Since I am pretty much set on my trips for the rest of the year, I thought now would be a good time to go over my 2014 strategy for using miles and points for my plane tickets this year. I am taking two big international trips, a trip to the Caribbean and six shorter weekend trips just around the US. I am quite lucky this year in that I was able to avoid paying cash for any of them and managed to even book a few in business class. In this post, I am going to go through all my trips and explain exactly how I paid for specifically the plane ticket portion.
Although I did use miles and points for every trip, I wouldn’t exactly say all my travel was “completely free”. First, when it comes to earning miles and points, there is an opportunity cost. I could have focused on cash back cards to earn miles. Secondly, there are lots of other costs associated with travel than just plane tickets. Getting around at the destinations, food is more expensive, I need more miles and points for hotels.
Here’s a map of where I’ve traveled. I’ll list my trips and then go over my strategy of exactly which miles and points I used to make sure to pay for each.
- Cayman Islands in February: 35,000 United Airlines miles
- Los Angeles in March: Composed of free one-ways from Grand Cayman and Europe trips
- Chicago in April: 15,000 British Airways Avios round-trip
- Charlotte in May: Citi ThankYou points
- Prague and Vienna in June: 100,000 United Airlines miles
- Chicago in July: 15,000 British Airways Avios round-trip
- Las Vegas in September: Citi Thank You points
- Los Angeles in October: Citi ThankYou points
- Buenos Aires and Easter Island in December: 130,000 American Airlines miles
The Big Business Class Transcontinental Trips: Miles
This year, I have my two big vacations: Europe and South America. I tend to take my two big vacations every year. I always try to tackle these first and book as early as possible. The far away destinations are really the only time I will go out of my way to try to book business class flights so I try to start getting my miles in order around a year in advance.
Sadly, due to devaluations, neither of these deals is available, but here are the miles I used.
For the trip to Easter Island and Argentina, I booked a oneworld explorer award with American Airlines miles. This was an award that would charge you based on distance flown, but it was eliminated in February. The good news is that US Airways miles can also be used to visit Easter Island and the deal is even better than what I got: How to Fly to Easter Island with US Airways Miles.
For my trip to Prague and Vienna, I used United Airlines miles and flew business class for 100,000 miles round-trip. I took a train between the two cities. I booked the ticket before the United Airlines devaluation and was able to fly Lufthansa Business class to Prague and Austrian Airlines business class from Vienna. The same tickets would now cost 140,000 miles.
My third international trip was my trip to Grand Cayman, for which I again used United miles and this cost me 35,000 miles.
Short Trips: British Airways Avios
This year, I took two trips to Chicago. The trip to Chicago is only about 900 miles from New York. For really short flights where there is good award availability on American Airlines or US Airways, I prefer to use British Airways Avios. The reason for this is that British Airways has a distance-based award chart where you are charged based on distance per segment.
Most other programs will charge 12,500 miles each way for domestic flights, but I was able to use just 7,500 miles each way.
I wrote about how I attended a wedding in Chicago using miles and points for most things, including the present: How We Saved $1000 By Flying to a Wedding and Buying a Gift with Points!
One of my trips to Los Angeles back in March, I was able to construct from free one-ways coming from my international trips.
I was able to add a free one-way segment to Los Angeles onto my trip to Grand Cayman and then another free one-way segment onto my trip to Europe. So, by stretching my miles into other trips, I was able to get a completely free round-trip.
For information on how I did this, you can read: How to Add Free One-Way Trips On United Airlines Awards.
More Domestic Trips: Citi ThankYou Points
I tend to use my fixed-value points very often. This is how I bought tickets for a trip to Charlotte, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Since I managed to acquire lots of them when I had the Citi ThankYou card 5x offer at drugstores, grocery stores and gas stations (this is no longer available), I can now use them on flights. You can read about how to book flights with Citi ThankYou Points.
The Citi ThankYou points redeem toward flights at:
- 1 cent each with the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card.
- 1.25 cents each with the Citi ThankYou Premier Card.
- 1.33 cents each with the Citi ThankYou Prestige Card and 1.6 cents each for flights on American Airlines and US Airways.
Holders of the Premier and Prestige Card can also now transfer their points to airline partners.
- By combining many different ideas, I was able to pay for all my plane tickets this year with miles and points.
- I used miles for two big business class trips to Europe and South America and a trip to Grand Cayman.
- I was able to construct a trip to Los Angeles by adding on free one-ways to my international trips stretching my miles.
- I used British Airways Avios’ distance based award chart for short flights to Chicago.
- For the remaining three domestic trips, I used Citi ThankYou points.