn’t difficult at all. It didn’t take much time. And there wasn’t any risk because I used a good system (explained below) to track everything. I just needed a little direction. Since then I’ve been to Thailand and Mexico using the same strategies. Only paying taxes and fees.
I was worried that I’d forget a payment, or that my credit would be ruined or I would be stuck paying some huge hidden fee that I can’t get out of. And this is totally understandable.
The key to travel hacking is the system. You need to know when to open cards, when to cancel or demote them and how to book flights that give you the most value for your points. And you need to put this system into a calendar so you don’t forget. The system is what makes travel hacking responsibly possible.
I have a system I use and all you have to do is plug it in. The only change you’ll have to make is the card you use to pay. It’s nothing fancy. Just a spreadsheet tracking the credit cards I have and calendar reminders set to remind me when to review the spreadsheet and make a decision about downgrading or canceling cards.
Now that I know it’s repeatable, I want to show you how to do it. I’ve been looking at what it takes to help people start travel hacking. It’s a bit more than I can cover in this post so I’ve put together a short email course that details exactly how to use miles to book free flights all over the world.
I’ve decided to break it up into bite sized emails so that it’s action-oriented and hopefully not overwhelming at all. By taking a small action every day, you’ll realize that in no time you’ll have enough miles for flights anywhere in the world.
It’s a step by step approach that will teach you the things I’ve learned and get you at least enough points to travel to Europe. The hardest thing you’ll have to do is decide where you want to go. It’s totally free and there’s nothing to buy.
Check it out here: learntravelhacking.com